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The Road He Traveled

A Truly Special “Whole Person”

On Friday I had an opportunity to attend an event that was poignant, funny, somber, and compelling in different stages.

It was a tribute to a friend and colleague, Dave Hauser, who guided our local Chamber of Commerce for a quarter century.

I had the chance to know Dave both professionally and personally. We collaborated on a number of projects including the WorkTrends Conference, the ACE Awards, and others.

I had the chance to serve on the Economic Development Committee, Business Assistance, as a charter member of the Local Government Affairs Council, and finally as a member of his Board of Directors

He was a great foil for me. I like big ideas and I can be impatient and impetuous. Dave was thoughtful and deliberate. I don’t think in the almost 25 years I knew him I ever saw him get angry or respond with anger no matter the provocation.

My favorite times with Dave were typically one on one, discussing one of my “big” ideas over coffee or a beer or his patience with my horrible golf game, which he suffered on more than one occasion.

I titled this a “whole person” both because of the correlation to my first book, Managing Whole People, and because of the glimpse into the wholeness of Dave that his family graciously shared with us.

We got to see Dave as a father and a friend beyond the leader and colleague that most knew him as.

The relationship he maintained with his children and his wife was one that I think would make many wistful if not downright envious.

Dave led in a way that was consistent with the Bible verse, “to whom much is given, much is required”.

He never shirked and he never gave up.

Leading a business association in Eugene is not a role for the faint hearted. On more than one occasion the relationship between business and our elected officials was tense not if actually acrimonious, but Dave never angered or disparaged anyone.

His legacy was illuminated in the many people who passed through employment at the Chamber, developing skills there that they would take on to bigger and more significant roles and the programs that will continue to move forward in his absence and that I for one believe would have been stillborn without his leadership and support.

I think that one of his colleagues described the essence of Dave best when she called out his most significant attribute; not his patience, sense of humor, Midwestern values or even niceness.

Dave was kind in a time and place that we could use more kindness from our leaders.

Those who spoke gently prompted us that remain to remember Dave’s legacy in the most proactive way, keep on and be kind…

I will miss you my friend. You were truly the epitome of a whole person and my life is better for having known you…

 

 

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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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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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Got Trust?

First Things First

As I enter almost my fourth decade of hiring, managing, and deploying talent I like to look back at what I have learned; and perhaps more importantly what I haven’t.

I have long been an advocate for what we now call employee engagement, when I look at the data that is available about the difference between organizations that are highly engaged as opposed to their less engaged competitors I remain astounded about the opportunity we leave on the table every year not just in North America, but worldwide.

Although engagement is something that we have been hearing and talking about for the last 15 years we still aren’t moving the needle much in terms of concerting employees and organizations from neutral to engaged. The latest studies still show that around 30% of employees surveyed rate themselves as highly engaged.

So it makes me curious as to what the issue is, and why we haven’t made more progress of late I have encountered quite a bit of literature that validates my thinking and makes me frankly sad.

We have a trust crisis.

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.

It turns out that Covey’s assertion applies not just to individual organizations, but to whole societies.

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.

So let’s take a look at business specifically.

A recent survey on trust by Ernst and Young involving 10,000 adults and another 3000 Gen Z’rs reported that less than 50% of those surveyed trusted their employer, their immediate supervisor, or their team in descending order.

The survey included representation from four (4) generations in the workforce; Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z and the results were remarkably consistent. Although the younger generations were less trusting it wasn’t a significant generational delta.

Also remarkably consistent were the environmental factors that lead to distrust-

·         Perceived unfair compensation

·         Unequal opportunities for pay and career advancement

·         Poor leadership

·         High turnover

·         Lack of collaboration

Similarly, all four generations cited four characteristics they seek in a boss and organization they trust-

·         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

Another recent post I read identified three (3) fundamental characteristics that create and sustain high trust environments. Leaders who-

·         Listen

·         Demonstrate self- awareness and self- control

·         Demonstrate humility

Let’s juxtapose that with the way most organizations identify high talent potential leaders in their organization. The selection criteria are typically –

•                     Professional and technical expertise

•                     Taking initiative and delivering results

•                     Honoring commitments

•                     Fitting into the culture

If we are really honest with ourselves we can agree that the first and last criteria are the two biggest factors. When we add the fact that 60% of leadership candidates seek those opportunities to increase their earning potential and upward career trajectory are we surprised by where we are?

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

Identity based trust, Covey’s highest and most critical level of trust, is nowhere to be seen in our leadership develop models or development initiatives.

As an alternative I like to recommend that business leaders remember three things-

•                     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.

•                     Line of Sight, I tell my clients that line of sight may be the most important part of their compensation/performance management strategy. The critical function 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.

