Three Persuasive Ideas

If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, 
I'd spend six sharpening my axe.--Abraham Lincoln

We never outgrow our need to be persuasive. Managers have to persuade employees to "get on board" with a new idea or change; salespeople get paid to persuade customers to buy; and potential customers persuade salespeople that a change in the "deal" just might make them a paying customer.

We're all faced with the challenge of persuasion and influencing. Here are three ideas to help meet your next challenge:

Golf

Create the Right Atmosphere

Did you know that participants rate educational seminars higher when they are held at a resort location? That factoid comes from the meeting planners who have to schedule them. Diners linger a bit longer in comfortable restaurants, and are prone to ultimately have a more expensive after-dinner refreshment and a dessert. Shoppers spend more time shopping if there is background music. Job applicants sign on the dotted line more often if they are interviewed in plush surroundings vs. the loading dock.

The next time you have a meeting, with one or one hundred, what's the best atmosphere to put your listeners in the most receptive mood?

Get At The End of a Parade

If you find that you are one of a number of presenters at a meeting, ask to go last. We've all had different experiences with this but here's what I've realized happens more often than not:

1. By the time the others trot out their list of pie charts, statistics, and million-dollar ideas, the listeners are growing tired as well as forgetful. Your presentation will at least be the last one on their minds. 

2. If you are last, you stand a chance of being bumped completely and then end up getting a courtesy re-schedule. This now puts you in the position of being the only thing on people's minds at your new presentation. (There's also something of a sympathy factor for being bumped. Bask in it).

Stand Up

When I work with a small group--6-8 people--I start off seated at the table with them. When it comes time to make a serious point or convey urgency, I stand up and draw on a flipchart or whiteboard. It changes the dynamic, adds to the point trying to be made, and lets people know I believe the issue or idea merits special consideration.

How will you be a bit more persuasive today?

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Employee Engagement: Pay Attention to These

The notion of Employee Engagement has been with us for a while now.

I noticed in a meeting last week that everyone was passionate when we started discussing "engagement". But the longer we talked, the less I was convinced that we were talking about the same thing. In fact, we all had a personal, sensible, gut level idea of what it meant. But the "definition gap" emerged when we began talking about how to approach the issue.

Engagement Motivation QuotePredictable, actually. Whenever you find yourself in disagreement about "how" to do something, it's a signal to back up a step and agree on a common definition of "what" you are working on. 

How Do You Define Employee Engagement?

The Conference Board researched the issue of definition and came to the same conclusion: different studies reflected different definitions of Employee Engagement. So they came up with a "blended" definition and some key themes that represented all of the studies.

The definition of Employee Engagement: "a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work".

That makes sense and is easily understood.

What I think is truly helpful to those involved in creating Employee Engagement is the Conference Board's synthesis of 8 key drivers of engagement. These offer concrete targets for development:

  • Trust and integrity – how well managers communicate and 'walk the talk'.

  • Nature of the job –Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Does the employee understand how their work contributes to the company's performance?

  • Career Growth opportunities –Are there future opportunities for growth?

  • Pride about the company – How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with their company?

  • Coworkers/team members – significantly influence one's level of engagement

  • Employee development – Is the company making an effort to develop the employee's skills?

  • Relationship with one's manager – Does the employee value his or her relationship with his or her manager?

Can You Work With Those Eight?

What do you think?

For those of us who have to turn theory into practice, I like the simple and concise one-liners that can lead to purposeful action. They provide starting points for meaningful discussions as well.

Bonus: If you want an ongoing look at what's happening in employee engagement, a terrific resource is my friend David Zinger and his Employee Engagement Network.

 

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Learn How To Develop Others

"Developing Others" ranks dead last on just about every organizational skill level survey with which I've been involved or have read. 

It's not because people lack awareness of its importance; quite the contrary. It's because development takes time. It involves getting to know people and their capabilities at more than a surface level. To develop people, you have to follow a few fundamental steps.

Here's How To Begin

1. Start with an accurate picture of the person's strengths and weaknesses. They can't grow if they don't have good information about themselves. And managers can't help them develop without the same kind of clarity.

Develop Others Flower Bud2. Get ongoing feedback from multiple sources. The key words here are ongoing and multiple

Ongoing: Performance improves with information that is provided as close to an event as possible. That way, the situation is still fresh and the details clear. If I get feedback in November about something that happened in February, what am I really supposed to do about it? And I have to ask myself: "If it's so important, why did you wait this long to tell me?"

Multiple sources: We all have bosses and peers; if we're managing, we also have direct reports. When I do 360s for clients, I always insist on feedback from people outside of the person's direct chain of command, even external customers if there is a lot of customer interaction. When someone is working across boundaries on a project, there's a wealth of information available about the ability to build relationships and influence outside of the "power" sphere. 

3. Give first-time tasks that progressively stretch people. In a series of leadership conferences we conducted between 2006-2009, participants told us that the single most valuable contributor to their leadership growth was a series of stretch assignments. No one grows from doing the same thing more and more. '

4. Build a learner mentality. Encourage your people to think of themselves as professional learners as well as (job title). In meetings and one-on-on one, ask:

  • What are you learning that's new or different?
  • Where have you seen yourself improve most in the past year?
  • What have you learned in one situation that you can now use in others?

5. Use coaching, mentoring, classroom, online, books, coursework, and stretch assignments to promote and reinforce learning and development.

One of the byproducts of developing your people: you gain satisfaction and stature as a result of their success. 

Who will you help today?

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How to Boost Excitement About Creativity

This Post appeared earlier and was requested by a long-time subscriber.

 

You want to be creative and breed creativity in your workplace, right?Images7

Do you consider yourself to be "creative?"

Creative_baby
I was just talking with my cousin, Len, a long-time public school teacher and Principal. Len is also a master coach  He noted that if you ask first-graders how many of them are "creative," pretty much all of the hands in the class go up. They smile. They show their colorful drawings and finger painting and maybe even compose a song along the way.

What happens when the same question is asked of the same kids a few years later? The responses drop to nearly zero. And the kids are still in elementary school.

Fast forward to your business meeting. Someone says "Let's get creative about how to grow the market in Asia. We've got until 5 o'clock."

Are you and I seeing the same thing here?

We've got little kids who are convinced they are creative. Then we've got bigger little kids who don't think so anymore. Now we've got adults who are sure they aren't creative being asked to create--and with a deadline.

This post is a call for thought, not a rant. (Well, a little one). It seems to me that we have taken an entire population of creative youngsters, tell them to color inside the box (or else!), and now tell them to "think outside the box"--(or else!).

Nine things to encourage creativity

Silvano Arieti  wrote a book in 1976 called Creativity: The Magic Synthesis (you can get a used copy through amazon.com). Here are his nine conditions and the reasons why:

1. Aloneness. Being alone allows the person to make contact with the self and be open to new kinds of inspiration.

2. Inactivity. Periods of time are needed to focus on inner resources and to be removed from the constraints of routine activities.

3. Daydreaming. Allows exploration of one's fantasy life and venturing into new avenues for growth.

4. Free thinking. Allows the mind to wander in any direction without restriction and permits the similarities among remote topics or concepts to emerge.

5. State of readiness to catch similarities
. One must practice recognizing similarities and resemblances across to perceptual of cognitive domains.

6. Gullibility. A willingness to suspend judgment allows one to be open to possibilities without treating them as nonsense.

7. Remembering & replaying past traumatic conflicts. Conflict can be transformed into more stable creative products.

8. Alertness. A state of awareness that permits the person to grasp the relevance of seemingly insignificant similarities.

9. Discipline. A devotion to the techniques, logic, and repetition that permit creative ideas to be realized.

So now we go to our boss and say "I'd like to have some extended alone time for inactivity and daydreaming so I can come up with a creative idea for your strategy."

(Please let me know how that conversation goes).

You can act to create creativity

Then next time you have charge of a meeting or idea session, how about using some of the above items to lay a foundation for creativity.

  • Build in "alone time" by having people think about the task well in advance.
  • Suspend judgment and encourage the craziest ideas in the room, because
  • Alertness (number 8) will connect the "crazy" dots

I hope you'll use these to be intentional about creativity. It sounds almost like an oxymoron--"intentional creativity"--but according to number 9 it isn't.

Intentional Creativity--that's a lot easier to sell to your boss than some alone time.

Graphic Source: www.bhmpics.com

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Your Next "Aha!" Is the Beginning, Not the End

Exclamation02_2(Re-issued by request)

How many times have you studied, thought, worked, conversed, or meditated in order to reach an "Aha!" moment?

It seems to me that we have a tendency to treat "Ahas!" as if they are a result.  Yet when you look at them carefully, they signal a beginning; a sign that there may be a new path to pursue, something new to learn, or a situation to re-visit in a different way.

In fact, I received that "Aha!" in a conversation with no less than the Conversation Agent herself, Valeria Maltoni. Some time ago we were discussing just about everything from marketing to book writing to organization effectiveness when she wove her "Aha!"into the conversation. It was a beginning that led to today's post.

Some Aha! Questions to Ponder

1. When was your last "Aha!"?

2. Did it lead somewhere?

3. If  so, where?

4. If not, why not?

5. Is it time to re-visit it to see what you might have missed?

(Almost) Everything I Know About "Ahas" I Learned From Fourth-Graders

When I got out of the Army, I went back to college to complete the last few requirements for my degree.  I also went back to being a working--and paid--musician.  Life was good. Except for the next "Aha!."

You see, at that time in the history of the universe, there was a strange, quaint phenomenon known as dating.("Dating" was a very common ancient ritual that involved asking a young woman to go out with you alone to a movie, or a restaurant, or an event. The idea was that if you could get to know each other better, you might want to continue and develop an even deeper relationship. If this sounds strange and you want to learn more about it, go to a garage sale, buy a 45 RPM  record (they look like oversized CD's with a big hole in the center), and listen to the lyrics. Hint: you will notice that the lyrics rhyme. Oh, and you'll need to buy a 45 RPM record player,too.)

Sorry.

Back to the related "Aha!" which was known as:

"Come in and meet my father"

Me with mandatory strong handshake: "Hello, Mr. ____, nice to meet you. "

Father: "Hello, young man (fathers do not utter the actual name of the perceived weasel-disguised-as-a person. Now that I am the father of a daughter, I understand the dynamic. But I can't reveal it, otherwise I would betray the other fathers-of-daughters-about-to-be-dated-by-the-weasel).

"Tell me, young man, what do you do for a living?" (This is a man-question to determine the extent of your slackerness).

Me: (proudly): Mr. _____, I'm a professional musician and I play at ______and ________.

Father: (Silence)

Father again: (Continued silence, furrowed brow, followed by look of disdain).

Father, turning to wife while walking out of the room: "Ethel, tell him to have her home by midnight."

Aha!

I learned that:

a. "I am a musician" was not a good thing to say, no matter how much money I made.

b. I would have to do something that appeared to erase my perceived weaselness and make me respectable.

Aha!

I will be a teacher.

So I did a little stint at a Junior High School.

Aha! Working with 13 and 14 year-olds clearly wasn't going to do it for me. I concluded, rather hastily, that every existing 13 and 14 year-old should be universally housed in their own country or state--say, North Dakota--until they are 15.

Obviously, High School would work out better for me.

Aha! I apparently had a very short memory and forgot that, between the ages of 15-18, Homer and Hemingway were completely overshadowed by Heaving Hormones. That leaves:

Elementary School. Yes, but what grade?

Third graders still had "accidents."

Fifth graders were reaching puberty. And if I were to be somehow elected President, they would soon be sent to North Dakota anyway.

Aha! Fourth grade.

. . .and Here Are The 5 Things I Learned About Business from Fourth Graders

The kids--and all of us at work-- show up each day hoping that we'll have an Aha! experience. And that it will lead to something new, engaging, and satisfying. As a teacher, it was my responsibility to attempt to create the conditions for that in the context of what was to be learned. So I had to do five things:

1. Be crystal clear about the learning goal.

If I wasn't clear, the day didn't go well. Minds and bodies gravitated toward something that did seem clear. The world--even the world of fourth graders--abhors a vacuum.

2. Show them the connection between what they would learn and how it works in life.

If they couldn't see how "it" was real, eyes glazed over.

3. Understand each of the kids and how they learn.

Hands-on doers, Readers, Questioners, 10-year-old Cynics. They were all represented.

4. Create an experience that would allow #3 to be satisfied.

I always thought that this was the toughest part. How do you achieve the learning goal in the designated amount of time with so many different kinds of learners?

5. Manage the experience and follow up with each of the kids.

Once I put the activity in motion, I had to touch base with each of the students, check out how they were doing, tell them how they were doing, and then formally evaluate how they did.

Do Any of These Related Management Applications Give You an "Aha!"?

1. Managing starts with clarity. The time a manager spends getting clear about what needs to be done will pay off in focused effort from increased understanding.

2. The Manager is the Mediator of Meaning. Clarity is the first part of  the issue. The other part is taking the time to show exactly how "what" you are proposing to do is directly connected to the success of over-arching goals.

3. Managers Understand How People Learn and Work. Intellectually, we all acknowledge that people learn differently and work differently. Really successful managers take time to pinpoint what those styles are and genuinely acknowledge their inherent value.

4. Managing Means Knowing How to Orchestrate the Experience. When to have a meeting or not have a meeting; who needs one-on-one attention? What isn't negotiable and what will work best with a full discussion? Is the objective really achievable--at the level of quality desired--in the originally designated timetable? Managers, go ahead and add your favorites to this list.

5. Managers Lead from Every Proximity. You'll spot a good manager out in front of the group; alongside of a direct report who is struggling; or standing in the back of the room listening to a discussion and only joining in when re-direction or a fact is needed. And everyone knows how they're doing in relation to what's expected.

I hope that something has sparked a thought or idea that will create the beginning of something new for you.

And I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe using the Big Orange Button, email, or one of your favorite feeds. It will be good to see you back again.

Graphic Source: A Perfect World www.aperfectworld.org

 

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Managing a Change? Here's A Solid Solution

Is everyone getting what's needed when you make changes?

