I recognize that this statement in and of itself is not particularly profound. Indeed it represents the essence of the total quality movement. Good processes properly understood and practiced will consistently yield better results.
What I still struggle with after over 30 years as an executive, manager, and consultant is why we still don’t seem to universally understand this also applies to our relationships with people including our employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
Study after study has made it excruciatingly clear that when employees are engaged and aligned with you and your organizational objectives they perform at a higher rate and contribute significantly more. In fact the impact of engagement crosses every key performance indicator from stock price to revenue per employee.
So with that as a framework I would like to share three short vignettes with you about the relationship between process and results. All these are real experiences that I was involved with either directly or peripherally.
Randy is a retail sales executive with a respected not-for-profit organization. His performance has always been good, but as his career opportunities are limited in his current organization he began exploring other opportunities that offered more potential for growth.
His search has been fruitful and he was offered a promotional opportunity by another organization in a similar industry, but with no overlap in markets or customer base.
Randy has a high work ethic and sense of personal and professional integrity so he set up a meeting with his boss to provide him with thirty days of notice to allow his boss the opportunity to make plans to replace him.
Imagine Randy’s surprise when his boss’s reaction to this professional courtesy was to immediately terminate him, to process a final check, collect his keys and order him to vacate the premises immediately. To add insult to injury Randy’s role involves travel and the use of a company vehicle - so not only was he summarily fired, but he was also stranded. He had to call his spouse at her place of employment to come over and pick him up.
I want to be clear here that this was not a termination for cause and that Randy was not going to a competitive organization.
So what is the message we deliver here?
If you are thinking the message is that we expect absolute loyalty and commitment and when those expectations are met we act swiftly and decisively you are at best misguided and probably a jack ass.
The message you are sending is if you are leaving the organization keep it quiet as long as possible and give the shortest amount of notice you can get away with because you will likely be immediately terminated.
Jessica is an administrative employee who has worked for her employer for almost ten years. Although her title is administrative assistant she tells me that she sees her role as being to do whatever task or responsibility assigned to her within reason to support the mission of the organization. How would you like to have a workforce populated by people who share that belief…
She is leaving to organization to pursue a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue studies overseas, but she tells me that the primary reason she has elected to pursue the opportunity is that it allows her a good reason to leave a position that has become untenable for her without losing face and disappointing her employer and feeling disloyal.
I ask her what the untenable situation is and she shares with me that she has a highly dysfunctional relationship with the firm administrator who has taken it on as a personal project to torture her and drive her out of the organization.
The torture takes the forms of requiring Jessica to personally check in with this person (her supervisor’s supervisor) every day when she arrives at work and every afternoon when she departs.
This “manager” has also taken it upon herself on multiple occasions to amend the hours on Jessica’s timecard even though it has been signed and approved by Jessica and her supervisor. Invariably the “amendments” are corrected, but the process is unnecessary and quite frustrating.
This “manager” is also prone to yelling at not only Jessica, but other employees who she is displeased with. These encounters take place in both public and private encounters.
Jessica’s “crime” is that she indicated to this person early on in their relationship that raising her voice, belittling her or others, and acting in an arbitrary or capricious manner wasn’t the best way to motivate Jessica and likely others.
The firm’s shareholders would not allow the administrator to terminate Jessica for insubordination so the recourse is to harass her.
When Jessica discussed her issues and concerns with Firm management she was told they see it as a personality conflict and that you girls should just work it out.
Yes Virginia I know it is 2013, but that is the language that was used.
Research demonstrates that the number one reason employees leave organizations is a poor relationship with their manager. Employee turnover costs the U.S. economy over $5.2 trillion annually according to the Department of Labor.
Assuredly some of this turnover is a function of reductions in force, employees moving on to other opportunities and other reasons than poor hiring and poor management, but the bulk of it fits in those buckets.
After a search process Daniel was extended and accepted an offer which required a move literally across the country from East to West Coasts.
Daniel had much of the required experience required for the new assignment from what both parties were able to discern. He had worked in larger organizations, participating in teams and managing projects that included almost all the dimensions represented in the new role.
