Ebola and a Lesson on Leadership

by Bill, Leadership, Think About It...

Ebola and a Lesson on Leadership

No Comments 20 October 2014

Since passage of reform legislation in March 2010, the U.S. healthcare industry has struggled with wrenching change brought on by movement of the tectonic plates underneath the delivery and payment sides of the industry. With the introduction of competition from new sources (e.g., diagnostics and urgent care via Doc In a Box), and the early melting of fee for service payment models, much of the industry is under tremendous pressure to adapt to completely new realities.

Particularly among hospitals, which are seeing demand for their services and assets shift, and in some cases decline, new fiscal pressures abound. As is too often the case whenever there is belt tightening going on, one of the first shoes to drop inevitably lands on the organization’s training regimen, as if working your way out of an earnings problem by dumbing down the organization is ever a workable idea.

We saw some of that play out on the world stage recently with the Ebola episode in Dallas, where it became painfully evident that protocols for handling even one Ebola-infected patient had not been fully worked out, let alone communicated and trained. The patient died, and a lot of good, talented people were unnecessarily exposed to potentially lethal health risk. So what’s that got to do with leadership, the focus of this blog? In a word, everything.

As leaders, our first obligation to the women and men who follow us into work every day is NOT to improve market share or optimize next quarter’s earnings, but to make sure that they leave work at the end of the day in the same (or better) condition than they got there. Second, it is our duty to see to it that they are equipped, by virtue of training, tools, and trust to do their very best work, and accomplish their mission. In other words, they deserve a fair shot at success. Indeed one of the cruelest things we can do to someone is to put them in a position where they are destined to fail (or worse).

As you go about your business this week, take stock of how well prepared and how safe the people on your team are. Do they have what they need in the way of training, tools, information, and trust to do their jobs successfully? Safely? Make sure, damn sure, unless you want to get to write a letter like this:

http://texashealth.org/images/letter-to-the-community-101914.jpg

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Leadership

On Caring and Waiting

No Comments 09 October 2014


Recently, oral arguments on what could prove to be a landmark labor relations case (Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc v Busk) were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case hinges on claims by two former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Nevada-based contract staffing firm, that, in their assignment at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, they were required to wait upwards of twenty-five minutes (on their own time) at the end of each shift, to clear security before exiting Amazon’s premises. The two workers have advanced a claim that, as the wait was purely for the benefit and at the behest of Integrity (and Amazon), they should be compensated for the time spent waiting. Integrity feels otherwise. What makes this an even bigger deal is that copycat suits against other retailers are in the cue.

Two admissions before proceeding further:

1. We tend to be well-satisfied Amazon customers and vendors who are generally in admiration of their operation.

2. As evidence of the fact that I am a recovering HR exec., I couldn’t care much less about the arcane legal arguments as to whether or not Amazon, or Integrity Staffing in their stead are legally liable to pay for the time. That said, if you’ve never seen a dozen well dressed attorneys dancing on the head of a very small pin, this could be the time to watch.

What does matter is that this should never have become a legal issue in the first place. About the second time that someone from Amazon or Integrity management noticed the backed up security line, efforts should have begun to overcome it. Really. Think about it. This is a company whose very existence is based on convenience and speed. How I can order something on Saturday, or even Sunday sometimes, and have it Monday is amazing. Never mind what they can do with their Kindle devices. Remember who has been talking lately about using delivery drones in order to get stuff to you faster? Nothing, nothing sits around there and waits.

The very presence of a long queue (that should keep our British fans happy) is evidence of the kind of systemic defect that keeps people from doing their very best work (or even wanting to), and when prolonged, drives them crazy. It’s just the kind of thing that good leaders are supposed to take care of. We get paid to get the system off our teammate’s backs so that they can do their best work.

In a speech at the U.S. Army War College, Gen. Melvin Zais told a group of assembled officers that, “If you care, you make sure that your soldiers don’t have to stand around and wait… because the only (repeat, only) reason that soldiers stand around and wait is because some dumb, jerk officer didn’t plan it right, or planned in such a fashion that his soldiers would have to pay for him not wanting to miss a deadline.” Nuff said.

