Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Hope You Dance

Sometimes when I need to clear my head I like to get in my car and go for a drive. Somewhere off the beaten track in the country or along the coast. When I do that I like to listen to music. I have absolutely no talent in that arena. I can't write music, play an instrument, or sing a note; but boy I appreciate good music. It tells a story.

As I was driving yesterday I had a chance to listen again to one of my favorite tunes I Hope You Dance by country star Leanne Womack. The setting of the song is a mother singing to her very young children about the things they will face and the choices they will encounter and her wish that "if you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance." In the song she explores things like falling in love, staying true to your principles, and recognizing your relative place in the universe.

I think this is some of what people like Daniel Pink are referring to when they talk about flow, or when Seth Godin talks about each of pursuing our art. Flow as I have discussed previously is that spectacular place where our destination is clear, the balance between effort and result is in harmony and we have the autonomy to pursue of our own volition. I wonder if it was also this goal that the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about "the pursuit of happiness" and the concept of personal competency; that balance of the right and responsibility to be competent and self reliant.

As Ms. Rimes sings there is no guarantee built into this pursuit, it is the right and the decision to pursue the journey that is important.

I have to say when I read statistics that say that 55% of Americans are dissatisfied in their jobs, only 30% describe themselves as engaged, and we are spending $5 trillion on turnover and another $200 billion on "presenteeism" it doesn't sound like too many people are "dancing".

I wonder if creating engaged environments is a way to let people "dance"? I keep reading that clear expectations, respect, fairness and equity, and shared values are the keys to engagement and productivity. Is it just me or does this kind of sound like the "dancing" that both Leanne and the Founding Fathers had in mind?

What if those of us who build organizations or lead them built the opportunity to "dance" into our models? You know things like clear expectations, balanced feedback, autonomy, respect, and connection to something larger.

It seems to me that the Industrial Revolution, Frederick Taylor, and the Calvinist work ethic don't leave much room for "dancing". I think it is also okay for "dancing" to include work. Although I have seen dancers of all kinds demonstrate sprezzatura I recognize the practice and hard work that went into achieving that level of performance. It isn't for the faint hearted.

Maybe I have stretched my metaphors too broadly, but I have decided to heed Leanne's advice and look for my opportunities to "dance" and to encourage others to "dance" as well.

So I guess my wish for all of you is that "if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance"........

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Achieving Spezzatura

I enjoy Seth Godin. He challenges you and conventional wisdom and pushes you to examine your life and expectations.

As I have mentioned previously I recently finished his new book - Linchpins, about the people who are really the most critical in our organizations. Godin argues and I agree that the most important skills in any organization are the skills it takes to bind people together and convert them from a group into a team with a shared vision and goals. He also points out that linchpins don't value compliance very much. They value their "art" and the work. Unfortunately our current system has managed to institutionalize compliance in almost every aspect of our society from education to the world of work. He goes so far as to say the educational system was built to provide an army of compliant serfs to staff our "factories"; factories not just in terms of manufacturing, but computer programming and administrative functions. Anything where standardization and "process" are king.

He also argues that this standardization hurts rather than helps in the long term. When I look at the level of engagement world wide coupled with turnover and job dissatisfaction I am inclined to agree.

Sprezzatura is an Italian word that translates into being able to do your craft without a lot of visible effort- with grace and elan rather than sweating and grunting. It probably causes people with a strong Calvinist ethic to writhe uncomfortably in their chair.

When I watched the women's figure skating competition for the gold medal I think sprezzatura was what I saw exhibited by the young woman from Korea, it was not just that she performed a brilliant routine it was that she was so graceful and elegant you almost forgot how difficult those moves were to accomplish.

My personal goal is to achieve sprezzatura in my work. It has caused me issues in my "corporate life". I have actually had more than one supervisor criticize me because it didn't look like I was working "hard" enough. I asked them if there was an issue with my work or output and they indicated there wasn't, but one actually commented, "I never see you sweat".

I like the idea of organizations and people I work with experiencing sprezzatura, the work is performed and expectations are met , but in such a way that it seems effortless and elegant. It creates an opportunity for engagement not only for those doing the "work", but those enjoying the benefit.

Commitment or engagement is where employees "join up" rather than comply. They come into their organizations and their lives with a connection to both the work and the vision of the organization. They are in congruence. The studies say that this engagement can be correlated to higher results and benefit all key performance indicators. Maybe in some ways these organizations are allowing their employees to enjoy a level of Sprezzatura.

So I would leave you with a couple of thoughts:
  • What would sprezzatura look like for you personally?
  • Would you rather have your employees work hard, or achieve sprezzatura?

I know what my answers are......

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Monday, February 22, 2010

What "Type" Are You?

Greetings from San Diego. I have the opportunity to be out here and meet with a group of colleagues that I deeply respect to talk about new ways to motivate and work with people.

During my trip I have had a chance to catch up on a little reading and explore some of the work of two of my favorite social and business "system" commentators, Daniel Pink and Seth Godin.

My question comes from a model/theory that Pink explores in his book Drive -the surprising truth about what motivates us. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the book so much is because what Pink describes and what I believe are in such close sync.

He also tees off on one of my favorite targets- Frederick W. Taylor, the "father" of scientific management. This is the theory that non management people are not terribly intrinsically motivated so productivity is best optimized by routinizing their tasks.

Pink's type "I" argues that at least some part of us is driven by needs for autonomy, learning, and purpose. He doesn't take the position that all work and all people fit this model, but that many do. He even goes further and uses the "P" word, Purpose and suggests that most of us seek this with varying degrees of energy. Kind of resonates with the concept of focusing on what "matters" doesn't it.

If you haven't yet read the book I commend it to you. In addition to stimulating your thinking he also provides some "templates" for both organizations and individuals.

Seth Godin's latest work - Linchpin is another fascinating read. He explores that a new category of critical "player" is emerging in organizations. Traditionally we had labor and management and the lines were pretty clear. Linchpins are those people who can connect groups and individuals.
Their skills are in communication, building trust, and relationships; not sciences or technology. Kind of sounds like they are building engagement doesn't it? He even uses words like obedience aka compliance and how we built it into our work and social systems and the costs we are experiencing because of it. I especially see this represented in the U.S. labor law infrastructure; most of it was written in the 40's and 50's with little meaningful change since. If you are familiar with it you know that it is highly structured and based on an adversarial model.

Any of you that know me or my orientation know that concepts like working with people, creating engagement, and related models speak to my heart; but I think anyone in any organization would benefit by exploring the concepts these two discuss.

One of my favorite quotes talks about "employees being physically, emotionally, and psychologically impelled. They gladly give up other choices."

Maybe it is just me, but that sounds pretty exciting. What do you think.....?

