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Where Have All The Men Gone?

Yesterday I was lounging at Barnes & Noble drinking expresso and reading a stack of magazines.Menshatsheader

Best Life  magazine grabbed my attention with the headline that I used here. Here's why:

I've wondered for a long time why mentoring has subsided while coaching has blossomed. And I've always had a hunch that it had to do with a change in the nature, frequency, and depth of relationships. This article really does the topic justice and is a must read for men--and women--as well.

What does the Best Life article point to?

According to the author's research, there are four contributing factors:

1. Men who have been managing their careers for years but who find themselves, midstream, feeling bereft of the kind of friendships they once had seem to have made four critical life mistakes, according to experts. The first and biggest problem involves time constraints, according to sociologist Theodore F. Cohen, professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University, who has studied men’s friendship networks. “Friendship ties,” Cohen writes in the discussion of one study, “seemed always to rank behind both marriage and parenthood in terms of the salience and legitimacy of their claims on one’s time.” Add to the mix the time pressures of one’s career and you can see how male friendships can slowly start to vanish.

2. The second problem is a little more insidious and involves the way men tend to forsake their male friends and elect their wives or girlfriends as their new and primary best friends in their social worlds. Call it the Yoko Ono effect. You’ve heard it before, say, during a bridegroom’s toast to his new wife. “And most important [emotive pause], she’s my best friend.” [Applause.] One of the strongest findings in the “Social Isolation in America” study was about friendship networks: “Core confidants surrounding the typical American,” say the authors, “have become smaller and more centered on the close ties of the spouse/partner.”

3. ...the tendency for men to entrust their social lives to their girlfriends or wives. “Women have historically been the ‘kinskeepers’ of Western society,” writes sociologist Barry Wellman, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. (For a quick litmus test, ask yourself: Who does the holiday cards each year—you or your wife?) With the growth of the suburbs, explains Wellman, and the gradual evaporation of urban meetinghouses, where men used to gather and form friendships, the planning of a man’s social calendar gradually began to take place in the home, the wife’s domain. Gatherings of friends, moreover, began to occur more frequently in the home with cocktails and dinner—again territory staked out by the wife. (Suburban Man moved outside, to be alone with the barbecue.) On some level, we have never gotten over the regime.

4. The fourth mistake takes us to the problem of male friendship at its widest circumference. It has to do with the sense of manhood we inherit from our fathers and from the movies, a sense of manhood that is standard issue, handed out, as it were, when we were boys, and it is symbolized by the lone rider, brave, independent, and self-sufficient—the Clint Eastwood effect. This guy has so much shit to do that he doesn’t need friends. But dozens of studies in psychology, epidemiology, and the new field of (brace yourself) psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, which investigates the links between the mind and the immune system, have made it abundantly clear that there are certain measurable risks involved in isolating yourself like the High Plains Drifter or reducing your life to the same dreary combination of work, home, Starbucks (repeat until the grave).

What Should We Be Thinking About?

Clearly, society--as always--is having an impact on how workplace relationships, mentoring, and the development of ensuing generations of leaders are being played out (or not). If mentoring and leadership development is a concern, then maybe we need to look at the changes in values, expectations, and demands that have pulled men away from performing those roles.

I'm always up for finding ways to be more attentive and understanding of the unique needs and differences when it comes to my wife, daughter, and women in the workplace.  Anything less doesn't reflect genuine caring. And to think that two people of different genders are the same because they both are "analytical" is sheer foolishness.

But if we're allowing flawed lifestyle and cultural shifts to override the roles that enable men to mentor and develop future leaders, then perhaps we should stop and think about where this is really taking us. Is this where we intended--and want-- to go?

The Yoko Ono Effect helped Yoko a lot, but it sure didn't do anything for the Beatles.

Photo Source: www.villagehatshop.com

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Want to Change The Organization? Change the Conversation

Lautrec Yesterday I finished my "chapter" for the Age of Conversation eBook. The title, which I used for today's post, emerged from my work and speeches about change and the conversations that inevitably follow.  Like so many other things in life, I wished the conversations had taken place before, rather than after, the fact. It was through those conversations that I heard the deeper thoughts and feelings that people had about the organizational change or the talk that I had given.

It was during these conversations that people's minds, including my own, were changed. No one was asking anyone else to "buy in" by a certain date. We were just talking about what was possible, how we could get there, and all of the related "stuff" that might be important.

That caused me to begin to reject standard top-down models for change unless we could start with a wide ranging discussion first.  Don't hear me saying that managers shouldn't manage. Do hear me suggesting that when it comes to a change that isn't a crisis, managers would be well-served to just put their idea out there and let it be the subject of conversation. It will be anyway. Why not talk, listen, and learn with everybody who will be involved?

That's how we change our framework for thinking...and that's kind of the thrust of my chapter, so...

Back to the eBook. There are 100 thought leaders and social media mavens who took time to contribute. The proceeds go to Variety, The Children's Charity . I'll let you know when it's ready for purchase; it will be well worth the wait.

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Generation Gap + Talent War = Lots of Misdiagnosis + Misspent Time and Money


Provocative and alluring...

1. "community, collaboration, global, change, involvement, service, participation engage, create your own (ok this is a phrase), independent, team, multidisciplinary, diversity, internship, job, mission, consortia, focus, self-directed, travel, cafe (not cafeteria), challenge, network, green, environment, wellness, responsibility, growth, imagination"  Russ Eckels, Generations At Work

From Management Issues:

2. Wandering Into a Demographic Disaster

"Despite facing a looming demographic crisis that will see the numbers of working age people plummet over the coming decades, a mere one in seven (14 per cent) of employers in developed economies have any strategies in place to recruit older workers. . ."

