Tag archive for "seminar leader"

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, Management

You Know My Name… Use It

2 Comments 02 November 2011

Twice in the last month when approaching the hostess stand at specialty restaurants inside high end hotels, I’ve been greeted immediately not by the words, good morning, hello, or anything like that, but by a request for my name and room number. In each case, at the end of the meal, I was asked for a room key before being allowed to charge the meal to my guest room. Then, upon signing the meal tab, I again had to enter my name and room number. Funny thing… in neither case was I even once called by my name.

We collect bushels of information these days, to feed the ravenous appetites of our Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), and other databases. I often wonder, though, how well that data is used, and just how much of it is operationalized in the form of applied knowledge.

It was clear in the case of the restaurants that the hostess staffs were collecting my information not because they intended to use it with me, but because someone in management was requiring it for another purpose. What they (and each of us on a too regular basis) lose sight of is that when you take the step of asking for someone’s name, personal information, or opinion, even once, let alone a second or third time, we expect you to use it in a form that is at least visible, if not beneficial to us. Otherwise, it reeks of arrogance.

I saw this again yesterday in a visit to the emergency department of an otherwise well run hospital. Despite having proffered my medical information via both a url to a secure website AND in writing, I was asked a third time for the same basic information.

This week our firm is in the midst of working with two clients on their employee opinion surveys. In each case, these organizations have figured out on their own, with no prodding from us, that if they are to truly get some ROI on their survey investment, it behooves them to feed the results back to their employees, and, at the end of the day, to act on the information received. Otherwise, management’s reputation, not to mention investment will have been squandered.

What about you? Are you in the data gathering or data using business? Do you at least acknowledge the information that people have given you? (Note to recruiters: This includes you.) Do you use it well? Do you bend the data gathering process to accommodate the preference of the information giver? If not, why not?

As we march on with the vital journey of creating electronic medical records and ever more powerful informational databases, let’s not lose sight of some of the low hanging fruit that is immediately at hand:

  • If we know a person’s name, let’s use it. That will never offend them.
  • Let’s show a little more consideration in the data gathering process. One thing our survey clients both insisted on was explaining to their workers on the front end, how their opinions would be used (and not used), and when they would get to see the results.
  • Let’s resolve to being a bit more “subject-friendly” when gathering data, making sure, for example that any redundancy owes to real necessity, and not laziness.  Let’s resolve to put more focus on both the primacy and privacy of data, collecting only that which is needed, and truly safeguarding that which has been entrusted to us.

*****

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 newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership

When the “Right Stuff” Gets Snuffed by the “Vision Thing”

No Comments 09 July 2011

Quick… What is the mission of space shuttle Atlantis that launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center yesterday? What has been the program goal of the prior 134 space shuttle missions (launched at about $1.5 billion/copy) over the last 30 years? What has been the goal of America’s space program since 1969, when, standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, the Apollo 11 crew fulfilled President Kennedy’s 1961 promise that we would put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade?

If the answers aren’t coming to you quickly or clearly, don’t feel bad. I suspect you’re like most people, including many in Congress who vote to fund NASA, and even some at the agency itself. To wit, is it really any wonder that America’s space program as we have known it seems to be riding off into the sunset?

On our way to Titusville, Florida to view the Atlantis launch yesterday, friend and business partner, Richard Hadden asked for my thoughts, as something of an aerospace junkie, on the eminent conclusion of NASA’s shuttle program.  In the pre-dawn darkness some eight hours prior to the launch of STS 135, I hadn’t yet sorted out my emotional reaction to the program’s ending. What we talked about instead is just how similar NASA’s current situation is to other entities (e.g., governments, companies, et. al.) that lose their way, their funding, and their mojo.

The Bible’s book of Proverbs 29:18 suggests that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In this case, an agency that has long operated with a very cloudy, or at best misunderstood sense of purpose, direction, and priority is in real danger of going away, not because a nation has grown tired of space venture, but because of the persistent failure to clearly articulate a credible and compelling vision for the future.

