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Updating the Social Contract

Updating the Social Contract

Feed a person once, it elicits appreciation.

Feed him twice, it creates anticipation.

Feed him three times, it creates expectation.

Feed him four times, it becomes an entitlement.

Feed him five times, it produces dependency.

Robert D. Lupton Charity Detox

I read this book over the weekend. Although it primarily deals with the failure of our current “charity” models in the United States and around the world, I found application for it elsewhere.

Lupton talk about social entrepreneurs in the book, people who believe that while profitable enterprise is necessary, profit that elevates the community is much more valuable than profit that only benefits a few stakeholders.

I consider myself a social entrepreneur. I remember coming across the concept a few years back reading articles published by thinkers like Michael Porter, Nilofer Merchant and others.

I find Lupton writing especially poignant and current because of the situation in my hometown. We have a serious issue with codependency.

For decades, the economy was largely based on the extraction industries, timber and aggregates. A combination of technology, reduced demand, and environmental restrictions reduced that footprint significantly and in many ways the local economy has never really recovered from it.

During the Clinton Administration, the Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act was passed providing what was intended to be temporary relief, kind of like spousal maintenance in a divorce, a subsidy while the economy transitioned to other industries.

 It was initially planned for six (6) years, but has been extended several times. We didn’t get the message and really haven’t done a good job of transitioning.

All though we have a great location, and a world class university, the biggest employers in our community are governmental agencies and not for profits. Not a good long-term model.

Lupton argues, and I agree, that only a strong for profit based economy fuels stable healthy communities. He argues for what he calls holistic community development. That model measures return on investment not only in financial return to shareholders. You ask questions like:

·         Is the community coming together?

·         Is healthy leadership emerging?

·         Is self-sufficiency increasing?

I don’t blame progressive political leadership for all of where we are, in fact corporate leaders introduced the concept of codependency many years back.

 Over two hundred years ago that some of our founding fathers were struggling with two related concepts as we tried to distinguish ourselves from the feudal system, a system that distinguished between a ruling or ownership class and serving class determined at birth, that we had left behind. One of those concepts we have held onto with a passion, declaring it to be one of the cornerstones of the American experiment- the concept of personal property ownership; the idea that through your own achievement you should have the ability to accumulate and own property without regard to your prior economic or social status. This is the cornerstone of the capitalist system. We hear this principle invoked every day, especially when we feel that the government is inserting itself where it doesn’t belong.

The other principle that we don’t hear nearly as much about is the right of personal competency. The rights to build your skills, express yourself, and sell your products and services as you saw fit. The interesting thing is that there was not only an implied right, but a responsibility.

The Industrial Revolution impacted this model in a couple of ways. We shifted from an agrarian society to industrial which created a new kind of feudalism, a new dynamic which moved from the fields to the factories, but kept its own version of master and serf; and we ran out of territory to open.

Prior to the legislation passed in the late thirties and early forties we created a kind of industrial serfdom- collective bargaining was formally or informally outlawed- we restricted the rights of personal competency.

It also seems in a way that over the next sixty years we gradually embraced a semi-feudal model. Large corporations in many ways replaced the feudal monarchs and nobility- we created a sort of corporate co-dependency, especially under the models of Theory X and Frederick W. Taylor and scientific management; which states simplistically that we should break things down to repetitive tasks that common people could perform over and over without much thought.

People couldn’t be trusted or expected to make good decisions. We needed to dumb things down. This was the advent of white collar- those who think, and blue collar- those who do.

They would do what they were told and in return the nobility or management would take care of them, and we did. We promised lifetime employment, we provided for their healthcare, and for their retirement. I’m not going to say we did it willingly; organized labor played a huge role in providing these things as well as industrial safety, limitations on work hours, and others. It does seem though in a way we lost the equality factor, we began to “take care of them”, and they began to expect it.

Management wasn’t willing to or couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain for the long term.

We saw parents and grandparents who had been promised “lifetime employment” lose their jobs. Capitalism or personal property remained, but often at the expense of the American worker as we outsourced, downsized, and off shored to protect profit margins. People became a “cost” rather than an investment, this was the birth of the concept of human capital, an expression I still despise.

That is why we continue to lose billions annually due to the costs of dis-engagement and the ancillary costs of unhappy, unfulfilled employees.

Upton says in his book that creating a codependent relationship with someone is the most disrespectful action you can take in a relationship. I couldn’t agree more.

He goes on to make two other statements that resonate with me-

·         You can’t serve people out of poverty, you create codependency instead.

·         Education alone will not solve poverty issues.

The problem with education alone is that often it creates social mobility, the best and brightest leave their communities rather than reinvest or return.

Upton describes a different model that he refers to as the Three R’s of Community Development-

·         Re-neighboring, under this model we create mixed income communities. Instead of outsiders providing charity or services you have neighbors/residents who are invested in upgrading the community because they live there!

·         Reconciliation, when we create economic and racial/ethnic diversity you create neighbors who are invested in the infrastructure and success of their community.

·         Redistribution, is based on exchange. The idea that everyone in the community has something to offer and bring to the table. He mentions that interestingly sharing resources is much more common in less affluent neighborhoods.

Some of this might sound like a pipe dream, but I agree with Lupton that there is no such thing as a non-profit on a sustainable basis. You may have entities that re-invest their surpluses in their mission, but organizations that can’t sustain themselves are destined to fail.

He recommends a model of economic missionaries, people who invest their expertise and vision not just write checks. He calls it results based charity.

In our community, we have a homeless issue, but many of our solutions are based on continuing a pattern of codependency and entitlement rather than building capacity. In fact, we have created an environment where new businesses don’t care to relocate here and existing businesses struggle because of a toxic environment.

I am not promoting purely trickle- down economics, but I am promoting more social entrepreneurialism. I would rather see us invest in vocational training and community development efforts that additional entitlement programs.

Everyone is capable of and should be respected enough to contribute to their community. Those who are unwilling need to move on, not be subsidized.

We aren’t going to build a stronger community with not for profits and government agencies as our economic engine.

I am an advocate for personal competency which I don’t think of see as someone taking care of someone else.

I hear a lot from people that the new Generations are much different than previous generations. They aren’t loyal. They want more freedom and definition of their work and involvement.

·         They expect to be treated with respect and want to respect their employer

·         They expect clear expectations

·         They define loyalty as a mutual investment

·         They focus on identity based trust rather than trust invested in certifications or titles

 I hear a trust based relationship between equals. Maybe these “new” generations are taking us back to the beginning. From compliance to commitment, a relationship based on respect, responsibility, information, rewards, and earned loyalty not the fealty of corporate codependency, where “obedience” is rewarded with job security and retirement benefits.

Our Founding Fathers believe that with the principles of personal property and personal competency were the values of the balance between individual rights and societal rights. I don’t have the right to pursue my goals to the obvious and callous detriment of others. Madison in the famous debates between Brutus and Publius talked about a central government to deal with issues of the great and aggregate.

Let’s build better models. Let’s build them with respect for individual capacity and capabilities as a foundation and develop more social entrepreneurs with a focus on building stronger communities.

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In Search of ....Loyalty

The Illusive Nature of Loyalty

As anyone who has ever read anything I have written or had to sit through one of my trainings or presentations knows I am an advocate of employee engagement or commitment over compliance.

The concept of loyalty is one of my personal pillars of an engaged relationship, but I think I might just define it differently from the traditional sense.

Under the old compliance model; the relationship between employer and employed had elements of what many would call loyalty.

We used to see employees work for a single employer for years, perhaps even decades. The idea was that if an employee did a good job they could expect a degree of job security that would take them through retirement.

Maybe it is just me, but that good seemed to include a healthy dose of obedience. It was also amusing or perhaps more ironic that most employers who did not have unionized workforces saw employment at will as almost a sacred principle. When I say ironic it is because while employers valued this construct they struggled with the idea that the concept of employment at will is entirely based on equal balance.

Yes, the employer can terminate any employee for any legal reason without notice or reason, but the employee retains the right to terminate the relationship without notice or punishment as well.

Over my multiple decades as an HR practitioner I spent countless hours explaining and arguing with employers that they couldn’t preserve their at will rights and then punish employees who correctly interpreted the concept and acted on it.

As we globalized the concept of mutual loyalty got significantly diluted. In the sixties, seventies, and eighties you saw right-sizing, outsourcing, and a number of other approaches to reduce costs by decreasing the workforce. I personally believe this is when the concept of human capital really took root. We de-personalized people and started looking at them as an item on the balance sheet.

The Millennial and Gen X generations grew up during this period. That is part why they view the employment relationship with such cynicism.

I grew up essentially in the Southwest, so I saw a different construct of loyalty. The Southwest is the birthplace of the cowboy. Being a cowboy was just a job, it was a philosophy. It was not uncommon for cowboys to travel from ranch to ranch offering their services as required.

We have an expression called riding for the brand. Very loosely interpreted it meant that while I lived in your bunkhouse, ate your food and rode your horses you had my loyalty and could reasonably expect me to give you my best efforts. It was a temporary and transitional relationship that had a degree of independence for both parties. There was mutual trust and respect on the part of both parties.

I smile when I hear employers lament the loss of loyalty. These are often the same organizations that during the recent recession adjusted wages, reduced workforces and told remaining employees they should expect or request salary increases, but rather should be grateful to be employed.

And then the economy began improving….

The most current discussion of loyalty is with our current President. It seems he expects, or rather demands personal loyalty above all else. We heard that when his tumultuous relationship with Director Comey was disclosed and even more recently with his chief of staff.

It seems Mr. Trump doesn’t define loyalty in the traditional sense, but rather more in the old definition of absolute personal fealty.

It is also interesting to me that he is as transactional in his own personal loyalty as the CEO’s I hear complain about disloyal employees.

I have personally chosen to define loyalty more in line with my cowboy roots…

First, loyalty is based on the mutual trust explained by Stephen MR Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust, at that illusive third level; identity based trust based on shared values and experiences. That is the kind of trust that you hear described by members of a military unit that has served together or even an athletic team. It is earned and it is reciprocated.

Second, that reciprocity is foundational. Both parties see inherent value. We don’t measure loyalty in terms of tenure, we measure it in terms of contribution.

Just because someone has been with my organization for a long time doesn’t mean they are loyal. Recent studies indicated that close to twenty percent of the U.S. workforce is actively disengaged, that means they come to work every day and do as little as possible and in fact actively disrupt or sabotage the workplace. The scary thing is these employees or no more likely to leave than employees who are neutral. They quit and stay.

Third, loyalty can be transitional. You never arrive. Like engagement it is something you actively work at every day and you never take it for granted.

So, I would suggest that before we require or expect loyalty we do the work of earning our stakeholders trust and respect and that we cultivate and nurture it.

I think that Mr. Trump like many CEOs I have known is living in a fantasy world. You don’t demand loyalty or respect you earn them and part of that process is that it is reciprocal and based on shared values.

We also gave up the monarchy in the 18th century, loyalty should be to the values and principle embodied in the Constitution not to a person, but rather to the office.

Maybe I am too literal, but it works for me…

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A Better Model

 

Would You Stand Under the Arch?

The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: He stood under the arch.”

Michael Armstrong

When I used to teach a unit on leadership for our local Chamber of Commerce I would challenge those emerging leaders to “come to work every day willing to be fired for doing the right thing”.

 I used to tell the people on my HR teams the same thing.

Over the last few weeks that has been a lot out there in the blogosphere that talks about what I might call legitimacy.

I believe that to a large extent leadership, as opposed to management, is founded in legitimacy.

Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical.

A transitioning special operator from the US army described it to me this way-

On our teams we have a shared leadership model. It was only when our new officers recognized and embraced that they really needed to earn our trust that we would truly follow them. We could learn from them, but they could also learn from us.”

I would submit that these special operators, the elite of our military which include groups like the Navy Seals and Green Berets epitomize high performing teams and engagement.

 As a manager you have the authority of your position and the benefit of what Covey calls deterrence, authority that comes from rules or position. We would like to believe that management also incorporates Covey’s second level competence, but I am not sure that is true.