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Where Does Engagement "Live"?

I am very pleased to see interest in topics like employee engagement and employment branding gaining some momentum, even if it is just in dialogue.

I have to pay an homage to the people at BlessingWhite for their recent studies and research and Dr's Whitlark and Rhoads for their publication about the "Spillover" effect which provides concrete relationships and data; drawing a direct correlation between high engagement and key performance indicators like sustainability, productivity, and profitability. This is no longer "warm and fuzzy" stuff, but rather hard data.

I do continue to see that for all the dialogue I am still disappointed with the number of organizations and C level executives that are either ignoring this opportunity (some would say crisis) or paying lip service to it.

There are a couple of other things coming out about engagement that I have long believed that I am pleased to see gaining some traction as well:
  • Defining engagement. This a a huge area. Engagement is not happiness or employee satisfaction. Much like compensation the lack of happiness or satisfaction can have a negative affect on engagement, but "happy" or "satisfied" employees are not necessarily engaged. The basic reason for that is that the work place may be providing an outlet for social relationships or other things that employees enjoy that affect those areas, but don't lead to additional productivity or discretionary effort. Measuring those other things doesn't necessarily yield engagement.
  • Creating engagement. The other thing we are starting to recognize is that engagement is not an initiative or program it is a culture! To create and sustain an engaged workforce and long term employment brand you must create and sustain a culture.

I think that these "revelations" may be part of what is keeping many organizations from embracing an engagement strategy or employment brand- they aren't prepared to do the work.

The last thing I want to share today is my response to the opening question. In my opinion engagement and your brand live at the front line level of your organization. I am not saying that senior management support and role modeling aren't critical, but how many of your customers or employees interact regularly with C level management?

How many of us encounter Howard Schultz when we visit Starbucks or Steve Jobs at the Apple store?

My point is you must build engagement into your brand through your selection, hiring, training, and performance management and reward systems. I would go further and say that your front line managers are your greatest potential asset or weakness. In fact Whitlark and Rhoads are even more specific;

"One bad manager can pollute multiple levels of an organization, and poor managers bring down employee morale, which spills over into the engagement level of customers.”

My point being that your "engagement" or "branding" effort must be embraced as a culture change and you have to be willing to "de-recruit" employees especially managers who can not or will not make the transition. My experience has been validated by James L. Heskett, author of the book The Service-Profit Chain, who writes-

“… the hardest concept is the deployment of the culture change …which requires that organizations identify values, behaviors, and measures that help reinforce the service profit chain relationships. But it also requires actions. That is when managers are not managing by the values and cannot be admonished or retrained to do so (which rarely works), they have to go.”

So I guess what I am saying is that engagement is mutual commitment and while it is important to have brand champions in the C suite you will be most successful when you embed it into the fabric of your organization because engagement and your brand live on the "ground floor" where your employees interact with your customers. As my colleague Joseph Skursky so elegantly states, Hire Hard- Manage Easy. You will find it a better long term strategy.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Building a Better "Mousetrap"

I am kind of excited. I am in the process of pulling together a group of collaborators to talk about the importance of building a strong employment brand and engagement.

I am excited on a couple of levels. Anyone that knows me knows that I am passionate about these subjects to a level where folks get tired of hearing me. I can't help it, I just fervently believe that this kind of a model working together is just bluntly superior to any other organizational model in the long term, and it works for all kinds of organizations; private or public sector and for profit or not for profit.

I am also excited about the opportunity to educate people about what engagement is and engagement is not. Engagement is not satisfaction and engagement is not "happiness". Engagement is discretionary effort freely committed to by employees in support of a common set of goals, values, and objectives. It is also viral. Your customers and your community will "catch it" to if it is done right.

The last reason I am kind of excited is that this initiative as we envision is a collaboration between the local educational community, the business community and others to begin building a framework for an economic plan for a community that has desperately needed one for a long time; and we are planning to do it together.

We are also going to explore root causes and the real foundation of engagement and strong brands and show local businesses two key things:
  • This isn't just about big businesses with big advertising budgets
  • The basic building blocks are pretty easy and there are resources in every community to help "spread the virus".

I like "win-win" solutions, and personal responsibility, and action rather than inaction. Think local, act local. I like it!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When Will We Learn?

I have been following a number of interesting discussions on LinkedIn and other places about the issues surrounding employee recruiting, selection, and retention.

They range from the importance of the process to the idea that since we are in a recession and employees don't have anywhere to go we can focus on other more "important" business issues.

Interesting viewpoint. Studies show we are operating at 30% efficiency, employee job dissatisfaction is at an all time high, and to some it is a non-issue. I suspect they are not on the top 100 places to work list.

Another discussion I am following began to target some of what I believe to be the real issue- in many cases our hiring and selection processes are not well thought out and executed. They are ancillary rather than strategic.

That is the difference between truly high performing companies and those firmly "in the pack". The concepts of employee engagement and employment branding are coming into vogue. The idea that engagement and the resulting discretionary effort are built in to the foundation not added on later. A colleague shared with me "at Nike to work there you must be an athlete". They are clear about the JFHF3HCJD6FE culture and hire with it in mind. Other icons do the same.

If you are a senior executive how much time are you spending making sure that the people who are joining your organization or at least your team have the "right stuff", or like many organizations have you delegated this to your HR department? Here is a tip. Recruitment selection and retention of the best people is a management role, it doesn't "belong" to any one department. Top performing organizations have figured this out. It is a big part of why they are top performing organizations.

So if you are taking the time during this recession to focus on the "important" stuff and ignoring your people strategies it will be interesting to see how it works out for you.....

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

From My Heart

I sit at my computer tonight with a pensive heart. It isn't just Haiti, although that gives it a focus.
I will freely admit to being a romantic. I love great stories and heroes. I love happy endings and noble causes and stories about people who displayed more integrity and courage than I have.
I'm not seeking solace or absolution, just thinking out loud.

We have an interesting set of choices before us. In many cases we are angry and disillusioned. We feel let down . Our economic security is at stake. People we trusted let us down. Where do we go?

I believe in people. I have been castigated about my focus on engagement and the power or relationships, but honestly I have have yet to see a more powerful force than a group of committed people in support of a common cause.

I have been and aspire again to be a "leader". Leadership is a a trust between those who "lead" and those who "follow".

For many years our philosophy was "Think Global, act local". Perhaps it is time for us to both think and act locally. Washington and "world leaders" can offer insight, but perhaps we need to embrace more solutions one person, one family, one community at a time?

From my heart. What do you think?

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Power of Example

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

I had the opportunity this week to attend two very different functions that had some interesting parallels.