3. Generation Gap Faces Customer Service Meltdown

"According to Dr Withers, the fundamental issue is that baby boomers' concept of how a customer should be treated is entirely different from that of the Gen-Y workers behind the counter.

"People born between 1980 and 1996 are coming out of far different family dynamics – many single-parent homes, many double-working parents, pervasive technology use, et cetera," he said.

"Because of these factors, the new generation of service workers struggle to make connections with customers and meet their service expectations."

4. The Gender Generation Gap

Referring to a WSJ article:

Ms. McLemore, 60, often works until 11 p.m., but her young staffers tend to be 9-to-5ers. "They'll tell me, 'Wow. That was really late when you sent me the email last night.'" She tries to understand the reasons behind their reluctance to work hard. "Some are less interested in putting in long hours because they've seen their mothers do it, and they don't want that stress. I've heard this from women in all industries again and again."

As a raft of workplace research shows all too clearly, this attitude is prevalent throughout Generation Y (born after 1980). And the answer doesn't seem too hard to find, either. As the psychological contract between employers and employees continues to be eroded by waves of downsizing, reorganisation and cuts in benefits, is it any wonder that younger workers – men as well as women –feel less inclined to put the job before their lives and work until midnight?

Compounding the problem is the fact that many retailers simply don't have the time or the resources to offer as much customer service training as they would like."

. . .And What Are Companies Spending Their Time and Money On As A Result?

I contend that it's often--if not very often--the wrong thing.  Part of the reason is that headlines, teasers, and "critical demographics" grab the attention and resources of organizations the same way that Reality TV grabs viewers. (And that I tried to grab you with my own headline). What TV viewers are seeing is certainly "real," but by no means "reality." Instead, it's an expanded sound bite of people under a microscope (camera) appearing to do things alleged to represent real life.

But real life is authentic, ongoing, unpredictable, most often routine, and lived out by billions--billions--of people whose lives are not being packaged for broadcast; whose values conflict deeply with the those they see on TV; and who don't start the day waiting for someone to yell "Cut! It's a wrap. That was beautiful, baby!"

If We Want The Right Results, We've Got To Deal With The Right Issue

I really hope you are still reading. My fear when I began writing this was that the issue driving this post would get in the way of readers understanding that the sources I mentioned above are really good sources . They aren't provocative without adding substance derived from research or experience. They all add context to what they are saying.

Here's my issue:

I'm watching companies spend lots of money running workshops to "address the generation gap."

I'm hearing about the War for Talent and have even enlisted on occasion. But I haven't been able to uncover the enemy many places outside of the organizations themselves.

As for the "new generation" not wanting to work hard: The article above concludes with the truth. The real issue isn't hard work, it's sacrificing one's life and family for a 60-80 hour work week. Sounds like a pretty wise generation to me.

What's Happening Here?

Let's look at some hard research about the "Generation Gap" and what the different generations are actually looking for. We're fortunate to have Bob Cenek blogging again after a brief hiatus. Bob's post on
More Fiction About Generational Differences points to a Watson Wyatt study that shows:

The Leading Drivers of Employee Engagement, Regardless of Generation, are...

  • Management's ability to demonstrate leadership and strategic direction that builds confidence in the prospects for long-term corporate success
  • Effective reward programs
  • Frequent, clear two-way employee communication

These are three things that, for years, organizations have known are important to people.

Then what about Russ Eckels and the opening series of words and phrases?

I've read all of Russ' posts to date and he is a thoughtful writer and consultant whose purpose is to promote understanding. Can't go wrong with that and I think his approach is real, useful, and doesn't promise something that can't be delivered. Additionally, he does not try to evoke issues where there are none. (Applause!).

What Russ' words described are things that are valued by many individuals of what he refers to as the Millennial (Gen Y) Generation.

We all have personal values that we either want to have upheld--or at least not violated--when we're at work. But the research shows that the three top work-related values span all of the generations. And that tells me that perhaps job candidates are clearer about the realities of work than many of those who would prefer to see workplaces viewed primarily as sociological/psychological laboratories rather than the product/service/income-providing entities that they are.

Practical Application: Organizations would be wise to put their energy, money, and management into the three drivers that span all of the generations.

If there seems to be on-the-job tension that is impeding performance--and a valid diagnosis shows that it's some kind of generational thing--then sure, deal with it the way you'd deal with any tension. But why make it the focus of your training and development? You and I have both been through enough programs that have raised awareness of issues that didn't exist only to have the issues created as a result of the program.

What About The War for Talent?

As long as the problem is placed "out there," I think that we are missing the solution on the inside. It's like any issue: it's easier to say someone else is causing me a problem than to first look at myself. I think, from experience and observation, that the same is true with organizations and the "War for Talent."

There are some specialty industries whose professionals have a narrow focus and who don't get a lot of glamorous press with young people. Mining, for example. So yes, there may very well be a legitimate shortage of up and coming professionals.

What Can Companies Start Doing Now To Build a Flow of Talent?

I've gone into the higher level issues in other posts and will probably do more. But here are some things that will make a difference now and over which you have control:

Practical Application:

1. Take time to identify what you're really talking about. In a world of platitudes, high potentials, excellence, star performers (fill in your favorite), it's easy to overstate what you need. I'm not talking about lowering standards; I'm talking about raising the reality factor.