Our suggestion to you is this: Make it a part of your daily (yes, daily) routine to find and root out the kind of systemic defects that keep your people from doing their best work. They will appreciate it, and then reward you with better work.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Think About It...

Show Some Appreciation to Hotel Housekeepers

2 Comments 15 September 2014

Marriott International announced today that it has partnered with A Woman’s Nation, a Maria Shriver venture, in implementing a housekeeper gratuity initiative, “The Envelope Please”, in more than 160,000 North American hotel rooms. The plan is that clearly marked gratuity envelopes will be left each day in guest rooms as a reminder that someone who doesn’t make much money cleaned the room. Hint, hint.

Before going further, let’s establish that we are unabashed Marriott fan-boys. We’ve written about them in our books, used some of their management practices as exemplars in speeches and seminars, and we lay our heads on their pillows… a lot (4 nights in the last week alone between us.)

Though I’m not sold on the notion that guest tips should be the primary way to get housekeeper pay into the liveable wage arena, I have always made it a point to tip generously. We’ve done enough work in the hospitality sector to know first-hand how hard these people work. I’ve also traveled enough over the years to realize that a lot of travelers, including some fellow road warriors conveniently run out of cash when it comes to thanking someone who isn’t standing right there in front of them. My bet is that the majority of these non-tippers will remain so, whether there’s a gratuity envelope placed conspicuously on their bed or not. Regardless of what they might say, for the most part, their lack of tipping isn’t due to ignorance of the custom. It’s due to being cheap.

Here’s what I would rather see:

As some hotel properties are now doing with newspapers (especially since USA Today went nuts with its prices), a notation is made on the hotel bill that a newspaper convenience fee has been assessed. If the guest asks, the fee is immediately removed. I would suggest a 2% housekeeper recognition fee be routinely added to room bills. If a guest declines, the hotel deducts the fee from the guest bill, but leaves the 2% in the kitty at its own expense. To be blunt, it will get lost amidst the myriad other (and less worthwhile) taxes and fees already added to our hotel folios.

As a frequent guest, I would welcome this approach in that it keeps me from having to keep small bills on hand, remembering to tip daily, it’s more easily recorded for tax and reimbursement purposes, it goes on the credit card, AND (housekeepers won’t like this part), the income is tax reportable to them as it should be. Further, I’m willing to bet that a majority of the aforementioned cheapsters won’t want to have a public conversation upon checkout about the fee, so they will just go along with it. The ones who do may be worth losing as customers anyhow. (They could be making a lot of towels disappear, too.) As a final benefit, going through hundreds of thousands of little envelopes every day involves knocking over a lot of trees unnecessarily. Besides, there is too much marketing and promotional debris in the rooms already.

However you do it, please try to remember that behind every freshly made hotel bed, laundered towel, dust-free dresser, and clean bathroom is a person who made it that way; someone who, just like you and I, likes to get a little recognition. Come out of your pocket with a couple of bucks. If for some reason you can’t do that, say hello to them or leave a Thank You note. Yes, a Thank You note.

These are my thoughts. We welcome your comments and ideas.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Leadership

A Physics Lesson for Leaders About the Use of Power

No Comments 27 August 2014

The first lesson learned by every new leader, one that should be permanently tattooed onto their gray matter, is that by virtue of occupation they have inherited a simple, high school physics problem – There are more of “them” than there are of you. Repeat, there are more of “them” than there are of you. Translation – You are outnumbered, perhaps vastly by the group of people whom you are expected to lead. You shouldn’t let that rattle you, but neither should you forget it.

In Einstein’s theory of Mass-Energy Equivalence, Energy [E] equates to the Mass [M] of an object, times the Speed of Light [C] squared. It rather elegantly ties together the relationship among three seemingly disparate elements. Having slept through high school physics, that’s about the extent of my physics knowledge.

But here’s something I do understand. In human interactions and especially the workplace, the “Energy” of a group of people relates to their Number (mass) times the Leadership that is applied. A group of people, even a tiny group, well led, can accomplish truly amazing things. Conversely, that same group of people led poorly (or not at all) can and will become disengaged, uncooperative, or downright unruly.

Witness recent events in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, where, following the tragic shooting death of a young man, the town’s police attempted to put down a street demonstration with automatic weapons-toting officers wearing gas masks and dressed in battle fatigues.