At least not competence at the right things.

 In many cases the competence we rely on in elevating someone to a management role is based on application of their technical skills, their competence in emotional and social intelligence are still considered “soft skills”.

In my over 30 years as a human resources professional, C level executive, and management consultant it has been interesting to see emerging and current “leaders” bridle at the idea that they have to earn trust.

For many it is an expectation that trust is embedded in their role.

It is very chic today to dismiss collective bargaining and unions as passé, but any student of the relationship between employer and employed realizes that up until the 1940’s the concept that employers needed legitimacy through the input of their employees was considered ludicrous.

I suspect our new President isn’t big on the legitimacy model….

Many of our current models still have their roots in scientific management-managers manage and people do. If you see people as human capital, what is the likelihood that you are seeking the endorsement of those you “lead”?

Michelle Berg wrote a great post a few weeks back telling us about a conversation she had with a group of marketing professionals about why she “hates” HR. If you read the article what Michelle is really describing is a leadership fail- we ask HR to make up for what she calls shitty leadership.

I agree with her, I have seen a lot of this in my three decades plus career, and the reality is that this really is a leadership fail, not an HR fail.

I remember many years ago when our CEO couldn’t figure out what key metrics to assign me as the Human Resources manager for my management incentive plan, (That’s a topic for a whole separate post).

He proposed that my entire incentive be based on executing a meaningful improvement (ten percent or more), on our employee climate survey.

I would be the only manager who had this goal….

I countered with the idea that I would put the same percentage of my incentive on the line for that single metric as he was…

As you might suspect he wasn’t amused. He also declined to accept my challenge. He wouldn’t stand under the arch.

I think one of the fundamental differences between management and leadership is that commitment to personal accountability and being willing and able to create alignment with the vision.

There are some excellent models out there to accomplish this kind of alignment. Three of my favorites are offered by Stephen MR Covey, Patrick Lencioni, and Malcolm Gladwell.

Covey talks about the three levels of trust and the trust tax that the majority of organizations are paying.

Lencioni lays out a roadmap for what he calls the journey to organizational health, with the two most critical factors being building a cohesive leadership team and creating and reinforcing clarity.

Gladwell talks about legitimacy.

According to Gladwell legitimacy occurs when three elements are present-

• Those who are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.

• There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.

• The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

There are interesting connect points between these three (at least to me).

Covey describes his three levels of trust and how it is the third level, identity based trust, that is the most critical.

He uses scary words like intimacy, transparency, and shared experiences. It gets even scarier when he describes the idea that credibility is a function of both competence and behavior.

You have to do both.

Lencioni describes trust as the critical foundational element of a cohesive leadership team and organizational health. I am pretty sure he means identity based trust versus deterrence or just knowledge.

I see these elements in Gladwell’s description of legitimacy. Words meet actions, consistently.

There is and has been a lot of discussion about employee engagement these days. There are detractors who say it is all bullshit and then supporters like me who think if you aren’t seeing results it’s because you are doing it wrong.

Lencioni describes three biases that can get in the way of meaningful cultural change and I see them in the way many organizations approach engagement-

·         Sophistication- it is just too simple. I hear from organizations a lot when we introduce fundamental skills training for emerging leaders that there is no “rocket science” to things like setting expectations, giving feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching.

I agree the concepts aren’t rocket science you just have to do them consistently and hold people accountable if they aren’t doing them!

·         Adrenaline- creating organizational health and identity based trust doesn’t happen over a long weekend or a management retreat. It doesn’t happen by conducting an engagement survey either. Engagement is a culture, not a program. It doesn’t belong to HR.

·         Quantification- although we have gotten a lot better at being able to quantify the benefits of engagement it is still a little bit nebulous. I here from people “we did a survey and engagement and/or productivity didn’t improve.”  I ask them if they addressed the issues from the survey and I get the thousand- yard stare. Or they tell me that “gave it to HR to fix”.

Changing a culture is hard and the work never stops. It is also a systemic process. You can’t just approach one part like hiring or compensation and expect to see widespread results.

For the last three decades I have been promoting and teaching the merits of an employment relationship based on Commitment rather than compliance.

My particular model is based on five elements-

·         Respect- everyone has an absolute entitlement to be treated with respect for their personhood.

·         Responsibility- I am a big fan of what our Founding Fathers called personal competency. People should be treated like adults and expected given clear expectations and feedback to meet those expectations.

·         Information- I am a huge believer in context and a link to the big picture. Simon Sinek calls this the Why.

·         Equitable compensation- people perform better when they believe they are being paid fairly for their effort and they understand how those decisions are made. Paying someone fairly is a threshold, not a breakthrough.

·         Mutual Loyalty- when I hear employers lament the lack of loyalty I want to laugh. Employees didn’t invent the term human capital or come up with strategies like outsourcing or offshoring to increase profitability. Loyalty should be measured by contribution, not tenure.

 

These elements are anchored on a foundation of trust. I would go so far as to say you have to have trust at all three levels to experience true engagement.

When the employment environment is optimized in a commitment based model it results in employee engagement.

Surveys still come out every year that reinforce that the most important role played by human resources professionals is compliance. This is consistent from both operational executives and human resources professionals themselves. This is what Michelle was referring to when she called it shitty leadership!

Alternatively, a recent survey of all four generations in the workforce identified the following on employee’s wish list-

• Open and transparent communication

• Respect for them and other employees

• A supervisor/boss that coaches and supports their growth and advancement

• A supervisor/boss that recognizes them and their performance

I don’t think you need to negotiate your culture with employees, but I do think they are entitled to clear expectations, constructive feedback, and fair treatment.

When you provide that kind of context you are allowing employees to join up with you.

On that foundation when change is introduced you do it with rather than to people.

Engagement and legitimacy don’t “belong” to HR, they belong to leadership at every level.

At the individual manager level, I would encourage you to consider the following

·         Ask your internal and external customers how you can help them and make them more successful. If you don’t think you have any internal customers give me a call. We have work to do.

·         Ask your staff what obstacles you can remove to make their job more efficient or easier.

·         Ask the people on the front line how your products and services can be enhanced or modified to make them easier to address their needs.

·         Ask your peers how they think you and your group are doing. You are an internal service provider.

·          Ask your boss how you can help them. This may seem a little obvious, but you will be surprised from how you communicate to taking a task off their list can make a difference.

 At the organizational level, I think we need to address these things with a level of urgency.

While the number of employees who rate themselves as highly engaged had remained constant for a few years (around 30%), those numbers are starting to decline and disengagement and voluntary attrition in an already competitive market are on the rise.

For those of you unfamiliar with disengagement, it is the phenomenon where employees are extremely unhappy, but they stay and “poison the well” rather than look for other opportunities. What is truly scary is they are no more likely to leave on their own power than employees who are neutral.

The data is in and it is conclusive - there is a direct correlation between employee engagement and customer engagement. In fact, the data shows a direct relationship between disengagement and presenteeism and turnover to the tune of $5 trillion annually.

We can’t run away from it anymore….

 

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Which Bus Are You Riding?

Umm, The Bus is Moving!

I am going to go out on a limb and state that if you ask most people to name the ten best books on leadership that every emerging and current leader should read, Jim Collin’s Good to Great is going to be on that list.

One of the great lines that everybody can quote from that book is “getting the right people on the bus”.

Great thought, my issue with it is the bus is moving, not parked!

As I have mentioned previously both CEO’s and human resources executives have indicated that attracting, retaining, and optimizing the deployment of talent is a key priority for them.

There is a lot of discussion on hiring and selection these days as there should be.

Here is a news flash, really cool computerized recruiting platforms, employee engagement surveys, and compliance isn’t going to address these issues.

Neither are six sigma, lean, or any of the other process oriented systems that we want to believe are a panacea.

We still largely hire and recruit based on technical competencies, especially at the managerial levels. It isn’t working.

Hiring people who not only possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform tasks; but also whose values and goals are congruent with those of your organization is one of the most important things you can do to ensure success.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you hire great people and manage them poorly you waste the energy you spent in hiring and selection!

A great article I read a few years back pointed out some things that have really stuck with me about three critical factors that you have to consider when you are hiring and managing those right people; the team, the time, and the game.

The author made this point about the “team - the play of individual players is affected significantly by the team they are playing on. They can play up or down based on the synergy of the team.

I like to think of this as “fit” If they don’t fit their ability to excel is compromised or affected negatively. Conversely you see people’s contributions increase substantially when the fit is there. We see this in professional sports all the time and we see it in organizations if we are being truthful.

The “time” is also critical. He used the historical analogy of Winston Churchill during WWII. Churchill both prior to and after the war didn’t represent the right fit. Organizations evolve as well and the skills and how we deploy them need to evolve with what is happening in a particular time.

Last, but not least examining the game is also critical. We have a love affair especially in this country with the concept of “best practices”. We don’t always look at the applicability of best practices from one industry to another. In fact, we have well respected firms who enjoy a very lucrative business installing their “templates” in organizations across the world. If it doesn’t work, you aren’t doing it right.

My analogy for this is creating organizational culture. There is no one right culture; there is a right culture for a particular organization.

Most of our employment models are and have been based on an acquisition model. We create sets of rules or protocols for everyone; applicants, hiring managers, and human resources to follow. The model isn’t an invitation to join up, it is a transaction.

I think most corporate employers look at Employment at Will the same way Charlton Heston looked at the right to bear arms; you will pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

I think sometimes that makes us sloppy and indifferent. Sloppy and indifferent to the tune of $5 trillion dollars in turnover costs annually in the U.S. alone. Add in another $200 billion for “presenteeism” and you are talking about real money, aren’t you?

When I discuss poor practices and the costs and efforts associated with poor hiring I get the typical “Shit happens, people come and go. If someone doesn’t work out, we can always terminate them or lay them off.”

What if you couldn’t? What if you were “stuck” with the employees you have, what would you do then?

I think one of the things you would do is to have a way better process. You would be much more careful about who you hired and who was involved in the process. You might ask questions about things like “fit”, “potential”, alignment with “values”. I’ll bet the people involved with the process would be more senior and better trained. You wouldn’t rely on your “gut” or a computer program to make the decisions for you. Because these people will be with you forever, and forever is a very long time isn’t it?

What I suggest you do differently:

Hire Differently

There is simply no substitute for hiring appropriately.

Technology will not overcome bad hiring and frankly neither will training. If you start with an inferior “resource” either by poor selection techniques or poor orientation you will never end up with a superior result. The $5 trillion we lose to turnover annually isn’t an anomaly, it is a consequence.

I had an opportunity to complete a two- part radio interview a while back on a related topic. One of the panelists, a former C level executive asked me a series of questions on this very topic –

“What do you do if you have the wrong people who refuse to change?

My reply will probably make a lot of folks unhappy. I said two things:

• First, you need to fire your HR and/or staffing team for being incapable or unwilling to identify and fix the process that is allowing you to continue to make bad hires.

• Second, you need to fire the management team that doesn’t address the issue.

I sincerely believe that most employees at least start their jobs with the intention of doing a great job every day. When I say most I am talking in the high 90th percentile. When they don’t do what we want or excel it is typically a case of where we hired or placed the wrong person or we are doing a poor job of managing them!

• Choose carefully at the start. I call this Hire Hard- Manage Easy. If this is a relationship not a “date” you should think it through.

I am also a fan of profiling.

• I think you should recruit and hire people who share your values as an organization.

• I think you should talk about your values and build your brand in rather than bolt it on.

• I am a big fan of concepts like congruency, where employee’s view of key activities and practices is consistent with that of the organization; not only what we say, but what we actually do.

I think you can have organizational congruency and not illegally discriminate against anyone because of their color, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected arenas. I think when we commit rather than comply we perform better because we see our role as partners rather than master and servant.

Manage Differently

A recent study by HR consulting firm Ranstad reports that 8 out of 10 respondents indicating that having a good working relationship with their boss is very important to them. As a corollary the single most frequent reason cited by employees leaving organizations is a poor relationship with their supervisor.