2. Do your recruiting systems make it easy for candidates or discourage them?

Online applications are the norm. Yet I can tell you from first-hand experience that many of the websites are clunky, user-unfriendly, and periodically inoperative. I've watched job candidates go through numerous screens, fill in data, and 30 minutes later watch it disappear when they clicked "submit." But it wasn't submitted. It disappeared.

3. Get people in front of people. Fine, you want online applications that are screened by keywords? Then stop telling the world that you are looking for "that unique individual who will add to our diverse workforce." Unless of course you are looking for binary people.

Look, we all know that relationships matter. If it takes a month for a candidate to see, or even talk to, a real manager or recruiter, they're gone. If you at least call me right away and ask me interesting questions and tell me about your organization, I'm still interested even though I may get a call from some other firm.

4. If you're recruiting on campus or at a job fair, actually take and use the resumes given to you. Then follow up.

Real story: Person goes to job fair with Fortune-ranked companies. Asked to bring 20 resumes. Talks to recruiters. Reaches into brief case to hand over resume. Recruiter says: "Oh, if you are interested, you'll have to apply online. Missed opportunity, tarnished image.

What are your stories, suggestions, or experiences with any of these? Do you have  different or similar experiences?

Weigh in with a Comment below and help clarify what 's really going on out there.

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Building Strengths: How Big Is Your Learning Zone?

Strength Business people tend to read business books.

Doctors tend to read professional journals.

Students have to read lots of things.

So it occurred to me, if organizations want to be learning organizations, they need to encourage people to pay a little more attention to lots of things; not just their specialty.

What else are you learning about today?

It's easy to fall into the trap of focusing on our professional specialty. We feel pressed for time and, perhaps, default to the topic that's related to our immediate job. But is that the best way to get better at it? And, is it even desirable?

Dr. Ellen Weber at Brain Based Business offers evidence that Brains Are Not Made for Repetition. What Ellen points out is "... that the brain is not wired to do the same things in the same way."

Not only that, but Ellen points out that  your brain is not the same at the end of the day and it changes daily.

So today, I'm going to offer up some places where you can click, read, and expand how you view your work by  seeing the connections to others' work. I happen to enjoy and admire good design and effective marketing. So a lot of my resources are designers and marketers of all sorts. When I read them, I look at the principles involved and see how they apply to management and organizations.

Here are a few that I hope will get you started. Check out how your brain has expanded at the end of the day!

Ellen Weber at Brain Based Business

Valeria Maltoni, the Conversation Agent

David Armano at Logic + Emotion

Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen

Drew McLellan over at The Marketing Minute

Brian Clark, the Copyblogger

What can each of these people teach us about what we're doing--and how we might think about it differently?

Hope your mind has an expanding day!

photo source: static.flickr.com/31/63364605_94c0e1ad60_o.gif

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Change the Conversation--Change the Organization

Ageconversation Conversation and discourse are powerful. So why not use that power to lift up those who need help and encouragement?

That's exactly what Gavin Heaton  and Drew McLellan decided to do when they initiated an eBook project whose proceeds will go to  Variety, The Children's Charity.

Titled The Age of Conversation, 100 bloggers are creating the final product, including my piece on how conversational change helps drive organizational change. Whether you're a corporate animal, marketeer, or creative artist, you'll want to add this broad-based thought piece to your reading list. And you'll be helping kids who need your help.

All of the submissions are due April 30, and I'll be giving an update on how you can get your copy.

In the meantime, check out the blogs from this wide-ranging list of contributing authors:

Gavin Heaton
Drew McLellan
Valeria Maltoni
Emily Reed
Katie Chatfield
Greg Verdino
Mack Collier
Lewis Green
Ann Handley
Mike Sansone
Paul McEnany
Roger von Oech
Anna Farmery
David Armano
Bob Glaza
Mark Goren
Matt Dickman
Scott Monty
Richard Huntington
Cam Beck
David Reich
Mindblob (Luc)
Sean Howard
Tim Jackson
Patrick Schaber
Roberta Rosenberg
Uwe Hook
Tony D. Clark
Todd Andrlik
Toby Bloomberg
Steve Woodruff
Steve Bannister
Steve Roesler
Stanley Johnson
Spike Jones
Nathan Snell
Simon Payn
Ryan Rasmussen
Ron Shevlin
Roger Anderson
Bob Hruzek
Rishi Desai
Phil Gerbyshak
Peter Corbett
Pete Deutschman
Nick Rice
Nick Wright
Mitch Joel
Michael Morton
Mark Earls
Mark Blair
Mario Vellandi
Lori Magno
Kristin Gorski
Krishna De
Kris Hoet
Kofl Annan
Kimberly Dawn Wells
Karl Long
Julie Fleischer
Jordan Behan
John La Grou
Joe Raasch
Jim Kukral
Jessica Hagy
Janet Green
Jamey Shiels
Dr. Graham Hill
Gia Facchini
Geert Desager
Gaurav Mishra
Gary Schoeniger
Gareth Kay
Faris Yakob
Emily Clasper
Ed Cotton
Dustin Jacobsen
Tom Clifford
David Pollinchock
David Koopmans
David Brazeal
David Berkowitz
Carolyn Manning
Craig Wilson
Cord Silverstein
Connie Reece
Colin McKay
Chris Newlan
Chris Corrigan
Cedric Giorgi
Brian Reich
Becky Carroll
Arun Rajagopal
Andy Nulman
Amy Jussel
AJ James
Kim Klaver
Sandy Renshaw
Susan Bird
Ryan Barrett
Troy Worman

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Workplace Conversations Can Mean Workplace Security

Do you feel safe at work?Neighborhood_logo

I was reading Wally Bock's  post about workplace safety. Wally was stimulated by an article from the Wall Street Journal that talked about the need for bosses to confront troubled employees. (This was written partially as a result of the tragic situation at Virginia Tech).

