Tag archive for "Contented Cows"

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Think About It...

Business as Sport: Chris Paul Could be Coming to Your Team

No Comments 08 July 2013

Oscar Wilde told us that “life imitates art.” In a similar vein, I would suggest that business imitates sport, especially professional and major college level athletics. Think about it… Our vernacular is chock-full of sports-related terms and analogies. Sports stars are frequent keynoters at business conferences. My partner and I have shared the dais with plenty of them. A lot of business incentive programs and contests are oriented around sports themes. Professional sports invented player free-agentry. Business is perfecting it.

A recent event in the NBA foreshadows a developing theme in the business world. Los Angeles Clippers star point guard, Chris Paul, an unrestricted free agent in NBA parlance, is widely credited with putting his thumb on the scale that caused the firing of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, and the subsequent hiring of Boston Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, who was still under contract to the Celtics. Mr. Paul made it pretty well known that he would be inclined to stay with the Clippers if the team somehow managed to recruit Rivers away from the Celtics. They did, and he did.

Buckle up, sports fans, because we’re about to see this playing out on a much larger, though less public scale in our own corner of the world. With the release of the June jobs report, evidence is accumulating that the U.S. job market is beginning to gather steam (okay, hot water). As interest in making career moves begins to stir in earnest, one of the biggest influencers on the stay vs. go decisions will be the reputation of individual leaders and the relationship people have, or want to have with them, much more so than the quality of the institution and its employment brand.

Subprime leaders will be the first to experience exodus, and in some cases star employees will, like Chris Paul, demand better leadership as a condition of staying put. Conversely, leaders of choice will become even bigger talent magnets if they stay, and higher priced players should they declare themselves free agents.

What should you be doing about it?

  1. Keep your finger on the pulse of the organization, at all levels. Stay current with employee survey data and use it, together with ‘stay interviews’ as a means of identifying at-risk leaders, and issues that might drive your talent to a competitor.
  2. Get serious about de-selecting those leaders who have lost the benefit of the doubt with their team, and coaching those who remain.
  3. Actively involve some of your stronger leaders in the recruitment process.
  4. Tighten up your recruitment and selection processes to make them more effective, efficient AND candidate-friendly.

Get moving with the four above-mentioned steps now. The Clippers can call a time out. You can’t.

*******

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Management

A Leadership (and Life) Lesson from Frank Lautenberg

No Comments 04 June 2013

With the passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D–NJ) this week, some very large shoes have opened up in our national government. I will leave it to others to speculate on how NJ Governor Chris Christie might temporarily fill those shoes, preferring instead to recall a powerful lesson I learned from Mr. Lautenberg early in my career, when we both worked at ADP. It’s a lesson worth passing on, so here goes.

Approximately six months after graduating the University of Miami school of business, I took an HR manager job with Automatic Data Processing (ADP) in Miami, and enjoyed a five year run that also included assignments in Chicago and at the company’s New Jersey headquarters. Shortly after appointment to the NJ position, I went to New Jersey for an orientation of sorts.

On the evening after my first day in NJ, my wife and I made our maiden voyage into New York City.  Driving into the city, we got stuck in an accident-induced monster traffic jam at the bottom of the Lincoln Tunnel. We sat there for about 90 minutes, breathing noxious fumes being spewed from the buses and trucks around us. After a short visit to the city, we made it back to our hotel in Clifton, NJ where we both spent a very unpleasant night being sick to our stomachs from having ingested so much foul air.

The next morning, I probably should have stayed put in the hotel, but I wasn’t about to make a bad first impression with my new bosses and co-workers, or so I thought. At the beginning of each meeting in the morning, I told my host about my little problem and asked the location of the nearest restroom. In one case, in a meeting on the executive wing (I’ll never forget the purple carpet), my host pointed to an unmarked door about twenty yards away, and said, “There’s the closest one, but since it’s Mr. Lautenberg’s private facility, you probably should use the regular men’s room unless you just can’t get there.”

My worst fears were realized about twenty minutes into our discussion when I was startled by a loud noise and suddenly the urge to hurl was immediate. I bolted down the purple covered hall, through the door, and nearly flattened the President and CEO of ADP as I made my way to the porcelain facility. As I was slinking out of the bathroom, Mr. Lautenberg’s assistant, Ellie Popeck looked up from her desk and said, “Mr. Lautenberg wants to see you for a minute.” That was about the last thing in the world that I wanted to hear right then.