•                     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 reinenforcable. People rarely trust what they don’t understand.

So I would like to leave you with two thoughts-

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

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

 

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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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Is It Just Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·         A Recent survey from Clutch reported-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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The Criticality of Feedback

The “Gift” of Constructive Criticism

A couple of recent articles reminded me of something that I both learned painfully and continue to struggle with after several decades in the workplace- “Constructive criticism aka feedback is a gift and should be recognized as such”.

No one really likes to get feedback that is not positive, at least initially, but a couple of articles recently talked about the connection between emotional intelligence and the ability to mine that feedback for value by keeping a few things in mind.

Diane Gottsman in her article How to Accept and Give Criticism with Grace, provides some great ground rules that while not earth shattering or rocket science can be very helpful.

·        Be aware of your body language

·        Be prepared mentally and emotionally

·        Remain calm and don’t respond with angry excuses

·        Rethink the word/concept of criticism. I personally try to avoid that language and use constructive feedback in its place.

·        Be appreciative- of the effort if not the content.

From my own experience I have learned a couple of other suggestions I would add:

·        Focus on the feedback not the person. It is easy to reject the right feedback from the wrong person.

·        Recognize that everyone is not equally skilled in their language or their technique. Listen for the message carefully. This is especially true when there is an unequal power relationship like subordinate to boss or provider to customer.

·        Try to adopt the standard of most positive interpretation, this means giving the person the benefit of positive intent even if their delivery is less than perfect.

Most people would rather get a sharp poke in the eye rather than give feedback whether it is to a colleague, a subordinate, and especially a superior, but constructive feedback is both critical to teamwork and improved performance it is a fundamental expectation of the Millennial generation. Their intraprenurial mindset looks at careers and opportunities to increase their skills and value. They expect timely, balanced, and meaningful feedback as a fundamental right.

Even with all the hoo hah about blowing up traditional performance evaluation the root cause there is that the process is typically done so poorly, not that recipients don’t want feedback. The typical annual review system is an epic fail. It isn’t timely, it isn’t balanced, and many find it marginally meaningful.

As a recovering HR executive I find that many performance evaluation systems are designed by HR professionals to impress other HR professionals and to deliver limited pay increases. They aren’t user friendly to the actual manager and recipient.

Gottsman also mentions some guidelines for giving feedback to make it more meaningful and useful.

·        Be private. No one wants a critique in public

·        Focus on issues or behaviors not on people. People own their behavior they aren’t their behavior.

·        Be specific, especially about the impact on the work, work group, etc.

·        Provide suggestions.

·        Be available and follow up. It is a process not an event.

In my perspective if you can’t tie your feedback to the work and work performance and provide a suggestion as to how to improve it isn’t feedback. It is just petty criticism.

Justin Bariso in his article How Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Criticism, adds some additional great suggestions, ask yourself these two questions:

·        Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?

·        Instead of focusing on the delivery, how can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?

He uses the illustration of a scathing review a top chef received from a New York Times food critic as a great example of how to own the issue and use it as a vehicle to improve future performance.

I firmly believe that the ability to constructively provide and receive feedback is essential to building trust and trust is the foundation for high functioning relationships both personal and professional.

You will never make the transition from manager to leader if you don’t master this skill.

Covey’s third and highest level of trust, identity based trust, simply can’t be achieved without honest dialogue and mutual investment.

Employee engagement worldwide still remains at what I believe to be unacceptably low levels and it is things like trust, congruency, and alignment that are going to address the causes of low engagement and get us the performance we want, not technology, six sigma or other process interventions and feedback is an essential building block….

 

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HR's Elusive Value Proposition..