Wally took it further and said, rightfully, that bosses ought to be talking regularly with all employees because it contributes to productivity. There's more than enough research and experience to validate that.

But how about the importance of conversation as preventive action?

Humans are built for relationships. Being connected in some way to others makes us feel alive and part of the greater whole. If you're reading this now, it's partially because you want to be connected. I know that's one of the reasons I write. And when the comments start rolling in--even if they disagree with me--I get an increased sense of well-being as a result of the conversation. It indicates that I am in relationship with someone else. That I am alive.

Ongoing conversation between people at work serve at least two important functions:

1. They help enhance our sense of worth and life by being an accepted and contributing part of a community
2. They give people cues as to how our life is going

The first is literally a preventive function. By being included--or "part of the conversation"--our need to belong is met, at least in part.  When our most basic needs are being satisfied, we feel more satisfied.

The second provides a chance to ring the alarm in the minds of our colleagues. If something is wrong, they may very well sense it and listen for the level of severity.  When we've established relationships through conversation, we're more likely to believe there is help in the form of those around us.

But without ongoing interaction, neither can take place.

And that's why I think workplace conversations are important. I know that, in the case of performance conversations, a lot of bosses find it difficult to confront poor performers. Yet think about your answer to this question:

Who are the people in your life who you trust the most?

They are the ones who care enough to confront you. Who say no when they mean no. Who tell you when you're not performing up to par. And that's why you trust them.(You usually know when you're not doing things well and lose respect and trust when not confronted). They're also the people who celebrate your successes and give encouragement.

Tragedy and harm have been part of life since the beginning of time, and will continue to be. How many incidents does it take before people will understand that someone deranged and bent on destruction will succeed. But those incidents, when compared with the number of happenings during the course of one's lifetime, are not the norm. They are, however, huge in their impact, publicized in every medium, and sad beyond belief.

What makes them so sad and horrific lies behind the question we immediately ask:


What we're really baffled about is how someone --like us--could have fallen so out of relationship with fellow humans as to do something heinous. Why couldn't this person see the possibilities in life?  Why didn't someone see this coming? In some cases, why didn't I see this coming?

Most of all, I think the deepest question becomes, "Why is life--and its relationships--so frail?"

And what do we do to cope? We starting talking about it. We have conversations. When faced with tragedy, we strengthen our current relationships and build new ones.

Walls can keep people out and alarm systems will warn us that danger is imminent.

But healthy relationships built through healthy conversations offer us internal security. They remind us that we're alive and that tomorrow we have people who will help us through another day. They build the kind of community that knows when one of its members is having a bad day and can lift that person up instead of letting them fall down.

Conversations are good for productivity. They mean something to the people doing the work. And they can mean a lot more--even safety and security.

Would today be a good day to start the conversation that you've been putting off?


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When Did The Executive Coach Become A Player?

Coach_2 I've been wanting to open up this conversation for some time now. Thanks to Jim Stroup's writing at Managing Leadership, the perfect opportunity has presented itself.

Jim is an experienced leader, author and consultant now living in Turkey. Thanks to his willingness to initiate an email exchange,  I've come to enjoy and be stimulated by his writing. By all means click over to Jim's blog and have a look at his take on "The Strategic Role of the Senior Executive," Jim's tag line.

In his posts Who's In Charge and You Are In Charge, Jim takes a look at some real issues surrounding coaches, their clients, and what he observes is a trend toward managers relying on coaches to do what the managers are supposed to be doing. His commentary was prompted by an article he read in the Wall Street Journal which:

"...describes how some executives coaches are now inserting themselves into certain executive functions, such as the hiring process. According to the article, some are actually conducting interviews of job applicants and exercising – or being given – vetoes over hiring decisions."

The issue is this: Coaches are supposedly engaged to enable managers to grow and perform better as managers. If a coach executes the duties of a manager, that's managing.  And that isn't contributing to the manager's future effectiveness. In fact, it's subverting the alleged intention of the engagement.

As Jim says, if you're a manager who allows this to happen ..."then you really ought to resign your position and recommend your coach as your replacement."

What's Going On Here?

This is the part that will probably start those cards and letters rolling in. But if I don't put this out there for context, my other thoughts might not make sense.

Here goes: I've always struggled with the whole "coach" thing.  I've tried to identify the point at which the "coach" phenomenon actually began. (If anyone has a date or year, please send it along). Thinking back, I believe that I saw it pop up on the radar screen of life sometime in the 1990's. But I can't be sure because for the longest time I sort of ignored it.


It felt as if, out of nowhere, a herd of people were almost instantaneously proclaiming the existence of a profession and, just as quickly, claiming to "certify" others.  Maybe it was the speed of it all that made me uneasy.  Most of all, I knew what it took to be a good advisor because I had spent years combining my own background in management, education, and behavioral science to cultivate certain expertise and discernment needed to serve my clients well. I also knew how many mistakes I had had to make (in real time with real clients) to reach that point. So, the coaching "movement"  as such was bothersome.