Earlier this month I was working with a manager who had gotten some feedback from his boss. He was told that he didn't jump in alongside his people to get new projects and improvements off the ground. As a result, things weren't getting done on schedule. So I asked him why he managed from a distance. His response:

"My people are long time employees. They're highly educated and have a lot of experience. If I start managing too closely, they'll lose their motivation."

I'm thinking,"What motivation? Apparently they aren't getting much done!

His approach to the situation isn't at all unusual, is it? We live in a time when managers are getting messages that say they should be consultative and participative. OK. But what happens when the work group doesn't know what to do or how to do it?

When there is a change, people want clear, strong direction. We all want to know what, where, when, why, and then, if the situation warrants it, how. Think about it: when we face the unknown, we start to get a little insecure. What do we look for? Direction. Strong leadership. Clarity. Help.

It has nothing to do with longevity or advanced degrees. It has to do with diagnosing the willingness and ability of the people and then adjusting management style accordingly.

In the case of my manager friend, he used misguided assumptions instead of proven research in his initial approach.

Overview_graphic

Meet People Where They Are

I'm a big proponent of Situational Leadership and have been since it was introduced. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard teamed up to introduce the practical application of the Ohio State Studies (Go Buckeyes)! As Manager of Management Development at Pfizer in 1981, I was involved in bringing Situational Leadership into the developmental track; it's still a critical part of development there today.

So what's it all about?

The principle is: Before you know how close to manage or how consultative to be with your people, you need to know where their willingness and ability is in relation to the task at hand. The less people know, the closer you manage. The more mature and effective they become, the less you have to direct and the more consultative you can be.

If you've ever taught a child to ride a bike, then think of that as the model. When they start, you have to demonstrate, help them on the bicycle, hold onto them, and not leave their side. As they get a little confidence and are able to go a short distance on their own, maybe you jog alongside if you have to catch them. When you see them smiling and riding a block or so on their own, you shout encouragement. And when they disappear from view; well, yell "I'm going to the house for a cup of coffee." That way they'll know where you are if they need you.

Managing people is a constant series of diagnoses and appropriate responses. It's never all of one thing. And it's never 100% direction or 100% behaving as a consultant to your team members. It's always based upon what people need from you in order to move forward along the performance curve.

And just to emphasize the point once more: Change=More Managerial Direction. Any manager who is introducing something new has to be prepared to communicate more,  provide more direction, and continually diagnose where individuals are throughout the journey.

What's your experience? Are you giving or getting the right thing at the right time? If not, a little diagnosis and and the appropriate leadership response will take you where you --and your folks--where you want to go.

Photo Source: www.situational.com

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Inclined to Collaborate? You Should Be

"Collaboration is a key driver of overall performance of companies around the world. Its impact is twice as significant as a company’s aggressiveness in pursuing new market opportunities (strategic orientation) and five times as significant as the external market environment (market turbulence)."

As a general rule, global companies that collaborate better, perform better. Those that collaborate less, do not perform as well. It’s just that simple.”

That is a pretty powerful claim. It is substantiated by a research study done through a collaborative effort of Frost & Sullivan, Microsoft, and Verizon.  

CollaborateThe researchers created a collaboration index to measure a company’s relative “collaborativeness” based on two main factors:

 
  • An organization’s orientation and infrastructure to collaborate, including collaborative technologies such as audioconferencing, Web conferencing and instant messaging
 
  • The nature and extent of collaboration that allows people to work together as well as an organization’s culture and processes that encourage teamwork

Do You Play Well With Others?

This may seem like an abrupt switch from the serious tone, depth, and breadth of the study. But I needed that kind of data to help lead into an important career trait: playing well with others.

The study is right on target by highlighting the need for the right tools, systems, and culture. Yet it ultimately comes down to the individual. If you work in a global organization, you've got some extra challenges: time zone differences, language differences, cultural differences in what constitutes teamwork...(add your own experience by sending a comment!)

I just spent 3 hours coaching a client who is now forced to deal with a highly intelligent, high-performing manager who isn't viewed as collaborative. By anyone. No one at any of their worldwide locations gave him decent feedback on teamwork and collaboration. And this has been happening for a few years. (He continues to achieve all of the goals set out for him--and no one dislikes him personally.)

His side of the story

I sat down and spoke with the manager some months ago about these perceptions and what that might mean to his career. He understood that people didn't see him as collaborative. His take on it is that they are universally wrong. He communicates when he believes it's necessary. I told him that he had to simply initiate more, share more information--even if it didn't make sense to him--and mend some strained relationships with those who thought he was actually hiding something. He  listened, gave intellectual rebuttals for why that didn't make sense, and chose not to do anything differently.

What happened?

His management career is finished...at least with his current employer. He'll probably have a shot at being an individual contributor in a specific discipline; but upward mobility is no longer a possibility.

Some people burn bridges. He never built them. We should take seriously the lessons we can learn from this real-life situation:

1. Organizations thrive because of collaboration. If you want to be seen as a player, then be one.

2. A high IQ doesn't compensate for low EQ. Your Emotional Quotient--your willingness and ability to relate and connect--is important to your company and your career.

3. Task results don't always matter if your behavior disrupts the rest of the system.

4. The study I cited noted the importance of processes, systems, and culture. This company's culture valued teamwork. That was one of their systems. Roesler's rule: Unless you have 51% of the vote, don't fight the system. The system always wins.

 

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What Is In Your Unspoken Contract?

When 300 technical professionals at a major utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.

"I've been here 18 years."  (Longevity means immunity to change)

"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)

"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)

"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)

"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)

"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence)

Danger: The "Invisible Assumed"

When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:

Icebergforpost Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.

Chances are you won't  become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.

You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract .

The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.

In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utility companies: Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...

No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."

Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what you assumed would be true?

Tips for Employees and Employers

Employees:

1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.

2. Make a written list.

3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.

Employers:

1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.

2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?

    Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?

3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.

Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.

Finally: What happened to our 300 techies?

a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.

b. The department as a whole was more effective.

c.  About 10% chose to retire rather than  make the change.

What is your unspoken, implicit contract? How did your employer's reputation and industry culture contribute to that?

 

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Culture and Perception

Clear-thinking people everywhere acknowledge that it's easy for two people to see the same situation very differently. 

In a world where we increasingly work across time zones and cultures, this would have even greater meaning if perceptions were influenced by one's culture. While those of us who work globally may have experienced--and thought about-- the inherent reality of these perceptive differences, a few years ago Canadian and Japanese researchers  confirmed some very specific distinctions.

East westWhen East Doesn't Meet West

According to the study:

Researchers showed Japanese and North American participants images, each of which consisted of one center model and four background models in each image. The researchers manipulated the facial emotion (happy, angry, sad) in the center or background models and asked the participants to determine the dominant emotion of the center figure.

The outcome?

The majority of Japanese participants (72%) reported that their judgments of the center person's emotions were influenced by the emotions of the background figures, while most North Americans (also 72%) reported they were not influenced by the background figures at all.

Takahiko Masuda, a Psychology professor from the University of Alberta, noted:

"Our results demonstrate that when North Americans are trying to figure out how a person is feeling, they selectively focus on that particular person's facial expression, whereas Japanese consider the emotions of the other people in the situation."

This may be because Japanese attention is not concentrated on the individual, but includes everyone in the group, says Masuda.

Why Is This Important for Business?

1. It has always baffled me when I've watched Western corporations decide to indiscriminately import programs and processes that  work well in the East. Looking for a "quick fix" or a "magic pill" is a very North American business characteristic. At the same time, there is no reason not to examine theprinciples behind things that work elsewhere; then, figure out what might be applicable and how to make it work.

When corporate meeting rooms ring with the cry, "Perception is reality," then Masuda's study should be a caution that global reality can't be driven by local perceptions.

2. Even more specifically, definitions of "team" hugely influence what happens across cultures. North American "teams" are made up of individuals who see themselves as individuals participating in a group with a common purpose for some finite period of time (my observation and experience). Eastern team members honor the group as the important entity to be served, not as a vehicle to one's individual career aspirations.

While time and exposure have somewhat altered instances of the above in the minds of some, Masuda's study should be taken seriously by organizations involved in East-West business and collaboration.

This is one instance where perception can be grounded in reality--for the good of all concerned.

 

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Are You Coachable?

This topic emerged while I was preparing for a corporate client webinar for sales managers with the simple title,  "How To Coach with Confidence". A lot of good research plus personal experiences show that most managers want to coach--they just aren't sure of the most effective ways to do it. Or, what people are really expecting.

They also wonder about this:

Who Is Coachable?

The fact is, everyone isn't. Those who are uncoachable often think they have no performance issues and if there is one, believe everyone "out there" is the cause. In these cases, coaching isn't a very good option to produce positive results. It's kind of like one spouse dragging another to marriage counseling in the hope that the counselor can "fix" the partner. (Ever see how well that works?). The sticking point here is a mindset that doesn't allow someone to reflect on one's own behavior, create a desire to change it, or see their personal responsibility in a relationship. So, forcing someone into a coaching relationship isn't the best organizational solution for certain issues and individuals.

CoachingFive Characteristics Of Coachability

If you are considering coaching someone else or being coached, here are five attributes I've observed in people who successfully "own" their part of the coaching process. You might want to use this as a quick diagnostic tool.

1. Committed to Change. Individuals who don't think they're perfect, want to improve, exhibit responsibility for their lives, and are willing to step outside of their comfort zones are good candidates for a successful coaching relationship.

2. Open to information about themselves. Be willing and able to listen and hear constructive criticism without being defensive; then, synthesize their coach's suggestions with their own personal reflections on the issue.

3. Open about themselves. Willing to engage in topics that may be uncomfortable but are getting in the way of their professional development; talks about "what's really going on" so the coach can have a complete and honest picture of the total situation.

4. Appreciate New Perspectives. People who get excited about hearing someone else's take on a situation and figure out how to learn from it can really benefit from coaching.

5. Awareness about one's self and others. Coachable people already have at least a fair amount of awareness about themselves. Equally important, they use it to reflect on their behavior and how it impacts other people in the range of situations that come their way.

You may have some others that you use to gauge coachability. Take a moment to add your tips with a comment below.

 __________________________________

Important Update About Comments at All Things Workplace

I just invited comments in the post above and do hope that our readers--many with a lot of managerial experience--take time to weigh in. 

That said, I want to share some information regarding my own ability to engage in the give and take of commenting.

Since May my dear wife, Barb, has spent most of the time either hospitalized or receiving physical therapy at a rehab facility. She has Parkinson's Disease as well as other related neurological challenges. Obviously, my first priority is ensuring that Barb is safe and continually receiving the care and attention she needs, not the least of which is our relationship.

I still read all of the comments submitted. All Things Workplace has been a place, since 2006, where people can create conversations and interactive learning without my presence because of their own interest, experience, and enthusiasm about growth and development in organizational life. 

I'll continue posting regularly; please keep using the site as a place to exchange ideas, tips, and research. I will certainly add my two cents when I can and look forward to learning from everyone who graciously takes time to add to the topic at hand.

Warmest regards,

Steve

 

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Employee Retention: How About "Thanks!"?

Here are some thought-provoking statistics:

"Research by UK performance improvement consultants Maritz has found that almost one in five of us (19 per cent) have never been thanked for our efforts at work while more than a third only hear those two little words once or twice a year.

Perhaps not-entirely coincidentally, that's about the same proportion as another recent survey found have no loyalty towards the organisation they work for and couldn't care less about their job.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum, around a third of us do receive regular recognition and are thanked several times a week, something that (as more than eight out of 10 of those surveyed acknowledged) has a positive impact on their desire to remain with their employer."

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 11.29.05 AM

"Thank You" & the "War for Talent"

Check out the screen shot of my "the war for talent"  Google search: 138,000,000 results! Books, articles,  training programs, software systems, and academic research. Conferences are being held to ponder the meaning of talent acquisition and retention.

Let's assume for a minute that the statistics noted in the article are true. The third who receive thanks regularly feel positive about their employer and are inclined to remain at the firm.

My suggestion: Executives need to start thanking their managers regularly. Then they need to tell them to start thanking their people. Maybe we could get uppity and call it "Building a Culture of Thanks." Clearly, it would be more effective and less costly than conferences and software.

And it would make our mothers proud.


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Wisdom, Integrity, Discernment and 1,000 Posts

This is the 1,000th post here at All Things Workplace! Today's post was first published in 2007 and I decided to bring it back because its comments prompted an entire series to be generated as a result. I hope it adds meaning to your day and your career.

________________________________________________________________________________________ 

How often do you hear the terms wisdomdiscernment, and integrity used during the business day?

And just what are organizations looking for when they are hiring or promoting?

We hear words like intelligent, problem-solver, action-oriented, results-driven, and good decision-making ability.

But what good are any of those if they aren't carried out with wisdom, discernment, and integrity?

Wisdom GraphicIt's possible to be action-oriented and still take a lot of wrong actions.

Does intelligence guarantee sound leadership?  History reveals that many leaders with intelligence that was clearly "above average" have oppressed their people, ruined their economies, and even committed genocide.

What Are We Dealing With Here?

First, some slightly paraphrased definitions from Merriam-Webster Online.

Wisdom: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : (insight) c : good sense : (judgment).

Discernment: the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent; the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.

Integrity: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : (incorruptibility); the quality or state of being complete or undivided : (completeness).

Why Do They Make a Difference?

Let's start with integrity. It's probably the easiest to deal with and something that we do talk about on the job, at least when it is violated.

Integrity makes a difference because it's an outward indication of our internal character. If we say we have a set of "corporate" values and then live by them--even if it means sacrificing extra revenue--then we are known as having integrity. When we live up to our word, we have integrity. Most of all, integrity is what allows a person or a company to be trusted.

When you possess wisdom, you are able to make judgments that go beneath the surface issue or decision being presented. My observation and experience show that those possessing wisdom have actually learned from their previous experiences and mistakes; have confronted their own part in them; and now are able to see more clearly what is happening within other people and other situations. Maturity--not age alone--is necessary for wisdom.