Operating on a raison d’être tantamount to, “we do space”, or with a charge like that established by former President George W. Bush to revisit the Moon, something we accomplished nearly a half-century ago, isn’t going to get the job done. It’s almost as if we’ve fumbled the ball and are waiting for private ventures like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to pick it up and see what they can do with it.

More germane to this post and our readership, the very same thing happens to companies, business units, departments, and teams that fail to credibly articulate and maintain a compelling sense of purpose and direction. As leaders, it is incumbent on each of us to determine, articulate, and then permanently illuminate, with one of those big 5-cell flashlights, the path ahead. What are we about? Why does this organization exist? As the French put it, what is our raison d’être? Where are we going? Why does it matter?

Fail to connect the dots on any one of these items and slowly (at first), but inexorably, the lights go out, and the party is over. President Obama desperately needs to do this for our nation at this time, and you and I need to do it with our own teams. A few suggestions:

  1. Having decided upon the “vision/mission thing”, it is not enough to announce it once or twice and then hang some relevant testimonial junk on the wall. Rather, to overcome the understandable cynicism that exists inside organizations, we need to practically “carpet-bomb’ the place with repeated signs that this is more, much more than some new program. Rather, it is to be our way of life. Words are important, but actions trump syllables.
  2. To operationalize and breathe life into those words, we should make it clear to the folks on our team that good faith efforts on their part to enact the vision will never get them in trouble. Similarly, if they are doing things that do not line up with that purpose, they should stop doing them as soon as practical. On an institutional level, we must take pains to be sure that budgets and reward mechanisms support our declared purpose and direction.
  3. To be sure, Level 1 and 2 managers (the folks closest to the front line, and the ones with the toughest jobs in any organization) should be charged with ensuring that their teammates get the big picture. But, because people don’t operate day to day in the big picture, they must see to it that those around them clearly grasp the top two or three priorities. You and I can spot-check this by periodically asking a few people to articulate the top three priorities for the organization. If they can do it, celebrate it, right then and there. If they can’t (more likely), we’ve got more work to do.

In the meantime, Godspeed to the crew of Atlantis sts 135, and the men and women here on the ground who have worked tirelessly in support of them and our nation’s space program.

*****

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 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, Think About It...

The Third Day… Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

1 Comment 19 May 2011

My father and grandfather were both fond of using the expression, “House guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” They didn’t just mouth the words, though. Each paced his visits to make sure that he didn’t darken anyone’s doorstep longer than three days. Similarly, invitations to visit were issued with the three-day rule in mind. It’s one thing, though to time a visit with friends or family, but quite another to figure out when to make a career move, or to end your working career entirely.

I thought about that a good bit last week as legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson all but confirmed what he had suggested at the beginning of the season, that this year would be his last on the Lakers’ bench. Having advanced to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs, Jackson’s team played nowhere near its capability, and was crushed 4-0 in the best of 7 series by the Dallas Mavericks.

Worse, some of the Lakers players embarrassed themselves and disrespected their teammates, fans, opponents, and most certainly Coach Jackson by their behavior. I cannot imagine any of Jackson’s previous teams or players producing or behaving as the 2011 version did. I feel certain that when Coach Jackson faced the post-game cameras for what may have been the last time, what he had just witnessed on the court confirmed in his mind that the time had indeed come for him to move on. I applaud his having the courage to do it.

In recent years, we have seen more than a few people who have been less adroit in exiting stage left. The names Brett Favre and U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd come to mind. What about you? How do you know when it’s time to take your act elsewhere?

One thing that can make a tremendous difference in weighing significant career decisions is having a good friend (as opposed to a Facebook or LinkedIn friend) or coach who cares enough about you to tell you the unvarnished truth. Their only agenda is your best interest, period. If you have such a friend, cherish them, and do all you can to nourish and be worthy of the relationship. If you don’t, seek to develop such a relationship. Either way, make it a point to be a friend.