Please understand that my  clients would tell you that I "coach". I advise and consult with people who have contacted me specifically asking for coaching. Other large consulting practices sometimes hire me for the express purpose of coaching an executive client. But my practice for 30 years has been that of a consultant and I continue to identify myself and see myself in that way. And if someone requests a coach, I realize that for many the term is now commonplace and comfortable. So after asking them solid diagnostic questions about what they are trying to accomplish and why, we determine whether or not my expertise will help them get there. How they choose to frame it really doesn't matter as long as they achieve the desired results.

Coaches and Consultants: Does the Allure Make You Want More?

Being an advisor in any capacity carries with it the proximity to power and influence. For consultants as well as internal staff people, it presents the opportunity to be seen as an operational player by being seen as a "do-er" vs. an advisor. It's heady stuff being around power and realizing that you can probably get some, if only for a moment.

This presents two issues:

1. Contractual. Does the explicit contract call for the coach/consultant to overtly speak on behalf of the client on a given issue? If so, has that been conveyed to the people involved? And if so, what is it that uniquely places the coach/consultant in the position to do that instead of the manager or some other internal person?

2. Ethical. Trusted Advisors experience a dynamic similar to those in the helping/counseling professions. That is, by "opening up" to the advisor, managers usually make themselves more vulnerable than they would in a normal business situation. If an engagement has been moving along successfully and a coach/consultant--now seen as an "expert"--suggests taking a more visible role, the manager may assume, out of trust and dropping one's guard, that the person is acting in his/her best interest and "knows better than I do."  Advisors worth their salt know the boundaries and put their clients' interest and well-being before their own need to be seen as influential.

What Are The Managers Getting Out of This?

I really don't know. We could probably guess--and be right--about a number of perceived benefits. But It does take two people who are colluding, consciously or unconsciously, to make this happen.

Jim mentioned in his post about coaches being brought in to interview candidates. I can say straight away that I've been part of the screening process on a few occasions for companies that I've consulted with for many years. Their reasons for inviting me into the process were very similar: I knew their organization intimately, knew the culture, knew the department or workgroup, knew why they were looking and what they were looking for, and they felt that I could add to the process. In one instance, a company had a German candidate, I was in Germany doing work for them, and I speak the language. In no instance did I have decision-making authority or a vote. When I interviewed candidates they knew who I was, why I was involved, and how the information would be used.

But I think the most important part was this: I had a specific, explicit contract with the organization to do that job. It was seen as a separate assignment from anything else I was doing for the company. So there was no co-mingling of roles and overstepping of boundaries.

So Why Are We Bothered By This?

I can only speak for myself.

This may sound crazy since  I earn my living as a consultant who often coaches people; but what is right is right and I really do believe that truth reigns:

I'm bothered by what I've seen as an increasing dependency on coaches and consultants and a decreasing scope of the actual managerial role.

This doesn't mean that managers aren't busy or working hard. What I've observed is that the power and potential of the managerial role in many organizations has become diminished. Managers are now paying attention to tasks and projects and allowing others to handle the "people" side. Yet without struggling and learning "about" their people, relating "to" their people, and providing clear direction "for" their people, the organization is ultimately denied depth of leadership in the years to come. On an immediate level, employees look to their managers for guidance and hearing how they are doing. Yet more and more, they are instead seeing how they are doing once a year when they read their performance review. If they find out that something they did 11 months ago wasn't up to par, it's too late to learn in-the-moment and try to make the necessary changes. When managers don't manage people, they create distance in the relationship.  When there is distance, trust disintegrates. And when there is little trust, there is little ability to lead.

What Is The Role of the Consultant/Coach/Advisor?

The role is one of helping to build a specific expertise, behavioral change, and perhaps increased confidence within the client as a result.

When that is done, it is time to leave.

The greatest satisfaction that an adviser of integrity can experience is to have worked one's self out of a job.

The greatest reflection of one's integrity will be the ability to know and honor the boundaries of the engagement.

I genuinely hope that managers, coaches, and consultants will take time to add their experiences and observations in order to get a range of thoughts about this.

Photo Source: Coach from www.travel-watch.com 

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Does Focusing on Strengths Give An Excuse For Ignoring Weaknesses?

Noexcuses_2 What do you think about this one?

Have you noticed people making excuses for poor performance or ugly behavior by invoking the "It's just who I am" defense?

Phyllis Roteman over at The Learning Rap weighed in with a thorough and thoughtful comment on my post about Strengths, Weaknesses, and Employee Engagement. Here's what she said:

Hi Steve,

I saw strengths guru Marcus Buckingham speak last year. I also know that research (and common sense) confirm that focusing on peoples' strengths has a positive affect on morale, engagement and the bottom line.

But as with any approach (or new idea), focusing on STRENGTHS can go overboard in organizations, causing many negative side-affects. Some I've seen:

- Using the "strengths" research as an excuse for managers to avoid uncomfortable performance discussions with employees. ("Everyone knows that James is difficult to work with and shirks his responsibilities. No one wants to work with him and clients complain about him...but he's a really good analyst. Let's not rock the boat.")

- Hiding behind strengths as an excuse for bad behavior. For example, "I'm sorry that I snapped at you and called you a bumbling idiot. I have a short fuse. That's just how I am. Sensitivity is not my strength. You'll just have to accept that."

- Dumping mundane tasks (like paperwork, administration) on others because "it's not my strength." (For example, "Anne, you're SO GOOD at making the office coffee, cleaning out the pot and using the fax machine. Would you mind? I'm not good at that kind of stuff.") All jobs require doing some things we don't like, or aren't particularly good at...and most companies can't afford to give all of their employees an assistant to dump work on. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and do something, even though it's not our strength.