Discernment is probably the least-used word in business. It implies a well-honed wisdom that allows one to accurately "read between the lines" when dealing with people and situations and see what is true. You and I know lots of people who say "I know how to 'read' people. However, I don't really know lots of people whodiscern the truth very well at all.

What Happens in The Absence of Those Three ?

When we hire and promote based upon education, experience, and behavioral traits, we're still working on the surface. To get "keepers" we need to dig one level deeper.

At a business luncheon meeting a few years ago our well-educated, high-level executive speaker spent his entire block of time talking about his accomplishments, what he was going to achieve in the coming year, and the plan to get there. When he asked for questions, the guy next to me said something gutsy:

"I'm sorry. Who you are spoke so loudly that I was unable to hear what you had to say."

My neighbor had discerned the self-centered character of the presenter. The speaker had not discerned the values, maturity and character of his audience. As a result, his accomplishments couldn't overcome the low regard in which his peers began to hold him as a result of his bravado. It was a defining moment that impacted his career mobility.

When we're hiring and promoting, wouldn't it be worthwhile to know who we're getting--not just whatwe're getting?

It seems to me that we need to understand at least two things in order to make that happen:

1. What "kind of people" do we want? (What values do we hold that need to be evident in our people)?

2. What does it take to develop the wisdom and discernment needed in business?

___________________________________________________________________________

 Special Note: Thank you all for your readership, comments, and encouragement since the launch of All Things Workplace in August, 2006.The interaction here has generated friendships, professsional exchanges, and business opportunities never imagined prior to clicking "publish" on the first post. I value all three and am thankful for the chance to participate in the lives of others dedicated to filling workplaces with solid performers and productive relationships. 

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5 Meeting Traps and How To Fix Them

I just returned from a good meeting.

Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and every speaker followed up to check for understanding. It was more like sitting around a warm fireplace in winter than a typical business meeting.  So, it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

If you've struggled through more than a few bad meetings, I'm guessing you've experienced the following traps. Here they are and how to fix them.

1) People think they are experts.

Many people tell me that they know how to run an effective meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, there's no concrete follow-up to implement it.

What to do: Learn how to design and lead successful meetings. Attend a workshop, buy a book, or hire a facilitator who also teaches you what and why (s)he is doing so you can do it yourself the next time. If you are a leader at any level, being a meeting pro is linked closely to your long-term success. Recognize that there are systematic ways that can help people make practical, methodical progress toward results. Of course, you have to know what they are in order to use them. 
If you want professional help, contact me (609.654.7376) and we can look at the most sensible way for you to learn how to become a meeting pro.

2) People think they are inspiring.

(Inhaling deeply for extra breath): Too many meeting leaders labor under the delusion that long-winded announcements and dissertations impress others. The opposite is true. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) harangue. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business; listening to a lecturette feels like a waste of time.

What to do: Design meetings that give attendees opportunities to contribute. 
Plan questions that focus thinking on the situation at hand. Use activities 
that help people make decisions. Communicate your own thoughts  in e-
mails and casual converstations. If you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief and crisp (less than a few minutes).

Sleeping+in+Meeting

3) People think others agree with them.

Many of us rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be 
upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting 
ends, the employees will do one of three things: 1) forget the lecture, 2) ignore the message, 3) sabotage the idea.

What to do: Conduct meetings using an agreed process that everyone considers to be fair and effective. The single best element to remember: people will accept decisions that they helped make.

4) People think others are clairvoyant.

How many times have you received a meeting invitation without an agenda? At the same time, you were expected to arrive with a vision for what needs to be done. Whenever we go to a meeting, we do bring our private hopes, fears, and solutions to the situation supposedly being addressed. But without a clear agenda and a solid process to work the agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.

Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is about as useful as no agenda.

What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so 
complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each 
step and provide blocks of time scheduled time. Send the agenda at least a few days before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to see if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.

5) People think meetings are necessary.

Have an emergency, surprise, or a twitch? Call a meeting. 

Uh, no.

A meeting is a special and often expensive process. It should be used only to 
obtain results that require the efforts of the right group of people working together in the right way on the right issue. Meetings are not universal cures for whatever ails the work group. Held for the wrong reasons, meetings waste everyone's time and can undermine the leader's actual intentions.

What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to add verifiable value to your business objectives. If successful, do the results outweigh the cost of holding a 
meeting. Is there another activity that could accomplish the same result? 

Yes?

Use it.

Number 5 is the one that really gets to me; I often come down fairly hard on clients and associates whose first step in addressing an issue is to call a meeting. Given my business and the importance of using time wisely, unnecessary meetings are unnecessarily costly. I hate when that happens.

Reader Expertise Wanted!

Meetings are one thing we all have in common. Weigh in with your own experiences, traps, and techniques--you'll provide help to a lot of people who are looking for it.

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Want Results? Ask For Help

Employee engagement, management engagement, leadership, passion in the workplace. . .

These rallying cries fill books, blogs, and backroom banter. The real issue: "How can we get done what needs to get done and create a sense of "we're in this together" at the same time?

It's actually quite simple:

To Get Something Done, Ask for Help

There is nothing that sparks the human spirit--and thus adds meaning to a task--than the satisfaction of providing help to someone who needs it.

Help-sign
Yet my experience--at least in many western cultures--is that it is somehow viewed as  "weak" to ask for help. After all, if I'm a guy who gets things done, I don't want people to think that I can't get things done.

I know you already see the fallacy in this. Most textbook definitions of management include some version of: "Management--getting things done through others."

Hmm. As a manager that means, by definition, I need your help.

What Actually Happens Vs. The Simplicity of Help

See if this isn't a little closer to the norm:

Manager: "Andrew, our sales goals are up by 8%. You supervise the customer service reps. You need to be able to support that. Make it happen."

Now, that 's not too bad a directive at all in the grand scheme of things. (For those who only respond to warm and fuzzy, it's probably not). It's fairly specific, understandable, and has an action attached. However, we've got an entire generation of management research that everyone has been exposed to through workshops and reading. The essence of that research is that people want to be respected,involved in solutions, and have a sense of meaning in what they do.

So, I suggest:

Manager: Andrew, our sales goals are up by 8%. I need help. (Shut up).

Note to managers: Really, you do need help. You're getting paid to make the 8% happen--through other people.

Andrew: How can I help?

Honestly, if the manager & Andrew have a decent relationship, "helping" is about as meaningful as life can get at that moment.

Manager: You supervise the customer service reps. We need to be able to support that 8% bump. How would you go about doing that with your people?

  • Statement one: Places next level of responsibility where it belongs.
  • Statement two: Specifies the  issue.
  • Statement  three:  Involvement and  more meaning. (In the event that Andrew struggles a bit, this is the "teachable moment" for coaching).

What will you do?

What someone does for a living is part of the working agreement. How they do it is why they--as individuals--were (hopefully) hired in the first place. When you allow someone to exercise the personalhow, you have created the intersection of individual meaning and engagement .

Are you strong enough to ask for help today?


 

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Get The Most From Professional Assessments

How is your organization using professional assessments?

Self-assessments, 360 degree feedback, assessment centers, and other similar tools are widely used in the workplace. What's your experience with them?

AssessA lot of information is generated during the assessment process. I was reviewing some feedback that was coming in for a client and realized that there are lots of good uses for it. And we may not always be taking the best advantage of the information and the potential process. So. . .

Would Some of These Help You and Your Organization?

Assessment feedback, by definition, is given to the subject of the assessment. That person is often asked to reflect  and decide what, if anything, to do with it. That's fine. Making changes is a choice. But here are some other ways to get the most from the data. You may be doing some are all of them now. If not, here are some thoughts that I hope you will find helpful:

1. In the case of 360 feedback, encourage the recipient (I'll use the word "Manager") to get together with the group that generated the data. It's an opportunity, at minimum, to acknowledge the time and energy they put into the activity.

Suggest that the Manager share the themes and take-aways from the data. 360 activities have some of the same dynamics as surveys. Participants want to know what happened with their input--and what will change as a result. This is a chance to do just that. And, if the Manager has misinterpreted something, the group can add clarity.

Yes, I know that the feedback is anonymous, blah blah. However, the act of inviting the respondents to come together also invites a deeper level of candor. And the fact of the matter is: These are people with whom the Manager has to work. Sooner or later it will be time to increase the honesty of conversations. This is an ideal framework in which to do that.

2. A Good Reason For A Good Conversation with "The Boss."

If you're the Manager, make an appointment with your boss. Tell what you think you want to do differently. Ask if the boss sees the data and your intended changes in the same way. Or differently. Here's the principle: Giving straight feedback is difficult for a lot, if not most, people. Including the boss. If you provide the data and ask for suggestions, you've done the work that your boss my find tough. It may be the most meaningful conversation you've had with that person.

3. A Good Reason For a Good Conversation with Your Reports.

If it's a 360, some or all of those folks provided feedback. I wouldn't call a departmental meeting and declare "Let's share." I would do one of these two:

  • Make it a point to informally share what you learned and are working on with each person. Do it in the course of normal conversation.
  • If you have a full group meeting coming up soon, take 10 minutes to talk about the assessment, the process, what you learned, what you are working on, and what kind of support you need to do those things. The payoff? You get help. You set the model that getting feedback and doing assessments is a valuable activity.

4. Self Assessments. Any or all of the above will be helpful to validate your self perception. We have ways of deceiving ourselves on both scales: positive and negative. Have the conversations that will give you an accurate picture.

Let's assume that you--or whoever is being assessed--will use the info for development. Here's the payoff you don't want to miss: the data provide an "objective" reason to have a "subjective" conversation. When you rally around the information, you are in an arena that's focused on performance factors and not necessarily you as a person. (That may be a result. Why not find out while you still have time to make changes?).

Most of all: an assessment offers  a legitimate reason to have the kind of conversation you've been missing.

Go for it!

And...a warm thank you to Ellen Weber at Brain-Based Business for making me one of this week's MITA Millionaire Bloggers . As I mentioned in my "thank you" comment to Ellen, I wish my  Mom were still alive to see "Steve Roesler" and the word "Brain" on the same page.

I know she'd have a comment, too!

 

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Souls, Not Roles, In The Workplace

Director of Sales. VP of HR. Research Associate. Customer Service Agent.

Every time I receive a call to consult or coach, one of the first things I hear is the person's title and location on the organization chart. Invariably, the client turns out to be an actual person.

Laura. Greg. George. Dottie.

There's something about organizational roles that allow them to--at least initially--take precedence over the identity of the humans behind them.

I'm quite practical and get the need for org charts, functional titles, and visual relationships. I'm alsoaware of how the initial focus on titles and roles can subliminally influence the beginning of a working relationship. Here's what I mean:

1. Manager to direct report: "Set up a meeting with the Director of Sales: Europe to review the projections for next month."

Direct report doesn't know the Director. Conjures up images based on title, function, and location. Puts them through the "great mental filter of life." Starts to lose confidence about the ability to interact successfully.

Big Boss Man 2. VP of HR to external coach: "I'd like you to work with our CFO. She's a real detail person and needs to get the big picture regarding our business. The CEO has a time line for this. Could you get involved as soon as next week?"

Not unusual. If it were me I'd ask the clarifying questions needed to get a more complete picture. But all I can see at this point is the top of an organizational chart.

3. New Director of Customer Service, pointing to screen: "Here is the re-organization as I see it. Notice how the Call Center associates will have a dotted line relationship with Distribution as well as reporting directly to me."

OK. I know what it looks like in a presentation. But who are these people and how will we actually work together?

Humanize or Objectify: The Choice Matters

Humanize: The faster we can begin to relate to other people as people, the more of a chance we have of making a connection that matters. (You may find that you don't like someone, but at least it's based upon real data).

Objectify means that we assign meaning to things, people, places, activities, and the like. But they may not be correct and can be based upon preconceived notions, stereotypes, and the comments of others. The worst part: it makes the person an object. Once we do that, we no longer see them as someone with the same kinds of needs, wants, frailties, talents, and humanity as ourselves. And then begin to act accordingly.

What I hope you'll think about today:

1. When talking about your organization, talk about the people by name. Mention an interesting characteristic that you value about them. Then mention the title and role.

2. If you're calling a consultant, talk about the person by name if you can (sometimes you can't at first). Offer some insights regarding their experience and background--their uniqueness. Then talk about their role and the developmental goals.

3.Talent Management. When you are discussing the movement of people up and around the organization, talk about characteristics as well as skills. Humanize the roles that need to be filled. How often have you seen really intelligent people cause distress because they simply didn't have the characteristics--or character--to relate to others.

4. It seems safe to keep a distance from others. It's dangerous if you want to have a fulfilling life on or off the job.

It would be useful to hear situations or comments around this phenomenon. It's tough for people to work with each other--or help each other--if they don't actual know each other.

What's your take?

Image source: www.tunetribe.com/

 

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Workplace Danger: The "Invisible Assumed"

When 300 engineers at a major East Coast utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.


"I've been here 18 years."  (Longevity means immunity to change)

"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)

"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)

"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)

"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)

"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence)

Iceberg


The Danger of The "Invisible Assumed"

When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:

Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.

Chances are you won't  become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.

You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract.

The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.

In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utilities:

Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...

No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."

Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what youassumed would be true?

Tips for Employees and Employers

Employees:

1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.

2. Make a written list.

3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.

Employers:

1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.

2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?

    Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?

3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.

Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.

Finally: What happened to our  300  engineers?

a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.

b. The department as a whole was more effective.

c.  About 10% chose to retire rather than  make the change.

What is your implicit contract?

If you have to act on it, will it equal the explicit reality?


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When Busyness Trumps Business

Recently I met with a corporate Executive VP in New York City. I'll call him Phil. Phil said his division was struggling. But instead of leading the charge to turn things around, he was being called into meetings regularly to make lengthy, detailed, Powerpoint presentations explaining what was wrong. He was too busy doing business to be doing the business. Interestingly, one of his recommendations was for the company to get out of some of its operations because they were draining money and other resources. He explained that his people were spending too much time on things that no longer yielded the kind of margins the company desired.