The first was a "transition" or retirement party for an executive that I admire a great deal. I have known him for a long time and in candor there have been a number of occasions where our viewpoints were at odds. What I found consistently about him however; was that our disagreements never started or became personal. He possesses a clear set of values and a personal vision that although I might not always share I always appreciate.

As I listened to people who had worked with him over a 35 year career describe him they consistently used words like; integrity, honesty, ethics, vision, faith, humility, and passion. I recognized that those words resonated with me in my own experiences with him. He is tough minded yet compassionate, a strong negotiator, but never for his own personal gain.

People who worked for him would describe him as visionary, task driven, and demanding of excellence from himself and others. I doubt many would describe him as warm, but a compassion and empathy emanate from him as well as a quiet courage.

He has faced adversity both in his professional and personal life, but you get a sense that he strides on with his mission in view and his values intact. An example to peers, subordinates, and colleagues. His departure will leave a hole, I have not encountered many of his ilk of late.

The other individual in some ways couldn't be more different. His transition was sudden and unexpected. He died during an accident harvesting firewood on his ranch. He was a rancher and community leader who spent his life doing what he loved as a steward of the land that his family has owned for generations.

I met him several years ago in a small country church where he was speaking to a men's group about his faith and how it called him and changed him. I got to know him much better later as part of a community group and as a political candidate. In some ways we were unlikely allies. He was a man of the land and passionate in his conservative Christian beliefs. I have spent a good deal of my life in more urban and corporate settings. While I consider myself to be Christian I am more wary of the restrictiveness of organized religion, especially when it imposes strict boundaries.

We spent a lot of time together one on one and I found him to be a highly discerning listener and a man who while he held his own beliefs firmly was very capable of respecting the views of others; a characteristic I find rarely and appreciate more as I get older.

When I was running for office I found myself on the "wrong" side of a pretty controversial issue. As a major fundraiser and supporter who had traded on his own reputation to build support for me my position put him in an ackward spot. I remember when we met one on one to discuss it and at the end of our discussion he told me "now that I understand your position I agree with you." His steadfast support of me caused both my supporters and detractors to scratch their heads. In their minds we were polarities. They couldn't have been more wrong. We shared a common conviction that the common bond that is critical to all successful human systems is relationships and that you should endeavor to find the points of agreement rather than contention. I lost the election, but I have to say that the process of running for office and creating relationships like the one I shared with him made that experience one of the most worthwhile endeavors I will likely ever engage in.

One was an executive who through his leaderhip position and commitment leaves a legacy of organizational structure, strategic vision, and mentees and colleagues who will carry on his legacy. The other was a rancher, community leader, and "elder" who touched hundreds through engagement with his community, his church, and his friendship. The commonality; they don't talk about their values they live them onstage everyday for everyone to see.

When it is my time to "transition" or to depart I hope to follow their example and for people to think of me not in terms of what I possessed, but rather what I leave behind. Skip and Lee, thanks for setting an example for me and others.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

What Defines Us?

A little over 90 days ago the recruitment and selection process for the University of Oregon football team didn't look very good. The brand new coach started his season with a loss and one of his top players punched out a member of the opposing team on national television.
The press of course made sure that the "punch" got plenty of airtime.

Many begin denouncing the selection of the new coach. Over the next two weeks he lost two more starters to injuries. The season looked pretty grim. Then something interesting began to happen. The coach talked to the players about the incident and whether or not they wanted to let it define them. He made a decision to suspend the player from participating in the game, but not from being on the team. The player was told he would remain on scholarship and be allowed to practice, but not allowed to play. Several weeks later the coach indicated that if the player met certain academic and behavioral conditions he could be reinstated; which he was later in the season. The critics of course labeled this as the plan all along and denounced the coach and the program. Of course they have chosen to overlook the fact that the reinstated player saw his first playing time last night in the final regular game of his season. Some claim it was what the team needed to win so the coach sacrificed his integrity for the sake of the win.

I say really? The young man who stepped up and took his place set a national record for rushing yards as a freshman. There were two games; one we lost and one we won in overtime where the reinstated player didn't play. I think perhaps instead a coach made a decision to give a young man an opportunity to play for the last time in front of his home crowd.

The team is headed for the Rose Bowl for the first time in fifteen years. They are the undisputed champions of the PAC 10. The coach makes no apologies for his decisions.

A number of players stepped up to make this season happen. When I see how the team reacted to the opening loss, the loss of starters, the ability to play through the distractions, and the joy and appreciation from a young man whose coach decided to invest in him rather than throw him away I think that says much more about this team and this coach. Detractors will say we needed him to win- a record of 9-2 going into the game says otherwise.

The press will relish this opportunity to play the "punch" video over and over, just as they will torture Tiger Woods for the next few weeks. I think what defines you is not whether or not you make mistakes or errors in judgement, but where you go from there.

So I guess I would leave you with this question- what defines you? Is it your successes, your failures, or your "whole person"?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Do We Have A Leadership Crisis?

We are in an interesting time and as you know this whole topic of leadership is a passion of mine. I become especially concerned when we can use language like 'jobless recovery" with a straight face.

I had a chance to read John Baldoni's blog on Harvard Publishing- and I have to tell you that it didn't provide me any comfort.

Baldoni references a recent McKinsey and Company survey citing that only 48% of managers believe that providing inspiration during the crisis is their job and 46% feel a responsibility to provide direction. Even more alarming the numbers drop to 45 and 39% post crisis. To make me feel even worse only 30% felt responsible for motivating their employees during the crisis and it drops to 23% post crisis!

Let me sum it up, less than 50% of the managers surveyed believe that inspiration, direction, motivation, and accountability are essential for managing corporate performance! I don't know about you, but that scares the hell out of me!

The defenders of course say that those are "senior management" or "executive responsibilities". They see their roles as tactical, gutting it out on the day to day. The problem is this is the "corps" of where that future leadership comes from. When does the age of enlightenment kick in and they recognize and develop their skills in these other areas.

When you add these facts to those including that 40% of "new" managers fail in their first 18 months on the job, usually for "non-technical" reasons, the costs of failures is estimated at between 2 and 4 times annual salary, and less than 30% of the organizations in the world have an employee engagement strategy it provides a pretty grim picture.

To quote Baldoni; "Execution without adequate leadership is short sighted. It will carry a company through a quarter or a year, but it will not provide a foundation for what organizations really need to do, and that is to grow."

I agree with Baldoni and also with Marcus Buckingham -
“Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant […] They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear. Above all else, they must never forget the truth that of all the human universals […] our need for clarity is the most likely to engender in us confidence, persistence, resilience, and creativity.”

A recent study by Rhoads and Whitlark also discusses that the crucial foundation for engagement (which by the way yields some wonderful byproducts in areas like productivity, sustainability, and profitability) is trust. Doesn't seem like we are moving the ball in the right direction.