It didn’t turn out well. Yet, the very next night, an even larger crowd was considerably more peaceful and better behaved as the result of fresh leadership in the person of Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson.

What Captain Johnson clearly understands, and what every leader needs to grasp, is the fact that just because you have a big stick doesn’t mean that you’re well advised to wave it around or use it indiscriminately, especially when the power of your personal presence and persuasion will work a lot better. Captain Johnson didn’t just permit another night of demonstrations, he led them, from out front, using his personal presence to set the tone, a more orderly and peaceful tone.

Some lessons for us:

Keep Your Powder Dry – A leader’s position power is a necessary tool, and we mustn’t be afraid to use it, but use it sparingly. There is a finite supply, and once you’ve deployed it, you have nothing left to resort to.

Keep Your Ego in Check – Being in a leadership role is not about you. Rather, it’s about your team and its mission. You needn’t remind people of your position and the fact that you can shut their water off. They get that already, and don’t react well to having it rubbed in their faces.

Envision – Jack Nicklaus, doubtless one of, if not the greatest golfer in history, encourages players to envision their shot before swinging. See the ball arcing past the oak tree, landing ten yards short, and running onto the green, pin high. Leaders should similarly think through and mentally rehearse their next move, especially if that move involves a use of position power.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Management

Getting Beyond the Rehearsed Blather in Recruiting

No Comments 11 August 2014

Last week I had a short, informal coaching conversation with an experienced, level 2 retail manager. Soon to be involved with staffing a new store, he was concerned about the recruiting process, and the fact that many candidates today show up with their promotional blather fairly well rehearsed, and a modicum of experience with behaviorally-anchored interview techniques. “I’m concerned”, he said, “that some of them are so well rehearsed that my BS meter may not go off, and I’ll wind up hiring a couple of bozos.”

I asked what, aside from character (e.g., the ability to reliably tell the difference between the company’s stuff and personal possessions) were the three greatest critical success factors he was seeking. His answers, in no particular order, were:

1. A self-starter – someone who sees what needs to be done and doesn’t wait to be told what to do.

2. Someone who, regardless of chronological age, is an adult. They show up prepared, don’t take more than their share of the oxygen in the room, and clean up their messes.

3. Someone who plays nice with others – it’s not always about them. They notice others,  listen, smile, care, and say thank you.

The rest, he said, he could teach them. I offered him four suggestions:

1. After a paper (resume or application) screening, begin the interview process via phone. It’s more convenient for both parties, and allows you to efficiently verify a sufficient community of mutual interest before getting dressed up.

2. Keep doing the behaviorally-based interviews, but listen more and a lot harder. In my experience, even seasoned recruiters do too much talking in interviews, consuming as much as seventy percent of the available time. The more unprepared they are, the more they talk. They don’t allow dead space (silence), which frequently prompts a job candidate to expand on a previous answer, or volunteer other information. Allow more time between interviews to give yourself time to finish your note-taking and reflect, before preparing for the next interview.

3. Build some simple “tests” into the interview process. I’m fond of leaving a gum wrapper or other small piece of trash on the floor in the doorway to my office – something the applicant will literally have to step over. Do they stop and pick it up, or ignore it? I suggested that he instruct applicants to show up for the interview, fully prepared, as if they were going to work a shift that day. His company doesn’t furnish uniforms, and it would be very easy for an applicant to stop in a store and ascertain the dress code prior to the interview, and then comply with it. And, as an additional way of checking preparedness, I suggested that he have someone call the applicant’s cell phone during the interview – to verify that it’s off, and to observe their behavior if it isn’t.

4. Finally, with respect to playing nice with others, I suggested that candidates who are still “green lighted” go to lunch with a group of three or four people who would potentially be their peers. It affords each party to examine the other in a different context.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Struggling Supervisors – Coach ‘em Up or Move Them Out

No Comments 04 August 2014

Confirming what many had been sensing for some time, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President, Richard Fisher said recently that increasing numbers of workers are quitting their jobs voluntarily, and concomitantly, employers are finding that it’s taking longer to fill open positions. Those are two fairly strong indicators that the job market is heating up.

