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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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That Leadership Thing...

Another Wake Up Call

As everybody knows I am really invested in this whole leadership thing. I don’t personally believe that leaders are born rather than taught. Some may have attributes that lend themselves to becoming effective leaders, but I think that real leadership is taught, practiced, and reinforced.

It is interesting for all the money we spend annually how much we still miss the mark.

I read a blog post this week that indicated that a survey of new MBA graduates indicated they felt the most important attribute they had to offer their current or potential employer is their leadership capabilities. My immediate thought was WTF. Luckily it turned out I wasn’t deluded those same current and potential employers said umm no to these shiny new MBA’s. First you must learn to do, then maybe you can learn to lead.

 A classic leadership fail plastered all over the internet this week was the behavior (antics) of the Uber CEO. That was a great demonstration of what happens when you have poor leadership and don’t take time to create and reinforce the culture you desire. He wasn’t alone, looks like Jared’s, Kay Jewelers, and some others have some work to do as well.

I had a chance to read a couple of blog posts as well about one of my other pet rants- the ineffectiveness of HR in most organizations. Both were incredibly well written by women I respect. Maybe the fact that today is International Women’s Day is a cosmic intervention.

The first was why the author, Michelle Berg, “hates” HR. To cut to the chase it is because in her opinion in most organizations HR is the attempt to put a band aid on a hemorrhage, to create handbooks and policies to make up for what she poetically calls shitty leadership.

The other post from Laurie Ruettimann, talks about the messes at Uber, Tesla, Google, and others and asks where HR was in the organization. Especially given that people indicated they went to HR and discussed their concerns and got ignored. I love her quote “But if you work in HR and someone complains to you about a legitimate problem, it’s your job to be the Jordan Horowitz of your organization and fix what’s wrong”.

I agree with both of them. Culture and leadership belong to the C suite, not just HR, but I used to tell aspiring leaders and HR professionals that if they weren’t willing to come to work every day prepared to be fired for doing the right thing they should do something different.

Our leadership models are broken. In many cases our high talent selection processes use the wrong criteria for admission and as I pointed out in a previous blog the results show it with almost 50% of “graduates” of those programs being rated in the bottom 50% of leadership by a 360 review of their capabilities by peers, subordinates, and direct reports.

60% of candidates seeking leadership roles do so to increase earning potential, they don’t give a rat’s ass about developing people of bettering the organization. I think we have a congruence and alignment problem!

Although particularly today it might be an unpopular viewpoint I also grind my teeth when I see articles on some version of the feminine mystique that says that women are genetically better leaders than men. My experience has indicated that is as much bullshit as the genetically programed leader.

I really like this quote from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg-

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will be just leaders.”

What a great thought. Maybe we can even expand it to include no special comments about race, national origin, sexual orientation, and a bunch of other factors that aren’t relevant.

Don’t mistake me. I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly capable women leaders and aspiring leaders. I have also had that same opportunity to work with people of color and other cultures who made that same commitment to excel.

So I am going to bore you with my recipe for what I look for in potential leadership candidates-

·         The KSA’s or technical competence to do the work

·         Understanding and committing to mastering all three levels of trust

·         Emotional intelligence

·         Emotional balance

·         Self-Awareness

The trust issue is huge. We have an international trust crisis in leadership in all our major institutions and we need to own it and fix it.

The data is in and it is ugly with representatives of all four generations recording that 50% of them don’t trust leadership. Until we address that the shitty leadership phenomenon that Michelle Berg describes is here to stay and HR isn’t going to fix it.

A recent survey of HR and training professionals indicated the biggest barriers to effective training and development were budget and employees taking the time to participate.

Please. The biggest issues with training are relevance and reinforcement.

Training doesn’t fix trust issues or create alignment and engagement. It is a tactic.

So if you are a current or aspiring leader here is what I recommend you do-

·         Get 360 feedback on where you are in your journey.

·         Pick the most important behaviors to work on and change.

·         Ask your colleagues for feedback and suggestions on how to keep improving.

·         Listen and embrace the changes that provide the most impact.

·         Follow up, measure, and repeat.

Shitty leadership is epidemic, stand out from the crowd…….

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We Need A New Model!

Doing It Wrong

Sometimes being right is disappointing. I just read an article from the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman that concluded the same thing as I did in a blog post a few weeks back titled We Are Doing It Wrong.

The article talked about a study they did on almost 2000 participants in formal high potential programs. Usually participation in these programs is limited to what management defines as the top 5% of performers in their organization.