People-walking-fast-blurred

Does any of this sound remotely familiar to you? I realized while he was talking to me that I had gotten up at 5 a.m. to deal with emails from a European client; spent time on the cell phone in transit with a non-profit, pro bono client who needed to talk; and allowed myself to be sidetracked by hallway conversations with managers from the client group who I hadn't seen in a while. A similar schedule unraveled today.

What is there to learn?

1. If you do business globally in the electronic age, the expectation is that you are available on "their" time...or you should be. So choose carefully--you can't afford to be awake 24 hours a day.

2. Time management isn't really just about time. It's about clear priorities. Which means...

3. It's important to say "no." In fact, I think "no" is the solution to a lot of this craziness.

4. If you are in Phil's position, at some point you need to tell those above you that the very act of "over-reporting" is exacerbating the problem. Do it respectfully. Share the impact and consequences on your business and let them take responsibility for whether or not it makes sense to continue the external demands on your time.

How are you handling this in your life?

 

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Do You Really Know The Norms?

So, you've got a sense of the culture in your organization. Good.

It's time to go one level deeper and begin to see clearly the norms that come together to create that culture. If norms influence the culture, then you need to be aware of how to influence the norms.

Norms are rules that a group uses to define its appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The catch: Those rules may be explicit or implicit. And those unspoken norms will bite you every time if you don't find out what they are.

Norms are so important that a failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishment, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option. Think about what "business casual" means in your company. Khakis and a golf shirt? Logo shirt? Jacket without a tie?

Rules

Your Norm Checklist

To help you and your colleagues identify norms, here are five very specific categories:

1. Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.

2.  Personal Norms: Standards we hold regarding our own actions.

3. Injunctive Norms: Behaviors perceived as being approved of by other people.

4. Subjective Norms: Expectations that "valued others" hold as to how we will behave.

 5. Implicit Norms: Not stated openly; however, you'll find out quickly when you break one!

Norms can be conveyed  by non-verbal behavior such as silence or 'dirty looks' in response to an unspoken norm having been broken. They may also be passed along through stories, rituals and role-model behavior. In Japan, new employees are assigned a mentor who, over time, passes along the company's norms by sharing stories about people, situations, and the outcomes. No employee manual needed here; simply the storytelling of a more experienced employee.

What to Do

  • Identify the rules you put on other people  as a condition for being in your group. Are these productive or convenient?

 

  • What rules have the group put on you? Are they productive or convenient? Are there any which are particularly bothersome and unproductive?


What would happen if you made the implicit explicit? 

 

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Performance and Family Systems

I think the real advantage to reading and discussion is the opportunity to finally "hear" something and get it for the first time.

Do You Think Systemically? struck a chord, based upon  the Tweets and comments that followed. 

We participate until we find the voice and the language that finally makes us go "Aha!"

Today, I want to offer a couple of simple ways to look at the relationship between people and systems in order to highlight the nature of Systemic Thinking--and it's critical importance in our lives.

Tap-dance  Performance: Is It Talent or The System?

Yes.

Your favorite singer will disappoint you if the staging, lights, and sound don't offer the right technical support and atmosphere. A lousy singer won't sound any better in Carnegie Hall. In fact, the results may be worse because of the magnificent acoustical systems and orchestral support.

It takes a director (manager, conductor, pastor, lead operator) who can see how all of those elements are connected in a way that generates total performance and leads to a standing ovation.

What To Learn From Family Systems

Family counselors worth their salt know that an individual who comes with a "personal problem" is impacted in some way by the family system. If there is some normal dysfunction (you heard it right--people simply have problems that cause them to seek outside help), the counselor will look at the system in which the individual lives. The family.

Some families support and perpetuate unhealthy behavior. Even if the individual tries to change, there is an equilibrium that the family has established that simply won't allow it. I'm not saying that people aren't responsible for their own behavior. However, there is often a lack of awareness on the part of the individual and the family: they don't view themselves as a systemic entity. It becomes part of the counselor's task to help them see the connectedness within the system and the impact that each person--and the group as a whole--has on behavior (performance). When that begins to happen, healthy behavior (performance) can increase.

Organizations and the people in them can look at maximizing performance--and organizational health--using the same kind of thinking.

What To Do. . .

Instead of doing an amateur pop-psych number on someone whose talent seems to be faltering, ask:

1. "What part(s) of our systems are actually getting in the way of performance?"

After the deadly silence, which will last 10 seconds but seem like an eternity, the conversation will come. Ask clarifying questions to get to the heart of each issue. Note to leaders: You will always, in some way, be a part of the issue because of your role. It comes with the turf. You are also the biggest part of the solution. Listen without being defensive and you'll hear about barriers that you can remove, given your position and authority. Do it. The "leadership vision " thing is alluring and "sexy;" getting things out of people's way paves the highway to performance. That's leadership.

If the systems are actually pretty solid and connected, then ask yourself:

2. "Does this person have the willingness and ability to move forward with us?"

If the commitment (willingness) isn't there, then the person may flourish in another role or another organization. 

If the skill (ability) isn't there, look for a training & development solution.

And, of course, have the conversation directly with the person. Second-guessing will put you in the category of mystical soothsayer, a special role normally reserved for marketing researchers:-)

Where does your organization focus its attention when it thinks that the "talent isn't performing?"

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Do You Think Systemically?


SystemicI'm sure that using the word "systemically" in the title won't thrill the search engines. But I do think it's the truth, so I'm going with it.

Does your organization know the difference between "systems" and "thinking systemically?"

So: I'm invited to a meeting because of my systemic approach to organization and talent development. The leader does the intro and closes it with, "Here's Steve to tell us what system to use to get the most out of our people."

Between my seat and the front of the room (and the desire to barf), I realize that the many conversations with this guy were rife with misunderstanding. So I've got to own part of it. But this is a well-educated man who I just assumed knew the difference between "a system" and "thinking systemically." I was wrong. Now I'm figuring others may be in the same boat as well and not know it.

So let's try this with some help from Dictionary.com:

Systemnoun

1. an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole: a mountain system; a railroad system.

Systemic-adjective

1. of or pertaining to a system.

2.    Physiology, Pathology.
a.     pertaining to or affecting the body as a whole.
b.     pertaining to or affecting a particular body system.

Here is a way to help people at work think about the organization:

First: There are (hopefully) systems in place to make things happen.

Second: When thinking about talent (or changes), think systemically by connecting all of the systems and looking at how they impact and relate to each other. 

As you think about your own organization or perhaps that of a client, where do you see decisions being made in ways that tend to overlook the systemic--or connected--nature of all organisms?


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Productivity, Management, and "Getting It"

According to a study of nearly 1,300 mid-level managers around the world by consultancy Proudfoot, vast amounts of the average manager's working day are spent on unproductive activities.

The Global Productivity Report found managers spent 34 per cent of their time on administrative tasks and just a tenth of their time on training and active supervision of their workers.

Their workers, too, were not exactly buzzingly productive. More than a third of their time – 34.3 per cent – was spent on unproductive activities, up from just over 32 per cent recorded the year before.

This meant workers were spending 1.7 days a week on unproductive workplace activities, it concluded.

Managers spent in total 18.5 per cent of their time on unproductive activities, or the equivalent of just under a full working day per week, it added.

Yet, for every five point increase in the share of time managers spent on active supervision, the productivity of their workers, or at least the amount of time they spent on unproductive activities, improved by one point, the survey also found.

The managers were also asked to list their top six barriers to improving productivity.

Topping the list was a shortage of skilled workers, followed by a lack of good internal communication, red tape, rules and regulations, poor employee morale, high staff turnover and, lastly, the quality of their own supervisors.

Chickens, Eggs, and People Who "Get It"

Let's assume that the survey results are valid and that the 1300 managers represented a scientific random sampling with an acceptable +/-% margin of error.

ChickeneggThe managers' list of 'barriers to improving productivity' is formidable. I couldn't help but notice:

1. The quality of their own supervisors. Productive workplaces are all about effective bosses. If this a universal problem then there is a systemic management issue at work globally.

2. Assuming the data are true, managers often aren't required to manage and develop people. They are administering the businesses instead.

3. An emphasis on paperwork would be consistent with red tape and rules and regulations.

4. I never know what good internal communications really means. I've written about it before. "Communications" is a catch-all phrase and one needs to ask probing questions to find out what is really underneath.

5. Well, if there is too much paperwork and not enough management it's not a stretch to see that employee morale would be down, prompting thoughts of leaving the company.

6. I intentionally saved 'skilled workers' for last. The skilled workers thing pops up constantly (think, "war for talent"). There are gazillions of talented people graduating from universities each year along with gabillions of experienced workers looking to make a move (see the research above).

Would someone please tell me:

a. What skills are absent to the extent that there is a seemingly universal crisis?

b. If these skills are in fact absent, what are companies and educational institutions doing--individually and in concert--to impact the situation.

All of the above are so behaviorally interrelated that one has to ask the, "What came first, chicken or egg?" question.

BTW: The answer is good management. In organizations, everything flows from that. If managers can't or won't manage, then one would expect to see this kind of survey result.

What I Am Seeing

Finally, an observation based on daily experience in organizations.

I'm not seeing a shortage of skills. I'm seeing a shortage of people who "get it."

  • People who come into work, scan the horizon, and say, "What's happening and how can I be most helpful?"
  • People who look at the bigger picture and the connectedness of themselves to the whole.
  • People who ignore the fine print in their job descriptions and look at "all other duties as may be assigned" as the operative part.

What's going on in your working world?

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Don't Let Halos and Horns Blur Your Expectations

What do your company's talent  conversations sound like?

If you've spent more than a few minutes managing, succession planning, or doing a performance review, you know that total talent conversations can morph into a bias founded upon a single experience. Here's what I mean.

The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect surfaces when someone has an outstanding characteristic and we allow our positive reaction to that singe characteristic to influence our total judgment of the individual. What follows is a high assessment on many traits because we believe the person is a star in one trait. We ascribe a range of related talents that simply may not now, nor ever will, exist.

AngelAndDevilAtWork We see this in the realms of celebrity and politics when a physically attractive person is presumed to have a host of other positive traits. We also see it in companies where "the smartest guy in the room" moves up the hierarchy until it's discovered that his "smartness" not only doesn't extend to other fundamental traits e.g., cooperation, teamwork, initiating communication--but the individual may actually get in the way of the flow of work.

The Horn Effect

This one, often called the "Devil Effect," is the flip side of the Halo Effect and doesn't get quite as much attention. I don't know why that is. Its organizational impact is equally profound. 

In this scenario, if a person seems particularly lacking in one key trait, then that person will often be assumed to be deficient in many other traits. A manager who is constantly overdue on  project delivery (possibly due to unreasonable work demands and a boss who won't renegotiate what makes realistic sense) is assumed to be uncommitted, perhaps a little lazy, and even negligent in their overall work life.

Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

We live up to our expectations. People who expect to be successful are more likely to succeed. People who expect failure are more likely to fail.

A manager's or supervisor's expectations about employees' performance will effect that performance. Period. Remember that performance evaluations and performance feedback will influence and mold future performance based upon the implicit and explicit expectations that managers convey.
(The same is true in families regarding the messages conveyed between spouses those between parents and children).

Today's thought: Be aware of how you might be contributing to self-fulfilling prophecies in your workplace and in your life. It's important, because you very often get what you expect. 

_______________________________

But that's not all! As we were hitting the "publish" key, The Leadership Carnival--Oscar Edition went online with more than top-notch articles on leadership by top-notch leadership writers. Be sure to add to your knowledge and check them out.

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No Expectations? Use 360 Feedback

That title looks odd but truth is often stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to the human condition.

You and I think about 360 feedback as a way to find out how we're performing against a set of agreed upon expectations. But what if no expectations have been agreed?

It happens.

Retrofit Forget the textbook examples of starting with clear and specific expectations. Not everyone does. Heck, if you're married, you started with the expectation that you were "in love" and that that fact alone would carry you through an entire lifetime. (If you've been married long enough, tell me about your conversations after about two years into the gig. You can take a moment to roll the toothpaste in the right direction first).

New Mobility, Expectations, and Feedback

I'm watching managers at every level being parachuted into situations with little or no direction other than:

  • You're in charge of the unit's survival.
  • Make us profitable and do it fast.

So, the new dude or dudette comes on board, gets a bit of the lay of the land, and starts taking action. At some point, people--including the new manager--notice that there are some disgruntled campers and that the group and manager aren't really in sync.

One way to find out what people need more or less of is to do a 360--online or even pencil and paper--to find out what's going on with the group members. By selecting the right dimensions and related questions, unspoken expectations will be revealed by the comments and numerical gaps. This provides a concrete data base to initiate a meaningful group discussion to create a genuine and solid set of expectations.

Is it the ideal? Not according to conventional wisdom. After all, "good" managers take time to do all the "right things" first.  But how conventional is the current business climate?

What's important is to get on track. Newly hired managers are often being turbo-charged without receiving much of a clear charge. There's nothing wrong with "retro-fitting" expectations under those circumstances.

My hunch? Many of you are already experiencing this.

_______________________________________________

With gratitude:
Deepest thanks to all who have commented, emailed, tweeted, and offered prayers regarding my Dad's recent diagnosis. While it has been hectic marshalling medical resources during the holiday season, I'm thankful to say that he is doing well and is free of malignancy and has a good prognosis. Again, our family thanks you all.

____________________________________________________

Also: In about a half hour--4pm Eastern, 3 PM Central Time, I'll be joining David Porter on his Bull's Eye Leadership program. We'll be discussing my favorite topic: Practical Ways to Become Extraordinary. If you can, join us.

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Too Busy Doing Business to Do Business?

 Yesterday I met with a corporate Executive VP in New York City. I'll call him Phil. Phil said his division was struggling. But instead of leading the charge to turn things around, he was being called into meetings regularly to make lengthy, detailed, Powerpoint presentations explaining what was wrong. He was too busy doing business to be doing the business. Interestingly, one of his recommendations was for the company to get out of some of its operations because they were draining money and other resources. He explained that his people were spending too much time on things that no longer yielded the kind of margins the company desired.