But they aren’t the only indicators. For several months, we’ve been watching managers going into a defensive crouch and lowering their work performance standards in an ill-advised effort to hang onto people rather than coach, discipline or terminate, and then face the prospect of replacing them. In many cases they’re turning a blind eye to problem performers, the existence of whom is aggravating to fellow workers and customers alike.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. They’re not yet well-assured that they can get quick internal approval to replace.
  2. They know that hiring a replacement off the street will take time (the talent pool isn’t deep yet for many positions), and it will likely cost them more money.
  3. There’s more than a little guilt involved, as the involved managers know in many cases that the individual is struggling because they themselves have not had (‘er taken) the time to properly train and coach their staff members.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of level 1 supervisors and managers. And, sadly, nowhere do we pay a higher price for this condition. Having an inept or uncommitted level 1 manager wreaks havoc in an organization. Think about it. These are the folks who represent the “last mile” in the management communication and strategy execution chain. They have more daily touchpoints with frontline workers than anyone else, and thus have the capacity to disenfranchise greater numbers of solid performers – the very last people you want to lose.

Three suggestions:

  1. Take a hard look across your organization at your level 1 and 2 managers. Which of them seem to be struggling or experiencing abnormally high rates of regrettable turnover? Find out why, and get them some help if needed. If it’s too late or they are misplaced in their role, take action now, while you still have options.
  2. Resolve to make leadership ability a “must have” for anyone placed into a management position. Specifically, before putting someone into a leadership role at any level, there should be credible reason to believe that they have the courage to make and communicate tough decisions, the humility to realize that they put their pants on just like everyone else, better than average judgment and interpersonal skills, and that they are comfortable in their own skin. Absent any one of these factors, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are. Keep looking.
  3. And speaking of looking, you could do a lot worse than to spend time daily working on your talent pipeline. Make daily efforts to give internal candidates, your leaders of tomorrow, some coaching or encouragement. And at the same time, make sure that your external pipeline is well stocked.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Management

Discretionary Effort Beats an Inversion Strategy Any Day

No Comments 27 July 2014

iStock_000008353283MediumBusiness news has been rife of late with coverage of U.S.-based corporations (e.g., Medtronic, Walgreen, AbbVie, Pfizer, Aon, Eaton, Omnicon) either attempting or completing an effort to re-flag the business as a non-U.S. entity. By and large, companies are using such “inversion” strategies in an effort to reduce corporate income taxes (e.g., Ireland’s headline rate is only 12.5%) and giving them tax-favorable access to the gobs of cash they have stashed offshore.

As an American businessman, it pisses me off (sorry, Mom) that some (repeat, some) American corporations are willing to partake in, but not pay for the fruits of the freest, fairest and safest nation on earth, AND that the U.S. Congress seems more interested in mindless political dithering than providing common sense solutions. Here are some thoughts for those on both sides of this matter:

While the top U.S. headline corporate tax rate (including the average state rate) is about 40%, normal business deductions coupled with offsets (e.g., accelerated depreciation) reduce the effective rate for many large American businesses to zero (or less). You read that right.

Hence, I’m not sure that a cut in rates per se is all that significant or justified. What does make sense though is to provide a tax holiday that would give corporations the opportunity to repatriate offshore cash on a tax-free or reduced tax basis. Coupled with a requirement that a substantial portion of those funds be deployed over, say a five year period, in R&D, cap X, or new hiring, it would seem a win-win proposition. Private industry could certainly deploy that cash more productively for both selfish and beneficial interests than the government ever could.

Further, as espoused recently on CNBC by Mark Cuban, a reduction in the amount of government-induced bureaucratic hassle would be far better for business (and the American economy) than putting a couple dents in the headline corporate tax rate.

Finally, for businesses that are really interested in maximizing outcomes, tapping into the discretionary effort of their workforce via a more focused, fired up, capably led (read engaged) team presents serious opportunity for competitive advantage. Respected published studies on the bottom line benefits of an engaged workforce, including our own 2012 book on the subject suggest three things:

1. There is a lot of low hanging fruit. The economic loss due to having an American workforce that is about 70% DISengaged amounts to about $500 billion annually, or roughly 3% of the U.S. GDP. Capturing only a third of that discretionary effort that currently goes home each day unspent could mean the difference between an economy that is growing at 3% rather than 2%, which is a big deal.