The study evaluated these individuals in leadership capabilities using a 360-degree assessment including their manager, several peers, direct reports and other colleagues. Their prior research had indicated that collecting data from this kind of cross sample could be statistically correlated to desired outcomes like employee engagement, lower turnover and higher unit productivity.

Here is the bad news; 12% of these HIPO participants were in the bottom quartile on leadership effectiveness and overall 42% were below the median. I would call that an epic fail.

The characteristics for selection may be part of the problem. Candidates were selected based primarily on four (4) criteria:

·         Professional and technical expertise

·         Taking initiative and delivering results

·         Honoring commitments

·         Fitting into the culture

That last characteristic is important because the research indicated that underperformers tended to emphasize (or overemphasize) a specific trait valued by their organization. This caused a kind of HALO effect or bias that caused their total profile to be overlooked.

Interestingly underperformers shared two primary deficiencies; strategic vision and the ability to motivate others. Good individual contributors don’t always translate into strong leaders.

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 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.

Is it just me or do the results of this new study tend to reinforce that we haven’t entirely let go of this old thinking?

I happen to be a big fan of Paul Hersey’s definition of leadership – working through and with others to achieve organizational objectives.

We still have major issues with trust in leadership and capitalizing on the opportunities represented by true employee engagement, but to address them we need a different criterion for selecting and developing leaders.

Over the past three and a half decades my experience and research have led me to look for five (5) characteristics in selecting and developing leaders:

·         Technical competence (mastery of the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job).

·         An understanding and mastery of all three levels of trust (Deterrence, Competence, and Identity)

·         Emotional Intelligence (this allows you to know which level of trust or leadership style to employ in a given situation)

·         Emotional Balance

·         Self-Awareness

For me personally the technical competence is kind of the threshold, you need it to gain admission, but it is the minimum standard not the measuring stick.

My experience has also led me to believe that in the absence of emotional balance and self-awareness you will never really master the third level of trust on a sustained basis, and these represent the Achilles Heel of most leaders.

My experience has been if you have these attributes we can teach you the skills associated with successful management and leadership, but if you are missing one or more you will never be a highly effective leader.

I also personally believe that automation will make these leadership skills more important not less important.

The ship has sailed on whether or not employee 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.

We still don’t like to talk about soft skills and we aren’t very good about teaching them. I saw something recently 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.

I would submit the results of the study reported in the HBR article give you a good idea of how that model works out.

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.

 Thomas 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 and you haven’t adapted a new leadership model you have picked your camp.

The choice is yours to make, but given the competitive environment for talent, the demographic shift to Millennials being the single biggest group in the workplace, and the economic and social bleed from lack of trust and engagement you may want to rethink your models.

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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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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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Trust, Leadership, and the Election