She ushered me into his office, and I’ll never forget that he stopped what he was doing, got up, smiled (yes), shook my hand and said, “Well, we’ve already met, why don’t we get introduced?” As I resumed breathing, we probably spent fifteen to twenty minutes in which he wanted to know all about me, what I had done in my earlier ADP assignments and what I hoped to do in my new one. We also discovered that we shared a common birthday and heritages that involved lots of work but little money. This guy was listening, really listening, and he didn’t have to. After all, we were separated by two very large rungs on the org chart. But listen he did.

Later on, as I got the chance to observe him in action, it was clear that Frank leveraged his listening skill in lots of ways. He had been ADP’s first salesman, and remained quite active in selling our payroll and accounting services – a process that starts not with talking, but listening. In 1982 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and quickly earned a reputation as a legislator who could get things done, again from a willingness to listen and consider the views of others. Indeed, he was able to work across the aisle to sponsor and help pass a great deal of legislation having to do with public safety and national security. As but one example, when you travel on commercial aircraft today you can thank Senator Lautenberg for the fact that you are not seated in a cabin filled with cigarette smoke.

Let’s all take a lesson from Mr. Lautenberg and realize that no matter how big and important we get (or think we are), none of us is too big to listen to and be informed by others.

*******

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Management

Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

No Comments 21 May 2012

For some time I’ve resisted the urge to excoriate a term that has been taking more prominent space in the lexicon of HR professionals. I’ve done so largely on the basis that there didn’t seem to be much harm in the emergence of new-agey alternative vocabulary among knowing professionals. I’ve resisted until now, that is. The term – “talent acquisition.”

Oh, I understand perfectly why some might prefer putting some distance between what they do for a living and the functional title that has long been associated with it… recruiting. Recruiting, after all is about as sexy as dirt, or maybe something that is done with dirt, like farming, or agribusiness as it’s now known. Have you ever noticed that the replacement titles never get shorter?

Like farming and selling, recruiting is hard work, because whereas you can exercise some control over the process, the outcome is much less controllable. In this respect, it matters not whether you are operating from a grimy, dog-eared Rolodex or an iPad. As with farming and selling, recruiting is vital work, and still today is a profession where you do a lot of groundwork, unearth a few leads, experience regular headwinds (e.g., withdrawn reqs, failed drug screens), and at the end of the day are glad if you can hit a bunch of singles, a few doubles, an occasional home run, and bat 300 over the long haul. Yet, one can make a compelling argument that the decision whether or not to put someone on an organization’s payroll is one of the most important decisions that can be made. So, if we want to sex up the title a bit to give ourselves some psychic income (or perhaps a higher pay grade), I’m down with that, but let’s use a little caution.

In fairness, cautious branding doesn’t sound like something that would be advocated by someone who for fourteen years has serially referred to workers, in writing no less, as “contented cows.” Thankfully for us, the cow metaphor is simple and very tight; so much so that on July 3, John Wiley & Sons will release our third book in the Contented Cows leadership series (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken some serious guff over it. I will never forget an afternoon spent on Clark Howard’s WSB Radio Show when an otherwise wonderful experience was chilled by a caller who got pretty irate over my “comparing people to animals.”

My concern with the expression, talent acquisition is this: Both words miss the mark. Although talent is important, it is secondary to finding people who, by virtue of pace, preference, temperament, and values happen to fit your particular organization. In the vast majority of cases, there are more available people with the talent to perform a given job than those who “fit” the organization. Marriott International, one of our newly minted Contented Cows, learned long ago that mixing grumpy, self-absorbed employees (no matter how talented) with travel-weary guests is not a combination that yields good business outcomes. In similar fashion, talented or not, most people (repeat, most people) would not be happy, productive, or successful working at your place. So, if we myopically get too hung up on the talent side of the equation, we run a very real risk of overlooking some extremely important factors.