2. Companies that distinguish themselves as employers of choice consistently outgrow and outearn their competitors by a factor of up to 10x. No tax cut is going to yield that kind of benefit.

3. Perhaps the greatest factor is that, unlike tax incentives which apply to businesses across the board, capturing the discretionary energy that is resident within your workforce creates a true competitive differential, one that your competitors don’t get unless they do the work.

Here are three things you might consider doing:

1. Tell your elected representatives that you expect them to take the necessary action to allow U.S. businesses to repatriate some of their offshore cash, but also to thwart efforts to game the system by reflagging. Further, encourage them to identify (and act on) ways that government can reduce the bureaucracy that stifles innovation and growth. Sooner is better.

2. Take a cue from Mark Cuban, and avoid investing in or doing business with companies whose American pride is overcome by greed. Moreover, tell them you’re doing it.

3. Take an honest look at your own workforce. Is it firing on all cylinders? Is it getting harder to recruit? What things are keeping your people from doing their very best work every day, and what are you doing about it? Are your people sufficiently focused, challenged, and appreciated? Find out, and then take action. It’s well worth doing, and you don’t need an act of congress.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Be Willing to Tolerate a Little ‘White Space’

No Comments 17 July 2014

 

*Please see special note below before leaving this page.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to do some contract training for Steve Stowell and Matt Starcevich, co-founders of CMOE, the folks who gave birth to the highly effective 8-Step Coaching Model. I remain grateful to them to this day for the work, and for helping me launch a productive and enjoyable career as an executive coach.

One of the activities used in their management coaching seminar involved doing a ten minute, pre-learning role play coaching discussion between two people, both class participants. The conversation was audio-recorded and then the audio was replayed and critiqued. Nothing unique there. What was unique is that, during the replay, we calculated how much of the conversation was consumed by each participant, AND how much dead air (silence) existed.

Almost without exception, the amount of time consumed by the person playing the ‘manager’ in the role play exceeded that of the ‘employee’ by a ratio of anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1. Some conversation.

As to the latter point, in a typical ten minute managerial-type coaching session, how much silence do you think occurred, on average? A minute? Two minutes? More? Think again. I’m fairly certain that I led at least a hundred of these workshops, with 5 or more groups doing this exercise in each one, and can’t remember a single session where there was more than 15 seconds of dead air out of the 10 minute total! Most were in the 6 to 8 second range, if that. We’re talking about only 1% of the total time of the “conversation.” In most cases, we had a good bit of the opposite of dead air. .. both people talking at once! That was more than twenty years ago. I hesitate to think what the ratio would be today.

I was reminded of this while watching evening television over the last week, and seeing two well known, otherwise quite professional news anchors stuttering and stammering because due to the fear of incurring a few seconds of dead air, their mouths were outrunning their minds. It happens to us all, particularly in the midst of a big presentation, sales call, or uncomfortable business meeting. We see it often with relatively new managers who are deathly afraid of what will happen if they shut up and yield the floor for a few seconds in a conversation with one or more of their team-members. A couple of thoughts:

1. In working recently with a C-level exec on reducing his snarkiness, I encouraged him to adopt a 3-second response delay, much like the ‘Iron Dome’ of cursing on American television, that would give him just a little more time to reflect on the message that was about to leave his mouth. Aside from reducing unintended verbal messes, that brief delay also allows the last thing that was said to him (and to you, if you adopt the idea)  to ferment and register a bit more. In other words, it aids listening. Indeed, it has been said that the opposite of listening is waiting to talk. To wit, if your mouth flies open at the very nanosecond the other person goes silent, it’s a good bet that you haven’t been listening. Rather, you’ve been waiting to talk. Don’t be afraid of a little dead air, or white space  in your conversations. Indeed, you’ll probably hear more, and your conversation partners (including spouses) will appreciate the difference, and the feeling that they’re actually being listened to for a change.

2. Note to Leaders – Put some of that same white space in your calendar. Smart leaders are not, repeat, not the ones who have the greatest calendar density. Rather, they deliberately build in some “me time” and thinking time to their daily schedules, and they take great pains to preserve it.