I think lot of folks I am over this election cycle. I have not participated in an election in my adult life where things were so polarized and nasty and from seat a lot of the issues people have with both major candidates is the issue that many employees have with their boss- an absence of trust.
As a recovering human resources and operating executive I candidly see this as the prevailing reason we are high centered on where we sit on the number of employees that see themselves as highly engaged in their relationship with their current employer.
They don’t believe that the organizational values that the organization talks about are the ones they practice or that they are personally aligned with those values.
We have seen a lot of cacophony about things like livable wages and access to health care that depending upon your vantage point you see progress or a creep towards socialism.
I hear from a lot of folks complaining that they have employee populations who are focused on the next fifty cents or dollar per hour rather than the “big picture” and what the organization is trying to achieve or the cost of an imposed wage standard on business expenses.
They are missing the point on two levels-
• Maslow’s Hierarchy, is as relevant today as it ever was. When you are in safety and survival mode you aren’t focusing on the big picture and how to become engaged. You are focused on basic issues like food and shelter. We saw an epic drama unfold on social media earlier this year with the young woman from Yelp writing an open letter to the CEO that she couldn’t survive in the Bay area on what she was making.
• Line of Sight, I tell my clients that line of sight may be the most important part of their compensation strategy. The importance of compensation strategy and performance management is to align efforts with outcomes. Employees need to see clearly how positive outcomes for the organization translate to positive outcomes for them and vice versa.
A colleague of mine, Bruce Kasanoff, wrote a post a while back that really captured my attention and spoke to this issue. He argued that the old adage of “teach people to fish, don’t give them a fish” doesn’t really work when people are hungry and scared and I think he is right.
Ron Willingham, author of Integrity Selling, as well as several other excellent books on sales and customer service explores this same theme in his Congruency model. He talks about how people typically operate on three levels; the intellectual, the emotional, and the visceral level. He points out that studies show when your emotions or visceral self is in conflict with your intellect logic loses the vast majority of the time.
Everything I have learned about compensation validates this as well. Once people feel essentially economically secure about their fundamental living expenses compensation is not a motivator for most people. What is very important is a sense of fairness and rationality. How does my employer make decisions about pay?
That is the fundamental issue that many women and other protected classes have with the pay gap between themselves and white males. In many cases it isn’t about survival, but rather equity.
The other issue I see mirrored daily in our society is our struggle with trust.
Stephen MR Covey in his brilliant book, The Speed of Trust, describes trust as operating at three levels; Deterrence or rule based, Knowledge or competency based, and finally and most importantly Identity- based.
I advise clients and colleagues that if you are only going to read one book on leadership read that one!
Our societal models are based on outdated thinking. Institutions have long wrapped themselves up in the virtual robes of being entitled to trust based on position. Monarchies were validated by the churches, who validated themselves as speaking with divine authority.
Frederick W. Taylor and his scientific management theory gave validation to the knowledge and competency leadership hierarchy. He argued most people were dumb, lazy, and fundamentally untrustworthy! They needed to be aggressively managed by white collar leaders.
You will look a long time to find competencies like emotional or social intelligence in Taylor’s model. The sad thing is that while we give lip service to soft skills if you look at most MBA curriculums they are still very knowledge or technically biased and many graduates feel entitled to a leadership role based exclusively on their academics.
As those of you who are familiar with me and my work know I am deeply committed to a few key concepts. Among them I include building your organization on a foundation of commitment rather than compliance and the concept of personal competency. This is validating and accepting that identity based trust is the real foundation of engaged employees.
There are a lot of other things that inherently embedded in those ideas, but they really represent the foundational pieces.
In the first is the idea that when people come together with a shared set of values and clarity about our purpose proactively and willingly the amount of energy they will bring to that effort increases exponentially.
The second is the idea that people are whole. They perform best when we give them both an opportunity and an expectation of being present.
You can’t create identity based trust without social and emotional intelligence, period!
Social gravity is the emerging concept of describing your value proposition in such a clear way and operating with such consistency that your stakeholders including customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and communities are drawn to you. There is a community of interests that is clear and compelling.
Social gravity doesn’t look the same in every organization. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we have really developed an infatuation with best practices to the point we want to use them almost like recipes.
When I see surveys that conclude that most leadership failures occur because of organizational fit, interpersonal dynamics and related human factors I have to say I find the perplexity of failure of technology to guarantee sustained success ironically amusing. 
The answer is right there. It isn’t about processes it is about relationships. Processes can facilitate communications and tasks, but they can’t create relationships. That is a uniquely human dimension.
The two major candidates in this election are both caught up in the old model.
HRC is saying “trust me” I am really smart and well qualified. DJT is saying no trust me, I am a highly successful business man who is going to punish the establishment and take back what all those immigrants have taken from you. To an extent he especially is also playing the emotional and visceral card, fear and ignorance. She in turn points out his character flaws.
Both of them want us to base our decision on the first two levels of trust, legitimacy and competency. 
For me the issue is one of identity based trust, do I find either to have the personal and professional integrity to be my President?
In this day an age of consumerism and social media the accountability to earn and sustain trust rests with leadership 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.
Be clear with management at every level it is their responsibility to earn and sustain trust and give them the tools to do that. They are entirely learnable and reinforcable.
Emotional and social intelligence like identity based trust are foundational to cohesive and sustained organizational performance and high functioning cultures. It is time to buckle down and do the work…..

 

 

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Leadership Comes With Responsibility

Thinking and Speaking

Words are like weapons; they can hurt you sometimes

Cher

My colleague Marty Lucas from ROCeteer published something recently that really struck me profoundly in light of a lot of events going on in our world right now.

His post – Opinion without the responsibility is an act of ignorance struck a chord with me. I started to ask the question of whether opinion without the responsibility is even more than just ignorance, maybe it is a disservice against society?

I have had a number of roles so far in my life where my opinion had the opportunity to have profound impact in either a positive or negative way.

I spent a number of years as a human resources practitioner and executive. I hold HR people to a very high standard. I have more than once referred to them as the conscience of the organization. The reason I do that is that one of the unfortunate decisions that gets made in organizations is who stays and who goes. Who gets hired and in the event of a “violation” or downsizing who leaves the organization on an involuntary basis?