Does any of this sound remotely familiar to you? I realized while he was talking to me that I had gotten up at 5 a.m. to deal with emails from a European client; spent time on the cell phone in transit with a non-profit, pro bono client who needed to talk; and allowed myself to be sidetracked by Busyhallway conversations with managers from the client group who I hadn't seen in a while. A similar schedule unraveled today.

What is there to learn?

1. If you do business globally in the electronic age, the expectation is that you are available on "their" time...or you should be. So choose carefully--you can't afford to be awake 24 hours a day.

2. Time management isn't really just about time. It's about clear priorities. Which means...

3. It's important to say "no." In fact, I think "no" is the solution to a lot of this craziness.

4. If you are in Phil's position, at some point you need to tell those above you that the very act of "over-reporting" is exacerbating the problem. Do it respectfully. Share the impact and consequences on your business and let them take responsibility for whether or not it makes sense to continue the external demands on your time.

How are you managing this?
________________________________________________

You might also enjoy:

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Kill Change With Too Many Priorities

I read a research study by Pivotal Resources that concluded the reason why many U.S. businesses are so unsuccessful at effecting change.

The reason stated?

Managers have so many priority projects at once that they can't tell what's important and what isn't.

 Although change projects are given top priority at most companies, almost half of the more than 500 managers surveyed said that a significant number of such projects failed to meet the stated goals.

Squished The #1 reason given for failed change initiatives was having too many "top" priority projects and an inability to coordinate and integrate these across their organization.

Here's a fascinating factoid: When asked about the success of these projects, C-level executives were twice as likely to judge change projects as "almost always" successful as non-C-level managers.

Why would the senior execs be so much more positive?

a. Maybe they are better informed about the big picture, are more satisfied, but not getting the message out to the people who are "making it happen".

b. Maybe they aren't in touch with what's really happening.

c. Perhaps "success" is measured differently at different levels in an organization.

Two other key findings:

More than a third believed there are too many independent or disconnected initiatives in different areas of their organization.

And fewer than 20% thought change "always succeeded" in their organization.

This really isn't all that surprising to me. First, there's no guarantee that making a change in the way you set out to do it will yield success. However, the 20% figure would indicate that, if universal, managers and employees--over time--could become very wary of the "change" mantra.

The part that rings most true is the plethora of priorities. Sitting in a conference room not long ago, I watched an executive trying to get guidance from his CEO: "I've got no less than than twelve initiatives going simultaneously. Which should I really focus on?"

The CEO answered, "Yes", and sat silently. He thought it was a clever response. We'll see what the results yield.

_________________________

( "All Things Workplace" has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs competition hosted by the Kevin Eikenberry Group. It's an honor to be selected. If you are interested in voting for your favorite, please vote at Best Leadership Blog 2009 by July 31st.)

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Employees: People or Roles?

Director of Sales. VP of HR. Research Associate. Customer Service Agent.

Orgsample1 Every time I receive a call to consult or coach, one of the first things I hear is the person's title and location on the organization chart. Invariably, the client turns out to be an actual person:

Laura. Luis. George. Dottie.

There's something about organizational roles that allow them to--at least initially--take precedence over the identity of the humans behind them.

I'm quite practical and get the need for org charts, functional titles, and visual relationships. I'm also aware of how the initial focus on titles and roles can subliminally influence the beginning of a working relationship. Here's what I mean:

1. Manager to direct report: "Set up a meeting with the Director of Sales, Europe to review the projections for next month."

Direct report doesn't know the Director. Conjures up images based on title, function, and location. Puts them through the "great mental filter of life." Starts to lose confidence about the ability to interact successfully.

2. VP of HR to external coach: "I'd like you to work with our CFO. She's a real detail person and needs to get the big picture regarding our business. The CEO has a time line for this. Could you get involved as soon as next week?"

Not unusual. If it were me I'd ask the clarifying questions needed to get a more complete picture. But all I can see at this point is the top of an organizational chart.

3. New Director of Customer Service, pointing to screen: "Here is the re-organization as I see it. Notice how the Call Center associates will have a dotted line relationship with Distribution as well as reporting directly to me."

OK. I know what it looks like in a presentation. But who are these people and how will we actually work together?

Humanize or Objectify: The Choice Matters

Humanize: The faster we can begin to relate to other people as people, the more of a chance we have of making a connection that matters. (You may find that you don't particularly care for someone, but at least it's based upon real data).Humanizeitsmallercovervlr

Objectify means that we assign meaning to things, people, places, activities, and the like. But they may not be correct and can be based upon preconceived notions, stereotypes, and the comments of others. The worst part: it makes the person an object. Once we do that, we no longer see them as someone with the same kinds of needs, wants, frailties, talents, and humanity as ourselves. And then begin to act accordingly.

What I hope you'll think about today:

1. When talking about your organization, talk about the people by name. Mention an interesting characteristic that you value about them. Then mention the title and role.

2. If you're calling a coach or consultant, talk about the person by name if you can (sometimes you can't at first). Offer some insights regarding their experience and background--their uniqueness. Then talk about their role and the developmental goals.

3.Talent Management. When you are discussing the movement of people up and around the organization, talk about characteristics as well as skills. Humanize the roles that need to be filled. How often have you seen really intelligent people cause distress because they simply didn't have the characteristics--or character--to relate to others.

4. It seems safe to keep a distance from others. It's dangerous if you want to have a fulfilling life on or off the job.

It would be useful to hear situations or comments around this phenomenon. It's tough for people to work with each other--or help each other--if they don't actual know each other.

What's your take?

Speaking of roles: We want to thank Kevin Eikenberry and Best Leadership Blogs of 2009 for nominating All Things Workplace. You can vote at the link and check out the lineup of terrific leadership blogs in the action this year.

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Leading: Meet People Where They Are

A client was of mine was told that he didn't jump in alongside his people to get new projects and improvements off the ground. As a result, things weren't getting done on schedule. So I asked him why he seemed to 'manage from a distance'. His response:

"My people are long time employees. They're highly educated and have a lot of experience. If I start managing too closely, they'll lose their motivation."

I'm thinking,"What motivation? Apparently they aren't getting much done!

His approach to the situation isn't at all unusual, is it? We live in a time when managers are getting messages that say they should be consultative and participative. OK. But what happens when the work group doesn't know what to do our how to do it?

When there is a change, people want clear, strong direction. We all want to know what, where, when, why, and then, if the situation warrants it, how. Think about it: when we face the unknown, we start to get a little insecure. What do we look for? Direction. Strong leadership. Clarity. Help.

It has nothing to do with longevity or advanced degrees. It has to do with diagnosing the willingness and ability of the people and then adjusting management style accordingly.

In the case of my manager friend, he used misguided assumptions instead of proven research in his initial approach.

Overview_graphic

Meet People Where They Are

I'm a big proponent of Situational Leadership and have been since it was introduced. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard teamed up to introduce the practical application of the Ohio State Studies.

The principle is this: Before you know how close to manage or how consultative to be with your people, you need to know where their willingness and ability is in relation to the task at hand. The less people know, the closer you manage. The more mature and effective they become, the less you have to direct and the more consultative you can be.

If you've ever taught a child to ride a bike, then think of that as the model. When they start, you have to demonstrate, help them on the bicycle, hold onto them, and not leave their side. As they get a little confidence and are able to go a short distance on their own, maybe you jog alongside if you have to catch them. When you see them smiling and riding a block or so on their own, you shout encouragement. And when they disappear from view; well, yell "I'm going to the house for a cup of coffee." That way they'll know where you are if they need you.

Managing people is a constant series of diagnoses and appropriate responses. It's never all of one thing. And it's never all direction or abdication. It's what people need from you in order to move along the performance curve.

And just to emphasize the point once more: Change=More Managerial Direction. Any manager who is introducing something new has to be prepared to work closer and harder than usual to get things off to the right start.

What's your experience? Are you giving or getting the right thing at the right time?

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How Wisdom, Discernment, and Integrity Matter

Owl Building leaders is on almost every organization's agenda.

Hiring good people can be a costly process.

Losing employees--regardless of cause--can be equally expensive.

Wisdom, Discernment, and Integrity in Business created a lot of buzz, especially on Twitter.

And whether the long-time, ongoing issues are How One Bad Apple Can Create a Toxic Team, Crazy Co-workers , Bad Bosses, or the rule of No Assholes, people in the workplace are apparently driving other people in the workplace crazy.

What's Happening In Organizations?

Corporations have HR professionals, behavioral interview training, search firms that screen and test, assessment centers, assessment tests. . .

I believe that what is missing--and what needs to be purposefully added to the organization effectiveness equation--are Wisdom and Discernment applied with Integrity.

The vast majority of screening/hiring/promoting practices focus on education, experience, and task-related performance.

But take a hard look at the reasons for dismissal and lack of promotability (not a real word according to the spellchecker!). I've seldom seen well-screened people leave a company because of their technical incompetence. The issue is almost always one of "fit." "How" the individual operates is, in some way, inconsistent with what the organization really thinks is best for itself. (And vice-versa).

Do any of these reasons for separation sound familiar to you?

  • He's not a team player
  • We need people who can work without a lot of supervision
  • We need people who can take supervision
  • She doesn't provide enough direction for her people
  • She provides too much direction for her people
  • He doesn't think about options and possibilities when making decisions
  • This company doesn't value my creative thinking
  • This company doesn't value the fact that I always follow the rules

(Please feel free to click on Comments and add your favorites. If I get enough, I'll post a Top__List).

How Can We Change This To Make A Difference?

When we're hiring and promoting, wouldn't it be worthwhile to know who we're getting--not just what we're getting?

It seems to me that we need to understand at least two things in order to make that happen:

1. What "kind of people" do we want? (What values do we hold that need to be evident in our people)?

2. What does it take to develop and use wisdom and discernment needed in business?

What Kind of People Do We Want?

This seems to be the part that is overlooked. Sure, interviewers might say "I liked her" or "He seemed serious enough about the business." Deep down inside, don't we really need to figure out some general characteristics that will help the individual and the work team hit it off over the long run? If it's the kind of job that has management responsibility or potential, then what kind of characteristics do we want to see in our leaders? I know we want them to be able to reach their goals. But what kind of people do we want them to be while they are doing that?

When the issue of "best fit" arises, it becomes foolish to ignore the reality that "how" we are is, in part, the manifestation of "who" we are. To hire and promote based on intellectual/behavior criteria ignores the social and relational nature of organizations. An entire generation of managers, interviewers, and job candidates have been sold on the idea that "past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior." It sounds good. It sells well because it is "scientific." One can create behavioral questions or assessment scenarios that can surface and confirm whether or not a person has, or is able to, perform specific functions. That kind of validation is certainly important. But will that person be able to perform those things well in your organization, given your unique mix of relational expectations, communication patterns, systems, and management?

What if we decided to be intentional about the use of wisdom, discernment, and integrity in the process?


 

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Pay Attention to the Spirit of Change

We business types seem to enjoy--and gravitate towards--discussions about Change. And it's almost always in the context of managing it, leading it, overcoming resistance to it...as if Change is somehow different than life.

It isn't. It is life.

Sunshine_sky_210 Which means that how we approach our lives and what comes our way will influence how we approach things that are new and different at work. How we choose to respond to changes will determine our sense of success and  contentment, regardless of what comes our way.

It is, in fact, a spiritual issue. The world view that you possess will determine how you lead or respond to changes, and whether you will lift people up or cut them down in a display of anger or negativity.

I've been involved in leading or assisting  "change" efforts at numerous Fortune 500 firms. Some quite successful, most actually mediocre, a few downright ugly. So it's something that I've thought about often and quite deeply. Here are some conclusions I've reached:

1. Once you announce that you are undertaking a large-scale "Change", you've set the conditions for adversarial relationships. The human condition doesn't necessarily want change; it wants control.

 Therefore,

2. You have set in motion a struggle for control. Self-control, control of the situation, control of other people...

3. If you want to do something new or different, tell people you want to do something new or different. Tell them exactly what it is, why it is (reality), and how it will improve the business/workplace situation (hope). Then be prepared to "be there"--even more than usual--to support the effort.

Change models, for the most part, evolved from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' work "On Death and Dying." She did a magnificent job explaining the emotional cycle that people experience who are facing or dealing with death. In my experience, the model does, indeed, hold up in any situation involving changes. And it is for that very reason that the issue is always a spiritual one. People who are dying need to reconcile not only what is happening to them now, but what has happened in their entire lives--as well as resolving any unanswered questions regarding eternity.

Those of us facing changes at work do the same thing: we attempt to reconcile what is happening, what our career in the organization has been about, and what the unknown future will hold.

For that reason, I believe it's important for organization dwellers at all levels to have an understanding of the model. Everyone involved can then know how to respond in an uplifting or supportive manner when they recognize someone else experiencing a particular step along the way. (That also means painting reality for those who are stuck on Fantasy Island).

That said, my own experiences show this: Making "Change" the overarching theme in communication, training, and managing is a big mistake. It's not what you are about and it will drain the energy from the specific, meaningful improvements you have to make.

What to Do

If you truly believe in what you need to do, then do it. But first check out the spirit with which you are about to deal with the people who have to make it happen. What is it? Really?

If you are on the receiving end, is your response any different than to any other change in your life?

Whether  you are leading or following, the spirit with which you evaluate and participate will impact the accuracy and wisdom of your choices.  And those choices will determine business effectiveness and personal contentment in the days and weeks ahead.

It is a choice. And your choices are the only thing over which you have control. Be careful of the spirit with which you exercise them.

_____________________________

For a thoughtful read that may change your views about leadership, check Jim Stroup's series .

Want to change how people are talking about you? Really. One of my favorites from Duct Tape Marketing & Seth Godin.

And when it comes to changing Employee Engagement, there's no better resource than my friend David Zinger at Employee Engagement Zingers.

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5 Tips For Making Changes and Transitions

Metamorphosis_of_a_butterfly_merria

Decisions get made. It's time to start.

The Goal is clear. There is a picture of what the end should look like.

Now we just have to "do it."

Some don't make it...