* Special Note: If you missed it, take a few minutes to view cancer patient and ESPN personality Stuart Scott’s acceptance speech at this year’s ESPY’s.  It’s probably his finest moment on television to date, and just might change your life.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Metrics and Managing – Be Careful What and How You Measure

No Comments 08 July 2014

One of the time honored, oft repeated (sometimes mindlessly) management mantras is, “What gets measured gets done.” It seems harmless enough on the surface, right? After all, if you visibly go to the trouble of measuring or inspecting a particular method or outcome, the very act of doing so suggests to onlookers that it’s important to you. And, if those onlookers happen to be junior to you in the organization’s food chain, it provides a not so subtle signal that they probably ought to pay attention. And generally, that’s exactly how things play out. Fair enough.

The trouble with that principle is that, because it tends to be such a powerful inducer of behavior, you better be real careful what you are conspicuously measuring, monitoring, and thus encouraging people to do.

One of my early jobs out of college was with a large DP services company. After stints in two regional offices I was moved to headquarters as an HR staff professional. (I guess I had screwed up enough things for them to want to watch me more closely.) As happens with anyone starting a new assignment, in an effort to assimilate and better understand the organization and my new cohorts, I paid pretty careful attention early on to the prevailing norms and habits.

An observation that to this day remains firmly embedded in my mind is the visual memory of the then company C.O.O. making twice daily rounds through the corporate offices (once shortly after 8AM and the other around 4:30PM). He was a very bright, and nice enough guy, but not a very good actor. The purpose of these jaunts was unmistakable – he was taking attendance. Nothing more, nothing less. With his head swiveling left, right, left in order to scan every office, he didn’t stop to speak, socialize, inquire about status on a project, or see if anybody needed anything. No, he was merely calling the roll. In retrospect, I wonder why he didn’t just issue us all timecards.

The net result from that little exercise? People aren’t stupid, and we all made it a point to be physically present for check-in when we were in town. Physically present. I can assure you that no more work got done, and no work got done better because of it. In fact, some of us spent a good bit of time amusing ourselves by placing bets on the over/under of the precise time that he would pass a certain office door. Worse yet, his actions reinforced the premise that merely being present meant more than just about anything else. After all, if the number 2 guy in the company was spending the better part of an hour every day checking up on it, it must have been pretty important, right?

So what’s the point? In the age of ‘big data’, with nearly limitless amounts of cheap computing power available to us, we seem to be reaching the point where absolutely everything is measured, stored, and rendered into analytics. That’s fine until we’re crunching numbers just because we can, and, dazzled by the myriad implied points of emphasis, our people become utterly confused about where we’re going, why their work matters, and what they are supposed to do. In short, we run the risk of feeding people information through a fire hose, just as we have done with email. While you are chewing on that for a second, here are a couple thoughts:

1. Let’s not confuse measuring and processing data with leading. Measure all you want, and use metrics where it makes sense to do so, but leaders still need to lead. Let them. They need to build teams, set direction, focus effort, motivate, reward, make decisions, hold people accountable, and refine business processes by trial and error. Some of those activities depend more on hard data, while others require learned perspective, judgment, and experience. Analytics can tell us a lot about the what, where, when, who, and how. Not so much the why.

Despite achieving a team best winning record in 2013, NBA coach, Lionel Hollins was reportedly shown the door by Memphis Grizzlies management over this exact issue. Without his Heart + Head balanced approach, the team performed nowhere near as well without him this past year. And Hollins just signed with the Brooklyn Nets for a fat raise in pay. Note to Nets opponents – watch out.

2. Share the data with your team, but don’t let your players get lost in it. Test your teammates regularly for their knowledge of the organization’s highest priorities. If they can’t articulate the three highest priorities in their sleep, something has broken down, due quite possibly to an avalanche of you guessed it… data. Oh, and by the way, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow them onTwitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Three Things That Will Improve Employee Engagement

No Comments 03 July 2014

Recently I read a piece in the e-version of a major business publication which, by title and implication suggested that seventy percent of Americans hate their work. The piece used as its factual anchor the oft-quoted “State of the American Workplace Report” by Gallup, which suggests that only about 30% of American workers are truly “engaged” in their jobs, leaving 70% or so in one level or another of disengagement.