Although decision is not made (or shouldn’t be made in a vacuum) management and leadership often looks to the human resources department to determine both whether or not the decision is correct or within the law, and more importantly is it right. To me the second part is more important than the first.

Rightness involves not just policy, precedent, and law, but the concept of fairness and application that is objective relative to things like a person’s age, gender, sexual orientation and a bunch of other factors.

I advise my clients to only hire managers and leaders who possess emotional intelligence and social intelligence as well as the typical IQ. I recommend they double down on this with their HR team. We don’t hire human capital, we hire and manage whole people. Leaders without empathy have no place in my organization no matter how smart.

I have evolved from my role as an HR practitioner and even a C level executive to practice giving my advice to clients as a management consultant and executive coach. In this role they are literally paying me for my opinion and I take that responsibility. I have tried to build two primary gates into any advice or opinion I give clients-

·         Do no harm. If my opinion or intervention has no potential positive outcome I simply withhold it.

·         Is it in this client’s best interest?  I am not a big fan of templates. There are some core ideas, beliefs and values that are embedded in the work I do, but I try to work with clients that share them rather than try to impose them on an organization. I also strive to create a unique solution for each client that works for them, not necessarily for me.

The last and perhaps most important role where I give my opinions is in my role as parent and mentor. I have participated in the development of two adult children and mentored a number of other people and have had to realize that my opinion matters a lot to these people. While it would never be my intent to impose my opinions on either group I undoubtedly help shape their opinions.

A number of years ago I ran for public office. It was twelve years ago and some social issues were more contested than what we see today.

A litmus test for candidates aspiring to the office I sought was their position on same sex marriage. My advisors suggested I follow the lead of the other candidates and not comment, but I was too stubborn to take their advice.

I told the interviewer that although I didn’t think my position on that issue was relevant to my candidacy I would answer it.

I told them as a former HR practitioner who wrote and enforced policies that prohibited discrimination about a whole number of things I couldn’t see my way clear to discriminating against someone because of who they love.

I also told them that I wasn’t smart enough to tell my children that same sex partners weren’t entitled to share their lives in the same way others are and that it wasn’t my right to say they care for their loved ones any less. I am not that smart.

As we know the Federal legislation that was passed demonstrates that the world hasn’t ended or other dire consequences we were concerned about haven’t emerged yet either.

I am not trying to impose my opinion on anyone else or suggest I am right and they are wrong if we choose to disagree, it is simply my opinion and I take responsibility for it.

A young woman I respect a great deal and I were chatting about the controversy surrounding one of our Presidential candidates and comments that were made and how members of their own party are distancing themselves and the passion and intensity of her response caught me off guard and frankly embarrassed me.

She essentially said “fuck them”. Her point that was when that candidate attacked people because of their ethnicity, beliefs, or sexuality the “party” looked the other way. The line wasn’t crossed until those comments could be perceived as repugnant to their daughters and wives.

It kind of reminded me of the famous quote attributed to the minister in Nazi Germany who pointed out that as “special” groups were systematically targeted no one said anything because they weren’t affected. And then no one was left to speak for us….

I want to be clear I am not condoning the behavior of one candidate over another or encouraging anyone else to do so.

I am just looking at the context of my friend Marty’s assertion that opinion without the responsibility is an act of ignorance applying it as my personal litmus test for leadership, both my own and those I support.

If you aspire to leadership, public or private you are responsible for your opinions, it comes with the territory. It has also been said that organizations, and I expand this to countries, get the leadership we deserve. Maybe this should be our wake up call…..

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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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Dunbar's Number, Bad Process and Results

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Dunbar's Number, Bad Process and Results

Dunbar’s Number, Surveys and Engagement

Bad processes yield bad results.

I make that statement as I look at the shouts across the blogosphere that performance appraisal has failed, employee engagement is bullshit, and a number of other sweeping generalizations.

When I examine those things I come up with a pretty consistent conclusion; if your process is designed and executed poorly you are likely to yield poor results.

Let’s look at hiring and selection. It is generally a mess. Most organizations still rely heavily on the interview as their primary selection tool, even though results have said that unstructured interviews by themselves are basically a crap shoot.

Then we add technology to it through automated systems to sift applications and determine the most qualified candidates. That way we can dumb the process down and turn recruitment into an entry level role in HR, because the system does the work. That is typically an epic fail.