Second, I’m more than a little bothered by the term, “acquisition” when it comes to the employment process. You might be able to borrow talent for a while, but you certainly don’t acquire it. Indeed, acquisition is entirely the wrong term if our aim is to do more than merely complete a transaction. I don’t know about you, but when I ran the organization that was responsible for much of the initial high growth staffing of FedEx, starting a relationship with people who would be today’s couriers and tomorrow’s managers was a hell of a lot more than merely putting butts in seats. No, we were trying to capture hearts, minds, and yes, talents, in large numbers, but still one at a time, because eagles don’t flock. Our aim then, and now is to productively engage with people who want to join our team and do important work.

Our hope is that however you choose to brand your organization’s people functions, you will do so thoughtfully.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, the next edition of which will be released in July 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Think About It...

Leaders and the “Little People”

1 Comment 10 March 2012

As election season rolls around and campaigning for public office ramps up (does it ever leave?) most of us dust off the decision matrix by which we choose the candidates we’ll vote for. For some, it’s simply a matter of whether there is a donkey or an elephant next to the candidate’s name. Some might resort to using a dart board. Others are only interested in finding someone they believe to be capable of beating the other guy. Those who want to think a little harder might use an issues or trait-based filter. My own process rests on an analysis of a candidate’s positions on a short list of key issues, coupled with an assessment of vital personal characteristics.

One of those vital personal characteristics, whether I’m helping choose the next president or a mid-level manager in the corporate world, is the person’s level of consideration and affinity for those who are south of them in the socio-economic order or org chart. I want some insight into how much or how little they care, really care about those whose interests they will be representing, or who they will be providing leadership and direction to.

Observing their interaction with a food server, retail clerk, or flight attendant provides a window into their world, but it’s just a start. I want to know, is the person naturally at ease with subordinates, and vice versa? At one company I worked for, a finance SVP had a habit of parking at the rear of his office building every morning and sneaking through a back door that no one else used, simply so he wouldn’t have to interact with the people who worked for him. The sad thing is he actually thought that no one noticed or cared.

Are they at ease interacting with those who may not dress as well as they do, or whose speech is not as polished? How quick are they to smile (really smile, not that plastic version) and greet a subordinate or service worker? Do they mumble “how are ya?” and keep right on moving, or do they stop and actually wait for an answer?

Some might argue that this is nothing but a touchy-feely academic exercise since once you are declared the leader, at any level, and have position power, people pretty well have to do your bidding and learn to live with it. Au contraire! As pointed out in our first book, upon entering a leadership role, you are immediately faced with a simple, ongoing high school physics problem – There are more of  “them” than there are of you. Failure to respect this iron law can have a drastic affect on one’s career. Remember that finance SVP who parked around back? It turned out that his people didn’t work very hard for him, because they had long since figured out that he really didn’t like them very much, or care about them. Ultimately, it cost him his job.

Conversely, we’ve seen any number of leaders with modest intelligence and skills race up the career ladder, propelled by the “little people” who were putting it all on the line for them every day.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, the next edition of which will be released in June 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

Discretionary Effort: Why Wisconsin’s Governor (and Yours) May be Playing a Losing Game

No Comments 27 February 2011

Having already wrung needed and significant concessions from them, the newly elected Governor of Wisconsin has been making a rather poorly disguised effort to nullify the collective bargaining agreements and rights of various groups of state workers, principally teachers. As with nearly every other issue of import these days, the whole world is suddenly watching, including like-minded governors in several other states who are licking their chops at the prospect of following the lead penguin into the drink. Whoa… Full Flaps, Brakes, Stop!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of labor unions. Indeed, a significant portion of my professional effort over the course of 3 decades has focused on helping organizations obviate unions by maintaining a positive employee relations culture, a culture in which both the individual and the organization can do their best work and gain the most from it.

That said, I respect every worker’s right to make a choice as to whether or not they are willing to enter into a direct, cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with their management. That choice is most often based on whether or not management has earned the benefit of the doubt. If the answer is yes, workers feel no need to reach out and seek (let alone pay for) the protection of organized labor. Are you with me so far? Alright, hang on.

Demonstrations notwithstanding, I believe there is an even chance that Governor Scott Walker will pull off some kind of flash bang, middle of the night vote and get his way, even if it means reinventing the law right before our eyes. Even if that comes to pass, while winning the hand, he will lose the game. Correction, the people of Wisconsin will lose. How? Because there will still be a need for thousands of teachers, and every one of them will STILL make a quiet daily decision as to whether they want to give their full measure of effort that day, or mail it in. Given the backdrop, which choice do you think they will make?