When you see trouble, intervene early. Don’t watch someone struggle or fail to address an issue because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

• Stop waiting for them to quit. Studies show that actively disengaged employees are no more likely to quit than employees who are neutral or passively disengaged. They “quit” all right, they qui contributing!

 Worse yet, they stick around and poison the well!

• Right person, wrong fit? Is it the employee or did we put them in the wrong job? How many times have we taken a good “technician” and turned them into an awful manager?  

• Are they being managed properly? My experience has taught me a lot of “performance” issues stem from mismanagement. You can’t manage everybody the same way. Poor skills or application of skills at the front line manager level is one of the biggest contributors to turnover, litigation, unionization, etc. It doesn’t matter if you are a “servant leader” if your front line supervisors are tyrants.

If you have a poor performer who is still in your organization six months after you identify the problem the issue isn’t with them, the union, or HR, it is a management problem.

My experience is that most unions don’t protect poor performers; they just keep us honest and make us apply a consistent process.

I don’t believe that management is a genetically programmed capability. You can in fact train people to be competent at management. They might never be charismatic leaders, but charismatic leadership isn’t necessary in every managerial role.

Choose Leaders Carefully

There are some things that are essential-

• The ability and willingness to earn and give trust

• The ability to set clear expectations

• The ability to give and receive constructive feedback in a timely way

• The ability to diagnose performance issues and apply appropriate corrective action

If you have members of your management cadre who can’t or won’t deploy those skills you need to either train them, move to a different job, or make them available to your competition.

I have written, spoken, and even publically pleaded with organizations about the importance of employment branding and its direct and indirect connections to employee engagement, so I am not going to focus on it a great deal here, but instead discuss leadership brand.

Develop A Leadership Brand

A great post I read talked about a father’s conversation with his son who had just completed a summer internship. When his Dad asked him about the experience he replied that he enjoyed the work and his colleagues, but the “big boss” was a real jerk. The father was somewhat surprised that his son had an opportunity to meet the most senior executive of a large corporation as an intern, turns out he hadn’t.

The son’s perspective was framed entirely from correspondence and the perspectives shared with him by colleagues and coworkers. I think we can say this leader has a leadership brand issue…

I also read a series of books written about the evolution of King Arthur and Camelot. I found it more interesting than most series because it actually started two generations before Arthur was conceived and outlined a leadership development strategy and succession planning that modern organization could take a page from.

Leadership as described in the Camulod context included some concepts that Malcom Gladwell and Stephen MR Covey have discussed and I find intriguing.

They covered concepts, like trust, legitimacy, and engagement that given that engagement remains at around 30% and trust hovers at 50% says they are still very relevant today.

There are a zillion different leadership styles in the literature, I happen to be a big fan of Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® model which recognizes one size doesn’t fit all either with people or organizations.

I read the articles and posts that have taken the position that women are inherently more dispositioned to be leaders and genetically coded to have higher emotional and social intelligence and my reaction is bullshit.

Our issues aren’t gender based, but I believe more a matter of aptitude and training. Our leadership models were based on competency and deterrence for generations and ignored identity so we practiced a flawed model.

So my recommendations in cultivating your leadership brand include-

• Build on a base of identity based trust. You have to master the first two levels to achieve that.

• Ensure that your actions incorporate legitimacy both implicitly and explicitly

• Manage people, not human capital. People are individuals, respect that and treat them accordingly.

So in conclusion I leave you with the following thoughts:

• Hire hard, manage easy!

• Hire for attribute, train for skill!

• Hire smart people. You can teach smart people to do almost anything, but you can’t teach people to be smart!

• Hire whole people whose values are congruent with those of your organization and don’t rely exclusively on interviewing to test that congruence!

At the end of the day the team with the best players playing together wins! Just like my colleague said- the team, the time, and the game.

Because remember- the bus is always moving!

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We Can Do Better!

Hiring, Employee Engagement, and Other Epic Failures

Some days you just wonder. I will soon be “celebrating” almost my fourth decade as a human resources practitioner, executive and management consultant and when I watch what is happening I continue to be a bit frustrated and disappointed.

Employers still whine about candidates and employees. The current target seems to be the Millennial generation. They are selfish, lazy, demanding, blah, blah, blah.

Truth is I haven’t found that to be any truer of them than any other generation.

 They are more distrusting based on what they observed and are more willing to be explicit about their expectations, but I find that when their purpose is aligned with your purpose they will work their asses off.

Edward Deming back in the Forties as part of the Total Quality Movement suggested treating employees more like partners and less like human capital (we just called them labor back then) and we are still at a place where around 30% of the workforce rates themselves as highly engaged. It has been 70 years!

I know that there are those who say employee engagement isn’t real, but those are the people who approach it as a program or event rather than as a culture. I remember when quality was treated the same way- we inspected it in at the end of the process rather than building it in.

When I look at a lot of hiring and selection processes I give us a D-. We have lots of automated tracking systems and other technologies that have dumbed down our candidate sourcing process, but we still focus very much on two dimensional hiring. Look at the average job description.

In 1935 Congress passed the Wagner Act, better known as the National Labor Relations Act, legalizing employees right to join a union and collectively bargain with their employer because employees and employers don’t trust each other or perceive they share a common purpose and interests.

A very recent survey concluded that almost 50% of employees across the board generationally don’t trust leadership, their supervisor, or their team mates.

The NLRA and Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the most important things to happen to human resources professionals in the history of employer-employee relations because they imposed laws and sanctions for not doing it right. They also made HR relevant to management for the first time.

If you ask human resources practitioners today what the most important role they play in their organization, a significant majority will tell you it is ensuring compliance with State and Federal laws and regulations.

The others spend their time addressing what Michelle Berg refers to as “shitty leadership”.

No surprise there. Sixty percent of leadership candidates seek those roles to make more money, not better the organization or help develop staff.

Just as disappointing is when I hear that the attributes that make someone a good leader like emotional intelligence, emotional balance, and self- awareness are inherently feminine, that women are genetically programmed to be better leaders.

I find that as offensive as suggesting that African Americans genetically have more rhythm than white people or people of Latin-Hispanic descent are genetically more volatile and emotional.

I have not given up hope, there are just some things we need to do differently.

·         We need to acknowledge that trust is the foundation of every solid relationship.

·         We need to acknowledge that Commitment is far superior to compliance. People want to buy into your purpose.

·         We need better leaders and we need to recognize technical competence is the minimum not the standard and that effective leadership can be taught and must be reinforced.

·         We need to recognize that the best way to create highly engaged organizations is to build it in rather than try to bolt it on. That true engagement is about alignment. It is a culture not a program.

There is a great opportunity for Human Resources professionals to lead this charge. Compliance is a baseline.

I propose a new role for HR-

• HR helps the organization answer the Why question posed in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

• HR helps identify the values and attributes that are fundamental to and congruent with the Why. As I have said before creating alignment for people who already share your values is much easier than trying to “fix” people.

• HR helps identify and deploy the competencies that reinforce the performance that we desire and ensures that those are practiced consistently across the organization. Those include setting expectations, giving feedback, course correcting, and coaching among others. Those competencies belong to managers, not HR.

I would like to see human resources professional demonstrate the following:

Technical Skills- The proliferation of rules and regulations has indeed made the profession more complex as has the application of technology, phenomenon like social media, outsourcing and global workforces, and related challenges. I needed to be technically proficient, not only in our craft, but to understand the businesses and organizations I served.

 • Project Management Skills- Similar to the Total Quality Management movement I believe human   resource competency in core areas needs to be deployed broadly and deeply rather than be seen as a departmental competency. It is fundamental to the management/leadership role, not just human resources departments!

   • Facilitation Skills-  We need to help our client organizations recognize that by building relationships with individuals as people first and resources second we can create enormous gains in sustainability, productivity, and profitability through alignment of organizational and individual goals.

Based on my experience I would also challenge leaders to take some additional steps:

• Ask your internal and external customers how you can help them and make them more successful. If you don’t think you have any internal customers give me a call. We have work to do.

• Ask your staff what obstacles you can remove to make their job more efficient or easier.

• Ask the people on the front line how your products and services can be enhanced or modified to make them easier to address their needs.

• Ask your peers how they think you and your group are doing. You are an internal service provider.

• Ask your boss how you can help them. This may seem a little obvious, but you will be surprised from how you communicate to taking a task off their list can make a difference.

I would also challenge you to become a champion of commitment over compliance and helping create an environment that encourages true engagement.

How do you do that?

• Hire the right people

• Incorporate the elements of commitment rather than compliance.

• Be flexible about process and ruthless about principle.

• Build on a foundation of trust.

• Remember it is all about relationships.

My experience has taught me that overcoming inertia is one of the most difficult things to overcome in creating meaningful change in an organization is inertia or complacency. If you go back and look at some of the opportunity costs I identified there really is a role to play for human resources to become a catalyst and change agent.

Most HR practitioners want respect and opportunity. This is the path I followed from HR to the C suite and to a role as a successful management consulting career. I am not a rocket scientist. If I could manage it, you can as well.

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Is It Just Me?

My colleague Laurie Ruettimann cracks me up some times. I don’t always agree with her posts, but they are always thought provoking, timely, and relevant.

In her latest post she was discussing the succession planning for the CEO for SHRM (The Society for Human Resources Management). For those of you not familiar with it, SHRM is the largest professional association for human resources professionals in the world.

Among other things SHRM provides a certification process to be acknowledged by your colleagues, has conferences and various and sundry other things like national associations do.

Laurie’s defining SHRM as the AARP of Human Resources was what cracked me up. She was imploring the search committee to recruit someone who isn’t an insider and who has a grasp on the issues that are relevant to organizations and employees today.

I guess her post hit both my relevance and amusement thresholds because of some other events I have experienced recently-

·         The Edelman Trust Barometer- which for the last 17 years has measured trust in the media, business leadership, elected officials, and non- government agencies recorded their lowest scores ever. Media and elected leaders were totally in the shitter and business leadership squeaked out a 52% confidence level.

·         The Presidential Election-  I am going to go out on a limb and say that there are a number of folks who have expressed their concerns about our newly elected president and some of his choices for Cabinet and other appointments. (Is that an alternative fact?) Um I don’t think so given a whole bunch them just participated in a big ass march a couple of days ago.

·         A Recent survey from Clutch reported-

- Thirty-two percent of Millennials are likely to leave their job within the next six months. Only 11-12 percent of older employees are likely to quit in that same timeframe.

- Forty percent of Millennials do not consider themselves fulfilled at work, which is nearly two times greater than Generation X employees and almost four times greater than Baby-Boomers.

- Forty-one percent of Millennials feel neutral to negative on their manager's ability to provide accurate and consistent feedback.

·         Employee Engagement- another survey reinforced the idea that if your approach to increasing employee engagement is to conduct and report on an annual survey you are hosed. Even though it decried the use of surveys as THE tool, it went on to discuss the monumental benefits of having and engaged workforce on retention and recruitment, productivity and quality, and even expenditures for employee health and wellness.

For those of you who have been asleep at the wheel, Millennials now make up the single biggest demographic in the workforce and time is on their side, it’s going to get bigger not smaller.

So as I understand it most employees don’t trust leadership, the population is in flux about the election (see my first point), Millennials are saying they want more meaningful feedback from their managers and are unfulfilled at work, and we haven’t made significant progress in addressing the root causes of employee disengagement and reaped the rewards of developing and implementing new models.

The part that draws it all together for me is that earlier this week I received an invitation to attend the local SHRM chapters monthly meeting and presentation. The topic – Creating a Transgender Friendly Workplace.

I want to be clear. I am not anti- transgender and I feel like every employee without regard to their gender, religious affiliation, age, national origin, race and any other non- relevant factor has an absolute entitlement to a work environment that is physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe. Period end of story.

That being said I think we have some significant issues to face as leaders and as a society and a great start would be remodeling our leadership training and selection models and we have a lot of work to do.