.. .individually or organizationally.

Given that there are entire industries built around "doing it"--continuous improvement, change management, life coaching-- there must be some trick to that whole in between area. If you are involved in any kind of a change, here are 5 tips that you can take to the bank. (Ignoring them may put you in the collection agency).

1. Language matters.

"We're going to make a transition from___to____" impacts the brain a lot better than "We're going to change."

(Honestly, I don't want to change--do you? But I don't have any problem making a transition).

2. Friendships matter.

Be willing to talk and be willing to listen. When things change at home or in your family, you have coffee and conversation with friends. Why? It's cathartic. And you don't feel alone. Changes at work are no different.

3. Grace matters.

Transitions and change imply, by definition, that people are trying something for the first time. When your little child tried out her first steps and fell after the third one, you didn't offer a performance appraisal. You hugged her, made a big fuss, took a video, and called the grandparents.

Offer the same to adults who are trying something for the first time. Truth be told, they are feeling like kids at that moment.

Note: I'd avoid the hug and the video; it's your call on whether to phone the grandparents.

4. Accountability matters.

This isn't opposed to numbers 2 or 3. Accountability is an act of deep friendship. Friends don't let friends drive drunk. They also don't let friends do things--or avoid doing things--that are hurting their careers.

5. Small wins matter.

Make an example of anyone or any result that approximates the longer term ideal. Do it often.

If you wait until everyone gets it perfect, there won't be a celebration. There may not be a reason for it.

That's why continuous improvement is called continuous improvement.

What Are Your Best Tips?

I know the readers here are involved in changes of all types. Help someone else today with your favorite transitional tips and suggestions and we'll add them to the mix! (With attribution, of course. See #5).

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When People Want "It" Now!

When "Change the Right Thing" Meets "Please, Just Do Something!"

Have you ever been involved with any of these in your organization?

  • Merger/Acquisition
  • Severely declining financial performance
  • Arrival of new CEO

Armchair experts love to talk about employee resistance to change.

But what about the case where employees know something different has to happen in their organization and are getting anxious and weary from waiting? They've reached a point where the anticipation is a little too much to take and begin to wonder what the CEO is actually doing.

Is their CEO oblivious to the organizational dynamics?

In my consulting life I haven't met a CEO yet who didn't understand what people were probably thinking and feeling. So let's explore some of the valid reasons why the above scenario can happen.

Before laying out how this situation comes to pass, here is a graphic to help keep us focused:

Change6_102207001

There Are No Victims or Villains

There are simply people trying to get what they need.

The CEO

What do you and I do with a new situation?

The same as the CEO.

We gather information, ask advice, evaluate the information, check our resources, look at the options, and evaluate the risks and benefits of each. We also evaluate how each option will impact each of our constituencies.

In the case of the CEO, those constituencies may include stockholders, directors, customers, employees,  vendors, local and national governments, regulators...a mind-boggling array of interest groups that have to be satisfied financially, legally, and personally.

In the case of mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds, there may be negotiations taking place that cannot be discussed due to confidentiality agreements and, in the U.S., related SEC regulations.

The result: You may have a CEO who knows everything there is to know about what, how, and when to communicate--but is not allowed to do so under penalty of law. Most people don't realize that CEO's often carry the burden of silence when they would like nothing more than to sit down with their people and explain what is unfolding.

The Employees

The world abhors a vacuum. Employees want to fill that vacuum by getting direction and information.  When they don't, the first thing most wonder about is the "leadership:"

Why aren't they doing something?

Why aren't they saying something?

Should I even stick around or is it time to shop my resume?

What to do?

This is one of those situations where history and corporate culture can help carry the day or lose it. CEO's and organizations with a strong track record of trust and integrity will find that they've earned a longer time line for ambiguity than those who haven't paid attention to issues of corporate and personal character.

If you find yourself in this situation as an employee, here are some suggestions:

1. Don't start off by assuming that silence means the worst. If you are used to a high degree of communication, it probably does mean that something is taking place behind the scenes. But it doesn't mean that it's bad. If you start thinking negatively it will drive you crazy...and won't do a thing to help the situation.

2. Do ask questions, such as "Is there a legitimate reason why communications and information have decreased?" CEO's that I know will answer that question in a way that sends the correct message but does not violate any agreements or laws. However, don't expect to get any information. And don't keep probing.

3. At a time when the inclination may be to slack off on performance, do just the opposite:  be a star. If there is a merger or acquisition and headcount is an issue, make sure your head is seen as firmly attached to the rest of you. It could increase your chances of remaining that way.

You may not have control over what's happening in your organization but you do have control over how you choose to respond. If your company has a solid history of dealing honestly with people, chances are that isn't going to change now.

And often, effective leadership means thoughtfully, quietly, and methodically affirming the right thing to do on behalf of hundreds or thousands of people. That may just require a little more time than usual.

What's your experience?

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Engagement, Performance, and "The Right Things"

There is a bogus debate happening in employee engagement circles.

In reality, it is the opposing viewpoints of two different vendors whose products focus on one and not the other. One claims that “management” is the solution to engagement; the other says that its research reveals that organizations, not managers, are the cause of poor engagement.

Thinking Sound Somewhat Familiar?

This is reminiscent of the 20-year argument about the difference between management and leadership.  That argument has not, in my observation, contributed to anything substantive in the behavior, performance, or results of organizations. It probably has been useful in helping people identify when to wear their vision-casting, big picture hat and when to put on the “Let’s sit down and talk about how you/we are doing on this project” beanie.

The truth: If you are the person out in front, you are doing both. Every effective CEO with whom I’ve worked constantly toggles back and forth between “rallying the masses” and “managing performance”.

What’s the Issue?

Organizational rules, procedures, and processes certainly can get in the way of day-to-day engagement (as can a change of mission and purpose). So, it is possible for “the organization” to get in the way. That's why it's valuable for managers to  sit down with people regularly and find out what kinds of organizational stuff is interfering with success--then, take steps to remove it.

Forget the either/or debate. People are simply more likely to engage and perform when the organization’s policies and systems don’t get in the way. This frees up their managers to help them focus  their efforts at the intersection of talents, goals, and results.

What to think about: In business, as in life, people commit to a mission but they engage with people.

For more, join me at 1 pm ET today when we extend the conversation the HR.COM webcast; sign up for free here.

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What, Really, Is Employee Engagement?

How do you define Employee Engagement?

It's easy to toss the phrase du jour around in meeting rooms and cubicles; but when it comes to commitment and action, there has to be a common understanding of what we're really talking about.

The more I watch Employee Engagement discussed, the more I realize that the people in the room are coming at it from different viewpoints.

Wakeup The Conference Board researched the issue of definition and came to the same conclusion: different studies reflected different definitions of Employee Engagement. So they came up with a "blended" definition and some key themes that represented all of the studies.

The definition of Employee Engagement: "a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work".

That makes sense and is easily understood.

What I think is truly helpful to those involved in creating Employee Engagement is the Conference Board's synthesis of 8 key drivers of engagement. These offer concrete targets for development:

  • Trust and integrity – how well managers communicate and 'walk the talk'.

  • Nature of the job –Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Does the employee understand how their work contributes to the company's performance?

  • Career Growth opportunities –Are there future opportunities for growth?

  • Pride about the company – How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with their company?

  • Coworkers/team members – significantly influence one's level of engagement

  • Employee development – Is the company making an effort to develop the employee's skills?

  • Relationship with one's manager – Does the employee value his or her relationship with his or her manager?

What Do You Think?

For those of us who have to turn theory into practice, I like simple and concise one-liners that can lead to purposeful action.

How do you define Employee Engagement?

__________________________________

But there's more!

The ever-growing Employee Engagement Network begun by my friend David Zinger is a vibrant source--and discussion--of all things EE. If you haven't found it already, have a read...you'll want to join in once you get there.

Engagement by Mom: Wally Bock shows just how smart moms really are when it comes to keeping their kids engaged.

Reminder: Join me at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on May 12th at Performance Management Practices that Boost Employee EngagementHR Leader Kathy Anthony, of O’Sullivan Creel and I will tie together the software and people process elements of effective performance management and engagement. You can sign up here for free. The event is hosted by HR.COM and sponsored by Halogen Software.

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6 Questions That Will Help You and Your Group

There are lots of lengthy, "sophisticated", and expensive methods out there to diagnose how a group is doing. Sometimes you may be forced to use them because a boss equates "lengthy" with "important". I've had to use questionnaires with a "numerical read-out" because an engineering group insisted it had nothing to talk about until there were some "real numbers" involved. Fine. Meet people where they are.

How To Take Your Group's Pulse

Pulse Here are the six most important questions to get your group all the diagnostic data it needs to find out what it needs to do to bump up it's game:

  • What are the strengths of our group?
  • What are our biggest weaknesses?
  • What should our highest priorities be?
  • What do we do well?
  • What do we do poorly?
  • What barriers do we need to remove to boost our performance when we leave this room?

I've never seen a group not get involved with these six questions. They aren't designed to point fingers at individuals but are really focused on group performance. An honest conversation may lead to some soul-searching and performance discussions afterward, but that's a separate managerial issue.

If you haven't tried this simple activity with your group, give it a shot. You don't even have to call a "special meeting"; it can be done over coffee or lunch.

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Perseverance, Outrage, Drama Queens, and Success

Have you noticed the consistent use of the word "outrage" in the media?

It seems that, regardless of the gravity of the situation, someone feels compelled to use the word "outrage", even when their body language and tone of voice are matter-of-fact. Perhaps it has been discovered that "outrage" is a media-friendly word that can elevate one to victim status; and victim status will then lead to some sort of reward by a convoluted notion of automatic victim entitlement.

Burrohorse The facts of life show otherwise.

Perseverance and Success

Back in the days of the great western cattle ranches, a little burro would be harnessed to a wild horse. Bucking and raging, the two would be set loose onto the desert. You could see them disappear over the horizon, that strong steed dragging the little burro along and tossing him around like blended carrots in a Veg-O-Matic commercial. Even though they would be gone for days, eventually they would return. Amazingly, that little burro would be seen first, trotting across the horizon with the now-submissive horse in tow. Somewhere out there the strong, wild horse became exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro. In that moment, the burro took mastery and became the leader.

Our struggles in life and in business life go to the determined, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.

Let's find a way to live this out in our own lives today.

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Four Ways To Spot Reduced Trust

We're all looking for trusting relationships to build a strong foundation for our businesses, careers, or favorite cause.

When things don't "feel" right at a gut level it's easy to say, "Let's do a survey and find out if something is going on with our customer/employee/donor relationships." That's both expensive and time consuming. By the time you get the results, here's what has happened:

1. The fact that people have participated in a survey automatically raises the expectation that something different is going to happen as a result. If nothing different happens, then trust diminishes.

2. People expect to at least hear the results. Again: if the results aren't shared, people wonder why they spent their time and energy trying to be helpful. And, they wonder what was so horrendous that it couldn't be discussed. A double-dip of trust reduction.

3. Unless you do a survey quickly and then respond quickly with the results, enough time will have passed that the issues impacting the survey may no longer be relevant.

Trust: Diagnose This!

It's helpful to learn to recognize for yourself the signs that things aren't quite right in the "trust" department. You can do an accurate diagnosis as the first step to getting back on track with your relationships--on and off the job.

Gauge Hedging Their Bets

Hedging is placing a bet elsewhere so that if a current proposal or situation fails, people have other alternatives. That certainly makes sense on the surface. The problem is that hedging becomes a distraction. It takes a lot of time for people to develop a Plan B. If you think about such instances in your own life, the alternative can start to look more interesting than the current assignment. The result:  You begin to see people putting less effort into the work at hand.

Lesson: When you see people talking more about options that protect themselves vs. actions that achieve the communal goal, you are seeing a lack of confidence and trust. 

Emotional Distance

Confession: When I don't trust someone, the easiest thing to do is to minimize my contact with them. The payoff is this: I reduce the risk of betrayal, hurt, or other consequences of failed trust.

When a person distances one's self themselves from their  work relationships, they aren't fully engaged. They may be occupied in task-oriented work 100% of time but they aren't contributing with their full potential.

Lesson: If you are a manager and see someone operating in this way, it's time for a quiet talk. That means: Listen. Start off by relating what you see and asking what could be getting in the way of the potential that you've seen demonstrated in the past. Be prepared: It may be you. Listen and hear what is being said. Whatever the issue, thank the person and allow that you need some time to ponder what was said so that it can be addressed in the most helpful way. Then, be sure to follow through.

I'm Outta Here

Leaving might mean finding another job within the company or even leaving the company for seemingly greener pastures. It's also a kind of retribution. "I'll leave you without my skills; then, your lack of trustworthiness will be laid bare for all to see."

Lesson: If one person does a disappearing act yet all is (genuinely) well with everyone else, it may be best to close the book and move on. But when you start to see the resumes hit the street, it's time to talk with each person and determine the underlying issues.

Alliances

When people don't trust someone, it's common for a group to gang up with others who share those sentiments: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend!"  When this happens, you get groups who start hedging and distancing themselves as entire teams or departments. This magnifies the negative impact of those behaviors on the situation.

Lesson: If there's a party and you are the only one not invited, congratulations:  it's probably about you. It's time for a sit-down that may very well call for a great deal of humility on your part and lots of mutual forgiveness to get things back on track.

Note: When you sense any of the above beginning to surface, sit down with people and describe what you are sensing. You may find out you are wrong and that nothing--or something totally different--is happening.

Experience has shown me that good diagnostic skills are the lifeblood of managers everywhere. So is action.

Don't wait until you've confirmed your diagnosis in a thousand different ways. Holding out for perfection may prove you correct but you'll show up just in time for the autopsy.

Gotta lay off of those CSI reruns.

Bonus: Apparently the folks at Forbes.com are hot on the trail of the trust thing as well.

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Unspoken Rules: Peer Pressure Isn't Just About Teenagers

Many years ago my friend and associate Dr. Bud Bilanich and I worked together at Pfizer headquarters in NYC. One day, we decided that the elevator ride up to the 19th floor was just too quiet. No one spoke to each other even though we all worked for the same company. (Clearly, Bud and I had grown  up in the suburbs). Our foray into the Land of Unspoken Rules is described here.