I see time and time again where we seek to systematize leadership- to define it in terms of metrics and statistics. Looks like once again we are missing the point that it is relationships and people.

"Presenteeism" costs the U.S economy an estimated $200+ billion per year and a majority of our managers don't see the underlying issues that cause this phenomena as being their responsibility. We are in deep shit!

I guess these statistics say a couple of things to me:
  • I am hoping that the organizations I am working with are represented in the 48% who "get it".
  • We need to re-evaluate or management talent acquisition and development processes in a big hurry if we are going to have to make meaningful changes.

So I guess if I was leading an organization I would be asking myself - "Where is my management team on these issues?" and maybe even more importantly, " as a leader what am I doing about it?"

So I guess I have answered my own question- now I would pose one to you " Where do we go from here?" By the way, I wouldn't suggest turning this over to your HR department to fix. This is a key leadership issue.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Change Is In the Air- I Think....

It has been an interesting couple of weeks. I have heard from several people I am close to that they have found important new roles that they are pleased about. I have decided to make a change and sharpen my focus in my own endeavors. The stock market is up- at least temporarily. Many economists are declaring the recession over.

The first thing that is interesting to me is the issue of the economy. I have heard "experts" begin to refer to this as a "jobless" recovery. I don't get that. Is that like Jumbo Shrimp? How to we pronounce the recession over if we have large numbers of people who are still unemployed or underemployed? Because the stock market is up? How is that affecting your personal financial well being?

I read some information recently about a change that concerned me, but didn't shock me. The "change" was that the large financial players have been using the bailout money to fund investments in the market rather than reinvesting in programs and things that really benefit the average American. Coming from financial services recently that doesn't surprise me that much. Most financial service organizations stopped making their profits in the traditional sense; the "margin" between what they paid for deposits and what they make loans for some time ago. They borrowed some "creativity" from other industries and found that there are much better opportunities to generate fee income for "services" such as overdraft protection, ATM access, and other transaction fees.

The interesting thing to me is that they are missing huge opportunities to increase their income and benefit their stakeholders by utilizing things like supply chain management and TQM techniques, but they have been relatively slow adopters.

This weekend the House passed the most sweeping legislation since Medicare on health care reform. Depending on which side of the equation you represent this is either a huge step forward or the continuing "socialization" of our economy. I am suspending judgement. I think our current health care system has significant flaws in a number of areas, notably our ability to deliver high quality health care in an efficient and cost effective manner.

I had hoped that the recession might cause more employers to examine their relationships with stakeholders, especially employees and to address flaws in our models that have existed for years. In many cases I feel like we lost traction. We went back to the "be grateful you have a job model".

We need a new leadership model. Much of our leadership modeling is based on financial and economic metrics- i.e. a "jobless" recovery. When I read about the stresses and reactions from those stresses I am concerned that we are kidding ourselves.

I have decided to focus my "change" efforts at a very basic level, by hopefully effecting the way organizations select and orient their senior leadership teams in their hiring and selection process. My colleague, Joseph Skursky refers to this as "hire hard-manage easy".

I see things on the web asking whether it is OK to probe employee's values alignment with your organizational values before you hire them. My answer is "duh", of course. You can't and shouldn't get into protected areas, but do you really want people in your lifeboat who don't support or understand your core values? I have to tell you after thirty years of experience, changing somebody's values is really hard. It is much easier to align them upfront.

As an employer you also have the freedom within reason to set the values of your organization and require compliance if not commitment to those values. You aren't saying to those who don't share your values they are bad people, you are saying they would be better suited in an environment where they share the organization's values. Trust me, people who are technically competent , but don't represent a good "fit" will never really be outstanding performers.

So I think that we are at a stage where we accept the status quo or we become our own personal change agent. I know which choice I have made, what about you?

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

It Takes A Village

I had a chance to read several different articles recently that at least to me reinforced something I have always intuitively believed, collaboration is more powerful than individual excellence in an organizational setting.

In many of the presentations that I do I use the illustration of the Nigerian soccer team in the Olympics a few years back. The team was composed of a group of people who were committed to the game and committed to each other. There were no "superstars" that would be recognized internationally. The interesting thing is that this group of committed individuals went on to defeat the "best" teams in the world and win the gold medal.

I think many cultures, at least western ones love the concept of the hero or all star. The individual who will ensure victory. The interesting thing is that these are usually individual contributors. I differentiate these individual contributors, even "superstars" from leaders. I think it is two different skill sets.

Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford is one of my favorite organizational development "gurus". He has written a short article on BNET about so called "stars" in the financial industry and the practice of large players to recruit such "stars" and pay them fabulous sums of money. He decided to do some research on the ROI of such investments. He found they typically fell flat, the "stars" performance rarely approached their previous performance much less exceeded it. He points out similar correlations in professional sports. A great recent example is soccer star David Beckham. The LA franchise that acquired him has yet to see the benefits of the dollars they invested in winning matches. They have seen gate receipts go up because fans will pay to see him play.

Pfeffer points out that it would seem that environment and coaching play a huge role in performance. Having supportive colleagues, access to resources, and good management and coaching seem to matter quite a lot. I think Malcolm Gladwell makes a similar point in Outliers, people who excelled had great innate ability, but they also had access to resources and a highly supportive environment.

The other interview clip I saw on BNET included industry leaders including the VP of Innovation for Google. She was asked about the impact of the recession and other factors leading to innovation or the lack there of. Interestingly she posited that once again the key differential in high performing companies is the human capital and creating and nurturing an environment that allows them to contribute. Pretty interesting coming from a technology firm. She also pointed out that many great companies had their genesis in recessionary times, the people at the firms collectively rose to the challenge and innovated and over came the obstacles.

As a student and advocate of engagement I am a big believer in this model. Statistics show that organizations with high engagement increase per capita 21% higher than their peers and outperform their peers and competitors on every critical metric. The key is that this is collective performance and per capita. The approach is collaborative rather than reliant upon "superstars".

In my previous post Dr. Dolan of the University of Michigan talks about a key attribute of leadership being the creation of an environment that attracts talent and its development. The role of the leader is to attract and develop, not to "perform" tasks as an individual.

So where am I going with this? I am not suggesting that you discard efforts to hire the "best and the brightest", but rather than suggesting that you not rely on hiring somebody else's superstar to increase your organizational performance as an exclusive strategy. Creating engagement and raising the collective talents and performance of your organization would seem to be a much more effective long term strategy.

Leadership should be evaluated in terms of their ability to build and create strong teams and develop talent rather than on the basis of individual accomplishments and talents. Being an excellent "coach" is more valuable than being the best "player" for those we put in management and leadership roles.