For the last twelve years we have worked almost entirely within the field of Discretionary Effort, studying, writing, speaking, and teaching leaders about that extra layer of effort that every one of us can give to a situation if, but only if we want to. Eerily consistent with similar work by Towers Watson and Gallup, our own engagement surveys suggest that barely 50% of workers are, by their own admission doing their very best work, and that most of us routinely expend no more than 60 to 70% of our maximum effort in the workspace. In other words, a lot of unspent capacity goes home with us at day’s end.

So, if just half of the 50,000 or so teachers in a state, any state choose to ratchet the ‘ole effort meter back another 10-20%, what is that going to cost to compensate for the lost productivity? Perhaps more importantly, what will it do to the level of educational performance in the state? If you’re getting a mental image of a post office being superimposed over your local school district, you’re getting the picture.

Since the publication of our first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk in 1998, we have maintained that giving workers (be they on an assembly line at GM, or a school in Racine) benefits they haven’t earned, the market doesn’t require, and you can’t afford is the antithesis of good employee relations, because some day you have to take all that stuff back. As the folks at GM did, and now a lot of teachers and other municipal workers face that same music, the last thing in the world we, through our elected representatives ought to be doing is rubbing their faces in it, just because we can. It’s not good business or good politics, and it’s certainly not good employee relations. Motivated people move faster.

As always, your thoughts and ideas are welcome

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their  website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership

Rent-a-Dummies vs. Fully Engaged, Responsible Team Players

No Comments 12 December 2009

In a prior life as a corporate HR executive, I was known on occasion to use the term “rent-a-dummies” in reference to temporary agency help. My use of the term had a lot more to do with the no strings, obligations, or loyalties nature of the relationship than any IQ disparagement. Still, it was cold and unkind, even though in so many cases it just seemed to fit.

I was reminded of the term, and the extent to which any semblance of loyalty between employees and the organization has faded when reading yesterday that University of Cincinnati football coach, Brian Kelly had accepted the Notre Dame job.

Ironically, it wasn’t six months ago that Kelly signed a contract extension through 2013, saying at the time that, “this agreement allows me and my family to call Cincinnati our home, not just a place where we live,” Oh, I know, this situation is different, because it’s not just any university. It’s Notre Dame for gosh sakes. Kelly probably had to undergo an extra interview with a ah-hem Higher Authority to get the job.

Despite apparent statements to his Cincinnati players that he was staying, and that they would be the first to know if he decided otherwise (they weren’t), Kelly opted not to coach those same players in what, for many, will be the biggest, if not the last football game of their lives, the 2010 Sugar Bowl. As Notre Dame had already announced that it would not accept a bowl game invitation this year, it’s not like he had a competing professional interest. No, Kelly had gotten all he was going to get out of the University of Cincinnati and he was leaving, now! Never mind the interests of the young men who have played their hearts out for him and enabled him to get this job!

A few thoughts for the senior leaders and recruiters in our readership:

  1. If you truly want to get beyond the “grab mine and go” mentality in your organization, and you’ve really got to want to do it because it is an uphill slog, the effort must start with you. Are you setting the example by demonstrably placing the organization’s good at least on a par, if not a step ahead of your own? Are you earning the loyalty of the folks on your team day in and day out, or merely demanding and hoping for it?
  2. We suggest you revisit your use of employment contracts and seriously consider whether they are adding beneficial clarity to the terms of the arrangement, or simply tightening the screws of self-interest and creating more rent-a-dummies.
  3. In your recruiting and selection process, place as great an emphasis on how people finish their obligations and projects as how they start them. If a new recruit is willing to void an employment agreement and dump their current gig like a hot potato, why would you want them on your team?

Our interest is not in resurrecting the workplace of a bygone era. Anything but. Rather, it is in recognizing the fact that speed, the competitive advantage of choice, is compromised when people, either by choice or necessity, go through the day always keeping one eye focused on their own welfare rather than the job they are getting paid to do. We’ve made our choice. What’s yours?