Rewind even further to a popular TV show: Candid Camera. This was a genuine reality show because those being filmed didn't know it. Without citing lengthy psychological research papers, Candid Camera captured the human condition for all to see and ponder.

Compliance vs. Agreement

How often have you experienced one or more of these:

1. A workshop leader asks the "How Many of You Have. . .?, raises her hand, and the participants arms shoot skyward. The impact: Lots of agreement--the workshop leader must know what she's talking about. Credibility begins to build.

What you don't know is: Even though all these people "have done" the thing, what was their experience with it? Would they do it again? How many didn't want to be seen as not being part of the "in crowd" once the hands started to go up?

2. A senior manager announces a new initiative. He then rattles off a list of executives and department heads who are 100% with him on this. One of those names is your boss. He then asks, "How many of you can I count on?" You watch the hands go up, one by one.

3. You are at an off-site meeting that started at 7 a.m. It is now 7 p.m. and the announcement has been made that a group dinner will be held at Maison Conformité. You really want to go back to your room and crash. People start mulling around, unenthusiastically. Yet at 7:30 pm all of you are now at the restaurant, tired and superficially cordial.

It's easy to use known techniques that play on the human condition in ways to gain desired behavior. The question becomes, "Are you getting (or giving) compliance or agreement?"

The distinction will be crystal clear when the time comes for commitment and action.

Enjoy the video and join me for a thought at the end: 

In none of the examples I cited above--nor in the video--did anyone ask a question that could change the dynamic.

Are there instances of group pressure where asking a perfectly sensible question is viewed as more dangerous than "going along?" If so, what groups do you belong to whose unspoken norms create obstacles to sensible questions? How's that working for you?

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Diagnose Your Organization Like a Marketer

You can do a first-class diagnostic on your organization--regardless of size--by acting like the Marketing department.

Stethoscope Companies spend millions of dollars each year on internal surveys; Their marketing groups do the same with customer feedback. Rarely have I seen both efforts coordinated with broader organizational development strategies. When I've been able to make that happen (and I've been shot down more often than not), the path forward turns out looking a lot different than it would have with the traditional internal focus.

Most organizations acknowledge the validity of internal and external "customers".

Is your diagnostic making the connection between the two?


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Influence and Knowing the Norms

So, you've got a sense of the culture in your organization? Good.

Then it's time to go one level deeper and begin to see clearly the norms that come together to create that culture. If norms influence the culture, then you need to be aware of how to influence the norms.

Norms are rules that a group uses to define its appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The catch: Those rules may be explicit or implicit.
And those unspoken norms will bite you every time if you don't find out what they are.

Norms are so important that a failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishment, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option. Think about what "business casual" means in your company. Khakis and a golf shirt? Logo shirt? Jacket without a tie?Rules

Your Norm Checklist

To help you and your colleagues identify norms, here are five very specific categories:

1. Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.

2. Personal Norms: Standards we hold regarding our own actions.

3. Injunctive Norms: Behaviors perceived as being approved of by other people.

4.
Subjective Norms: Expectations that "valued others" hold as to how we will behave.

5. Implicit Norms: Not stated openly; however, you'll find out quickly when you break one!

Norms can be conveyed  by non-verbal behavior such as silence or 'dirty looks' in response to an unspoken norm having been broken. They may also be passed along through stories, rituals and role-model behavior. In Japan, new employees are assigned a mentor who, over time, passes along the company's norms by sharing stories about people, situations, and the outcomes. No employee manual needed here; simply the storytelling of a more experienced employee.

What to Do

  • Identify the rules you put on other people  as a condition for being in your group. Are these productive or convenient?

  • What rules have the group put on you? Are they productive or convenient? Are there any which are particularly bothersome and unproductive?


What would happen if you made the implicit explicit? 

Bonus read: Consistent with yesterday's Like-ability post, GL Hoffman offers up  Ten Tips On What You Can Do Today .

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Influence and Culture: Part II

Smart managers and employees know that influence involves knowing one's self and understanding how to navigate the "how to" of the organization. That means paying attention to the corporate culture and learning how to get things done according to the often-unspoken rules.

I try to practice what we preach in our consulting work by offering as many ways as possible to look at--and learn about--a certain dynamic. Influence and Culture Part I showed one useful cultural model; here's another model that I hope will add to your understanding.

Charles Handy’s Take on Culture

Charles Handy has created a typology of organizational cultures with respect to their priorities and modes of operation. Here is his contribution:

Power Culture:  'Zeus' (could be likened to a spider web)

There is only one source of power and influence (a group of leaders) striving to maintain absolute control over the organization along threads diverging from the center to the outside of the organization. The horizontal "rings" in the web reflect other relations (functional, social) but they are not as Spider-web

 strong as the central threads. Related decisions are made under the influence of the leaders’ priorities vs. procedures. Individuals from the heart of the web have information and control. This type of organizational culture is suitable for an unstable environment needing  quick response times. Problem: the quality of the actions depends chiefly on the leaders’ competence. Power culture seems to work best in small organizations. Too much growth may break down the culture. In fact, loss of the leader may even signal the end of the organization.

Role Culture: 'Apollo' is reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple. This culture’s strength lies in its specialization. Every pillar is almost an independent department or project (think "Greek silos); the specialists and their functions may also be pillars. Each pillar’s operation and cooperation among them is coordinated by the senior leadership council/procedural overseers, who could be viewed as the temple’s roof.

These tend to be bureaucratic organizations. Cooperation among the pillars is based upon Greek procedures and job descriptions. In this culture, effectiveness depends on rational goal setting and allocating financial means to the pillars. Power depends on the formal position in the organization’s structure rather than sheer performance.

The employee’s role is more important than the person assuming this role. This type of culture is suitable for a stable environment when the goals don't change much and specialized teams can be established for each goal. Problems arise when a sudden change takes place in the environment and one of the "pillars" is no longer needed. The organization may actually fall apart when the “roof” is gone.


Task Culture: 'Athena'

This culture may be portrayed as a net with some ropes thicker and stronger than others. In this culture, emphasis is placed on getting the job, task, or project done. Power stems from knowledge and experience in tackling this type of task. Task culture is targeted at teamwork and a group achieving a common goal.

Ropes This culture’s chief advantage lies in its flexibility and ability to adjust to changing conditions. Work groups are created to handle specific tasks and are dissolved when the task is over. The same individuals  create new teams tailored to the latest needs.

Task culture is capable of rapid actions. It is managed by experts rather than  positions. Control is very difficult to exert; it is actually possible only when resorting to milestones or by monitoring the key individuals’ work. Effectiveness is ensured by quickly moving around resources from individuals to projects and back. Problems may arise when access to information and resources is limited. With long-term projects and a stable environment, task culture may transform into role culture.

Person Culture: 'Dionysus'

In this scenario the organization is all about the individuals in it. These companies exist to satisfy the requirements of the particular individual(s) involved in the organization. The company’s role is reduced to organizing a comfortable workplace. They typically exist among lawyers, accountants,Person architects and consultants: specialists often practicing what might be called the "liberal" professions. An individual may leave the company but the company often exercises  no right to make decisions about the employee.

Note: Changing economic circumstances have also brought changes to the cultural norms in these organizations. What was once a collegial assembly of professionals can now be managed as closely as any of the other cultures.

Influence over the course of a career means organizational understanding of what's happening, how, and why. A good way to practice using your cultural antennae is to start with Jackie Cameron's suggestion to sense the mood in the room.

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Where Is Your Focus?

People can give 100% of their energy, talent and time. No more.

Forget about all of the "We're going to give 110%" speeches, as well as the clever-but-ridiculous "do more with less." You aren't going to do more with less. You may be able to get by with less, survive with less, and even learn to enjoy "less." But you aren't going to do more. (If you are one who insists on saying such things, stop it now. You are losing credibility and respect).

Blog001 The important factor in your personal or business productivity is how you allocate your energy, time, and talent. How much is being spent on internal concerns such as layoffs, office configuration, and status issues vs. customer relationships, products and services?

I don't know that there is a perfect, scientific, numerical answer. But I'm darned sure that if you switched the mix from, say, 65% external/35% internal to 75%/25%, you would see an increase in productivity. "Downsizing" or "Right-sizing" (it's only "right" for the people who are still left to utter the hideous term) doesn't do that. In fact, it causes people to focus even more attention internally. Why? Because under stress we want more of a sense of control. And, we can control internal mechanisms a lot easier than external ones.

But the revenue comes from the outside, and that's where the attention needs to be.

Where are you and your company focused?

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Are You Using Professional Assessments Professionally?

How is your organization using professional and leadership assessments?

Assess Self-assessments, 360 degree feedback, assessment centers, and other similar tools are widely used in the workplace. What's your experience with them?

A lot of information is generated during the assessment process. I was reviewing some feedback that was coming in for a client and realized that there are many good uses for it. We may not always be taking the best advantage of the information and the potential process. So. . .

Would Some of These Help You and Your Organization?

Assessment feedback, by definition, is given to the subject of the assessment. That person is often asked to reflect  and decide what, if anything, to do with it. That's fine. Making changes is a choice. But here are some other ways to get the most from the data. You may be doing some are all of them now. If not, here are some thoughts that I hope you will find helpful:

1. In the case of 360 feedback, encourage the recipient (I'll use the word "Manager") to get together with the group that generated the data. It's an opportunity, at minimum, to acknowledge the time and energy they put into the activity.

Suggest that the Manager share the themes and take-aways from the data. 360 activities have some of the same dynamics as surveys. Participants want to know what happened with their input--and what will change as a result. This is a chance to do just that. And, if the Manager has misinterpreted something, the group can add clarity.

Yes, I know that the feedback is anonymous, blah blah. However, the act of inviting the respondents to come together also invites a deeper level of candor. And the fact of the matter is: These are people with whom the Manager has to work. Sooner or later it will be time to increase the honesty of conversations. This is an ideal framework in which to do that.

2. A Good Reason For A Good Conversation with "The Boss."

If you're the Manager, make an appointment with your boss. Tell what you think you want to do differently. Ask if the boss sees the data and your intended changes in the same way. Or differently. Here's the principle: Giving straight feedback is difficult for a lot, if not most, people. Including the boss. If you provide the data and ask for suggestions, you've done the work that your boss my find tough. It may be the most meaningful conversation you've had with that person.

3. A Good Reason For a Good Conversation with Your Reports.

If it's a 360, some or all of those folks provided feedback. I wouldn't call a departmental meeting and declare "Let's share." I would do one of these two:

  • Make it a point to informally share what you learned and are working on with each person. Do it in the course of normal conversation.
  • If you have a full group meeting coming up soon, take 10 minutes to talk about the assessment, the process, what you learned, what you are working on, and what kind of support you need to do those things. The payoff? You get help. You set the model that getting feedback and doing assessments is a valuable activity.

4. Self Assessments. Any or all of the above will be helpful to validate your self perception. We have ways of deceiving ourselves on both scales: positive and negative. Have the conversations that will give you an accurate picture.

Let's assume that you--or whoever is being assessed--will use the info for development. Here's the payoff you don't want to miss: the data provide an "objective" reason to have a "subjective" conversation. When you rally around the information, you are in an arena that's focused on performance factors and not necessarily you as a person. (That may be a result. Why not find out while you still have time to make changes?).

Most of all: an assessment offers  a legitimate reason to have the kind of conversation you've been missing.

Go for it!

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Want Effective Management? Check Your Paperwork.

Check this from Management-Issues:

According to a study of nearly 1,300 mid-level managers around the world by consultancy Proudfoot, vast swathes of the average manager's working day are spent on unproductive activities.

The Global Productivity Report found managers spent 34 per cent of their time on administrative tasks and just a tenth of their time on training and active supervision of their workers.

Their workers, too, were not exactly buzzingly productive. More than a third of their time – 34.3 per cent – was spent on unproductive activities, up from just over 32 per cent recorded the year before.

This meant workers were spending 1.7 days a week on unproductive workplace activities, it concluded.

Managers spent in total 18.5 per cent of their time on unproductive activities, or the equivalent of just under a full working day per week, it added.

Yet, for every five point increase in the share of time managers spent on active supervision, the productivity of their workers, or at least the amount of time they spent on unproductive activities, improved by one point, the survey also found.

The managers were also asked to list their top six barriers to improving productivity.

Topping the list was a shortage of skilled workers, followed by a lack of good internal communication, red tape, rules and regulations, poor employee morale, high staff turnover and, lastly, the quality of their own supervisors.

Chickens, Eggs, and People Who "Get It"

Let's assume that the survey results are valid and that the 1300 managers represented a scientific random sampling with an acceptable +/-% margin of error.

Chickenegg The managers' list of 'barriers to improving productivity' is formidable. I couldn't help but notice:

1. The quality of their own supervisors. Productive workplaces are all about effective bosses. If this a universal problem then there is a systemic management issue at work globally.

2. Assuming the data are true, managers often aren't required to manage and develop people. They are administering the businesses instead.

3. An emphasis on paperwork would be consistent with red tape and rules and regulations.

4. I never know what good internal communications really means. I've written about it before. "Communications" is a catch-all phrase and one needs to ask probing questions to find out what is really underneath.

5. Well, if there is too much paperwork and not enough management it's not a stretch to see that employee morale would be down, prompting thoughts of leaving the company.

6. I intentionally saved 'skilled workers' for last. The skilled workers thing pops up constantly (think, "war for talent"). There are gazillions of talented people graduating from universities each year along with gabillions of experienced workers looking to make a move (see the research above).

Would someone please tell me:

a. What skills are absent to the extent that there is a seemingly universal crisis?

b. If these skills are in fact absent, what are companies and educational institutions doing--individually and in concert--to impact the situation.

All of the above are so behaviorally interrelated that one has to ask the, "What came first, chicken or egg?" question.

BTW: The answer is good management. In organizations, everything flows from that. If managers can't or won't manage, then one would expect to see this kind of survey result.