Just something to think about....

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So You Want To Be A Leader?

This is actually the topic of a presentation that I used to do for our local Chamber of Commerce leadership development program as the last chapter of an eight month development program. Our intent was to send them out with both a sense of empowerment and accountability to something larger than themselves and their companies.

I among others have had the opportunity to discuss and debate what differentiates leadership and management on the "pages" of this blog, linkedin, and a number of other venues as have thousands of others smarter than me.

I ran across a summary of an interview with Robert Dolan, Dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, on BNET that I think summarized it it more succinctly than I have ever seen or heard before. He stated, "a manager maintains the status quo and delivers profitability, a leader performs three essential functions-
  • they develop and encourage great talent merely with their presence
  • they see new opportunities and innovations and push the organization to pursue them
  • they act as a moral compass for the organization and role model the appropriate adoption of the organizational values and principles."

We can argue for decades about all of the other characteristics and attributes, but what I really like about Dolan's point is that they describe action and doing rather than passivity.

I found this summary especially timely because I hear the media and others starting to declare that the recession is "over". It is over because the stock market is moving up and large corporations are starting to declare profits again. I guess the fact that they expect unemployment to remain in double digits for the foreseeable future and that we have a health care crisis represents a rounding error. Not to me.

I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist. I was hoping that the recession would serve as kind of a national wake up call on a number of key societal issues. As anyone who has read my blog, my book, or other publications knows I am a big fan of engagement, true engagement. That is a system where stakeholders align in a common purpose. Studies show that organizations who adopt and maintain engagement strategies outperform their competitors in every key dimension. I was hoping the recession would cause more organizations to recognize that engagement is not only necessary, it is good for business.

I still remain hopeful that the "end" of the recession doesn't mean we think we have solved the health care issue. We have a very expensive system that delivers health care inefficiently and with pretty poor outcomes.

I am also a fan of personal competency. Getting away from the corporate and governmental codependency that has dominated our economic model for the last several generations. Employees need to be given an opportunity to engage and in return they need to be educated and expected to play a role in decisions about their health, their long term economic security, and generally be financially literate.

Much of the debate around leadership is whether leaders are born or "taught". Is it a series of characteristics or traits or is it behavior? I kind of like the behavior model. If you have capacity and you don't do anything with it are you really a leader? I think that is similar to the point Malcolm Gladwell made in Outliers, a high IQ in and of itself is no guarantee of spectacular success either personally or professionally, you must apply it.

When I look at where we got to and how we got there I have to tell you I see a lot more people in business and government who are managers- protecting the status quo and profitability; than leaders, individuals who develop deep talent, challenge their organizations to innovate, and act as moral compasses and role models not only internally, but externally.

Even the debate over health care represents an interesting model; we recognize it is compromised, but we seem (at least our "leadership") to embrace significant change in a model that doesn't work in delivering against key performance measurements.

I heard earlier this week that the performance bonuses paid out by the major financial institutions exceeded their recorded profits. Am I the only one who missed the logic of that decision?

How can we declare the recession is ending with record unemployment?

So for me I like Professor Dolan's definition of leadership. To his three characteristics I would add two more of my own:

  • Come to work every day prepared to be fired for doing the right thing.
  • Think about your "legacy", what you leave behind more than your "career", what you take with you.

It would appear to me that if you choose leadership rather than management as defined by Dr. Dolan you might not find the field nearly as crowded. What do you think?

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Friday, July 3, 2009

The Power Of Relationships

As you all know I agree with Margaret Wheatley that the most important influence in organizations is relationships; not systems, not technology, but relationships.

I had the occasion to join a friend last evening with a friend and colleague of his I hadn't previously met. I found his friend to be charming, personable and very articulate. As our discussion turned to the inevitable " so what business are you in", he said that he worked for an organization that distributes a pharmaceutical type of product that is manufactured in Europe. What was especially interesting was that he shared their "distribution" network was almost exclusively based on relationship selling; no large sales force , no "cold calling". It is based on trust and referral.

A week or so ago I mentioned an article by Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford. He opined that much of the issue with health care in the United States is in many ways relationship based; most Americans rely on their employer for health care and for economic security. Compared to other countries our "safety net" is pretty small. He talked about the effects of stress about their employment and the accompanying systems like health care tied to employment and the direct correlation to health care issues. I agree with him.

I read some articles and listened to a couple of "idea casts" on BNET this week that illustrated the same thing from a different angle- the relationship between employees and leaders and how in these times especially employees watch their leaders for any sign of positive or negative events or signs. They do that normally, but in these times it is exacerbated to the nth degree. Marcus Buckingham says the most important attribute of leadership is clarity- people want to believe their leaders have a vision.

My own personal research validates information published by Peppers and Rogers, BlessingWhite, Gallup, and others about the power of engagement. I am talking about true engagement which includes customer, employee, shareholder, and stakeholder. Organization's with high engagement outperform their competitors consistently and by an order of magnitude. Engagement is about relationships.

I have written and spoken a lot lately about social networks and their increasing importance in communications strategy. I believe that social networking is about relationships.

I have also written and spoken about the "social contract". In historical times the poor were tied to the wealthy. They literally "belonged" to the property or estate for hundreds of years. The American "experiment" was all about eliminating that. You could come here and reinvent yourself.
You could homestead a piece of property of start a business. Then we ran out of frontier. Consistent with the rest of the world the Industrial revolution occurred. We exchanged the value of personal competence for the promise of "security" in return for "obedience" The power of the great capitalist was tempered only by the labor movement. That was about relationships,
however dysfunctional.

The "world" economy changed that social contract. American industry was not always dominant, our quality suffered and correspondingly so did our market share. Interestingly much of the "new" management models like lean manufacturing and TQM have very strong relationship components to them. U.S. companies retreated from economic security in return for "loyalty". Traditional pension plans are almost obsolete. The parental relationship between employers and employed relative to health care is in crisis mode. Our health care model is parental. We don't address root causes of costs, we shift them around. People don't want to share responsibility for their health or the costs of treating them. That is a relationship, although another dysfunctional one.

I am not suggesting that a "parental" model is appropriate. Anybody that has ever heard me speak, worked with me, or read any of my writing knows better. I rather like the concept of "personal competence" and relationships founded on mutual respect and honesty between employer and employed, taxpayer and government, supplier and customer, and individuals. A relationship based on respect, information, and mutual responsibility and built on a foundation of trust. Maybe I am just nostalgic or misguided, but I think that is what the Founding Fathers meant so many years ago when they formed this country.

Tomorrow is Independence Day, maybe a good day to reflect on what they meant and the critical relationships in each of our lives. I think that is what I'll do, how about you?