You might also consider using the following questions as a part of your decision template:

  1. Would you put this job on your bucket list today? If the answer is no, is this job an indispensable step to achieving something that is on your bucket list?
  2. If your job were open today, would you hire you to do it?
  3. Are you happy, really happy in your job? How do you know? How many days per month do you arrive at work with a real spring in your step? How many days are you trudging in? How many days per week do you breathe a sigh of relief when quitting time comes?
  4. Are you/your team consistently performing at or near peak? Be honest.
  5. Have you taken a job interview in the last three years? If not, why not? What are you afraid of?

This post is intended as nothing more than a thought starter for an important glance in the mirror. Yet, as the economy and job market continue to improve, we think it timely and appropriate that each of us re-evaluate our present situation vis-à-vis our life goals and preferences, and make course corrections as necessary. Good luck.

*****

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 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, Management

A Manager’s Second Greatest Contribution

1 Comment 17 March 2011

I’ve long maintained (no original thought here) that the most important thing a manager, any manager does is make decisions about who does and does not wind up on the payroll. That is especially the case in an environment where there simply are no spare parts, ‘er humans, and each person’s contributions or lack thereof are vital.

The next most important managerial contribution is getting the “system” off peoples’ backs so they can actually do the jobs they were hired to do to the very best of their ability. What do you mean by “system” some would ask? I’m talking about rules, procedures, methods, customs, policies and the like. Things that were probably once appropriate and well intended, but make absolutely no sense in that moment today when the rubber hits the road. I’m not railing at all procedures and policies mind you, just the clunkers, of which there are plenty.

I saw a perfect example yesterday in the Atlanta airport. Hustling through Concourse B, I decided to grab a sandwich before my flight, so I stopped at the Muffulettas’ vending station. Two staff members were there busily counting merchandise and cash. I stood for a moment, then interrupted the lady counting the food items and asked if I might purchase a sandwich. Before I even finished asking, and with her back still turned, she replied, “We’re on shift change. You’ll have to wait about ten minutes.” “But I just want to buy a sandwich” I countered, to which she replied, “I can’t sell you anything for about ten minutes. We’re on shift change.” Thud.

Flummoxed, I stood there for a couple of minutes with a $10 bill still in hand. In that time span, four more hungry travelers approached and got the exact same treatment. Two of them uttered some not so nice words at the women before walking off. As I, too ventured off for a sandwich place that might be more open for business, I thought, “what a crappy way to make a living.”

These two women get ten minutes at the beginning and end of each and every work shift ruined by a process that unintentionally but decidedly turns them into idiots in the eyes of customers. They didn’t invent the shift change process, but they have to live with it, and judging from personal experience, it improves neither worker performance nor earnings.

These are the kinds of things that, just like a pinch of sand in the shoe, wear people down, make them crazy, and cause them to unplug, whether they actually leave the job or not.  We’ve all got them in our workspace, and it is up to those of us who are in leadership roles, regardless of the number of stripes on our sleeve, to relentlessly find them, root them out, and make it a tiny bit more possible for our people to do their very best work.

And speaking of best work, I did see some of that yesterday, too. Shortly after arrival at Kimpton’s Ink48 Hotel in New York (and still hungry), I called room service and ordered some food, which was soon delivered by a server who is a recent immigrant from Tibet. In halting but perfectly serviceable English, he politely introduced himself, inquired about my stay, told me that he was proud to work for Kimpton, and explained that he looked forward to being of service both today and in the future.

When replying to his question about where I’m from, I told him that I’m from Tennessee, which drew something of a deer in the headlights look. After a little further explanation to no avail, I quickly popped up Google Maps on my open laptop and showed him, mentioning that the state was home to Elvis, and a couple more localisms. End of story, or so I thought.

