Leaders… You Really Need Truth-Tellers

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Leaders… You Really Need Truth-Tellers

No Comments 15 January 2015

My last real (corporate) job was an eleven-year run with a very fast moving “550 mph warehouse” as the company’s founder and CEO has been known to put it.

Shortly after I accepted the job offer but before the start date, my new boss, a blunt talking former FBI agent summoned me for a little extra pre-game face time. A central theme of his message was that, in my new role, he expected a lot of mental errors to be made, without which he said, “You won’t be moving fast enough to stay relevant and impactful.”

I intuitively got the part about making mistakes, but the “lots of mistakes” part was a little bothersome. The first image that came to mind stemmed from car racer Mario Andretti, who is fond of saying that, “if everything becomes clear, you’re just not going fast enough.” In the movie screen of my mind, that was quickly replaced with scenes of all those nasty on-track wrecks. I quickly set out to create some mechanisms and safeguards that would allow us to generate and try out lots of ideas, yet be able to quickly identify and avoid or remediate the stinkers.

Just as a race driver has spotters positioned around the track to advise him or her that there is a wreck in turn 2, an oil slick in the back straightaway, that the car is smoking, or a competitor is getting ready to pass, I wanted some real-time, ultra clear feedback on the issues and opportunities around us. I quickly became a proponent of having “spotters”, or people I affectionately referred to as “truth-tellers.” As a first step, everyone on staff, everyone was told that they had not just a right, but a responsibility to turn the streetlights to yellow or even red if they thought we were about to crash, and they had a better idea.

Occasionally, someone would use this permission (really it was encouragement) and act, but for the most part, my organization was like a lot of others where you find greater deference to authority than there should be and, even though it was about the last thing I wanted, fear.

So, within my direct team, I built enhanced relationships with four of the stronger performers, Diane, Bernie, Walter, and Brad, who were specifically and overtly tasked with being truth-tellers. All of them had specific instructions to find and interrupt me at any time, close the door, and tell me in no uncertain terms that my baby was ugly, that we were getting ready to do something really stupid, or whatever the case might be.

Thankfully, all of them took this role seriously, and as a result, kept me (and our business unit) from experiencing a lot of wrecks. Usually, I agreed with their counsel, some of which was pretty tough. Diane told me once that I had just offended someone, and if what she heard was true, she didn’t blame the person for being offended. She allowed that she had just sent a fruit basket as a peace offering, and that the only thing that basket needed was my apology to go with it. Yikes! Sometimes I didn’t agree with them, or was just hard-headed, but in every case, I tried to show my appreciation for their caring enough to say something.

So what does this have to do with you? In a word, everything. The pace of operating a business gets quicker by the day. The workspace is less collegial. Most managers no longer have the luxury of having an assistant sitting right outside their door to serve as an arranger, a fixer, a soother of ruffled feathers, a consigliore, an early warning system, a Diane. And despite the words that are widely mouthed, tolerance for mistakes continues to go down. That’s right, down. Think about it – most business analytics don’t differentiate very well between a learning-based error and a common variety screw-up. So, every error is recorded, quickly digitized, and your batting average just went down.

A few thoughts:

  1. It’s incumbent upon you to have a few of your own truth-tellers, people who care enough about the organization, its mission, and you to tell you how they see it, even when it’s something you really don’t want to hear, but need to know. Find them, cultivate the relationship, and show that you appreciate them.
  2. You need to be mature enough to not shoot or otherwise abuse the messenger. In the first two minutes of a “Got Your Six” presentation, former U.S. Army Lieutenant Becky Kanis Margiotta, @beckykanis offers a crisp, clear, professional, yet profane (think Army speak) example of how her boss reacted to being awakened in the middle of the night over a communication systems problem. Aside from a new expression, you’ll likely learn something from her example.
  3. Be courageous enough to provide the same service for your boss, if they want it… repeat, if they want it. If you do, bear in mind that this role involves having enough discretion to use the proper time and venue for the messaging, and then having the short-term memory of an Alzheimer’s patient once you’ve delivered the news.

I’m pretty sure you’ll find that if you give this a try, you’ll be able to operate a little faster, safer, and more productively. Your thoughts as always are welcome.