If your performance management system consists of an annual trip to the woodshed between manager and employee to communicate why you won’t be getting the raise you anticipated, it is an epic fail.

Employees representing every generation have been clear from the start of the Industrial Revolution that they desire clear performance expectations, appropriate and constructive feedback, and equitable compensation. And for the most part we still suck at it. That doesn't mean we should abandon it, it means we need to do it better!

Most compensation delivery and performance management systems are designed by HR people for HR people. We want to streamline and increase efficiency and consistency. Those are code words for routinizing it. Creating alignment (the appropriate goal of engagement) is not routine, it is personal. It takes work and commitment and it lives at the front line where employees live and work.

A recent Gallup study indicates that employees are much less engaged than senior management thinks they are as a rule. No surprise. How often do senior managers interact with line employees?

Dunbar’s number is the concept  that most of us mere mortals can’t maintain meaningful connected relationships with more than 150 people. As organizations get larger those relationships get strained.

We live in a fantasy world today where people have thousands of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. Do you really want to go out on a limb and say those are meaningful relationships? I can’t and I will admit to being in four figures for LinkedIn connections.

Stephen MR Covey tells us that the most important level of trust is identity based, which is based on shared values and experiences and the recent literature indicates every generation, especially the Millennials see this as a baseline element of healthy relationships with their employer.

That requires investment and personalization, you know that soft skill stuff.

Today I read a post that says doing surveys is dumb because good companies already know how their people feel about key issues and how aligned they are with their work and the company.

Really? So is the definition of a good company one that is led by one of those prodigies that can maintain those identity based relationships with hundreds of employees rather than those of us who can only maintain 150?

I will concede that if the only way you are creating and maintaining alignment is with an annual or semiannual survey you are likely falling short of your objective. It’s a tool not a solution.

If you are only having performance management and feedback conversations annually you are failing epically.

If your hiring process consists of hitting the panic button and pushing a bunch of people though an interview process without looking at the totality of the role and multiple tough points like congruency and fit you probably have both hiring and retention issues, not to mention shitty engagement.

I saw a great quote the other day that said if a plant isn’t growing properly you change its environment, not the plant. If your processes aren't working then refine them, don’t throw them out.

Get rid of language like human capital and hire whole people.

Don’t promote anyone into a management or leadership position that doesn’t have decent emotional and social intelligence skills and who has demonstrated competencies in things including: setting clear expectations, giving and receiving constructive feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching. I consider these a baseline.

If you have to retrofit your leadership team through training and/or reassignment, then bite the bullet and do it. Hold everyone accountable to walk the talk.

Remember that your leadership culture is defined by the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate from either management or employees!

It is okay to manage performance, communicate your compensation delivery strategy and align it to organizational goals and performance.

It is also okay to occasionally survey your employees and ask them how we are doing as an organization since you might not have an intimate, identity based relationship with all of them. If you do that listen to what they tell you and act on that feedback.

If you need the survey to identify your poorest performers and most disgruntled employees, you have severe weaknesses in your management infrastructure. Identify those and fix them.

The tough news is you have to all of this not just some of it because half assed solutions or incomplete systems don’t yield complete outcomes ever……

 

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Who Is Rowing Your Canoe?

I just had a chance to read a post on LinkedIn mentioning that Executive Search firms have lengthened the time they are willing to commit to in identifying candidates and that gasp, the search process in general is taking longer.

My reaction is Thank you God, maybe we will get better at it!

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone....

I am probably dating myself a bit by borrowing that line from the classic Peter Seeger tune, but I find myself asking that question over and over again, and what I read almost daily from top executives about their search for talent the metaphor seems appropriate.


The they I am referring to are the leaders and managers who still don’t seem to get it. As most anyone who has read any of my stuff knows I have committed my career to building and reinforcing new models of how organizations and people work together.


You can call it an employment relationship, a social contract, or whatever you choose; but what I am referring to is the relationship between employers and employed.
Employee engagement, the level of alignment between individual employee efforts and goals and organizational goals and objectives remains without question one of the most powerful and significant opportunities to improve organizational performance across every key performance indicator.
I am not speaking speculatively; the correlation between those things has been well established by the Society for Human Resources Management, the Gallup organization, and numerous other academic research organizations and professional consulting firms. We still do it as a society fairly poorly, with the number of employees describing themselves as highly engaged ranging around thirty percent in the U.S.
Organizations in large part took a hiatus from focusing on improving employee engagement during the recentrecession because with relatively high unemployment they didn’t feel they needed to attend to it to attract or keep the talent they sought. Now that the economy is starting to pick up you hear employers whining again about the difficulty of finding and keeping the talent they seek.