All of that said, I'm still a huge believer in focusing on strengths. I just get alarmed when I see a good concept spin out of control and become destructive. Phyllis

What's Happening With The Strengths/Weaknesses Thing?

First of all, what's happening is what Phyllis says is happening. There are probably a number of reasons why, but I think there is a phenomenon that gets played out--at least in American business circles--whenever the latest and greatest thing hits the scene. And it's this:

What is actually a Principle is adopted as a  Rule.

Instead of really taking time to understand all that lies underneath a principle, people run with the catch phrase and treat it as "the way." A book title becomes a buzzword that is then tossed around in meetings. It becomes problematic when the word doesn't have a shared meaning among the users. And that happens a lot. So it is with Strengths.

It's a lot easier to say "It's all about Strengths" than it is to live a life identifying and acknowledging our strengths; figuring out where we need to become at least adequate in some of our weaknesses; and respecting the people around us enough to behave unselfishly even when we "feel" like doing our own thing our own way.

When managers avoid uncomfortable performance discussions, they are showing disrespect for their employee. How can the person improve without hearing the truth, explore ways to change, and growing as a result?

When we hide behind Strengths as an excuse for bad behavior, we're really saying "I don't respect you enough to bother to honor you with good behavior."

And when mundane tasks are dumped on someone else because "I'm not good at it," then I better ask myself just how I'm using my position power. Is one of my less attractive "strengths" the inclination to take advantage of others' weakness?

What I find ironic as I write this is: we're talking about Strength, yet the insidious culprit is Laziness.

What to do?

1. Take time to learn the "why?" behind the "what." When you can explain a concept accurately using everyday language, you've got it. If you or colleagues around you are still discussing things using buzzwords, stop and ask for an explanation of the meaning. That discussion could lead to shared meaning and deeper understanding.

2. When you hear a "performance excuse" disguised as a reason, follow up by asking: "What are you going to do about that? It's impacting other people and that's not acceptable." It's amazing how we'll make changes once we are called on our behavior and not allowed to explain it away.

3.  Make really bad coffee and jam the fax machine.

Thanks again, Phyllis.

What stories and thoughts do you have on the topic? Add your experience to the conversation with a comment below.

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Strengths, Weaknesses, and Employee Engagement

Strengths_img What engages you most, building on your talent or overcoming what you see as some "gap" in your inherent abilities?

Where do you get the bigger payoff?

David Zinger's "Employee Disengagement" post is crisp, to the point, and should lead each of us to think about those questions. David cites a Gallup Management Journal article showing these findings:

   1. If your manager primarily ignores you your chances of being actively disengaged are 40%

   2. If your manager focuses on your weaknesses your chances of being actively disengaged are 22%

   3. If you manager focuses on your strengths your chances of being actively disengaged are only 1%

I think these factoids are powerful in their simplicity. They point the way to what managers and their people should be paying attention to if they're really concerned with being engaged.

First: Managers would be wise to initiate conversation and discussion with all of their people. Otherwise, the numbers show that they'll lose the active commitment of nearly half.

Note to employees: I know that you know that your manager is supposed to know this. Well, clearly they may not. If you aren't getting attention, initiate a conversation with your boss about how important it is to you. Some people, by nature, don't initiate those things. Then, if you find out that this isn't a department or organization where you can flourish, you have some  solid information for making career decisions. And if you do make a difference by initiating the discussion and see it continue, you've helped at least two people.

Second: Here is a way to start thinking about where to invest energy: Building Strengths or Overcoming Weaknesses.

I'll use a sales example:

Let's say you are a sales rep who has a track record of getting appointments and a presentation with 60% of the people on whom you call.  But  your  ability to close the sale is  25%.  You have been a sales rep at different companies for 18 years.(Stick with me, I've been a sales manager).

What you now know is that you're strength lies in building the initial relationship and being able to get in front of the client. No matter how hard you've worked at closing the sale, you've never gotten above 25%.

As your sales manager, I'd start thinking:

If I help you focus on getting appointments and presentations--and you improve just 10%--then I have someone who can get us in front of a prospective client 66% of the time. If I start focusing on your closing deficit and you manage to improve 10%, you still only get to a 27.5% success rate.

So I decide that I --or another "closer" with a high percentage of success--will come along to the presentations. You become the "star" door opener and we find another "star" closer.

I'd be crazy to spend my time and energy focusing on your weakness. It would be the same as telling Yo Yo Ma "You're a phenomenal musician. I know you are a cellist, but we're going to put all of our energy into making you a pianist."

Let's talk with people about "What They Can't Not Do."

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Talent Management: How About A Guy With A Big Cigar?

Colonel_elvis2 Blogs are about conversation.

There are lots of conversation about Talent Management. Or at least there are a lot of opinions, comments, and furrowed brows.

The Lingering Question Is. . .

I think the most honest post I've seen comes from Gautam Gosh where he asks, "What Exactly Is Talent Management?"  I think it's honest because Gautam knows about business, knows HR strategy, and consults to companies in India. And he has the courage to ask a question that plenty of others won't ask for fear of looking "uninformed."

Jim Holinchek adds to the conversation with All Talent Management All of the Time and CEO Views of Talent Management.

I like Don Taylor's definition because it gets to the heart of the matter and doesn't use any jargon du jour: "Talent Management is making capability match commitments."