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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, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Some New Year’s Coaching for You

No Comments 06 January 2015

Another new year has begun, and many of us are now in the process of embracing it, with hopeful ambitions to tidy up our bodies, our lives, habits, homes, you name it. Clearly, we do so with varying degrees of enthusiasm and Commitment (capital ‘C’ intentional), but to be sure, no one enters 2015 with the hope that things will actually get worse. Not to put a damper on the freshness of the season, but some things will get worse if we don’t pay proper attention to them.

Over the last year, most U.S. businesses have felt something of a breeze blowing, and for the first time in a long time, that breeze is mostly at our backs. As a result, orders are up in many organizations, to the point that the need to hire has reappeared. Yay!!

Indeed, throughout much of tech-world, and until recently the energy space, real hiring has been occurring, to the point that, for many job vacancies, the number of openings exceeds qualified candidates. In lots of other organizations, that same need is apparent, but management has resisted hiring, preferring instead to make do for a while longer by utilizing temps, contractors, and/or increasing hours of incumbent staff. Concurrently, workers in greater numbers are voting with their feet and leaving their current jobs for greener pastures.

As a result, we’re seeing some undesired, and thus far relatively undisclosed downside impact. Specifically, the candidate-challenged and tepid hiring approaches are leading to a growing number of people on the payroll who would otherwise have already had some closed door discussions, or been asked to leave. Managers in very large numbers, concerned about their ability to fill position vacancies, have silently but decidedly lowered the bar of acceptable behavior and performance, to wit they find themselves trying to get the daily wash out with a growing list of folks who really need to shape up or be on someone else’s payroll… preferably a competitor’s. We are seeing it throughout the entire spectrum of the employment market.

What to do about it?

Stop  Ignoring It: First things first, it’s important to realize that ignoring the problem only makes it worse, for everyone. Tolerating sub-par performance or people who, to put it charitably just don’t fit, is not the answer. Indeed, not only is their own output subpar, these folks are one of the greatest sources of frustration and annoyance to star performers, who quickly grow tired of carrying their own water and others’. Put  in more selfish terms, continuing to look the other way puts you at risk of being fairly branded a leadership failure. Let’s not go there.

Take Action: Make it a point (no, a promise) to begin having conversations, this week, with… 1. People who could at least become C-players with a modicum of coaching, 2. Some of the people you’ve been leaning on extra hard (your stars), to thank them for their extra effort, and let them know that you appreciate it and them, 3. Your own boss (and HR as appropriate) to initiate conversations about moving some people on to their next station in life.

Get Back in Recruiting Mode: The best managers I’ve ever worked with are always in recruiting mode, even when they don’t have any approved reqs, because they know that the likelihood of the ideal candidate having an opening in their dance card at the exact moment when they do have a need is slim.

Sharpen Your Own Skills: In all likelihood, this situation didn’t sneak up on you. Rather, you’ve been aware of it for some time, but avoided taking difficult action because you were a bit uncertain of your own skills, and besides, you had more fun stuff to do. Bone up on your own coaching skills. A good place to start is with a great book. We recommend “The Coach” by Starcevich and Stowell.   It’s not pretty, it’s not new, but it works. (We don’t get paid for recommending it.) Alternatively, look within your organization for a course or seminar that might be beneficial to you; or, find a coach to work with.

Whatever you do, get started. Time is not your friend at the moment.

 

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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, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

by Bill, Management

Let Your Employees Sign Their Work

No Comments 09 November 2014

unnamedAs I have done on quite a few occasions over the years, I recently took a new Gitman Bros. dress shirt out of the bag. As I was removing the pins from the shirt, two things struck me almost simultaneously. 1) A little printed tag indicating that my shirt had been “Pressed By NO. 8” was conspicuously pinned to the shirt, and 2) The shirt seemed unduly and unusually wrinkled for something that had supposedly been pressed and then carefully folded. A look thru the rest of my suitcase (I was on a business trip) offered a clue as to the likely source of the wrinkles. It appears likely that the TSA might have had some fun with the bag as it passed thru “security.”

But I was stuck on the first item. Who is “NO. 8”? Is NO. 8 a person, a machine, or simply a tool of Gitman’s marketing folks who want me to believe that some extra care went into their product? Actually, I already believe the “extra care” part because they are fine, well made (in the U.S. no less) shirts.

