The Journey Continues

This week I will complete the second round of my Advanced Leadership program. We call it Advanced because we have screened the participants to be sure that they have already been exposed to concepts like setting expectations, giving feedback, and other fundamental requirements of managing others.

We are trying to focus on concepts that are a little less crisp like building trust, leading teams, managing change, and related ideas.

So why do I focus on skills and concepts like those you might ask.

A few statistics to reinforce what I will freely admit to being a personal bias.

A DDI survey reported some things that I believe we should pay attention to, among them were the following:

·        Organizations with high quality leadership are 13 times more likely to outperform their competitors in key areas like financial performance, talent attraction and retention, and employee engagement.

·        The same survey rated only 38% of their internal talent pool for leadership as being good or very good, and 50% were rated as missing one or more critical skills.

·        Managing change was identified as the most critical skill for managers, 48% of those included.

So a reasonable question is how credible is this date. The survey base was 12,500 operational leaders and almost 2000 HR practitioners representing North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand so I would say this is pretty credible stuff.

When I add that to even more recent data from a Gallup Poll reporting that 51% of employees rate themselves as neutrally engaged with 17.2% actively disengaged I think the issue becomes more compelling.

So what you might say, other than the fact that organizations with high engagement consistently outperform their less engaged competitors in every key performance metric from financial performance to employee retention so what.

You can argue that we don’t really know what engagement is and that we are spending billions on programs without credible results and my answer would be bullshit.

You can call it what you want. When I began experimenting with my own version in the late 90’s I called it moving from compliance to Commitment. When I read Lencioni’ s books The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and more recently The Advantage, what he describes as organizational health sounds a lot like employee engagement to me. I find myself in good company because Lencioni and I agree that the measure of employee engagement is not morale or happiness, but organizational performance through alignment. The other things are positive byproducts.

The critical link in creating these engaged environments is leadership, especially leadership at the frontline and middle levels. The same Gallup poll concluded that employees supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged themselves.

I believe that many of the reasons organizations experience epic failure with their engagement initiatives can be answered by one of Lencioni’ s three biases:

·        Sophistication – we get caught up in the technology and systems and leave out people. I see this in HR a lot, we design technically elegant compensation or performance management systems that are useless to the manager trying to use them.

·        Adrenaline- with the advent of the internet we want everything now. We don’t want to do the work and expect instant gratification. I get this occasionally from a client, “we did the survey, when can I expect better results?”

·        Quantification- if it can’t be reported to the sixth decimal point we shouldn’t measure it or believe it. We forget we are dealing with people.

I start my journey with two pretty unsophisticated concepts- Trust and Congruency.

As anybody who has read the Five Dysfunctions knows this is Lencioni’ s first dysfunction. I like where Stephen MR Covey goes even better where he actually dissects trust into its three levels of Deterrence, Competency, and Identity based.

We don’t teach those levels very effectively. We have very high reliance on the first two. We have become a society obsessed with certifications and bona fides. The problem is we can only take us so far.

If identity based trust makes you squirm you will really hate congruency. Congruency gets into the relationship between personal and organizational values and the fact that we live on three levels-

·        Intellectual, or I think

·        Emotional, or I feel

·        I am, the visceral level from Maslow’s hierarchy at safety and security.

Research shows that when our intellectual conflicts with our emotional as a leader you are screwed 85% of the time. When our intellectual is in conflict with our visceral or as Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain, you are really hosed.

It is very hard to be intellectually engaged if you are hungry or afraid. That is why Simon Sinek tells us the most important part of leadership is to create that safety for our team.

Congruency also becomes very important in leadership selection as the vast majority of leadership candidates from the DDI survey indicated the reason they aspired to leadership is economic, they wanted a promotion to make more money or gain status.

Yes, Houston, that is a problem. Tough to focus on trust and the congruency of other people when you took the job to advance financially and don’t really give a rat’s ass about the safety and security of your team.

A single poor manager anywhere in the hierarchy can cause devastation, the higher up they are the worse.

As the experts say “Your leadership culture is defined by the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate”.

And you do have both an organizational and a leadership culture. High performing organizations have a deliberate one and are ruthless about protecting it. Lower performing organizations have an accidental one…

So I guess what I am saying is that after you have screened for the technical competence and the skills to do those basics like establishing clear expectations, giving constructive feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching then assess to see if your leadership cohort understands and can embrace these other less complicated, but more critical skills.

You will never have engagement without trust and congruency and I think the numbers make it clear that engagement is a pretty significant competitive advantage to walk away from.

So that’s why I keep preaching my model…….


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