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dealing With Whole People

The past couple of weeks have been interesting to me. Sometimes I find myself to be more of an observer than a participant in things and my observations really stay with and sometimes trouble me.

A week ago today was Father's Day. As I get older the value of being a father and the significance of my children take on more and more meaning to me. We have kind of a tradition. My father in law, brother in law, and I celebrate Father's Day at least partially together. A big part of that is the recognition of the joy it gives my father in law to be surrounded by his children and grandchildren. My own father passed away several years ago, but I recall how much it meant to him. 2009 has been for me, like many others a tumultuous period to date. I can say that when I look at my children and what they have accomplished and the promise I see in their future it gives me a renewed sense of purpose.

My father and I did not always enjoy a cordial relationship. I am very glad to have the relationship with my children that I do. I respect them as people and as young adults and as a result we talk pretty openly and honestly. I hope that continues.

I watched the elections in Iran over the last two weeks as well. I was disappointed by the results, but heartened by the number of Iranians who voted their conscience and had the courage to openly express their sense of betrayal at the process. I am perplexed by the reaction of many Americans as to the role we should play in the process. We are currently engaged in civil wars in two different Muslim countries where to a great extent we were not invited and I am not sure we are welcome. Some would say that our "influence" in Pakistan is equally resented.

I find the newly "re-elected" President of Iran to be a petty tyrant and a demagogue of the first order, but do we really have the right or the need to insert ourselves in yet another countries electoral processes without invitation? When W won the election against Gore, a decision some would say was decided in the Supreme Court, did any other country threaten to invade us to "fix" the process?

One of the last things I find perplexing is our continuing fixation with Michael Jackson. I consider him almost a contemporary. We are essentially the same age and I have found his music at least on the periphery of my awareness since I was an adolescent. He was a gifted song writer and choreographer, but he was also a tortured soul with a lot of dysfunction surrounding him. The last several days the press seems obsessed with rehashing everything about him.

He was an entertainer, not a statesman. His personal life was an episode of the bizarre. Why with all of the other real issues surrounding us are we obsessed with him. Farrah Fawcett was a beautiful woman whose depth and dignity seemed to grow as she matured. She died from a horrible illness that didn't seem to be correlated to her life style. She has been almost a footnote.

I just read a couple of interesting opposing issues on one of my favorite websites- One of them is dealing with managing the whole person that is your employees; recognizing and cultivating their hidden talents and creating opportunities for them to utilize these abilities to your mutual benefit. The other is about why CEOs and other powerful people don't use social networking; because they are so powerful and so connected they don't need to, social networking is for those of us who are seeking validation.

I find that interesting to the point of amusement. Our current President seems to value the idea of connection and social networking; both as a candidate, and in his elected capacity.

My research and experience tells me that true engagement is one of the most powerful tools that organizations have at their disposal to improve their performance in every critical area and that only 30% of organizations in the world have a formal engagement strategy. I also read daily that trust in organizations, especially senior executives is at historic lows. Two of our mainstay industries; financial services and the automotive industry are relying on government bailouts to survive and much of the public is baying for the blood of their senior management.

Although it is very popular with consumers,health care industry professionals and others find a public health care model unacceptable. Good thing their network has their "back" and they don't need to rely on social networking or related media to make their case.

A lot of stuff in here I know. I will continue to try to understand and appreciate people one at a time and to build relationships. It is what I know and what I trust.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enlightenment in the Vineyard

My wife and I had an opportunity to spend this last holiday weekend in one of our favorite locations, the foothills of the Sierras. The Calaveras County of Mark Twain fame also makes some awesome wines!

The region is quite small with limited production and focuses more on Spanish style wines like Temparnillo, Syrah, Grenache and "warmer" climate wines. It is reminiscent of our Rogue Valley located near the California border. Just as the Sierra appellation is overshadowed by Napa, most people associate Oregon with Pinot's. I can tell you some of the "warm weather" wines from the Umpqua region are fantastic.

In addition to getting to drink some great wine and enjoy some great company I had the chance to read an excellent book , Do You Matter and actually see some of the concepts in action.

Although the premise of the book is the criticality of design I saw significant parallels to my own perspectives on successful engagement strategy. The parallels for me included the systemic nature (both need to be included in all decisions) and the criticality of the internal in the process. We call internal customers employees.

The author said that the design is really creating a "portal" to the customer's experience with your product or service. I would submit that engagement is the same. If you think about the five levels of engagement I have discussed before, the highest level is that of pride of association. You have gone beyond a commodity to a shared experience. You have connected.

They point out that if your employees do not share this "connection" it will be reflected in their interactions with your customers. BlessingWhite and others share this perspective about engagement.
To put it in context; General Motors sells transportation, BMW or Porsche sell a lifestyle or experience. They are aspirational.

The reason I use the analogy of this wine experience is I saw several key elements represented in this particular community. The "tasting" experience is likely representative of Napa in the old days. You may have an opportunity to discuss the wine directly with the wine maker and/or owner. I recognize you can do that in Napa as well, but not for free or a tasting fee typically under $5!

One of the other things that is quite interesting is that several of the vineyards have tasting rooms located in close enough proximity to be entirely walkable. This allows you to enjoy the experience without worrying about driving or chartering transportation. There is excellent lodging and dining all in a contained area.

In the "better" wineries (MHO), the personalities of the people in the tasting room is also part of the experience. A kind of enthusiasm and ambiance is created. You are sharing an experience with others beyond just having wine.

When I developed my system of Compliance to Commitment I talked about the Human Resources Pyramid created by Roger Deprey-

  • What is my job?
  • How am I doing?
  • Does anyone care?
  • What do we do?
  • How are we doing?
  • How can I help?

The authors of Do You Matter ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why does it matter?

Is is just me or do you see some parallels there?

So the "enlightenment" part comes in the concept that whether you approach it from the "people" perspective or the design perspective the conclusion is the same. Successful organizations build relationships, they don't engage in transactions. It is built into their processes rather than "engineered" over.

I was somewhat saddened to hear that one of the likely first casualties of the GM debacle will be Saturn. I remember when Saturn was cult like on the level of Harley. It was a culture designed from the ground up with the internal and external customer in mind. Their human resources systems were studied and copied and their customer satisfaction was on a par with Lexus. As they became more successful GM "fixed" them and demonstrated that culture eats strategy every time. In this case the GM engineering/finance culture crushed what was once Saturn.

A friend who left a large oil company told me that engagement isn't new, they have "done it" at her old company. Well, I hate to be a buzz kill, but it must have been "engineered" rather than designed in because the employees in the "stores" didn't get the message. If they have been immersed in that model they must have missed a few of the classes. To them I am definitely a transaction.