Don's definition also points the way toward strategy driving the kind of talent needed vs. only looking at the talent one has now and saying "How are we going to move ahead with what we've got?" The difference in possible outcomes is obvious.

I've written a bit about talent management before, at least here and here. And I'm fairly opinionated about it. Why? Because I've been deeply involved in designing talent management processes with companies and have discovered the following:

1. They are impacted by the corporate inclination that "anything worthwhile can't be simple." So they often become complex, programmatic, and filled with jargon--and managers begin to see them as "one more thing to get in the way of work."

2. When they are housed under the HR umbrella, the managers who are in charge of the actual "talent" are often consulted for their opinions rather than made the responsible parties for the development of their company.

3. A current "star" performer can be anointed as "high potential," yet not have any of the attributes that the company will need 3 or 5 years from now. If the "star" status isn't identified for what it is, that person may get ignored for proper development and end up looking for a job down the road.

4. Once a "program" goes company-wide and has visibility, the normal human inclination for organizational power emerges and "who has what power" can begin to undermine "who do we hire and develop, and how?"

So strong operational leadership is really a key to this whole talent thing. That's why I propose:

Find The Guy With The Big Cigar

Elvis had Colonel Tom Parker . The Beatles had Brian Epstein . Everybody who is anybody in the music business had to cross paths with Clive Davis along the way.

These people knew the audience, recognized talent, and then knew how to develop it for the future.

Recognizing and developing talent is a talent and a passion unto itself.

Should your company be thinking about "who has the Big Cigar?"

Photo Source: elvis.raks.com.pl/

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Easter Weekend Break Plus Recommendations

Sm_easter_lilly I'm taking a few days away from the blog to celebrate Easter, enjoy the weekend with family, and hopefully  gain some refreshment and rejuvenation.

If you are looking for some good, quick reads that have to do with learning--here are some suggestions:

Guy Kawasaki highlights a video of Professor Carol Dweck explaining fixed and growth mindsets.

Teach and you retain more … listen and you lose more ... it’s that simple….according to Ellen Weber in her Better To Teach A Dog Than Listen To A Lecture offering. And you'll get a spiffy diagram as a bonus.

Following that theme, GTD fans will enjoy ways to Sharpen your GTD Chops While Teaching Others at Lifehack.org.

Management and Organizational readers: Wally Bock asks, "What Talent Will You Be Short Of?"

"If you're thinking "CEO" or "Chief Technology Officer" or something similar, guess again. In the US it's salesperson. Other people in short supply are skilled manual tradespeople and technicians."

Common Sense guru Bud Bilanich serves up a list of examples in Good Leaders Ask Good Questions.

Finally, learn and have fun with Laura Bergells as she asks the question, Could Powerpoint Be...Satan?

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Leaders: Do You Align Yourself Before You Try to Align Everyone Else?

800pxcarnac_megalith_alignment_1 Organizational Alignment is now appearing at a "bullet-points-of-life" business presentation near you. Check your conference room for time and listings.

Who's going to argue with getting people lined up, in sync, focused, efficient, and performing as one?

Not me.

It makes a lot of sense to you, too, doesn't it?

Then why the angst over alignment?

Alignment Starts With An Individual

We're all pretty willing to line up once we can see where the line has been drawn. But without someone carving out a clear, visible, straight line, we can be committed to alignment but the results won't look that way. So what may be misdiagnosed as "lack of engagement" is actually "lack of clear direction."

Which means this:

Whoever has decided to initiate "alignment" has to be clearly aligned on a personal level.

Peter Vajda always provides thoughtful comments here at All Things Workplace. Yesterday's post on "You Want An Organizational Change...?" drew this comment from Peter:

"All too often change is hard to come by when folks are not in harmony, that is, where there is a misalignment among what one says, feels, thinks and does...and when such misalignment occurs, one often makes unwise and incongruent choices and bad decisions and becomes less passionate, less heart-felt and less committed because they are internally conflicted."

A manager at any level who tries to initiate "alignment" as a program before aligning the clarity of his or her own thinking is heading toward more misalignment than the status quo. Conflicted thinking causes conflicted organizations.

Think About "Creating Alignment" as a "Transition"

Kent Blumberg just attended a New Leaders Panel Discussion. Click on the link to read the panelists comments. But the approach that each took is a good lesson in real-life alignment. Here's Kent's synopsis:

When you are preparing to move into a new role, remember the keys of a successful start:

  • Before Day One, identify and meet with all key stakeholders.  Get your hands on the reports and documents that will tell you the story of your part of the business to date.  If possible, take care of all the administrative stuff (getting a desk, signing forms, and so on).

  • Control the agenda for Day One. Don't just show up and wander around.  Clearly plan what you will say to whom, where and when.

  • In your first month, pull your team off-site to get aligned on mission, vision, objectives, goals, strategies and values.

  • Be sure to set clear milestones and put tracking systems in place.

  • By the end of your second month, identify one or two early wins, and then over-invest in them to ensure delivery by the end of the sixth month.

These leaders focused on becoming crystal clear--personally-- about their situations, were equally directive about where they were "drawing their lines." They recognized that this is the first critical step in aligning the organization to perform in a specific way.

Thought for Today:
Start your organizational alignment with  your own "aligned mind." 

Do add your own alignment or misalignment stories and weigh in with a comment.