Flash forward sixty days later and a pattern began emerging. It became increasing troubling to observe that while Daniel may have been part of a team or project managed groups accountable for the kinds of activities the new employer required he didn’t seem to possess the actual tactical technical skills to perform those tasks.
The new organization is orders of magnitude smaller. Every manager is a working manager. It is critical that each person be able to not only manage resources in the various dimensions represented in their area of responsibility, but that they possess the personal technical skills to do the tasks if necessary.
The organization also runs very lean. The opportunity for hands on coaching and clarification of expectations isn’t part of their current infrastructure. There is a lot of urgency with decision making and execution processes.
Additionally much of the team has been together for quite some time. This allows for shared understanding and organizational shorthand that an “outsider” is unlikely to comprehend and absorb in a very short period of time.
The outcome was that management reached a decision that their loss of confidence in Daniel was significant enough that it was unlikely that he could recover. Although Daniel was provided with a soft landing the decision was made to separate his employment rather than subject him and the organization to a protracted process.
I will admit I have a profound bias. I think that the acquisition, development, and deployment of talent are what ultimately differentiate great organizations from good organizations.
We also need to recognize that talent equals people, not human capital, human resources or whatever other buzzy word we choose to describe it.
I also use an analogy I call the canoe. I recommend that every hiring manager see their organization and their team as a canoe.
A canoe differentiates itself from almost any other nautical vessel because of its size. If you are in the canoe then you are either a rower or you are food, there is no room for ballast. There is no room for people who don’t fit your culture.
That doesn’t mean you structure your culture so tightly that you either run afoul of legal requirements or create groupthink, where there isn’t constructive dialogue about different approaches.
So as you might suspect I have some recommendations for you as to how not to be featured in one of my blogs -
- Hire Hard- Manage Easy, this a slogan created by my colleague Joseph Skursky of Market Leader Solutions. It catches the essence of the importance on spending the time upfront to really understand your culture and your requirements before you invite someone to climb into your canoe
- Engagement is about Alignment, the concept of engagement is taking a lot of heat these days because a lot of people don’t really understand it. It is not morale. It is not a survey. It is about clear line of sight to the organizations goals and objectives and a social contract that connects employee goals and organizational goals.
- Employees have Entitlements, when I am being a wiseass (which is most of the time), I use the expression Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves. What I mean by that is you don’t own your employees; you rent their talents and abilities. You don’t get more trust and loyalty than you display. I believe employees have an absolute entitlement to five things:
1. Respect, every person has an absolute entitlement to be treated with respect. That means clear expectations, feedback, and accountability commensurate with their role and abilities.
2. Responsibility, my experience is that when employees are provided with clear boundaries and the ability to own a task or activity they perform better.
3. Information/Context, the more employees understand the big picture and how their tasks and responsibilities fit into it the more likely they will be engaged and committed. The most important role management has is to remove the ambiguity for employees so they see that connection and context.
4. Rewards, just as employees need context they need to perceive they are being treated fairly and equitably. Rewards aren’t just about compensation, in fact study after study shows compensation by itself is essentially a satisfier, if you do it right you break even. If you do it wrong you create friction. The how and why is as important as the what.
5. Loyalty, I think of loyalty in the context of an opportunity to connect and share common goals and objectives. We build our organization on a foundation of mutual trust and respect. We recognize leadership is relational not hierarchical. I can make you boss, I can’t make you a leader. Leadership is bestowed. Your contribution not your tenure is acknowledged and celebrated.
- Your Brand lives where your employees and your customers intersect. As I have said before your brand may be born in the Boardroom or marketing, but it lives on the front line. Every organization has a brand; the smart ones craft and nurture those rather than let someone else define them.
- Frontline Leadership drives your success. If you have poor frontline leadership you have a brand in trouble. The skills of management and leadership are about relationships not tasks and activities. If your management team doesn’t have soft skills you are in deep shit.
I can’t guarantee you that if you follow my template you will become a Microsoft, Google, Apple or Amazon; but I can guarantee you that if you make the mistakes I have illustrated in my stories you won’t.
Don’t borrow or copy someone else’s culture. Build yours and be flexible about process and ruthless about principles….