It is entirely possible that I am just insensitive, but I would be curious to hear other opinions……

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The Trust Crisis

The Trust Tax

When I had the opportunity to read Stephen MR Covey’s brilliant book, The Speed of Trust, a couple of years ago one particular quote really stood out to me-

Every organization earns a trust dividend or pays a trust tax

I thought the book in total, discussing the basis and levels of trust and the elements involved should be required reading in every business school and leadership program internationally, but that statement really stood out for me.

As an executive and management consultant for over 35 years I have been trying to instill that message in organizations where I was part of the management infrastructure and to my clients.

An article I had a chance to read from the Harvard Business Review shared some information that I found abhorrently fascinating- The Edelman Trust Barometer which has surveyed tens of thousands of people in over 28 countries reported that for the first time in its 17- year history the average trust level in all four of the institutions measured (Government Officials, Business/CEO’s, NGO’s and Media) was below 50%.

Government came in last, closely followed by media, but 48% of respondents did not trust business leaders to do the right thing.

A great quote from a book I read earlier this year, Barbarians to Bureaucrats, had a pretty compelling reason why this is such an issue.

-the decline in corporate culture precedes – and is the primary causal factor in the decline of a business, and that decline is the result of the behavior and spirit of its leaders.

In this day and age of consumerism and social media the accountability to earn and sustain trust rests with management at all levels and platitudes and generic mission and value statements isn’t going to get it done.

The advantages of employee and customer engagement are clear and compelling and two key points-

•             You will never have sustained customer engagement without employee engagement.

•             The foundation of engagement is trust. You have to do the work.

Angela Duckworth in her book Grit, talks about how cultures form-

Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why become the way I do things and why!

Some of my favorite leadership authors including Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, and others all talk about creating a healthy culture and its criticality to sustained organizational success. They also share that the foundation for every healthy culture is trust!

Research from Josh Bersin concluded that in descending order the most important things to Millennials are culture and values, career opportunities, and confidence in leadership!

Why is that important? Because Millennials are now the largest demographic in the workforce and that is only going to get larger over the next five to seven years!

The Edelman Trust Barometer just concluded we got an F in three out of four categories!

I haven’t talked to a lot of organizations lately that have declared victory in terms of organizational performance and employee engagement.

Well, you can’t build a tower with a faulty foundation and when employees don’t trust leadership that is faulty!

Jamie Dimon, CEO of Morgan Chase shared some tips on how he selects senior leaders for his organization-

The first are attributes, Capability, character, and how they treat people. The next are two simple, but compelling questions:

•             Would I let them run the business without me?

•             Would I let my children work for them?

How many of us ask those questions as part of our hiring process?

How many of us are building the concept that earning and sustaining identity based trust is a journey and an expectation for leadership candidates in our own organization?

 Trust isn’t an entitlement!

Leadership in this area is going to need to come from the business sector. Government came in dead last in the trust race and based on the last election and actions since then I wouldn’t count on our elected leaders for guidance or improvement.

How long can we pay this kind of tax?

 

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Let's Do This!

 

I had the opportunity yesterday to read a couple of things that I found quite validating and I will freely admit to being shallow enough to enjoy seeing things that agree with my perspective.

The first was an article about the Ritz Carlton’s secret recipe. It is pretty simple; your employees are the foundation of your brand.

·         Herbert’s rule number 1- employees that are not engaged with your brand and purpose will not engage your customers.

The second article talked about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook and the fact that the principal organizational value is trust. It goes on to say that you must trust in order to be trusted.

I have told everyone I know and a bunch of strangers that I think that Stephen MR Covey’s The Speed of Trust is one of the all- time best business and leadership books I have ever read.

His three levels of trust are both simple and profound.

·         Herbert’s rule number 2- I don’t give a rat’s ass where you graduated from, what your title is, or your position on the organizational chart, identity based trust is personal and earned it doesn’t come with your degree, your title or your position.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that in Patrick Lencioni’ s book, The Advantage, his first step in building a healthy organization is creating a healthy organization is a cohesive management team and the foundation of a cohesive management team is trust. Interesting steps two through four are all about clarity which sounds remarkably like brand and purpose to me.

I suspect Simon Sinek would call it your Why.

Are we seeing a pattern here or is it just me?

Here is another interesting pattern.

A 2014 study reported that some 41 percent of respondents said the most important factor in their decision to apply to an organization was a company’s values. Nearly half of all candidates said their first relationship with a company was as a candidate — which means that’s the juncture when employers have to get it right. More recent studies have remained consistent with this premise, especially Millennials and the Generation following them.

If you are asking yourself why that is relevant to you the reason is that the Millennials now make up the largest sector of the workforce and your future candidate and leadership pool.

·         Herbert’s rule number 3- It is much easier to hire and promote people who share your values than to fix them after the fact. They probably don’t think they are broken.

This concept of people who share your values is called Congruency© and as described by Dr. Ron Willingham it has five elements-

·         My view of the activity

·         My belief in my ability

·         My willingness to do the work

·         My belief in the product/service/organization

·         The relationship to my values

A couple of things I have found very interesting about congruency-

1.       Very few organizations build it into their hiring and selection process.

2.       Almost every performance issue I have ever encountered had one or more levels of congruency as a root cause.

So here is what we have learned from some of the most successful organizations in the world.

·         Treating your people like stakeholders not human capital is critical to employee engagement and sustained organizational performance.

·         You can’t have employee engagement without trust and congruency, which I have also referred to as organizational alignment.

·         It starts with your leadership team, if they don’t display these attributes you are hosed.

What trust and congruency look like in every organization may be different, but those foundational elements are present in every high performing organization.

Given that

·         The emerging generations have told us that these concepts are critical to them

·         They will soon make up the majority of the workforce

·         Study after study has demonstrated that organizations that embed these values outperform their competitors on every KPI and in every sector of the economy

Why would we give up this kind of competitive advantage?

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What Did We Learn?

I am not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I find most of them have a shelf life of about thirty days max.

I am however a pretty big fan of reflection.

In honesty I found 2016 to be a disappointment. The year started with some promise, but then kind of petered out.

I think one of my biggest disappointments was that it seems like this leadership thing still seems to elude us. We still use expressions like human capital and continue to want to minimize the human interaction in our hiring and recruitment processes.

This year I became pretty much a raving fan of Simon Sinek. His advice about starting with Why, describing how leaders eat last, and some of the issues faced by Millennials in the workforce really captured my attention.

Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage and Angela Duckworth’s Grit were also among some of the best stuff I read.

I also read things that while they resonated with me caused disappointment like a great blog that shared the dirty little secret that the vast majority of our graduate business programs don’t include anything about foundational concepts like trust and emotional intelligence and still secretly reinforce a lot of Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management theories.

Which is where I think the idea of people as disposable assets got their roots in modern society. Prior to that we just called them serfs. I guess human capital is nicer.

I read things that said that employee engagement and emotional and social intelligence are all bullshit and hocus pocus because they can’t be properly measured. I disagree. The fact that you do a shitty job of executing on a concept doesn’t invalidate it, it just speaks to your leadership skills.

The ship has sailed on whether or not engagement is real and it can affect the performance of an organization. Organizations where employees consider themselves highly engaged outperform their competitors in every key performance indicator and engagement is a universal rather than a North American phenomenon.

I had the opportunity to work with a recently retired member of an elite military unit about his transition. We explored things like Covey’s trust model and Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last.

His reaction is “duh”. These concepts have been embedded into the culture he spent his adult life to date in. The fact that these are an epiphany in the private sector stunned him a bit.

He shared with me that being a leader in these units is the easiest job in the world. Everyone is highly competent. Everybody is committed to the mission. The leader blocks and tackles.

Our elite military units have mastered something that in the private sector we call an employment brand.

My colleague Brad Federman very elegantly described an effective employment brand in a post a while back-

Don’t chase people. Be an example. Attract them.

Work hard and be yourself.

The people who belong in your life will come and stay.

Just do your thing.

I was pretty struck by the profound elegance of this statement both for individuals and for organizations. I wish I had of heard this before giving life and career advice to my millennial aged children.

I think organizations should have a leadership brand too, how we expect leaders to behave and what we hold them accountable to do.

Kind of like trust and respect your leadership brand should include legitimacy. I like the way Malcolm Gladwell described legitimacy in his book David and Goliath.

·         Those whom are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.

·         There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.

·         The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t   have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

When I read about what Millennials and the following generation is seeking them seem to want legitimacy from their leaders as well along with the purpose and identity based trust that Covey and Lencioni describe. I think they are right.

I enjoyed some success in 2016. We had a number of folks show up for the leadership training we do and more than a few folks read my ramblings on my blog and other posts so I guess there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

So I guess as we make the turn I will keep talking about managing whole people, relying on identity based trust as your foundational principle, and recognizing that your employment brand dictates your business brand and that your customers will never be more engaged than your employees.

We still have work to do on this leadership thing too…

See you next year.

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We Are Doing It Wrong!

A couple of things I have seen recently reinforced for me what we continue to do wrong in our efforts at leadership.

The first was a story about a teacher who almost took delight in grading the work of a child in her fourth grade class and giving him the failing grade that his unorganized, sloppy work deserved.

Because she was thorough she chose to read evaluations of his past work by his previous teachers and discovered that a very bright child was affected by his mother’s serious illness and eventual death and the absence of any meaningful attention from a grieving and distracted father.

The epiphany associated with that discovery caused her to make a fundamental shift in her approach to teaching. Instead of teaching subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic; she began teaching children- a profound distinction.

The poor performing child went from a distracted student to a practicing physician and shared with her along that journey how compelling her intervention was in his achievements.

In another story teachers were exposed to the question – what I wish my teacher knew about me.

The students wished that their teachers had a little more of an appreciation in what was going on in their lives outside of school and the classroom.

I have been a practicing manager for over three decades. I remember the model I was originally exposed to as the fundamental skill sets of effective management- planning, directing, controlling, and budgeting.

We were still immersed in the precepts of Frederik Taylor’s scientific management model. Some were born to do, others born to manage or lead.

As a young human resources professional we were tasked with administrative activities and relieving managers of less valuable activities like setting expectations, providing feedback, coaching for optimal performance, and taking appropriate corrective action when performance didn’t meet expectations.

The Civil Rights Act and its amendments and additional legislation that followed that made discrimination on a number of issues illegal and introduced affirmative action to try to right wrongs gave human resources some leverage because the requirements weren’t well understood and proliferated.

The models were still very much about compliance, if employees would be loyal (defined obedient) they would be rewarded with a degree of security upon retirement. Then we discovered outsourcing, down- sizing, and offshoring to optimize financial performance and the contract was broken.

According to a recent survey over fifty percent of people seeking additional managerial responsibilities do so to increase their earning potential.

Executives acknowledge that highly capable manager with well- developed leadership skills cause their organizations to outperform their competition by a significant degree, yet less than half feel their organization does a good job of developing leaders.

A few years ago I got very enamored with the concept of what we are now calling employee engagement. Even before the data was available something told me that there was a better way. It inspired me to publish my first book, Managing Whole People, in 2008.

In the intervening years the data has become much more prevalent and compelling. We have made some progress in changing the model, but the dark years between 2008 and 2010 brought back a lot of the predatory practices of the past inspired by high unemployment and employees feeling trapped.

We have four generations in the workplace now and the latest two entrants look at work and the employee-employer relationship very differently.

They expect employers to provide them with a compelling purpose for the work that they do, to invest in them and their personal and professional development and to earn the trust and respect if they want to see it reciprocated.

I think they are right. Terms like human assets and human capital make me grind my teeth. Human resources practitioners who believe the most important role they play in their organization is compliance piss me off, and executives who still refer to managing people as a soft skill annoy me to distraction.

Like that teacher discovered we have been doing it wrong. We need to recruit, manage, and retain whole people. We need to provide alignment and purpose and manage people and talent not assets.

You don’t need to be a therapist or a social worker. You do need to build and reinforce identity based trust and there is not a degree or a training program that can do that for you. You have to do the work and you have to do it every day.

The benefits are clear and compelling, so is the downside of doing what we have always done.