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership

Skin In the Game

No Comments 01 December 2009

Whether in business, sports, or communities at large, people, all of us, perform better, a lot better, when we have skin in the game. Contrary to what we’ve seen of late with bogus bonus schemes that provide executives with nothing but upside potential (AIG rings a bell), I’m talking about the type of arrangement where people are truly invested in an organization and its outcomes, with both upside and downside potential – real skin in the game.

Members of the U.S. Congress are beginning to bandy about the notion of imposing a “war tax” to pay for the war in Afghanistan. Though drilling yet another hole below the water line is about the last thing our economy needs at the moment, I’m not sure it’s such a bad idea. If every (repeat, every) taxpayer was invested in this gambit, either by virtue of military service or a surtax on their paycheck, I feel certain that our opinions would quickly become more reasoned (less partisan), and the prospect of holding politicians and military officers accountable would improve immensely. Moreover, there would be at least one thing that binds us together. Or, as former New York mayor, David Dinkins remarked upon Barack Obama’s election, we would all “be drinking out of the same water fountain.”  And, our children and grandchildren might breathe a little easier knowing that there was at least one tab their parents were actually paying themselves.

Regardless of the outcome of any proposed war tax, skin in the game is something that each of us as leaders should strive for on our own teams. We can do so by:

  1. Lobbying for contracts and other arrangements that truly put pay at risk
  2. Using spot cash awards (and fines) as a way of recognizing performance in real time
  3. Being more thoughtful and broadminded in assigning responsibilities and tasks
  4. Refusing to saddle your stars with the task of cleaning up messes made by others, and
  5. Being quicker to remove people from the team when they have lost too much skin.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Management

Please, Please, Please Reconsider All Attempts at Multitasking

2 Comments 03 September 2009

Earlier this week, my writing partners and I holed up in a very nice, new, suburban, high end hotel for two days of concentrated work on our upcoming book, Rebooting Leadership. The trip was a success in every way. That said, while on the trip, we encountered two glaring examples of the utter futility of this thing called multitasking.

Upon approaching the hotel’s front desk to check in Monday afternoon, I found myself waiting while both front desk employees completed ‘business sounding’ phone conversations. The check-in process  then proceeded smoothly until the person checking me in found it necessary to stop what she was doing and answer another phone call. My recollection is that it was probably a full 60 – 90 seconds before her attention was again focused on completing the check-in process. As a clear signal that my experience was no aberration, the next morning, the process repeated as my partners checked in.

Upon leaving town, we got another dose of the same, this time at the airport. My partners went into an airline club room and one of them asked about changing her flight to something that was at 4-something. The ticketing agent in the club, who was on the phone the whole time, held her hand out for Meredith’s boarding pass, said “That’ll be $50″, and processed the change. They both commented on the agent’s lack of attentiveness.

The two then sat in the club until it was time for Meredith to board her new flight. Upon arriving at the gate, she discovered that the agent had given her a boarding pass for a flight to IND, not IAD, and that the IAD flight (her intended destination) had already departed.

In fairness, both organizations are known for providing some of the better service within their industries, and indeed, both recovered nicely in these incidents. That said, it didn’t need to happen.

Actually, my concern in these cases isn’t so much that a couple of customers were temporarily inconvenienced. Rather, it’s that, by virtue of some poor systems planning, cutting corners, or bad training perhaps, these two companies are regularly putting front-line employees in a position to fail with their customers. Good service is difficult enough to deliver these days. It is impossible to do it with customer-facing employees who realize that they can’t win, ergo they stop trying to.

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Think About It...

Health Care Reform… a Suggestion for Employers

No Comments 12 August 2009

Anyone who has spent even fifteen minutes genuinely listening to the current “debate” about health care reform can’t help but conclude that, as with most things insurance related, there is a whole lotta ignorance goin’ on. Sadly, most of us couldn’t find our insurance card with both hands in a full moon. We don’t really understand our own health care coverage (assuming we have it), and haven’t the faintest idea how the present health care business model, payment system, and having 47 million uninsured using the local hospital ER as their primary care physician impacts each and every one of us.

You’d think that, given the amount of money spent in this nation on health care (roughly $7000 per capita) we would be much better informed than we are about how the “system” works, and what the issues are. Sadly, we aren’t, and it’s beginning to appear that most would prefer to sit on the sidelines like deer in the headlights of an onrushing train while some of our even less informed neighbors scream “tastes great or less filling” into every open microphone.