So perhaps it was the wine, but I think this culture by design and engagement thing has potential. It goes to stakeholders not shareholders and relationships not transactions. I like it.

As a consultant, teacher, and leader I would like to share the idea of organizations who seek commitment rather than compliance. I don't aspire to own it, but I think the idea of being kind of a "portal" to take organizations to a new place intrigues me. What do you think?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reflecting on Leadership

What an interesting week on the leadership front.

President Obama gave his first two commencement speeches in two very different venues. At Arizona State there was a lot of controversy over both inviting him as well as the decision not to award him the customary honorary degree. The reason cited was that he has not completed his "body of work". He agreed and in fact challenged the new graduates that just as he has not completed his body of work they are only beginning theirs.

At Notre Dame, the most prestigious Catholic college in the U.S. the controversy was around his position on women's choice as it relates to abortion. His position here was that the two sides would never be reconciled, but we should take steps to stop demonizing those whose viewpoints is different than our own. Not just about abortion, but about many things.

It was interesting today watching the press reaction to Congress' vote on denying the funding to close Guantanamo Bay. They wanted to get the administration to take a position on whether or not that represents the President's first "failure". The Congress apparently has legitimate concerns about the disposition of the detainees and felt the closure is premature. They kept pressing for recognition of a "mistake". The Administration responded that while the Executive Order may have been premature, it did galvanize action.

We really want to classify things as right or wrong, as a win or a loss. I am not sure that is leadership, in fact I am pretty sure it isn't.

On a positive note a colleague of mine was elected to a position on the school board in our community yesterday. I am pleased on a number of levels.
  • She is an "includer" and a thinker. I have worked with her in a number of capacities and rarely heard her express "right" or "wrong" positions.
  • She is a listener. She weighs things carefully and thoughtfully before coming to a decision or conclusion.
  • She is committed. Her personal history shows someone who has served her community in a number of capacities over an extended period of time. This is not any easy time to serve.
  • She was endorsed and supported by people from many different perspectives and on differing sides of issues.

These things are important to me because we are a very polarized community. It is very important for many people to be "right". As a result we have no defined road map for how we move forward as a community. We have very high unemployment, budget shortfalls for our schools, and not much of a plan for coming out of it. Perhaps her election is a sign that we are beginning to recognize that progress begins with relationships and willingness to hear the other person.

Last week I mentioned Bill George and his new generation of leaders who focus on "stakeholders" not shareholders. I think she might be one of that new generation. I wish her luck and I offer her my continuing support.

This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day, a tribute and an homage to those who served and those who died to preserve our rights to disagree, personal competency and a number of other core values that we hold dear.

I wonder what those who passed and those who remain think about where we are today not only in terms of our economy, but our values and where we go from here.

I like the fact that the president of Notre Dame mentioned that even while he disagreed with the President on many core issues he was proud of a President who called for discussion and tolerance for differences rather than demonizing those whose viewpoint is different from your own.

I also agree with President Obama and Senator McCain that Guantanomo became a symbol that I didn't care for and that now the issue is not if, but when we close it; and that is a good thing.

What do you think......?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is There A Rainbow Behind This Cloud?

As some of you may have noticed I posted a question on LinkedIn about our focus on leadership as opposed to management last week. More specifically I asked whether or not we were focused on leadership to the exclusion or minimization of management. Needless to say I got pretty good response to my inquiry.

A few people "educated" me as to the difference between leadership and management. Although I feel I recognize the differences between the two I appreciate the insight and feedback that people provided to me. Others challenged my assertion that we needed to focus on management as opposed to leadership and discussed the "leadership" void we find ourselves in in some many elements of our society, but especially it would appear in government and industry.

In candor I wasn't taking a position that we need management rather than leadership. My point is that both sets of skills are essential in a high functioning organization.

Marcus Buckingham has said that the most critical role of leadership is to create and reinforce organizational clarity. I agree with him. He states that clarity is the most important attribute of leadership; not charisma, technical ability, presence, or any of those other ethereal qualities we ascribe to and pine for in our leaders.

Richard Rumelt of UCLA says that the most important role of management is to remove ambiguity for employees. To create a direct personal connection of the tasks and activities we expect them to perform in support of the organizational mission. The CEO does that at a very high level for the whole organization, managers do that for their employees.

As a practicing human resources professional and consultant for almost 30 years I can tell you that both the "vision" and the removal of ambiguity are critical. People need clear expectations, constructive feedback, and ongoing coaching on a personal level. Charismatic leadership will not replace that.

There is some potential good news. Harvard Business School professor Bill George says that our current economic crisis may be both the wake up call and the catalyst for creating a new generation of leaders. He states, "... this new group will build organizations that produces long lasting value for employees and customers, not short sighted strategies focused on 'shareholder' value. Rewards will be for performance, not transactions."

Maybe I am reading into it too much , but that sounds a lot like engagement to me. If you look at where we are in the financial crisis I would submit that much of it derives from that focus on transactions not performance.

A colleague of mine who is focusing her energies in the criticality of trust in creating high performance cultures has been somewhat a victim of the "transactional" mindset. Her potential clients want to see statistical "evidence" of the link between trust and performance. They want a transaction process, not a relationship. I defy anyone to show me an organization with long term sustained high performance that has not created true engagement and didn't build that on a foundation of trust!

I recognize that there are organizations that have enjoyed a level of "transactional" success through the utilization of down sizing, outsourcing, and other "cost" based tactics; but now that we have run out of emerging economies to exploit and operate in a global economy how is that working for them?

I see questions on LinkedIn and other sites seeking the "technological" solution to creating engagement; guess what, there isn't one!

As my colleagues in LinkedIn pointed out to me we desperately need a new "leadership" model that has elements of both those ethereal qualities and heroes that we seek, but also the competencies of effective management. We also need a new value proposition based on relationship, not transactions. We need that between employee and employer, supplier and customer, and citizen and community. Transactions; creating short term value at the expense of others, is what got us here. The old solutions aren't relevant and simply won't work. So what do I suggest:
  • Respect
  • Personal responsibility
  • Shared information
  • Equitable rewards
  • Mutual loyalty

Hmmm, sounds a lot like relationships based on trust on mutual benefit doesn't it. Who knows, maybe it will catch on.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shifting Paradigms- An Interesting Endeavor

So here I am again talking about shifting paradigms and why that is so critically important at this juncture. Based on my experiences of the last few years, but especially the last few weeks I thought I would share and discuss "the road less traveled".

As my partner brilliantly explained several months ago, a paradigm is how we see things. It represents our "filter" or belief system. As you might suspect it plays a huge impact on how we do our jobs, live our lives, and view change as either a threat or an opportunity.