If you think that emotional and social intelligence don’t exist, you are screwed. You live in a bubble of your own construction. If you think that trust and respect are perquisites that come with a position or title you are going to fail.

Let’s fix this….

 

 

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Time to Update Your Brand!

 

A few years ago a client of mine shared a conversation he had with another CEO of a high technology firm who was lamenting that a particular large Midwestern city had a significant shortage of qualified engineering talent. He asked his friend how he had come to that conclusion and his colleague indicated they had been recruiting for talent for almost eight weeks with limited results. My client responded, “There isn’t a shortage of talent, your company has a lousy employment brand. Do you think if Apple or Google were recruiting in this same location they would have any difficulty recruiting the talent they need?”

My client is exactly right. Certain companies and I would include organizations like Amazon, Google, Apple, and Zappo’s among them, don’t have any issues recruiting the talent they require. They have managed to achieve a certain cachet not only about their products, but about their company. They have a clearly defined employment brand.

People join cultures not organizations and they leave managers not companies. Your product or service brand will never be better than your employment brand.

Here is another reality check- The workplace is about to span five generations for the first time ever in history; Silents, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.

A 2014 study reported that some 41 percent of respondents said the most important factor in their decision to apply to an organization was a company’s values. Nearly half of all candidates said their first relationship with a company was as a candidate — which means that’s the juncture when employers have to get it right.

Another reality is that to a large extent leadership in developing new social models is going to have to come from the private sector.

In the business world we have a population of approaching twenty percent that are actively disengaged in their current employment environment. That means they come to work every day pissed and minimally productive. The costs of that have been well documented in terms of absenteeism, lost productivity, health care expenditures relating to mental health, obesity, and other factors.

Do we really think that meaningful leadership in addressing these issues is going to come from our elected officials? Especially considering that there is a large population that is refusing to acknowledge the outcome of the Presidential election. Added to that I would have to say that many of the selections the President elect has made for Cabinet appointments give me pause. These folks don’t seem to be interested in making the world a more collaborative place.

Our leadership models are in large part stuck in the past. We still focus very heavily on what my colleague Geoff Searle refers to as technical intelligence. Technical intelligence doesn’t build trust and trust is foundational to a solid employment brand.

Dustin McKissen, founder and CEO of McKissen and Company, talked about this in a blog post in Inc Magazine, The Rotten Core of Every MBA Program.

He specifically cites our ongoing infatuation with Frederick W. Taylor and his Scientific Management models-

While Taylor's theories are viewed as harsh and impractical today, his work was still cited in every class I attended that discussed the roots of modern management science. What's not often discussed is how little Taylor thought of the people who actually produced products in the factories he studied.

I mentioned that in a recent blog post. Traditional MBA programs train candidates to be what Lawrence Miller described as Bureaucrats and Administrators in a book he published almost 30 years ago. Given his observation and the fact that McKissen published his observations just a few months ago I am pretty bummed.

The competition for the best talent is on the upswing and my personal experience validates the conclusions of the 2014 study- the new employee is looking for a role where they feel challenged and congruent with the values of the organization.

The concept of human capital and maybe even human resources is dead. We hire whole people and rent their talent. They aren’t disposable assets and are going to require the same care and feeding as customers, maybe more and like customers their ability to cut through the bullshit are being honed and applied.

 

Step back and look at your approach to talent and people systemically or suffer the consequences…..

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History- Study or Repeat?

I had a chance over the holiday weekend to read a book a client shared with me, Barbarians to Bureaucrats, originally published in 1989. The book describes leadership styles and business life cycles and as I read it I was reminded of other great books that have tried to express the same message over the past three decades.

One of the great quotes from this particular book is “the decline in corporate culture precedes – and is the primary causal factor in the decline of a business, and that decline is the result of the behavior and spirit of its leaders.”

I have certainly found that to be true over my almost four decades as a human resources practitioner, executive, and management consultant. Culture eats strategy!

I have to say that as I read this I saw application not just to the “corporate” world, but society in general as I look at the vitriol and nastiness of our latest election for the Presidency. We have a national culture problem.

I have a passion for the concept of employee engagement, a concept that has been around for almost three decades in some form or another, but has not been universally embraced.

The ship has sailed on whether or not engagement is real and it can affect the performance of an organization. Organizations where employees consider themselves highly engaged outperform their competitors in every key performance indicator and engagement is a universal rather than a North American phenomenon.

The author also talks in his book about a couple of other concepts that explain our failure to launch.

He talks about the two sides of the coin as it relates to national involvement, public purpose and private interests.

I have embraced the thinking of people like Michael Porter and Nilofer Merchant that all profit isn’t equal. Social profit, profit that benefits society and total versus just a smaller shareholder group has more long term benefit. I prefer the stakeholder versus the shareholder mentality.

The other thing that he discusses is the myths of the perfect culture and the perfect management/leadership style. That simply isn’t the case.

How many times do we see organizations (and consultants) shlepping around a template[MH1]  of the perfect culture?

When Good to Great was published everybody ran out to copy it. It is interesting to me that although several of the organizations that Collins cited don’t exist anymore almost every executive I know has a copy on their bookshelf. Some of them have even read it.

I remember reading Situational Leadership back in the early nineties and incorporating it into my tool kit with the idea that you need to meet people where they live and flex your leadership style accordingly.

We still don’t like to talk about soft skills and we aren’t very good about teaching them. I saw something as recently as today that said that the concepts of emotional and social intelligence don’t really exist because we can’t scientifically validate them, we should rely on IQ.

Sorry professor you are wrong. Everything can’t be validated. We have this thing called religion, which is based on faith which although it can’t be validated seems to have caught on…

Perhaps because of my professional development as a human resources practitioner the idea that leadership is based on behavior not words and that at the end of the day it is a relationship rather than a position these things resonate with me.

I see corollaries to this book in Gladwell’s David and Goliath, where he discusses legitimacy as part of the leadership infrastructure and Stephen MR Covey’s The Speed of Trust, where he identifies the three levels of trust and how the achievement of identity based trust is critical to sustained organizational performance. Perhaps I am reaching, but I also see a relationship to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle in terms of giving people something to believe in.

Scientific management created the foundation for what I believe this author describes as the Administrative and Bureaucratic stages of an organization, where processes become more important than people and definitely more important than the product.

The author talks about this being why we have lost a great amount of our manufacturing competitiveness to foreign locations, first Japan and Germany because of quality, and then to other outsourced markets because of cost. A situation that hasn’t improved drastically in the thirty years since the book was written.

He also talks about the importance of balancing financial, planning, and technical competence with creativity. I would add leadership competence, those soft skills like emotional and social intelligence and the ability to flex your leadership style to the situation and the constituent base.

I can’t say that there was a lot of new ideas in the book that I hadn’t been exposed to before, what is a little troubling is how little meaningful progress we have made in the almost three decades since it was published.

I am also watching to see with the outcome of our election whether we have chosen a Barbarian who can create change or more concerning a business aristocrat masquerading as a change agent.

Jefferson described two camps relative to their view of people-

·         Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all power from them into the hands of higher classes (Frederick W. Taylor and Scientific management).

·         Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish them and consider them as the most honest and safe.

I would submit that if the term human capital is part of your vernacular and you see culture and employee engagement as the province of your human resources department you have declared your colors…

 

 

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What Trumpet Do You Hear?

The Pillars of Effective Leadership

Leadership is one of those interesting topics that everybody, me included, writes and talks and preaches about.

Whether great leaders are born or taught, whether women are inherently better leaders than men, and whether or not there is a meaningful difference between leadership and management.

My answers to those questions are yes, not necessarily, and yes.

On a more serious note I had a chance to read some excellent contributions from four different people that I greatly respect that kind of distilled leadership into some key elements for me so I thought I would figuratively take pen to paper and share my take away’s.

My first contributor is my friend and colleague Geoff Hudson Searle who in his upcoming book, Meaningful Conversations, He differentiates between technical intelligence, the ability to demonstrate competency at disciplines ranging from financial management to science and technology, and emotional intelligence, the ability to inspire trust and commitment by understanding the motivations and behaviors of others.

Unfortunately, most of our “leadership” development pipeline is based on the former rather than the latter. In fact, as I have shared before many candidates seeking “leadership” roles do so in order to continue to see career progression and increased earning potential. They are not drawn to leading people particularly at all.

Much of our leadership development and management modeling are based on Covey’s first two levels of trust, statutory based on power and position, and knowledge based with a foundation based in competency or what Geoff refers to as technical intelligence. The research shows competency is indeed a foundational element, but not enough to create or sustain alignment or engagement.

Emotional Intelligence, the ability to identify different emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior, is critically important.

In fact, I recommend to my clients we do not hire or promote individuals into management unless they display a reasonable capability in this area.

The problem is two- fold. First, it still isn’t necessarily well understood and applied; and second, it isn’t enough.

Justin Bariso, Founder of Insight, had a great post today on the seven myths of emotional intelligence or EQ. He identified these –

1.       DENIAL- Emotional intelligence doesn't exist.

2.       Emotional intelligence is just common sense.

3.       You can control your feelings.

4.       More emotional people are naturally more emotionally intelligent

5.       Sharpening your EQ is easy

6.       Once you've got it, you've got it

7.       Those with high emotional intelligence always make the best leaders

As somebody who has spent over three decades as a C level executive, HR executive, and consultant I have heard these and more.

Emotional intelligence is indeed real. If it was common sense, we wouldn’t see better than 60% of the working population not engaged or actively disengaged costing our economy billions annually!

We would all like to think can control our emotions, in fact that is what distinguishes us from the “lower” species, but the lizard brain is alive and well. Research has shown that when our rational mind finds itself in conflict with our emotional/feeling mind the emotional mind wins 85% of the time!

That is why Simon Sinek tells that creating a safe environment is the leaders number one role.

Being emotional and emotionally intelligent are two different things and increasing your EQ is both hard and continuous.

People with high emotional intelligence and no conscience are called high functioning sociopaths!

The fact that you are clued into the emotions and motivations of people is no guarantee they will only use their power for good rather than evil, or that they are benevolent or nice. Just ask anybody that worked for Steve Jobs, or for me for that matter!

That is a great intro to the next pillar, what the guru of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman calls Emotional Balance, the ability to keep disruptive emotions in check, to maintain effectiveness under stressful conditions.

His research indicates that this leadership competency is critical because emotions spread from group leaders to group members.

 Research done at the Yale School of Management shows when the group leader is in an upbeat mood, people in the group catch that mood and the team does better. Similarly, a leader’s negative mood causes team members to become negative and their performance to plummet.

Does it matter if a boss blows up at an employee? You bet it does. Research shows that employees remember most vividly negative encounters they've had with a boss. They remember it much better than the positive encounters. After that encounter, they felt demoralized and didn't want anything more to do with that boss.

Is there anybody out there that has not experienced this phenomenon?

Steve Jobs and others are famous for being brilliant, but also for having these kinds of outbursts. In my own experience this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome shows up in a bunch of ways, none of them positive including-

·         High turnover, great talent won’t put up with it.

·         Difficulty recruiting. Your “brand” gets out and people don’t want to work with you.

·         Active or passive disengagement. Some quit and stay, others actually actively try to sabotage the organization.

Goleman calls this the crucial competence-

“We did research with over 1,000 executives from around the world, CEOs, Board members, top leaders, about the characteristics of the best leaders. The number one response is the ability to stay calm and collected. In a crisis, being able to manage your own emotions and stay calm, be able to create this island of security and not spread your tension around.”

Once again feeling like you don’t know whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is going to show up from day to day doesn’t contribute to Sinek’s circle of safety or Lencioni’s organizational health.

The last pillar I want to cover is from Andrea Thompson, a retired military officer and now Director of the McChrystal Group, a management consultancy.

I’ve been asked by soldiers around the world, What’s the one thing I should know to be a better leader?” My answer remains the same: Know who you are, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Self-awareness will be that “extra something” that boosts you up the corporate ladder.

As we move up the ranks in our careers, our technical skills are usually the primary reason we get promoted. We closed the most deals or sold the most product. But as we develop as leaders, functional excellence is no longer the main component required to be high-performing and succeed as a senior leader.