However this turns out, it has made obvious the fact that those of us who run businesses have a lot of work to do in seeing to it that our people better understand the benefits we’re already providing them. Some would say that it’s not management’s job to educate people on their benefits. Let’s get real steely eyed and put our bean counter’s green eyeshade on for a moment. If you’re not going to see to it that people truly understand (make that appreciate) the significant investment you’re making in them, and thus forego any motivational tailwind from that investment, then why are you making it?

Here’s a suggestion, and a place to start. Just as many organizations are now requiring insured employees to complete an annual health questionnaire (the results are kept from the employer) as a condition of getting the most favorable coverage and rates, do the same thing with a benefits “test.” After reviewing some well crafted, idiot-proof material on how your benefit plans work, how plan participants can reduce waste while gaining the best coverage for themselves and their families, give them a test, the results of which influence their premiums. Then perhaps we’ll start moving the needle, and you’ll start getting some better ROI on your benefit dollars.

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

by Bill, Leadership

Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

No Comments 02 August 2009

Today’s managers go thru life feeling as if their lips are wrapped around an information fire hose, a condition we refer to as “Data Waterboarding.”  Indeed, various sources have suggested that email volume alone has now reached a level of 100 billion messages per day worldwide, a majority of which is, guess what… spam.

Having more information than you could ever possibly use, right at your fingertips, is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that, as we approach the decade of the 1’s, there simply aren’t many secrets any more. If you really want to find something out, you can do so, quickly and relatively inexpensively. The downsides? The very second you toggle the data switch into the open position or venture near an open web portal, you experience the digital equivalent of what radio host, Erich “Mancow” Muller felt when he volunteered to be waterboarded in his unsuccessful effort to prove that it didn’t constitute torture.

Even more so than the rest of us, managers experience this at some level every day, dealing with scores (hundreds?) of data impulses that come to them in digital, paper, telephonic, and human form, and many days it indeed feels like torture. “When will I have time to do MY work?” And just like what occurs everywhere else, a lot of this is spam, too. If you’re a part of a larger organization, the “switch” gets toggled for you, as others both inside and outside the organization have virtually limitless ability to dump things into your in-box, ‘er snorkle, and dump they do. Clearly, it’s not all stuff that you need or want.

To show how far we’ve come (notice I didn’t say progressed), my parents’ generation considered it very bad form not to examine and then respond personally to each and every incoming phone call or piece of written correspondence. In fact, my dad still gets annoyed whenever he hears that I’ve “rail dumped” an entire batch of email forwards from certain of his friends. Clearly, for the better part of three decades, we’ve been moving at a velocity and with volumes of input which make that totally unthinkable. So don’t try. Here’s what you CAN do though…

Get ruthless. Realize that, not unlike the function performed by a medical triage manager, you MUST sort thru this stuff, and become proficient at separating the vital (the ones that have stopped breathing) from the merely urgent (slow bleeders) and the folks who are just seeking attention or bloviating (hypochondriacs). Fail to do this, or do it poorly and you will drown. And, consistent with good triage, be clear that a lot of your inbound, a majority perhaps, doesn’t need to be opened or read EVER!

Triage derives from the French term, triagere, meaning to “sort”. The concept was first practiced by Napoleon’s battlefield surgeon, Baron Dominique Jean Larrey, who deduced that having some process by which to best allocate the needs of casualties to limited medical resources would yield much better outcomes. Triaging seems highly applicable to the process of optimizing data flow to the modern manager, as it depends on rapid assessment of need (relevance and quality of data in our case) and rationing of care (time and attention in our case). Managers must constantly bear in mind that, while data is useful to doing their job, it is not the job itself. Moreover, in most cases, having too much data is as debilitating as not having enough. No, it’s worse.

Gen. Colin Powell, one of the truly exemplary leaders of our time has long subscribed to a decision making theory that the optimum practical point to make a decision is when you have about 60% of the available information, AND you’ve expended no more than 60% of the available time. That’s the point at which you’ve likely got sufficient data to make a reasoned decision, and can still take advantage of being an early mover. General Powell’s advice is helpful for another reason as well. It reinforces the value of having not just the right amount of information, but getting it at the right time. Stale data is about as useful as stale bread.

To be continued in our upcoming book, Rebooting Leadership

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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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.

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