What I Am Seeing

Finally, an observation based on daily experience in organizations.

I'm not seeing a shortage of skills. I'm seeing a shortage of people who "get it."

  • People who come into work, scan the horizon, and say, "What's happening and how can I be most helpful?"
  • People who look at the bigger picture and the connectedness of themselves to the whole.
  • People who ignore the fine print in their job descriptions and look at "all other duties as may be assigned" as the operative part.

What's going on in your working world?

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How To Create Creativity

You want to be creative and breed creativity in your workplace, right?

Do you consider yourself to be "creative?"

Ask a group of first-graders, "How many of you are 'creative?' " Watch most of the hands go up. They smile. They show their colorful drawings and finger painting and maybe even compose a song along the way.

What happens when the same question is asked of the same kids a few years later? The responses drop to nearly zero. And the kids are still in elementary school.

Ideadrawingxsmall4 Fast forward to your business meeting. Someone says "Let's get creative about how to grow the market in Asia. We've got until 5 o'clock."

Are you and I seeing the same thing here?

We've got little kids who are convinced they are creative. Then we get bigger little kids who think, "Not so much." Now we've got adults being asked to create and who are sure they aren't creative.

This post is a call for thought, not a rant. (Well, a little one). It seems to me that we have taken an entire population of creative youngsters, told them to color inside the box (or else!), and now tell them to "think outside the box"--(or else!).

Nine things to encourage creativity

Silvano Arieti  wrote a book in 1976 called Creativity: The Magic Synthesis (you can get a used copy through amazon.com). Here are his nine conditions and the reasons why:

1. Aloneness. Being alone allows the person to make contact with the self and be open to new kinds of inspiration.

2. Inactivity. Periods of time are needed to focus on inner resources and to be removed from the constraints of routine activities.

3. Daydreaming. Allows exploration of one's fantasy life and venturing into new avenues for growth.

4. Free thinking. Allows the mind to wander in any direction without restriction and permits the similarities among remote topics or concepts to emerge.

5. State of readiness to catch similarities
. One must practice recognizing similarities and resemblances across to perceptual of cognitive domains.

6. Gullibility. A willingness to suspend judgment allows one to be open to possibilities without treating them as nonsense.

7. Remembering & replaying past traumatic conflicts. Conflict can be transformed into more stable creative products.

8. Alertness. A state of awareness that permits the person to grasp the relevance of seemingly insignificant similarities.

9. Discipline. A devotion to the techniques, logic, and repetition that permit creative ideas to be realized.

So now we go to our boss and say "I'd like to have some extended alone time for inactivity and daydreaming so I can come up with a creative idea for your strategy."

(Please let me know how that conversation goes).

You can act to create creativity

The next time you have charge of a meeting or idea session, how about using some of the above items to lay a foundation for creativity.

  • Build in "alone time" by having people think about the task well in advance.
  • Suspend judgment and encourage the craziest ideas in the room, because
  • Alertness (number 8) will connect the "crazy" dots

I hope you'll use these to be intentional about creativity. It sounds almost like an oxymoron--"intentional creativity"--but according to number 9 it isn't.

Intentional Creativity--that's a lot easier to sell to your boss than some alone time.

Graphic Source: www.creativity-zone.ch/

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HR Value: What Did You Sign Up For?

I've finally figured it out: There is no such thing as HR.

There are only definitions of it created by buyers and providers (employers and employees) of HR services. Those definitions are seldom the same.

It came to me as a result of Why This Is An Important Moment For HR and some good comments that followed.

  1. Here's what Chris Ferdinandi (read his blog--very creative <i>and</i> practical dude) tossed in:

"HR's true value to an organization comes from being able to analyze what behaviors are needed from employees to achieve and exceed the business strategies. For example, if your company prides itself on service, what sorts of behaviors do you need from employees to fulfill that strategy? Calm demeanor in stressful situations? A willingness to make sure the customer is always satisfied? How do you motivate employees to demonstrate those behaviors? What are your incentive programs? Do you offer any training? And how do you demonstrate that those things translate to a higher bottom line (it CAN be done)?"

Is That How HR Is Really Viewed?

Pghr I'm betting there is a huge number of business owners and executives who are saying,

"Nice, but:

  • I want somebody to handle payroll and benefits.
  • I want people to help my managers stay out of trouble with employees.
  • I want a bunch of people who can deal with union reps at our plants."

You're thinking, "These must be stone-age relics who will soon be retiring."

Nope. They're people with a need. It may very well not match your notion of "HR". But they've got the need and the money to spend on it.

Be honest. HR is an evolutionary concept under which a bunch of specialties have been lumped. You've got your benefits folks, OD mavens, union specialists, compensation number crunchers, employee communication geniuses, recruiters, training & development leaders, designers, instructors...

This leads to an identity crisis for everyone concerned. Many, many organizations still aren't hip to the array of distinct services that have been lumped into the "HR" category. They hire a super-charged training person when what they really wanted was an admin clerk; but the letters of reference and resume said, 'HR." Likewise, those entering HR aren't always clear about why they are getting into it or the different disciplines involved.

It's Always About Clarity and Met/Unmet Expectations

If you are in "HR" and really want to be doing large-scale change or leadership development, do everything possible to ensure that that's what you are getting into. Ask the right questions. You may find out that the actual job is 60% admin and 40% "soft stuff."

If you are an employer, be clear about what you want and what you are going to reward. If you want an HR administrator to handle systems and paperwork, say so. Don't lay out the possibility of some future, grandiose position in order to land a top-level candidate. It won't work.

Note: The visual above represents intentionality by Proctor & Gamble at clarity regarding how they view HR and the opportunities available.

For many, however:

There's no such thing as "HR."  Know what you want, be straight about it, and don't sign for one thing expecting that you'll be able to change it to something else. It doesn't work in marriage and it doesn't work in business.

Afterthought: Maybe there is no real value in having professional "HR" organizations and associations. I wonder if it blurs the reality of the specialties that have emerged and doesn't serve anyone very effectively.

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Worldblu 2008: Is Organizational Democracy Possible?

According to twenty-nine different speakers at Worldblu Live! 2008, the answer is "Yes."

Worldblu CEO Traci Fenton put together a collection of CEOs, thought leaders and speakers who offered first-hand accounts of what's happening--for real--in businesses that are being run democratically and profitably.

Democracyworkplace Here at All Things Workplace--and other online publications--the daily discussions about leadership, careers, and organizations are really about how workplaces operate. I've been genuinely fortunate to have worked in the activities of some of the world's largest corporations. That's what led me to attend the conference. After nearly 30 years of organizational design and leadership development, it can still be a heck of a battle when it comes to freeing up the energy and potential that exists in those organizations. The issue is this:

Control.

In an era with no shortage of behavioral research and employee survey data the operative model for most companies is still some version of command-and-control. This reflects a hierarchical military model designed for missions totally different from that of business entities. Here we are in 2008 applying Theory X assumptions in futile attempts to "engage" workers who state explicitly that they are Theory Y human beings.

If you are one of those who still feels uneasy about the words "democracy" and "business" in the same phrase, it's no walk in the park. Personal responsibility is the cornerstone of successful national democracies everywhere we find them in the world. The same is true of organizational democracies.

Have a look at Democracy In The Workplace to see the foundational assumptions and principles involved.

Personally, it was energizing and affirming to spend two days in discussions with exciting people like Mark Dowds, Mike Ferretti of Great Harvest Bread Company, creativity and personal mastery expert Dr. Srikumar Rao of Columbia University, and good friends Alex Kjerulf, The Chief Happiness Officer and employee engagement expert/author Michael Lee Stallard.

Each segment of the conference was professionally videotaped and will, according to Traci, be made available. I'll keep you posted; each segment is an opportunity for a lot of learning.
_____________________________________________________________

Congratulations to Erik Rebstock!

Erik is the winner of Kevin Eikenberry's Remarkable Leadership Learning System . Erik's name was randomly selected from our email subscribers as part of last week's interview with Kevin.

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Finally: Talent War Re-Visited

Last Wednesday I mentioned I'd be back shortly with a follow-up on talent war confusion followed by reports from WorldBlu Live! "Shortly" extended way beyond the most liberal meaning of the word due to a mixture of no wireless at the conference site and unexpected business that emerged.

The  "Talent War" Thing

Check out the in-depth comments from managers and other consultant/coaches.You'll see varied and thoughtful responses, each reflecting insights from different vantage points. If you are at all interested in the whole "talent" thing you won't be disappointed.

My original issue was about the mixed message we are all hearing:

Business: We're in a "War for Talent."

Employees: My company isn't using my talent.

It's easy to point fingers at powerful, uncaring corporate entities. But I don't think that's the real answer,  as attractive as it may seem to many. Here is what I've watched unfold in recent years:

1. Companies--especially publicly-held companies--are under pressure to produce short-term numbers. That's simply a fact.

2. Part of those numbers are generated by keeping costs down.

3. Statistics from ASTD and other sources show that large corporations are spending less money on professional development than they did, say, 10 years ago. There are fewer opportunities for workers at all levels to:

     a. Participate in the kinds of developmental workshops that help them focus on self-development within the organization. Part of those programs were dedicated to identifying strengths, areas of further development, and ways to initiate developmental discussions with bosses and others in the company.

     b. Be exposed to others who could see their talent and do something about it. Most of the leadership and management programs with which I've been involved have had a heavy participative component that included senior managers and executives. Their interactions with participants offered a first-hand look at people outside of their own functions. Informal  sessions provided a give-and-take about where the company was headed and what the future might look like. Workshop participants had the opportunity to talk about their interests and aspirations with those who could help the most.

4. One's talents need the light of day to find expression. That means being given the chance to "try things out" in different areas of an organization. Right now, there appears to be an emphasis on lowering risk while increasing current workload. This does at least two things:

     a. It discourages employees from "trying out" new ideas and demonstrations of talents not present in the immediate job description. This breeds a focus on "more of the same," but under stress. Therefore, one's talents may actually be subverted as a result of demands that are near-impossible to meet.

     b. It drives people to seek expression of their talents elsewhere. At a moment when organizations want to do more with less, the very people who may be capable of doing more don't see their current employer as a vehicle for their growth.

5. Many people haven't deliberately identified and acknowledged the range of talents that they possess. This isn't the fault of their employer; it's also a self-responsibility issue. In some cases, people over-estimate their inherent abilities. In others, they grossly underestimate themselves. What is most helpful to all concerned is a deliberate and accurate assessment regardless of age, industry, or level.

Are You "Talent" or "Talented?"

Hortonhearsawho I don't really like the label "talent." I understand the goal and am involved in designing ways for companies and individuals to come together productively. But language is a powerful thing. We're talking about "talented people" not "talent" or "human capital." To the extent that language becomes impersonal, our ability to objectify people increases.

Here's another thought:

If the War for Talent turned into a Search for Talented People, the subjects might feel a bit safer and come out of hiding. And those doing the searching would have a more accurate picture of whom they were seeking (rather than "what").

This isn't a warm and fuzzy conceptual plea for a group hug. It's a hard-nosed look at a fact of life: You'll get what you ask for. If you want a "who," don't ask for a "what."

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Talent Wars and Disgruntled Employees: I'm Confused

Before I start: Join Kevin Eikenberry and me at 2 p.m. ET today (it's free) by simply registering here. It's a chance not just to hear us talk about your potential and your workplace, but to ask questions as well. Hope to see you there!
_______________________

Now: Why I'm confused.

Confused You've no doubt followed the ongoing headlines regarding the corporate "War for Talent" in recent years. Companies claim that there is a shortage of available talent.

At the same time I'm seeing posts and comments from people claiming that their "talents" aren't being used and that their workplace/boss/situation is oppressive.

My question: If you are talented and disgruntled and have made an attempt to rectify the situation without success, then what payoff are you getting by staying where you are?

I work in corporations every day and am constantly surrounded by talented people. For the life of me I can't find the shortage.

In the same places I hear those talented people complaining about unreasonable work loads and unreasonable bosses.

What I don't see is either side taking meaningful action to make anything different.

Are we living in an era of unhealthy corporate/career co-dependency? If so, why?

I have a hunch regarding at least part of the answer. I'll put it together tonight before heading off to the WorldBlu Conference. I'll be writing from there throughout the day on Thursday and Friday.

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What Do You Expect From Your Boss?

"Nearly half of all workers not only don't respect their bosses but think they're downright incompetent."

That's a stark statement from a City News article citing a recent survey of 2300 employees by Randstad USA.

It goes on to say:

Disgruntled "As companies focus more on the bottom line - and less on employees - many workers are feeling ignored or worse, fearing that the decisions being made at the top could threaten their livelihoods.

Only 43 per cent found their bosses were open to new ideas and despite the economic meltdown of the past few weeks when many are forced to do more for less, just 47 per cent said they'd work overtime to impress their manager and create more job security for themselves."

I was recently asked by the head of a global company why the employees were disgruntled and, in some cases, jumping ship. "After all," he said, "Look at our stock price. It's higher than ever!"

My response:

"They're working seven days a week to make that happen. Six of you stand to make an almost 7-figure bonus as a result. The rest get to simply keep their now seven-day-a-week jobs and send text messages to their spouses and kids instead of being at home with them."

I believe I'm fortunate to have client organizations filled with darned good people. They want to contribute, excel, and work hard. That's why they are also able to find work elsewhere if things become untenable. They don't really want to leave because they feel a sense of loyalty to the company and their colleagues. But they also don't want to be treated as slightly less important than the re-sale value of the photocopy machine.

What would the results be if Ranstad surveyed your company?

Powerful Note: Because I've been in business for a long time I've been receiving inquiries from individuals (at all levels) within client groups to help them go "out on their own." I refuse to have the discussion as long as they are employed. It's not ethical. It does, however, reflect the state of dissatisfaction. People are willing to risk telling me just how fed up they are knowing that I could share that info with their bosses (I wouldn't; consultants operate on trust and reputation). There is simply an enormous gap in many organizational work/risk/reward systems that is impacting the very productivity that companies are seeking.

 

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The Steve Roesler Group
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