Here is a tip – highly engaged organizations don’t have that issue. That is one of the myriad of reasons they outperform their competition.
I had a chance to re-read Joel Peterson’s blog posts with two installments on building a high trust culture and it still really resonated with me. Step two for Joel is investing in respect.
Joel is the Board Chair of JetBlue Airlines, a graduate of Harvard B school and a guest instructor at the Stanford B School so he has some street cred…
As he describes it - Respect is, in some sense, the currency of trust – the way it’s exchanged and circulated among people.


That idea particularly resonates with me.
A number of years ago I created my own model of creating and sustaining employee engagement; I call it moving from compliance to Commitment, or little c to Big C.


My model has five elements: Respect, Responsibility, Information, Rewards, and Loyalty
 
Somewhat self servingly you can see why Joel’s pillars speak to me. Respect is the most foundational of the elements to me. Without respect all of the others fail.


Every person that we interact with has an absolute entitlement for our respect for their personhood. It doesn’t mean we have to accept at face value their talents, abilities, or authority; but we owe them respect for their personhood.
I often tell both employees and new managers that you need to respect each person and in hierarchical organizations you need to at least initially respect the position or office.
In this way this is similar to the first level of trust, deterrence, the trust that comes with formal authority.

The second level of trust or respect is knowledge based, this is the trust we receive (or more importantly earn) based on things like education, qualifications, perceived competency.
The third and in my opinion highest level of trust is identity based. This trust comes from intimacy, credibility, and mutual investment. This trust and respect is highly personal and can only be earned and given. It doesn’t come from credentials or position.
We don’t talk much about trust and respect in this kind of language. I have met many managers and leaders who inappropriately assume an entitlement to the highest level of trust based on the first two.


I differentiate leaders because again in my opinion an organization can appoint you a manager, but leadership comes from others who voluntarily accept your guidance and agree to follow your direction.
I also believe passionately in the concept of personal competence as it relates to respect. Personal competence means that we each own the responsibility to engage, to provide our best efforts, and to contribute fully to the best of our ability.
In return our employers and colleagues have a responsibility to set clear expectations, give constructive feedback, and a clear line of sight between our own objectives and goals and that of the organization.


With respect comes personal accountability and responsibility. If you are given the right tools, the right direction, and the right feedback it is incumbent upon you to do the work.
If someone can’t or won’t do the work and meet expectations I find it disrespectful to continue to leave them in a role they are not performing.
The reason I ask whether we will ever learn is that the majority of human resource professionals and their internal clients would tell you that the most important role they perform is compliance.


That sounds a lot like deterrence to me. It is about the rules. It is about systems and procedures and policies, not about relationships and character and credibility and trust.
As a former human resources executive I remain a proponent of the concept of employment at will, which at its most simplistic form is the legal standard that says that either party to the employment relationship can choose to end it without jumping through a number of hoops.
I temper that with a sense of fairness, that says it is important to me that we balance that transactional concept with the relational guidelines of respect, fairness, clear expectations, constructive feedback, and corrective action.


If you read almost anything about leadership or organizational relationships you are very likely to encounter discussion about loyalty. Employers especially like to talk about their expectation of loyalty from their employees. To me loyalty is relational and mutual, not transactional.
Rigidly embracing the concept of employment at will is not a relational employment model, it is purely transactional. Not a basis for engagement.


I am a much bigger fan of an employment relationship based on Congruency which looks for alignment between employees and organizations on these levels:
•    View of the activity
•    View of my ability to do the activity
•    The relationship between values and the activity
•    Commitment to do the “work”
•    Belief in the product or service
When you build things into your model you have a relationship, not a series of transactions.
I write this at this particular time because two very fine young people I know and care about both ended their relationship with their employers.


Those beginnings and endings happen, but both were handled so poorly that it was a reminder of how far we have to go.


So I leave you with this:
•    Listen to Joel- respect really is the currency of trust.
•    Goal for identity based trust. Yes it is more work, but 30+ years of experience assures me you will never have true engagement without it.
•    Commitment is always better than compliance, period.
•    Add congruency to your must haves when you hire, it is much easier to build it in than bolt it on.
•    Never ever forget that respect for a person’s identity is an absolute entitlement. You may have to terminate the performance; you don’t have to take their dignity.

Hope you enjoy the clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LZ2R2zW2Yc

 

 

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