A couple of hours later, after calling to secure permission, another room service server delivered a gracious, handwritten hospitality note from my new Tibetan friend, along with a bucket of ice and two miniature bottles of guess what? The world’s best sipping whiskey, which just happens to be made in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

From a socio-economic standpoint, this fellow’s job is very much on par with the two ladies I ran into earlier in the day in Atlanta. He delivers food to guest’s rooms, and they sell it out of a refrigerator in the airport. But that’s where the similarity ends.

They get worn down each day by at least one dumb process designed or approved by someone who I suspect hasn’t spent one hour watching what kind of aggravation it brings to others. The Kimpton guy, working for a management team that has obviously told him to do what it takes to be nice to guests, is free to do his very best work, and it shows.

Evidence abounds that workers who believe that they have an honest shot at doing their best work deliberately turn up the boost on their discretionary effort, because performing at that level is exhilirating. Those who don’t, mail it in. So the choice is there for each of us to make. Do we want to invest a little time every day making the path a bit clearer for our folks, or do we want potential customers putting their hard earned money back in their pockets and walking next door?

*****

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, Management

Make Employee “Stay Interviews” a Part of Your Engagement Strategy

2 Comments 17 February 2011

From time to time we are asked by the editors of Workforce Online to respond to reader questions. Recently, we were asked to respond to a question about using “stay interviews” as part of an employee engagement strategy. I thought the answer might be of interest to you.

Dear Workforce:
I’d like to start implementing “Stay Interviews”.  What kinds of questions should we be asking and how do I convince managers that this is important?

As opposed to exit interviews which are triggered by a staff member’s departure and yield nominal benefit, or “no interviews” which is akin to playing Russian roulette, “stay interviews” are conducted for the express purpose of strengthening the bond with your best people, and discovering what causes them to remain with the organization.

They can be one of the lowest cost, highest yielding activities by a management that is striving for greater levels of engagement and productivity. That’s exactly how it should be presented to your management team. (i.e., If we won’t make time to have a 40 minute chat with our best people, how and when will we make time to replace them?)

Our research, and others’ has consistently demonstrated that the top things which create stickiness between the individual and the organization, and the attendant discretionary effort include:

  • Having meaningful work and the freedom to pursue it
  • Working in a positive, challenging, high performance (read, elite) culture
  • Getting lots of opportunities to learn and grow (preparing to leave, if necessary)

Aside from not getting enough of one of the above, the chief cause of hitting the exit ramp is working for an unskilled, immature, or self-absorbed leader.

Conducted by a trained interviewer with position authority, stay interviews should focus on the above factors. Though some organizations find it convenient to conduct them coincident with the regular performance review cycle, we don’t recommend it, as performance reviews often carry too much baggage. Often times stay interviews are conducted on a skip-level basis as a means of adding credibility and objectivity to the process.

It is as important to realize what a stay interview is not as what it is. They are not a negotiating session, or a platform from which to rationalize or defend the status quo. Be plain about this from the start. Rather, the interview is an opportunity to listen (really listen) to the very people your annual report likely credits as being your most valuable asset. The interview should deal with questions like:

  • Why do you stay (with this organization, team, leader)?
  • What do you like best/least about you job?
  • If something has caused you to consider leaving in the last 6 months, what was it? Has it been resolved?
  • What would you like more/less of? What one thing would you like to see changed?
  • What’s your dream job, and are you making satisfactory progress to achieve it?
  • What can I/we do to support that effort?
  • Do you have any similarly talented friends or acquaintances who should be working here alongside you?
  • Is there one person in the organization who has really been helpful to you of late (so we can thank them appropriately)?

Not unlike the financial audits that every company does periodically, a combination of stay interviews with your best people, and engagement surveys of the entire workforce will inexpensively provide the organizational equivalent of color Doppler radar, with measures of actionable intelligence and goodwill. Good luck!

*****

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, Management

A Culture of Professionalism

No Comments 20 October 2010

On their ESPN show, Mike & Mike in the Morning, radio and TV personalities, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic had an interesting debate recently about the obligation of professional athletes to perform as professionals, both in the presence and absence of leadership. As a canvas for their discussion, the pair used the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, who, despite having a talent-laden roster  have earned their way to a 1-4 season record largely (but not entirely) on the back of a rash of stupid, preventable mistakes and penalties.