Those leaders who soon recognize that their own behaviors and emotions have a domino effect on their team—and adapt accordingly—build stronger teams. Self-awareness is that “combat multiplier” that not only makes you a better leader, but those on your team better leaders, too.

Colonel Thompson spent almost 30 years as a serving officer on the United States Army including roles as the national security advisor to the House Committee on Homeland Security and executive officer and chief of staff to the Undersecretary of the Army so she has some street cred with me at least.

You could say that self-awareness is embedded in emotional intelligence or emotional balance, but I don’t think so.

I have seen leaders who are highly balanced and emotionally intelligent that just flat can’t see themselves in the mirror or worse can only be comfortable selecting and promoting people who are their mirror!

So for me when I look at developing my leadership pipeline technical intelligence or competency is the base threshold for entry into management, as people develop into leadership roles and especially C level roles I want to see them move through the gates of emotional intelligence or EQ, self- awareness, and emotional balance.

Most of these things can be to a large extent taught so no gender of ethnic group has the market cornered.

You can say that these represent high hurdles, but I leave you with this thought –

Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.

Donald Walter

 

 

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A New Roadmap

The Road map

My colleague Brad Federman shared the following thought the other day-

Don’t chase people. Be an example. Attract them.

Work hard and be yourself.

The people who belong in your life will come and stay.

Just do your thing.

I was pretty struck by the profound elegance of this statement both for individuals and for organizations. I wish I had of heard this before giving life and career advice to my millennial aged children.

We hear a lot these days as to whether or not we should follow our passion, our purpose, or just the money.

For me after a lot of sleepless nights and mistakes along the way I have decided to accept purpose as my person lighthouse. I like the lighthouse metaphor because unlike GPS or a map it doesn’t show you the route, it just illustrates where the rocks are in your path.

I have a passion for the concept of employment brand which in my definition is how your culture translates into reality for your customers and employees.

Wells Fargo pretty much screwed the pooch the last few weeks with their brand. A group of employees stole a bunch of money from customers.

Management says it was a few bad apples. Former employees say it was and is an aggressive sales culture where you live and die by the numbers.

It makes me very nervous. This was the foundation of the Recession. I was in banking at the time. When you incentivize a bunch of people to write loans without meaningful consideration for whether or not they can ever be paid back you build a house of cards.

The CEO of Wells Fargo apologized. As Senator Elizabeth Warren said that isn’t enough. No senior manager was fired. No executive to date has been required to pay back the bonuses they were paid on those “earnings”, including that CEO. Their brand sucks.

Your organizations employment brand is the perception by current and future employees of what working in your organization is like.

Some organizations enjoy a very strong employment brand. I would include Google, Starbucks, Accenture, and Zappo’s in this arena. People have a pretty clear perspective about what these organizations value and the profile they seek.

In addition to an employment brand you have a leadership brand. I think Wells Fargo’s leadership brand sucks even more than their employment brand.

Leadership branding includes some concepts that Malcom Gladwell and Stephen MR Covey have discussed and I find intriguing.

In Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath, he discusses at some length the concept of legitimacy – which he defines like this:

• Those whom are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.

• There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.

• The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t   have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

Legitimacy is a concept you don’t hear much about in organizations or B schools, but then I especially like to tweak it a bit further by adding a discussion of Covey’s three levels of trust.

In his hierarchy the first level of trust is deterrence, trust that comes from authority or position. This was a broadly accepted concept for hundreds of years provided first to rulers or religious leaders and embedded in Calvinism that God only allowed “good” people to create wealth and prosper so they were endowed with that trust.

The next level of trust Covey calls competency based. In many cases there is an assumption that anyone who achieves a management role has that competence, but we all know better. In most cases their competency is limited to technical proficiency; their emotional intelligence capacity and social intelligence are rarely considered.

I have encountered literally hundreds of recent MBA graduates who are supremely confident in their ability to lead based on their shiny new diploma demonstrating “mastery” of the concepts. You can have mastery without practice.

I just finished reading The Toyota Kata, which talks about among other things why almost no other organizations than Toyota have ever mastered their model and achieved the productivity increases they enjoy.

Most organization employ the steps, but don’t understand the underlying philosophy that is deeply embedded in the culture. It is systemic, not just systematic.

The highest level of trust in Covey’s hierarchy is identity based trust which incorporates both your competency and you character as demonstrated by your applied values and behavior to create credibility.

I personally believe that to a large extent leadership as opposed to management is founded in legitimacy. Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical, it has to be earned rather than bestowed with a title or position.

I recently started working with a recently retired member of an elite military unit about his transition. We are exploring things like Covey’s trust model and Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last.

His reaction is “duh”. These concepts have been embedded into the culture he spent his adult life to date in. The fact that these are an epiphany in the private sector stunned him a bit.

He shared with me that being a leader in these units is the easiest job in the world. Everyone is highly competent. Everybody is committed to the mission. The leader blocks and tackles.

Sounds like identity based trust and legitimacy.

It also sounds like the foundation of employee engagement. In addition to trust and legitimacy, personal competency is expected and reinforced.

It starts in the selection process. If you don’t buy into the values and you aren’t congruent you don’t get in the boat.

You read studies every day how attracting and retaining talent is a critical priority for both human resources and C level executives. I don’t thing automated applicant management systems and better compliance is going to build an organization like Brad described.

Don’t chase people. Be an example. Attract them.

That is simple, but not easy. It requires a different leadership model and organizational paradigm, but all you have to do is look at the statistics between engaged and unengaged and the “Return on Investment” is pretty clear.

I don’t know about you, but I think I am going to heed Brad’s advice and maybe keep trying to share it with others…….

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My Personal Litmus Test

Are You Providing Value?
I am a pretty big fan of James Altucher. If you haven’t read any of his stuff you might want to check him out on LinkedIn or Fortune Magazine or any of the other places that he publishes or his podcasts.
He is sometimes irreverent and always self- deprecating. He talks about his successes, but mostly about his failures.
He says things that a lot of people might find alarming like how owning “stuff” like houses and expensive cars is not advisable because ultimately it owns you.
His latest blog post, The Difference Between Making Millions and Failure I found especially interesting. He sums it up quite simply- add value.
You hear a lot these days how advising people to follow their passion, find their purpose, etc. is all bullshit. I don’t know that I agree with that in the entirety, but I think there is value in asking how what you do and how you do it is going to add value to others or the world in general.
My last blog post explored why I do what I do. I think most organizations, public and private do a pretty shitty job of bridging people, specifically employees, customers, and shareholder/stakeholders. We see them as inherently competing interests.
I have shared before that a significant survey on management and leadership concluded that the single biggest reason most people pursue leadership or management roles is because they want to make more money.
Not make the organization better or grow their people. That is not adding value.
I have occasion to come into contact with a number of not for profit organizations on a regular basis ranging from very large organizations like education and health care providers to local service providers with a much narrower focus.
I use the term not for profit as opposed to non- profit very deliberately. The point that I try to make with these organizations is that profit at its most basic is the amount of revenue that exceeds expenses and there is nothing fundamentally immoral or amoral about how that excess is distributed.
I find that the idea that an organization should goal for and achieve solvency on a regular basis doesn’t always make me very popular. The idea that the organization should be held accountable to have a clear and compelling reason that it exists and perform its services in an efficient manner is seen by many as an elitist or purely capitalistic viewpoint. I disagree.
I think my viewpoint is consistent with Altucher’ s proposition that the absence of that clear value proposition is a fail.
I am a social entrepreneur. I don’t think all profit is equal. I think profit that increases social equality and opportunity is better. The broader the stakeholder base you impact the more value you are creating.
Just so I am clear that I am not singling out not for profits I want to share that I find Seth Godin to be one of my favorite business authors. I don’t put him up on a pedestal or see everything that he writes as either brilliant or that I agree with, but he provided some simple points for would be entrepreneurs that I think have application for every organization-
• If you have never been paid for your product or service it is a hobby, not a business.
• If the only people who have ever utilized your product or service are friends and family it is a hobby, not a business.
I have encountered a number of not for profits who believe that their first and most compelling objective is to raise funds and invite donations to their cause.
On the other hand, I see organizations that do provide meaningful services and a clear and compelling value proposition who are severely criticized because they do things like a successful business-
• Create and execute a business strategy
• Create a strategy to attract and retain the talent necessary to drive the organization and pay that talent competitively.
Those NPO’s get Godin’s point, if nobody is buying your product, you failed the test.
On a simplistic level I have incorporated some of Altucher’ s advice into some of the things I teach.
A great example is feedback. I am a big fan of constructive feedback. People ask how they know their feedback is constructive and I use these guidelines-
•    Constructive feedback is based on observations and facts not reactions and speculation.
•    It focuses on performance not on a person.
•    It can be tied directly to the performance of the person or the team or both.
•    It is timely and specific.
•    Progress is both measurable and obtainable.
•    It is part of a process, not an event.
I believe that feedback that meets these criteria adds value, if it doesn’t meet these criteria it doesn’t and you should keep it to yourself.
I think this should be the litmus test for everyone we hire in our organizations. 
How will they add value and can they articulate that? Candidates that recite their resume and experience leave me bored. That is the minimum standard, the easy part.
I use a nautical analogy when I talk about the hiring and talent acquisition process for most of my clients. 
I tell them in terms of boats you are a canoe rather than a battleship. Every person on your boat needs to be a rower. The only other value add in a small boat like a canoe is being food, and I don’t think consuming people is good.
Our human resource models have been based for years on consumable/disposable employees. Frederik Taylor said people are stupid and lazy. Our employment models have been based on compliance and obedience for generations. We provided security in return for obedience.
And then we discovered outsourcing, downsizing, and automation.
I don’t let individuals off the hook either.
Businesses do not exist to provide jobs and security for their employees. That is hopefully one objective and part of their value proposition, but not that premise exclusively.
That is why I agree with those that say that employees are an equal shareholder (read responsible party) for employee engagement. They also need to add value.
So every day I come to work and ask myself if I am adding value to my clients and my community. That is my aspiration and I think I get it right the majority of days.
What would happen if everyone and every organization adopted that perspective? I wonder…….

 

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Why I Do It!

An excellent quote by Jeff Bezos in a recent blog post by Brian Wong took me back to my undergraduate days.

The quote “Focus on what won’t change” was a significant contributor to my decision to pursue a career in what was then called Personnel, much to the chagrin and disappointment of my academic advisor.

He told me, “You are really smart and focused, Personnel is kind of a dumping ground unless you are on the Labor Relations side”.

You have to remember that this was over three decades ago when organized labor was a powerful force and those employers who did not have a represented workforce were determined to stay that way.

My response to him was that in my brief career I had made two observations-

·         At the end of the day people (or talent or whatever you want to use to describe the collective talents, skills, attributes, and efforts of the people you employ) are important no matter what sector, industry, or field you want to work in

·         Most organizations don’t seem to “get” that and do it very well.

Even in the adolescence of my career it seemed that if you don’t want your employees to organize and have to negotiate with them collectively the best way to address that was to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

People smiled and patted me on the head about my naiveté, and wished me well.

My first job was at a place where we had pretty much done everything wrong. All of our employees were members of one of the eight unions and governed by one of the thirteen bargaining agreements in place and for good measure we had managed to get ourselves sued by the Federal government for systemic discrimination against two different minority groups so the government stepped in to give us “guidance” on the hiring of all our skilled crafts jobs.

My next job was with a more enlightened Fortune 100 whose philosophy was that we didn’t want any third party intervention between our employees and us. Third parties included unions, government agencies, special interest groups, and of course members of the legal profession. I thought that made much more sense.

I have to give that employer credit they were much more pro-employee and even when we went through the blood shed of the eighties with downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing we tried to maintain some sense of dignity on the part of the affected employees.

I also got a chance to be exposed to some “new” ideas like the total quality movement and a gainsharing experiment where we involved employees in redesigning processes and even took a radical step of involving them in discussions like rising health care and worker’s compensation related expenses and sharing the savings with employees both directly and indirectly.