So What Is HR Exactly?
I was having lunch recently with a client and a very capable human resources professional that I was introducing to him and he posed that question.
He wasn’t being sarcastic or demeaning. His organization has never hired a professional human resources person in their 50-year history so he was genuinely curious about what he could expect from making this kind of investment.
I have to say as someone who has been in and around the profession for 30+ years that still remains and interesting question for me.
Is hasn’t been that long since a national survey of CEO’s and COO’s couldn’t frame a consistent answer to that question. Even scarier to me was that the majority of senior level human resources practitioners responded that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance.
I find that utterly disheartening. With four generations in the workplace, employee engagement stalled at lower than 30 percent, and organizations indicating that the acquisition and retention of talent is a key issue for the foreseeable future and the “top” minds in HR think that compliance and keeping the lid on are our highest value added activities…
Years ago when I was working in manufacturing the Total Quality Movement was just starting to gain momentum. Someone had the brilliant insight that building quality in was way better than bolting it on. Quality professional began evolving from functionaries to internal consultants, building appropriate processes and deploying them throughout the organization rather than the old school end of the line approach. It makes sense.
I have seen a number of those in the HR movement seeking to piggy back on that approach with lots of cross certifications in Black Belt and Six Sigma.
In my mind the problem with that is that those address intellectual processes. They are about building things.
When we are dealing with people we are dealing (or should be) with emotional processes.
The most important part of any high functioning relationship is trust and there is not a recipe for trust.
Stephen MR Covey brilliantly describes the three levels of trust, deterrence, knowledge based, and identity based. As you might suspect he believes as I do that identity based is by far the most important of the three.
Therein lies the problem with traditional HR. Compliance is all about deterrence. Six Sigma, Black Belt, and HR certifications are all about competency. Oops we left out that identity based thing.
I want to be clear that the first two are important elements to getting to identity based trust. Knowledge based has competency and character as foundational elements and you need those to be an effective manager.
Effective managers are critical to every organization and management is different than leadership. Bluntly you don’t need armies of leaders in an organization.
So to answer the question my client posed I would submit my answer-
•    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 recommend that HR gets way better about helping organizations answer their WHY and reinforcing the values and way less about compliance and certifications.
We need to teach managers and emerging leaders about how to trust and be trusted. Trust is not an entitlement. It doesn’t come with a title, position, certification, or degree.
There are skills, attributes and abilities that are foundational to that process and they can be taught and learned and in my opinion those are part of HR’s charter as well.
So in the final analysis HR doesn’t manage human capital, we don’t master compliance. We teach organizations and people how to create an environment where people join up rather than comply and we share a vision and goals…..

 

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Employers Be Advised!

I have been seeing a few posts of late that reinforce some things that I have known and talked about for some time:
•    We don’t just acquire talent or human capital; we hire and hopefully retain whole people.
•    Contrary to everything you read Millennials are not slackers, uninterested in making a contribution, and generally the most awful generation ever…
•    All Millennials are not motivated by the same things (imagine that)
•    EVERY employer has an employment brand; some have an intentional one…
As a former human resources professional, c level executive, and management consultant I have watched the evolution of how we approach the attraction, retention, and occasionally engagement of staff for over three decades now.
I chose interesting timing (2008) to publish my first book, Managing Whole People, on my personal approach to managing talent. I say interesting because during the recession the concept of treating people respectfully, building engagement into your culture, and appreciating the return on investment of engaged versus unengaged or marginally engaged employees didn’t get a lot of traction.
I think we lost ground we had been gaining in that area for the ten years proceeding. With the unemployment numbers increasing I watched employer after employer fall back into their old habits.
The nice thing about the intervening years is that employee engagement is hardly conceptual. The studies are out, have been vetted, and clearly demonstrate the value of an engaged workforce.
There are still detractors who believe that engagement is voodoo or another fad, but the people who believe that also believe that Human Resources highest and best value is compliance and administration. Many of those detractors live and work in human resources departments. Changing your paradigm is hard…
We aren’t a whole lot better at managing talent than we were thirty five years ago when I entered the corporate world.
The problem is as employers we are facing an emerging workforce that sees themselves as equal stakeholders in the employment relationship.
They have expectations-
•    They expect meaningful work
•    They expect their employer to partner with them in developing their portfolio of skills
•    They interpret loyalty the same way employers do, talk is cheap action is clear
I have to say I continue to be amused when I hear employers who used the recession as leverage to defer pay increases and hiring, reduce workforces, and off shore and outsource whine about how employees just aren’t loyal. Some of them even manage it with a straight face…
Todays’ employees, especially Millennials seem to have embraced some pretty interesting ideas promoted by several of my favorite pundits-
From Malcolm Gladwell they have embraced legitimacy-
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.
From Stephen MR Covey they operate from an advanced interpretation and expectations around 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.
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 (and Millennials seem to agree) that to a large extent leadership as opposed to management is founded in legitimacy. Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical, it was be earned rather than bestowed with a title or position.
This is a new paradigm for us old timers…
The other issue we must face is that the new workforce doesn’t rely on us to validate our employment brand, our work environment and how we treat our employee stakeholders.
Social media has provided them with a platform to research and validate or invalidate everything we say about ourselves.
Here’s a tip, if you think your website and recruiting brochures are your employment brand you are in deep shit.
 If you think you don’t need to proactively manage your employment brand you are deluding yourself.
The competition for talent, especially experienced talent is increasing not decreasing. The Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover costs the U.S. economy over $200 billion annually.
Having a great employment brand is not going to guarantee that people stay forever, but it will help you attract the right people and have former employees promote you as a great place to work.
So two things to remember-
•    Millennials represent the largest  emerging sector of the workforce
•    They see things differently…

 

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