Golic, a former NFL player himself, argued that, as well paid professionals, football players can (and should) be expected to perform as such, and at a minimum, avoid doing things that are harmful to their team. Though largely in agreement with his co-star, Mike Greenberg held that Cowboys coach Wade Phillips bears a lot of responsibility for the situation by virtue of tolerating persistent, errant on-field behavior.

At one point the show’s producer weighed in with a comment to the effect that things like professionalism are largely matters of organizational culture, which comes about as the result of the efforts of leaders (and other members) over time. Indeed the Cowboys, once known as “America’s Team”, were reknown for having a culture of excellence developed and preserved by men like Tom Landry and Tex Schramm. Things change.

This isn’t a post about the Cowboys, however. It’s about our own organizations. We live in a world dominated by soundbites and the next quarterly earnings report. A world where we make decisions on the fly and struggle to just ‘get the wash out’ before we go home exhausted at the end of the day. Most of us don’t spend much (any?) time worrying about the culture or the level of professionalism  in our organizations. Maybe we should.

If we want to play in and have a shot at winning the Superbowl in our own field of endeavor, we need to pay attention to the ‘culture thing’. Think of it as a powerful and important branding effort for internal consumption. Do the people on your team know what you stand for – what will get them recognized and rewarded, for example, and what will get them ejected like a virus? Are they the right things? Is your culture a matter of words, or deeds? Are you working diligently to recruit teammates who fit and can be comfortable with your organization’s culture, or merely putting fannies in seats?

In the same vein, it behooves us to sweat the details with respect to how professionally things are getting done. Are the phones answered, or does every call roll to voicemail? Are your people (all of them) adequately trained, and do they get that training at the right time, in the right way? In other words, are they competent? How do you know? Do your equipment and facilities look like they are used by professionals, or something else?

At the end of the day, wins and losses accrue as much on the basis of culture (habits and expectations) and professionalism (attention to the right details) as strategy and talent. Or, as a wise man once said, soft skills done poorly get hard real fast.

Your views 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, Leadership

We All Like to be Made to Feel Special

No Comments 16 January 2010

Tuesday evening, I hosted an executive coaching client for dinner and a Memphis Grizzlies game at FedEx Forum. Our dinner server was a fellow by the name of Ben, who has waited on me at most, twice before. As we were being seated, Ben approached and said to my guest, “My guess is that Mr. Catlette is going to have a glass of Merlot, what can I get you to drink?” I whirled and looked at him in amazement, wondering what other information might be stamped on my forehead. Ben smiled and volunteered that he tries to pay attention to his guests, and make them feel special. Mission accomplished.

Not unlike my son, Will, who tends bar at the Savannah airport and has a following of regular customers (at an airport bar!), Ben has learned that it’s the little things, like remembering a guest’s name and their preferences that lead to  good outcomes. The very same thing holds true for those of us whose job is to lead others. Before we can expect people to follow us with any degree of fervor, we must first take an interest in them… their likes, dislikes, ambitions, apprehensions, etc.

In the age of the disposable worker, this type of care and attention seems counter-intuitive. Speaking of his new sales reps, one office products sales manager admitted to me that, “we don’t really even get to know their names, as most of them won’t be here very long.” I’m willing to bet that a lot of the good performers leave for precisely that reason. Not bothering to know someone’s name, or things that are important to them doesn’t make them feel very special.

Thankfully, this is something that is not constrained by economic forces. We don’t need a positive GDP growth rate to make people feel special. Nor does it require any particular talent. Every one of us can do it. We’ve just got to care enough to take an interest, listen, observe, and then act on what we’ve learned.

I think you’ll find that if you take that extra step, you’ll soon notice that you’ve got more people around you who are willing to go the extra mile.

Godspeed!

*****

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

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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