Without doing too much ballet on the head of a pin, let’s make a distinction, an important one. My strong belief, after a couple decades of effort in this arena, is that by and large, people don’t hate their work at all. In fact, most of us rather like our work. Some of us even love it. What we dislike, and what we have difficulty ‘engaging’ with is our jobs, that broader context within which our work resides, and does or does not get done. The “job” encompasses a lot more than the task(s) that we get paid to do. It includes the terms of the deal, the people we interact with and answer to, the support that we get (or lack), the culture that permeates and defines the workspace, et. al.

Indeed, satisfaction and engagement surveys, which our firm has done for longer than I care to admit, suggest that quite often the greatest source of disengagement stems from people and processes that keep us from doing our very best work. In other words, that utterly stupid purchasing policy, or clueless manager who frustrate, rather than enable our best effort are among the primary culprits causing us to disengage. If we didn’t like our work, or want to go home at the end of each day feeling that we made progress, that stuff wouldn’t bother us. But we do, and people and things that block our work progress do more than cause disengagement – they make us crazy! Following are three things that most leaders can do (or refrain from doing) to improve employee engagement levels:

1. Become More Intentional and Selective in Hiring: By most measures, the burner underneath hiring in this country has been turned from “Off” to “Low”, and recently to “Medium” heat. In parts of the energy and tech landscape, it remains on “High.” Ergo, it’s more important than ever that, beginning right now, we use methods and processes that yield more talented, more compatible people. Put plainly but crudely, our staffers (particularly the better ones) don’t want to work with turkeys. Few things are more disengaging than working alongside people who can’t do the work, choose not to, or just plain don’t fit in.

So, as we go about the process of adding staff, it is imperative that we find people who have a penchant for doing terrific work, and whom others want to work with. If they don’t fit the culture, do NOT hire them, regardless of how talented they may be. And, it is also important that we move more quickly to identify and de-select those folks, including managers, who fail to measure up. Doing otherwise is unkind and a disservice to all involved.

2. Get Serious About Learning and Development: Every dentist office is equipped with a sign that says something to the effect of: “Do I have to brush and floss my teeth? Only the ones you want to keep.” The same thing could be said for training and developing our workforce. Engagement surveys consistently tell us that one of THE most important engagement drivers is the opportunity to learn, grow, and yes, build your resume. Yet, owing perhaps to a formerly soft job market, the response from most quarters has been a big, collective yawn.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the realm of so called “soft skills” training, especially leadership development, which for too long now has been a DIY proposition. And it shows. We are now seeing people move into every level of management, including the C-suite, without the benefit of even a shred of training. Consistent with the recent shared ownership of the healthcare equation in the U.S., we would do well to engage our staff members in earnest discussion about their professional development, and work with them toward a more jointly owned development process that is uniquely tailored to them. Beyond getting a more engaged workforce, we’ll also benefit from much better execution.

3. Don’t Fool* With the Gravy: Legend has it that not long after he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain to Heublein Inc., Col. Harland Sanders began taking issue with some of the changes imposed by the firm’s new owners. Upon reaching a point of exasperation, the Colonel invited himself to a Heublein management meeting. When asked the purpose of his visit, he allowed that, for the $285 million purchase price, the new owners probably had the right to exercise bad judgment in changing store layouts and the menu, but, he nonetheless had five words of advice for them… “Don’t fool* with the gravy.” (*Legend also has it that the Colonel’s choice of verbiage was, like his chicken, a little spicier than mine.)

The lesson for us is that, as we continue to innovate, streamline, and economize, we must be mindful not to callously ignore the hard earned knowledge and opinions of those who are, and have been doing the work and who might, just might be able to prevent us from making big, expensive mistakes. Doing a better job on the listening front isn’t just a tool for avoiding mistakes though. Anyone with as few as five gray hairs in their head can affirm that one of the quickest ways to disenfranchise a workforce is to ignore (disrespect) them.

Better listening is a product of hard work as well as technique. A tip given to me not long ago is to try to “read” the words as they come off of someone’s lips. It’s akin perhaps to the advantage that great baseball hitters get by seeing the ball come out of the  pitcher’s hand and then tracking it all the way to the plate. Try it, I think you’ll like it.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

 

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.

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