My next gig was with a smaller medium tech employer who was interested in exploring socio-tech and self- directed work teams. My colleagues and I after serious resistance from senior management were able to put in place a model that demonstrated that when employees are committed rather than complying and aligned with organizational goals you can accomplish amazing things.

Then it was time for me to step into the abyss of self-employment and hang out my shingle as a management consultant trying to sell my services and ideas to employers regionally and nationally.

  I called my model Compliance to Commitment.

In his 1991 book, Why This Horse Won’t Drink, Ken Matejka describes commitment: “Commitment is the act of being physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled. It means that employees gladly give up other options.”

 Employees choose you and your organization over any of their other available choices; you have become partners in your organizational mission!  This creates a powerful image.  If you are a CEO or a business owner, it almost sounds like a fantasy.

I like to think this was one of the early discussions and models of what we now refer to as employee engagement.

Roger Deprey created a model, the Human Resources Pyramid, a series of six questions that he believed every employee asks in a particular order.  Deprey further stated that less than 15% of organizations in the world have their employees reaching the top of the pyramid and asking the final question:  How can I help? 

Maybe I am reaching, but I see more than a few parallels between Deprey’s six questions-

•             What is my job?

•             How am I doing?

•             Does anyone really care?

•             What is our function/mission/goal?

•             How are we doing?

•             How can I help?

and the more recent models espoused by thought leaders like Simon Sinek (Start with Why) and Patrick Lencioni’s Organizational Health models.

In my experience, corporations and organizations spend an enormous amount of time and money talking to employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders about mission, vision, culture, and values as abstract principles.  Before employees can embrace your vision or mission, they need to understand where they personally fit in the organization and how you, as an executive, see them and their contributions. 

There are five distinct elements to my model, and I believe each to be essential and directly correlated to Deprey’s questions.  These are the elements:

• Respect

• Responsibility

• Information

• Rewards

• Loyalty

I am not going to go into defining these in detail because I have done that ad naseum in other posts and publications.

 Here are my recommended actions to drive compliance (little “c”) to Commitment (big “C”):

• Treat your employees with respect by providing clear expectations, meaningful feedback, and an opportunity to collaborate with you in achieving your goals and theirs.

• Treat them as intelligent adults by holding them accountable for performing their tasks independently and competently given clear direction and guidance.  Provide clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and performance, and enforce them consistently.

• Provide them with the big picture and context of how their jobs, skills, and activities fit into the larger purpose of the organization- answer their question “What is my job?”

• Provide a clear “line of sight” between their performance and their compensation and rewards. If it takes you longer than 20 minutes to explain the basic structure of how you make decisions about employee compensation, it is too complicated.  If you are afraid to explain the targets you use and how you make decisions, it is similarly flawed.  Remember that human nature is to distrust what we do not understand.

• Do not expect more “loyalty” than you are willing to provide. I define loyalty as a mutual agreement that, while someone is my employee, they commit themselves to being engaged 100% and fulfill their responsibilities with our mutual respect.  If they need additional clarity or information, they make me aware of that, and if they have an issue, they allow me to address it. Envision loyalty as an agreement between adults: we will continue in our relationship as long as it is mutually beneficial to both parties.

So you might ask what is in it for me as a leader?

• 84% of highly engaged employees feel that they can positively impact the quality of the organizations product or service versus 31% of disengaged employees.

• 72% of highly engaged employees feel they contribute directly to improved customer service versus 27% of disengaged employees

•68% of highly engaged employees feel they can directly impact costs versus 19% of their disengaged counterparts.

• An average total shareholder returns of 24% with organizations with a population of 60% or more of employees describing themselves as highly engaged. Where high engagement is between 40 to 60% of the population the TSR drops to 9.1% and when it drops below 25% the average TSR is negative.

• At Best Buy they were able to correlate a .1 percent increase in engagement on a five-point scale to a $100,000 annual profit increase per store.

• JC Penney found that stores in the top 25% engagement scores produced 36% higher per store operating revenues and 10% higher sales per square foot than their counterparts in the bottom 25%.

The bad news is that this is old news, we have known this for close to ten years yet many organizations have yet to embrace these models, in fact the number of disengaged employees has been increasing at a faster rate than engaged employees.

I didn’t have this data back in 1993, but the fact that we are still leaving this much opportunity on the cutting room floor is why I do it.

I still believe that having the right people, focused on the right things, who are committed rather than complying is the most important competitive advantage any organization has and that will never change!

So where do you go from here?

 As you might suspect I have several suggestions:

Define your culture. As leaders creating the culture and ensuring clarity is your key role.

Hire hard- manage easy. My colleague Joseph Skursky uses this motto to describe his technique of investing the time to hire the right people, don’t try to “train” them to be right.

Hire for congruency. The more alignment you have between the employee’s values and the elements described in Dr. Willingham’s model the more likely you will have alignment and engagement.

Ensure managers have the “tool kit” and that they reinforce your values. Leadership and management are different skills, but there are an essential set of management competencies that all managers must have and be able to demonstrate. I would submit the closer to the frontline the more critical those skills become.

Give employees a chance to commit rather than comply. The numbers speak for themselves. The model works.

Be flexible about process and ruthless about principle. People who cannot or will not embrace your values will never be engaged. You owe it to them and yourself to “free up” their future.

If you are unfamiliar with some of the concepts I mention in this post just hit my blog or Google and do a key word search…..

People really are our most important asset ….

 

 

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Finding Your Purpose

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Finding Your Purpose

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words and I think the one shared above (thanks to Kathleen Schaefer and A.W. Tozer) may be worth millions, at least to me.
I spend a good deal of my consulting practice, and indeed my career, in coaching people and organizations towards what we call employee engagement. I know that engagement has its detractors, but I think that the data on organizations that are aligned relative to values, purpose, and goals makes a pretty compelling case for why it works.
In my experience where engagement has failed it is a function of definition and implementation. In my experience effective engagement is about culture and alignment. It isn’t a survey, a program, or a brochure. You have to do the work.
One of my favorite thought leaders, Simon Sinek, talks about starting with why on an organizational level is one the critical steps to achieving true leadership.
Patrick Lencioni captures much of the same conceptual framework in his book, The Advantage. When I look at his model I see a lot of time being spent on finding the why first as a leadership team and then building that into the fabric of your culture.
Culture, like engagement is one of those concepts that makes a lot of executives roll their eyes. I think that is because they either don’t understand it or they are too lazy to do the work.
I personally agree with Chatman and Cha-
“One thing is guaranteed: a culture will form in an organization, a department, and a work group. The question is whether the culture helps or hinders the organization’s ability to execute its strategic objectives.”
When it is done properly, like the way Angela Duckworth describes it in her bestselling book, Grit, the power of passion and perseverance, you get this-
“…Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why become the way I do things and why!”
I read an article recently that said that the worst advice that we can give our children and the emerging generations is to follow their passion. While I am not sure I entirely agree with that statement, I do believe that maybe figuring out your purpose is a better roadmap.
A recent conversation with a colleague about some concepts I wrote about years ago have some application here.
When the Founding Fathers wrote the original constitution, there were two primary ideas that formed the core of our new union. The first was the idea of personal property; the idea you have the right to acquire property and pass it along to your heirs. This is the heart of the capitalist system. 
The second principle that we hear much less about is the principle of personal competency. This is the idea that each of us has the right and the responsibility to craft our own future, to be what we want, and to reinvent ourselves without regard to our heritage or beginnings. 
When industrialism began to emerge we saw the personal competency principle begin to erode. We ran out of new territories to colonize and pioneer. The industrial age required labor to staff its factories and production. We offered security in return for compliance. 
Give up your personal competency and we will provide security in the form of employment, retirement, and health care benefits. I’m not going to say the great industrialists did this willingly or altruistically, but we can agree that by the 1950s, it was commonplace for employers to provide “fringe benefits” including paid time off, pensions, and employer-paid health care as part of the inducement to recruit and retain the labor we required. That was the “social contact” under which our parents and grandparents were employed. Then we broke the contract.
Maybe I am reaching, but what the Founding Fathers described sounds a lot like purpose to me.
So how do we build this into the current reality?
My roadmap would say that we begin by embracing Sinek’s premise that as organizations we start with Why? What is our organizational purpose?
Next engage your employees. Engaged employees see themselves as being in partnership with you. They care about your organization, your customers and your goals. They are committed not compliant.  One of the “ancillary” benefits of engagement and partnering is that employers with high engagement scores outperform their competitors in key metrics like productivity, profitability, and retention. They do things with people not to people. Engagement is consistently underrated by most organizations.  It requires trust, respect, responsibility, information, rewards, and mutual loyalty.
To assure that you will have engagement build congruency into your hiring processes.
There are multiple levels of congruency; 
• My view of the activity, 
• My view of my ability to do the activity, 
• My willingness to do the work to be proficient, 
• My belief in the product or service we offer, 
• Whether or not the activity is aligned with my personal values.
I would submit that if you hire people who are congruent with your organization on all five of these levels chances are you are also aligned at the purpose level. They get and share the why!
Hire and train good supervisors. I have been a human resource professional for thirty years; here’s an unavoidable truth: people join companies and leave managers. Poor supervisors and managers cost businesses millions of dollars every year in turnover and lost productivity. Make sure that when you hire or promote someone, they have the right skill set. This doesn’t have to be horribly expensive. You can hire these skills or in many cases there is excellent supervisory training available through your local Chamber of Commerce or community college. Executive coaching is great, but most of your employees don’t work for an “executive”. Poor frontline supervision is relatively cheap to fix.
Purpose plays a role here as well. 
Studies done by Development Dimensions International and the Workplace Institute respectively indicated that 60% of supervisory/leadership respondents indicated they pursued leadership roles for primarily economic motivations and that fifty percent of middle managers surveyed rejected responsibility for context, alignment, and attending to morale issues as being core competencies or responsibilities of their role!
See my comments on congruency!
There are workplaces out there were individual and organizational values and purpose are aligned. You can recognize them because they are kicking their competitor’s ass on every key performance indicator you choose to measure!
The nice thing about this model is that it is collaborative. Employees have a role just as important and accountable as the other stakeholders. There is no free ride just a model based on shared respect, clarity, and mutual accountability.
So as leaders let’s ask ourselves two key questions?
•    What’s our purpose?
•    What’s my purpose?
If we can’t answer them, we have work to do…….

 

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Why Engagement and Culture Are Failing!

After almost four decades as a human resources professional, c level executive, and management consultant I remain convinced that changing the way we attract, retain, and align people remains the most significant competitive advantage we have available to us, and we continue to squander that opportunity.

Employee Engagement isn’t a new concept anymore and although there are many detractors that say it is merely another “program” there is a lot of evidence to the contrary that suggest the problem isn’t the concept, it is about execution.

The percentage of engaged or highly engaged employees has pegged at about 30% with the number of actively engaged employees actually creeping up from 17% a few years back to over 20%. The costs of that lack of engagement are in the billions annually.

In my experience engagement must be approached as a culture rather than a program and there are some very bright people out there who agree with me.

One of those people is Josh Bersin, principal and CEO of Bersin by Deloitte who shared his research from 6000 companies and over 2 million employees that concluded that the most important element in high performing employment brands is culture and values, followed by career opportunities and confidence and leadership.

Their research concluded that in terms of a positive employment brand these factors were 4.9, 4.5, and 4 times more important than compensation and benefits. Interestingly the “work-life” balance we hear about so much was rated as less than half as important.

Millennials rate career opportunities in the first position, but other than that their responses are the same as preceding generations.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of employment brand, your employment brand is how both current and potential employees perceive you as a career choice. Organizations with strong employment brand have a huge competitive advantage in the war for talent because people seek them out.  Think organizations like Google, Amazon, Starbucks, and Zappo’s.

So how do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot? Well some recent data from the Workplace Institute gives us a clue, (thanks to Michael Stewart of WorkEffects for sharing).

They conducted a survey of a little over 1800 people broken down as a third human resources professionals, a third line managers and a third employees on who “owns” culture and to me the results were a little scary.

