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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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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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Plans for 2009- Engage Your Workforce!

So we have completed our first full week of 2009. What do you think? I see 2009 from a mixed viewpoint. On one hand we are facing some of the most difficult financial cirumstances in almost 100 years. On the other hand we have a newly elected President and perhaps a catalyst for action that we have needed for a long time.

I have had the "opportunity" to have many titles and roles to this point in my career. Perhaps the most accurate one has been that of change agent. I recognized a while back that maintaining the status quo doesn't play to my strenghts very well. Organizations seem to value my particular skills and contributions when they want to do something different. My experience has also taught me that change rarely comes without some kind of a significant catalyzing event- positive or negative.

I would like to think that if nothing else 2008 has left us with a clear indication that many of the things in the current "system" aren't working. I think in many cases we already knew that, there just wasn't enough of a compelling reason to change, so we didn't and our markets failed.

I see and hear a lot about hanging on to employees who may be concerned about job security and company stability and from employers saing this may be an opportunity to "upgrade" their current workforce because of the unemployment situation. I hear employers talk about their frustration with the "entitlement" mentality of some employees and employees complaining about management "spin". What that tells me is that before our bubble burst we were operating in a kind of mutual codependency- we didn't trust our employers all that much, but we weren't willing to push too hard. Employers really didn't want to spend the time "engaging" their workforce because it is hard work and you probably have to make some fundamental changes. How did that model work for us?

I am recommending to my clients that we use the current environment as a foundation for creating a new relationship with their employees, their customers, and their communities. Maybe now would be a really good time to examine that "engagement" thing. To build a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and all that other "soft" stuff.

You might say that sounds pretty Pollyanna- OK, what's plan B? Why not now? The first elements of my compliance to commitment model are respect, responsibility, and information. You should notice something interesting about them- none of them involve parties, lavish budgets, or other "expensive solutions".

I read an article recently that said that we are losing $200 billion per annum in the U.S. to "presenteeism". Presenteeism is where employees show up, but are operating at half or three quarter throttle because of personal issues, health concerns, poor morale or ineffective management. Yes, that number was $200 billion. At that rate we are peeing away the equivalent of the financial bail out three times every decade.

I guess since we seem to have the health care crisis, and unemployment, and world hunger and other stuff under control we really don't need that money.

You might recall that in some of my previous posts I have talked about the upside of engagement like increased productivity, reduced attrition, and increased customer satisfaction, think about the upside potential of recapturing 25 or 50% of those lost "opportunity" costs and putting it back to work.

I will tell you it won't be easy. I don't have a magic pill or a perfect solution. Plan B is to have the government "fix" it. So far I think we have spent one third of the bail out funds and we seem to have forgotten to get a receipt! Don't get me wrong, our situation is bad enough there is room for a new paradigm where corporations, government, communities, and individuals all participate.

So my plans are to try to do this this engagement thing- one client, one company, one community at a time. What are your plans?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Back- and Forward

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have found 2008 to be a very interesting year. The year started with my decision to return to consulting after a multi year hiatus. Even more interesting I decided to spend part of it recapturing my "roots" in the Southwest.
I decided in returning to consulting I also wanted to look at a different model- focus on creating engaged organizations and what it takes to build them and sustain them rather than just the usual projects.
I wrote and published my first book- people tell me that is a significant accomplishment. I tell them it took me thirty years to write the book, it took me several months to write it down.

The year also caused me to seek out and create connections with people all over the world through the use of social/business networking sites like LinkedIn and others. I have to tell you I have "met" some amazing people and created relationships that I will value for years to come. The value to me isn't necessarily commercial, it is the opportunity to engage with and exchange ideas with people from all over the world. I know I am much richer for it, I hope they are as well.
The current economic situation has definitely given us pause and hopefully motivation for introspection. We have seen this "coming" for some time and chosen to participate in collective cognitive dissonance, just pretend it wasn't there.

Maybe I had just been buried, but it also seems to me that 2008 has brought a profound resurgence of interest in employee engagement. Everybody seems to be talking about it and how to get it and keep it. I guess that is one of the ironies. In this time of crisis we are willing to do almost anything to re-stimulate the economy, even communicate with and engage our employees as partners rather than as just a cost of doing business. Technology and systems don't build and sustain long term success, relationships and people do.

We elected an African American president and saw a woman on the ticket for the Republican party, both historical firsts. We saw a female presidential candidate achieve another historical milestone with her candidacy.

2009 brings its challenges. The economic situation is one of the worst in the last 100 years. Being the optimist that I am I hope that it will also create a catalyst for doing things differently. Perhaps we will be willing to examine a new social contract between employer and employed with more appropriate balance in the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Maybe we will recognize that we live in a global economy and be more willing to appreciate and take into consideration what is going on in a global context rather than just our world.
Maybe we will even recognize that issues like health care, financial literacy, education, and other matters will require a collaborative effort between business, government, and individuals to fix.

For some reason I approach 2009 with the audacity of hope. I hope you do as well. Thank you for all of your support in 2008 and best wishes for 2009. It is up to each of us to decide how we apply the lessons of 2008. I hope we do so wisely.

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