Alright, let’s get to the larger point. In an age of mass customization (e.g., how many thousand combinations and permutations are there for a Starbucks coffee beverage?) why don’t we make better use of opportunities to let our people ‘sign’ their work?

A person doesn’t have to be an artist, author, musician, or gang member to want to take personal credit for their work. Throughout much of recorded history, builders have customarily placed a “corner stone” as a reference and billboard in their buildings, bridges, and other projects.  Unlike their counterparts whose name badges always seem to be hanging backwards to assure anonymity, smart restaurant servers and bartenders are quick to introduce themselves and thus take credit for the experience you are about to have. They evidence considerably greater pride in their work, and I promise you, they make more money, as do their employers.

When people are allowed/required to “sign their work” it makes a significant difference both in the quality of the work and the person’s willingness to “own” it. Indeed, the Marriott hotel where I was staying when I got the wrinkled shirt allowed (required?) housekeepers to leave a short handwritten, signed note for each guest in the room, every day. Call me a sucker, but when someone named Mathilde leaves a note advising me that it has been her pleasure to refresh and restore the room, that matters, to me, and ultimately to Mathilde via more generous tips. It matters even more on those occasions when she and I have a chance meeting in the hallway and she asks if I’d like extra towels or anything else for the room. My perception of the guest experience goes up, as does Mathilde’s income. Ca-ching. And, by the way, it leaves a better taste in my mouth than the “Envelope Please” program that Marriott recently kicked off.

So what about your team? How can you up your game by having more signature work?

  1. Start by hiring only those people who evidence pride in what they do. You can hear it in their voice, notice it in their speech (if you’re listening), and see it in their step. Ask them in an interview what their level of work pride is on a 1-10 scale, then have them offer specifics on how (and when) that has played out for customers and employers. Are they speaking confidently or fumbling with words when they answer?
  2. Give people more opportunity to own their work. Give them public credit, introduce them to others who might be beneficial to them, and let more of their work “shine” by having primary ownership. Make it a point to let your teammates know that, whenever possible, you will not rebrand their work as a departmental effort.
  3. Be quicker to coach or remove those who persistently fail to take responsibility for their work.

Now, as for the folks at Gitman, please tell me who or what NO. 8 is.

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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, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

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.

 

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Shoot. Move. Communicate. Management Lesson from the New York Times

No Comments 19 May 2014

Beginning in boot camp, the Army embeds a short, three word mantra in its soldiers: Shoot. Move. Communicate. Within the confines of both military (absolutely), and business settings (metaphorically), that precept makes impeccably good sense. Get some licks in on the enemy or competition, defend yourself while maintaining the element of surprise, and let your troops and supporters know what you’re doing, how it’s going, and what you need from them.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Smart leaders, like smart soldiers pay careful attention to where and how much of these three elements they are employing in a given scenario. For example, sometimes it makes sense to keep your powder dry.

This is a concept that NY Times publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger is apparently still adjusting to. Last week, he shot (specifically, he fired the paper’s Executive Editor, Jill Abramson). He moved (as in on, by promoting Dean Baquet to replace Ms. Abramson). And then he communicated (not content to simply announce her departure, he publicly went into detail as to the fault he found with her job performance).

Mr. Sulzberger may have been entirely correct on the first two decisions, but the third one is a complete non-starter, and it will cost him, even if the damage is limited to his reputation. Ostensibly, the exact reasons for the termination had already been reviewed with the paper’s board, to wit no one else needed to know his justification for the decision. Further, it’s important to realize that right now the paper’s remaining 3500 or so employees are spending copious quantities of time and energy wondering if that’s how they would be treated if they were the ones in the cross-hairs. As a consequence, we can be pretty well assured that there isn’t a lot of good writing and reporting going on at the Times this week.

There is never (repeat, never) a good reason to disparage someone on their way out the door, even if your comments are factual. That is advice that your attorney, your HR staff, and PR pro would all likely agree with.

Instead, Mr. Sulzberger would have been far better off simply announcing the management change, thanking Ms. Abramson for her service, and wishing her well… end of story. Or, as our mommas taught us at a young age, “If you don’t have something nice to say…”

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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.

ABOUT US

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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