Photo Source:wikimedia.org

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Corporate Connections and Social Networking: Worksona

Back on October 5th I did a post about social networking and its potential application in organizations:Worksona_3

"Instead of filling each other's email folders with forwards, cc's, and cover-your-behind messages, a lot of organizational knowledge could be shared and archived in a way that's more interesting and useful. Digital images can be parked for researchers in different locations to access. Projects could be organized by topic. Ideas could be inserted by people with knowledge or interest who aren't on the official email distribution. Employees could know what's happening in real-time; they wouldn't have to wait for a company newsletter.

I understand that security is an issue. Many company intranets have already addressed that issue so it's do-able.

Social networking is 'what's happening'--why not use it to make things happen on the job."

If this makes sense to you, have a look at Worksona. They're all about launching communities inside of existing organizations, which alleviates some of the angst around security and makes it all about connecting on the inside.

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You Want An Organizational Change? Then...


What else has to change in order to make it happen?

This is an uncomfortable but meaningful question.

You and I say we want change. But let's be honest. What we really want is for other people to change so we can get what we want.

It's the human condition.

Which is why Mike Wagner's post at Own Your Brand  grabbed my attention.

Mike was working with a company on it's branding strategy and this is what Mike experienced:

"He (a leadership participant) was seated at the conference room table while I was leading the debrief on his company’s brand ownership audit. That’s when it happened. It always does, I just never know exactly when.

'So that's why we're stuck. This is going to be tougher than I thought.'"

Every meaningful intervention in the life of a company prompts the realization that other changes have to happen. Organizations are living systems just like the human body. When you stub your toe, it hurts--but you also may see stars and get a headache. Mike's client thought they were going to discuss branding. No doubt it led to:

"How are we going to integrate this brand company wide?"

"What's getting in the way now?"

"How are going to 'live' the brand rather than 'talk about' the brand?"

"What are all the things that have to change to make that happen?"

And finally:

"Oh, wow, it's going to be a leadership thing and we're the leaders."

What Do I Have To Change In Order to Make This Happen?

I got some feedback recently about something that I need to change. It was this: "Steve, you are not self-promoting and even your long-time clients don't know all the things that you do. You've got to put it out there  so that people know what you do and understand the breadth and depth of your experience."

OK, here's an opportunity to discuss one of those things.

I've designed and led large-scale change projects, some of which are unparalleled in their scope. (Stay with me for the punch line). Got the call to do an AT&T division beginning on the day of divestiture in 1984. Led large system changes at Utilities involved in shut-downs by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And I continue to work on a global improvement project with a company that has numerous businesses in different industries, yet continually needs to share services and find common customers.

I know how to implement change purposefully, intelligently, and humanely.

But here's the single thing that I've learned must take place at the outset:

After discussing the leader's ideas about what needs to be different and why, I now ask,

"How much are you personally willing to change how you see and do things?"

The answer to that question will determine the wisdom in proceeding and the chances for success.

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Are Coaches and Consultants the New Sources of Performance Feedback?

Back_door_2Are you getting any real feedback on your performance at work?

In How Not To Manage People, David Maister cites the results of a survey of CPA's with four to seven years' experience. David specializes in professional service firms and is always in tune with what's happening. The survey data are available, according to David, at this site.

David notes:

"Interestingly, the three most important atrributes of firm culture in the eyes of the respondents were:

  • Ethical leadership in the firm (only 55% of firms were rated very good!)
  • Work / Life Balance – Family friendly Policies (38% of firms rated very good)
  • High quality feedback, supervision and performance management (13% of firms rated very good!)

What ARE these firms thinking of? What IS going on out there?"

I don't know the full answer to that question. But I have recently become aware of one creepy phenomenon:

Faux Feedback Disguised as 360 Assessment

1. About 6 months ago, I was asked to provide coaching for a middle manager. During the exploratory meeting, I asked his boss how he (the middle manager) responded to the performance feedback that led to the coaching solution. The boss responded in a very general way and sort of shuffled and said "I guess I should sit down with him again. But I think using some kind of 360 feedback tool would really be helpful."

2. January brought about another coaching request at the executive level. Similar initial conversation, similar response, same "360 feedback tool" suggestion.

3. Two weeks ago...yep, it happened again. Along with the "360 might be helpful..."

These are three different companies in three different industries with three different cultures.

My intuitive take: 360 Tools are seen by some as a way to satisfy the known need for feedback but to avoid having to provide it directly.

If the object of feedback were only to provide raw data, maybe that wouldn't matter. However:

Employees at all levels want feedback and direction first and foremost from their boss. That's the relationship that we look to when making decisions about what to do and how to do it on-the-job! (If that is a new notion to you, start with a look at Wally Bock's post about Managers and Developing Talent).

Dealing With Back-Door Feedback Through Front-Door Coaching

If you're a coach, then I will assume you adhere to this principle: You don't give feedback to a coaching client that he or she hasn't received from their boss. Period.

What to do?

I explained to each boss that I couldn't continue until their person had gotten all of the "what" and "why" feedback from them. That the coaching would be viewed as sneaky and unethical. And, that without the boss's direct contribution, it probably wouldn't have any real meaning.

The result? Each one agreed. This wasn't about an evil empire. It was about people who needed some help themselves.

So the first coaching session was with the boss to create the specific feedback and practice giving it.

And yes, we still did the 360 feedback because it really was desired by the people being coached.

What to take away: Be on the lookout for back door feedback requests and, regardless of your role, point people toward the front door before proceeding.

Getting back to David's post: What can we do to get the other 87% of firms to give employees the kind of feedback they want and need before the employees are accused of being "disengaged" and sent off to a program for "remedial engagement?"

Photo Source: www.spareroom.co.nz

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