One of my clients is engaged in paradigms shifts in two fundamental areas that are both very different, yet intertwined. They are involved in the "business" of philanthropy. Actively seeking donations and dollars from people to invest in the infrastructure of health care delivery. I talk about at least two major paradigm shifts because at minimum that is what we are dealing with.

The cost and delivery of health care in the U.S. has reached critical mass. You can debate where the "fault" lies, but at this stage does it really matter? We have millions of under-insured and uninsured in the system. As the economy continues to falter those numbers will increase, not decrease. In addition to the cost dimensions of the crisis we are reaching critical mass in yet another dimension of delivery- the availability of trained health care professionals at every level, from primary care physicians to nurses and other related skills.

We have relied historically on employer and government based systems to provide much of the care. As employers "get out of that role" we will see increased pressure on the government side. Health care organizations are also seeing more patients "present" or access care through the emergency room, the least efficient way for that to occur. It is also the most expensive and providers are being forced to "write off" more and more care. As the economy declines I fear that trend will increase rather than lessen.

The philanthropy model in many cases has the "grateful donor" as its core. The grateful donor is based on care being provided to a loved one or the person themselves and their willingness to give something back. There is also the approach of providing for the less fortunate as a sense of "noblesse oblige". My concern is that neither of these models addresses the root causes of the problem.

Another client, also in the health care "business" is engaged in an effort to address issues like cost management, efficiency, reduced reimbursements, and other issues as well. Like many businesses engaged in such a culture change the tools of benchmarking, cost reduction, lean delivery, and others are being evaluated and implemented.

Next week, I am going to have the opportunity to talk about Web 2.0 or "social networking" with a group of business people and why it is relevant to them.

What ties all of these things together is that each requires a paradigm change, a new way of looking at things. That change is behavioral and emotional, not just systemic.

I have written a great deal about the concept and criticality of engagement over the last few months. Engagement is the art and science of successfully executing a paradigm shift. Done successfully the organization enjoys significant competitive advantages in productivity, profitability, and sustainability. Done unsuccessfully or attempting to execute change without considering engagement and you have a melt down. Can you say Detroit or the financial services debacle?

I had the opportunity to read an interview with Roberto Sebutal, CEO of Itau Unibanco in the McKinsey Quarterly. I am attaching the link for you here:

I would suspect that most of you like me, have never heard of him before. He is the CEO of a financial institution that by market capitalization represents one of the top 20 banks in the world.

He may be my new hero. The interview describes his decision to boldly embrace a new paradigm and embrace a change strategy in an organization that was performing well and considered highly successful both internally and externally. Mr. Sebutal was a visionary who saw the need for change and embraced it before his institution was in crisis. His strategy also embraced some things that would bring terror to the average Boardroom, among them:
  • Decentralization of decision making to the lowest appropriate level.
  • Creating forums for people involved in the decisions to have input and challenge "conventional wisdom" without fear of retaliation.
  • Changing the human resource management systems to include; hiring "right", performance management, compensation delivery, and other key behaviors and metrics.
  • Making commitment to the new culture mandatory for continued employment and either allowing or encouraging individuals who couldn't or wouldn't make the change pursue other options.
  • Building transparency into the decision making processes for both employees and customers.
  • Holding himself and his executive team personally accountable for role modeling the appropriate behavior.
  • Recognizing it is a journey rather than an event.

When asked where the bank was in the transformation process he responded " we have been at the process for about three years, I see us as being about halfway there."

Mr. Sebutal didn't just execute a change program, he is leading a paradigm shift. The other interesting thing is almost all of the key initiatives he discussed are about people and relationships rather than about systems and numbers. He is creating commitment rather than compliance and building upon a foundation of trust rather than systems.

So my point is that the paradigms we are currently using are going to have to change. The old ones simply aren't relevant and they aren't working.

If you take a look at Sebutal's approach and my Compliance to Commitment model(TM) you might just see some parallels.......

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Afternoon With Bob Dylan...

I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with Bob Dylan today; not literally of course, but in my car traveling between client engagements. Maybe it was the fact that it was a beautiful afternoon, a rarity in Oregon this early in the season, my mood or whatever. It gave me a opportunity to listen deeply to someone I believe to be one of the greatest poets and storytellers of this century. One of his songs about "Maggie's farm" was especially compelling with the lines "I have so many ideas in my head I think I may go insane" and another "the more you try to be yourself the more they try to make us all the same". Pretty profound stuff, especially if like me you find yourself occasionally traveling to the beat of a different drummer.

My time this week is being spent differently, yet somehow the same.

I spent yesterday morning with a deeply committed executive and community steward who is embarking on a new role to create a system of philanthropic outreach in multiple communities to address the issue of health care costs. Our discussion was about a new paradigm both for the team he will be working with and the communities they serve and the donors they aspire to cultivate. Philanthropy has traditionally been interpreted as charity. We are trying to redefine it as an investment in both a societal infrastructure that is critical and as a potential economic engine to catalyze a stalled economy. It is also vitally important to him that this team see him as a resource and coach rather than an "imposer" of corporate solutions. In his own way he wants to build an infrastructure and relationship based on commitment rather than compliance. An endeavor I applaud.

This morning I had a chance to speak to a group of human resources professionals about "hiring right". I deliberately chose to take an esoteric track and talk about attributes and commitment rather than profiling and skills assessment. I truly believe than technical skills are not enough. When I look back at the model created by Roger Deprey, the Human Resources Pyramid; Paul Hersey's Situational Leadership, and Ron Willingham's congruency models I see a lot more potential about creating engagement and the resulting benefits than I do with DISC or other profiling techniques. I am not saying profiling for skills and attributes lacks validity or value, I just don't think they create engagement. I took the tack this morning that the first step in creating real engagement is your selection process. Hiring "right" is as much about values and cultural fit as it is abouts KSA's, maybe more.

Tomorrow and the next day I am getting an opportunity to work with a cross functional, multi level group including supervisors, union stewards, and executives on conflict resolution. The fact that we are doing it at all and doing it in "mixed" groups is a brave experiment for this organization. The first step of addressing an issue is admitting you have an issue. I am intrigued and excited about my opportunity to work with this group on their "maiden" voyage of a training like this.

Perhaps because I am so committed to it I see all three of these endeavors as people and organizations taking a step towards recognizing and embracing the power of relationships and people as well as the importance of "systems" in addressing the issues that face us as both business people and members of society. Maybe I am just seeing things and Dylan and I have that "insanity" from too many ideas in common. I wonder.

I don't think the current paradigms are going to work, we are going to have to challenge, experiment, "fail", and try again.

In the meantime if you get the chance to spend an afternoon with Bob Dylan I strongly recommend it. If you really listen it will tell you a story and make you think, and I think that is what great poetry and great music are supposed to do......

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