·         Over 30% of the HR respondents felt the HR leadership is responsible, however 90% of managers and 97% of employees surveyed disagreed.

·         26% of managers surveyed felt that it is the executive team, but 89% of HR professionals and 91% of employees disagreed with that assumption.

·         29% of employees surveyed say employees drive culture (and 40% of Millennial’s) with 91% of HR practitioners and 87% of line managers disagreeing.

It gets better, there was no overlap between what employees and either managers or HR considered the three most important drivers of culture either!

The three groups also disagreed on what either kills or impedes culture as well with employees citing employees felt that “not having enough staff to support goals,” “unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well,” and “poor employee/manager relationships” were the major obstacles to maintaining a positive workplace culture.

So what does this tell us?

As Dustin McKissen pointed out Fred Taylor’s adage of telling employees what they need is still alive and well!

Here are a couple of other problems-

A multi-year study by international consulting firm Development Dimensions International yielded some interesting information (at least to me)-

• The highest quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform the competition

• Only 38% of those surveyed (12,000 line executives and 1900 HR executives) rated their leadership of leadership development as high or very high.

• 60% of those who applied for leadership roles indicated their primary motivation was economic- they wanted to make more money!

Our leadership models are based on compliance, not commitment or engagement!

Here are some other issues-

·         If you ask most HR executives what the most important contribution they make to the organization they support 7 out of 10 will tell you compliance with state and Federal regulations. That doesn’t sound like culture!

·         The art and science of recruiting has been dumbed down. I happen to believe that highly effective recruiters whether they are on your staff or hired specialists have enormous value in helping you identify the attributes and skills of top performers in both current employees and applicants. The new systems in many cases believe, I have an app for that! We just load a formula into the computer and it does that pesky work of screening. Therefore, the role of recruiting can be delegated to more junior people who manage the process.

·         Recruitment and selection has become much more impersonal. I have a client who is seriously walking away from an organization she feels could be a great fit and who has demonstrated an interest in her because a glitch in their system continues to demand she complete a supplemental questionnaire she has already completed…twice. You can’t pick up a publication without reading about an applicant’s experience with a hiring organization where they applied, were interviewed or both and never heard from the organization again. Current applicants are often potential future hires, customers, or know a great hire, but we turn them off.

As you might suspect this isn’t good for your employment brand!

As to the fact that employees are the only group that identified unhappy/disengaged employees and less than competent management as being major impediments to creating or sustaining culture as a change agent I don’t know whether to weep or cheer!

Employees get it, why don’t we?

So what do I propose?

• Be proactive in developing, implementing, and reinforcing your culture.

• Recognize that the foundation of your organization and success are based on understanding and embracing the three levels of trust, not just deterrence and competency.

• Ensure that you understand the implications of congruency and you either build it in or retrofit your organizational models to embrace it and reinforce it.

• Only hire and promote leadership candidates with both the appropriate attributes and the right skills.

I also see a clear meaningful role for the Human Resources function and I can assure you it isn’t owning culture!

When I look at the opportunity costs represented by more effective recruitment and retention, re-designing health care to include health management and address issues like social literacy and individual responsibility and the creating of meaningful employee engagement strategies on our society I have to admit I am puzzled about why more organizations don’t “get it”.

I understand that it is hard work. I understand that in some cases the ability and necessity to do things like create trust based relationships, establish clear performance expectations, provide meaningful feedback, and take appropriate corrective actions necessary to align performance with organizational goals is still in many organizations considered a soft skill, but the data is becoming more and more available and compelling.

I don’t believe that becoming certified as a HR professional, or gaining your black belt, or Six Sigma will necessarily make you a better leader or manager.

I believe the role fits into three distinct buckets.

•     Technical skills -The proliferation of rules and regulations has indeed made the profession more complex as has the application of technology, phenomenon like social media, outsourcing and global workforces, and related challenges. We need to be technically proficient, not only in our craft, but to understand the businesses and organizations we serve.

•     Project Management- Similar to the Total Quality Management movement I believe human resource competency in core areas needs to be deployed broadly and deeply rather than be seen as a departmental competency. It is fundamental to the management/leadership role.

•     Facilitation - We need to help our client organizations recognize that by building relationships with individuals as people first and resources second we can create enormous gains in sustainability, productivity, and profitability through alignment of organizational and individual goals.

Some of the more recent studies on employee engagement criticize many organizations approach because they look at employees as a passive participant rather than an active stakeholder.

The good news is that employees are telling us in growing numbers (especially the group that makes up 25% of the workforce) that they see themselves as participants in defining organizational culture which is the foundation for engagement.

We have everything to gain here with nothing to lose except an artificial sense of control that we don’t have in the real world.

Let’s fix this!

 

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The Criticality of Culture

One thing is guaranteed: a culture will form in an organization, a department, and a work group. The question is whether the culture helps or hinders the organization’s ability to execute its strategic objectives.”

Chatman and Cha

Like the social scientist I quote above there is no question in my mind that the development of a culture is inevitable and it is the task of those who aspire to lead and shape organizations to cultivate their culture deliberately rather than just letting it happen.

I think we see evidence of this in both a positive and negative example every day.

At perhaps it most negative we have this great quote from Dustin McKissen, founder and CEO of McKissen and company, in his article The Rotten Core of Every MBA Program,

While Taylor's theories are viewed as harsh and impractical today, his work was still cited in every class I attended that discussed the roots of modern management science. What's not often discussed is how little Taylor thought of the people who actually produced products in the factories he studied.

Taylor wasn’t a big fan of culture. He believed that people were “hard coded” and that the average employee isn’t very bright or motivated and that the role of leadership is to bludgeon them into compliance. A lot of “leaders” still have that belief today.

On the enlightenment side we have the recent article from Josh Bersin, principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, who shared his research from 6000 companies and over 2 million employees that concluded that the most important element in high performing employment brands is culture and values, followed by career opportunities and confidence and leadership.

Their research concluded that in terms of a positive employment brand these factors were 4.9, 4.5, and 4 times more important than compensation and benefits. Interestingly the “work-life” balance we hear about so much was rated as less than half as important.

Millennials rate career opportunities in the first position, but other than that their responses are the same as preceding generations.

I think recognition of the importance of culture as a driver is especially important when we read that critical influencers like Marshall Goldsmith recently posted about how and why employee engagement isn’t working.

Based on what he shares and my own experience a big reason that most initiatives are failing is because organizations are approaching it as a program rather than a culture change and treating employees as targets rather than stakeholders.

Courtesy of a colleague (thank you J. Ingrid Kessler), I just had the opportunity to read one of the best books I have experienced in quite a while, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

Duckworth believes that grit on an individual level is built on four pillars, Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope. Her writing on those areas is fascinating at it evaluates tenacity and effort as opposed to more traditional factors like IQ and natural ability, but the really exciting part for me is when she makes the connection to culture-

Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why become the way I do things and why!

She shares a discussion with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Morgan Chase and building and sustaining culture as to how he selects senior leaders for his organization that are worth borrowing-

The first are attributes, Capability, character, and how they treat people. The next are two simple, but compelling questions:

·         Would I let them run the business without me?

·         Would I let my children work for them?

How many of us ask those questions as part of our hiring process?

She also shares an evaluation process for your core values to see if they emerge beyond banality-

·         Does this help me develop and reinforce the culture I want to sustain?

 I have long been a believer that HR Human Resources) practitioners most important work should focus on helping management and leadership with what I see as the three key elements of healthy, functioning relationships-

Clarity- what is the mission or value proposition of the organization. Why does it exist?

Context- how does the role of the individual employee fit into the larger mission and how do they know they are performing appropriately.

Alignment- creating systems so that line of sight is both very clear and reinforced by other organizational systems. I believe a big part of the role of “new” HR is to train and reinforce those elements as being essential to everyone in management not just leadership and human resources.

Is it just wishful thinking or do my elements have some continuity with Duckworth’s pillars of interest, purpose and hope?

I also think when we are talking about cohesive culture we are building what Lencioni describes as organizational health.

His first three critical behaviors are building trust, mastering conflict, and achieving commitment.

That sounds a lot like culture to me.

So I guess I agree and disagree with Goldsmith that engagement has failed. I don’t think it has failed at all. We just aren’t doing it right!

I don’t think 2 million employees are wrong. They are telling us how to create an environment that is compelling to them we just need to listen.

So if you are not enjoying the organizational productivity and performance you want start with an examination of what Duckworth and others would call culture and what Lencioni calls organizational health.

You can’t build a tower on a faulty foundation……

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In Search of Leadership

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In Search of Leadership

People that know me know that:

·         I am passionately committed to helping organizations create new models of working together.

·         That I have spent the last three plus decades reading the models of others as well as synthesizing and testing my own models to do things better.

Today I experienced an interesting juxtaposition of a couple of things that spoke to me.

The first is this quote from Aurelius Augustinus, who most of us know better as Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo and perhaps one of the most profound influences on the Catholic Church.

The concepts of employee engagement and employment branding are getting a certain amount of press these days with both supporters and detractors. I am firmly in the supporter camp based on both my research and my personal experience.

Much of the discussion around engagement is who owns it and how does the care and feeding of an engaged environment take place. I find that Augustine’s direction from 1700 years ago was pretty accurate then and now.

More recently I had occasion to read Ken Matejka’ s Why This Horse Won’t Drink, and I discovered an “updated” version of what Augustine was expressing-

Commitment is the act of being physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled. It means that employees gladly give up other options.”

When I am conducting leadership sessions with senior executives I often pose the question to then “Can you imagine a time in your organization where employees arrive every day physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled to fulfill the goals and objectives of the organization?”

Most of them are honest enough to admit that would be a stretch, but they then wistfully remark how that would be pretty awesome.

In my mind an engaged environment is when that occurs. It is about alignment, clarity, and trust; not about morale, happiness, or cool perks.

The problem is we are doing it wrong.

A multi-year study by international consulting firm Development Dimensions International yielded some interesting information (at least to me)-

·         The highest quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform the competition

·         Only 38% of those surveyed (12,000 line executives and 1900 HR executives) rated their leadership or leadership development capability as high or very high.

·         60% of those who applied for leadership roles indicated their primary motivation was economic- they wanted to make more money!

Our leadership models are based on compliance, not commitment or engagement!

Dustin McKissen, founder and CEO of McKissen and Company, talks about this in his recent blog post in Inc Magazine, http://on.inc.com/29U7O4r, The Rotten Core of Every MBA Program.

He specifically cites our ongoing infatuation with Frederick W. Taylor and his Scientific Management models-

While Taylor's theories are viewed as harsh and impractical today, his work was still cited in every class I attended that discussed the roots of modern management science. What's not often discussed is how little Taylor thought of the people who actually produced products in the factories he studied.

 While there are people who say that Taylor isn’t relevant anymore when I hear academicians and business leaders refer to people as human capital I am not sure I am buying it.

When I watched what happened during the recession where many organizations retreated into their old behavior and told employees, don’t complain about your compensation, you are lucky to be employed, and downsizing once again became the primary management strategy to improve productivity I still feel Fred’s presence.

It is amusing to hear those same executives now complaining that they can’t recruit and retain the talent they need to run their business- go figure…

When 60% of the applicant pool for leadership roles cite more money as why they want to be leaders I am pretty sure creating an environment where people are impelled is not top of mind.

So what do we do?

My recommendation is we build a new model with the following elements:

·         Be proactive in developing, implementing, and reinforcing your culture.

·         Recognize that the foundation of your organization and success are based on understanding and embracing the three levels of trust, not just deterrence and competency.

·         Ensure that you understand the implications of congruency and you either build it in or retrofit your organizational models to embrace it and reinforce it.

·         Only hire and promote leadership candidates with both the appropriate attributes and the right skills.

As I have written at length on these areas previously I will save you from my rambling today. If the subject interests you check out my website at www.newparadigmsllc.com.

We are leaving billions on the cutting room floor every year, by hanging on to the old models.

We need change and if not now when and if not us than whom?

 

 

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