Making good and timely decisions: 4 key principles

May 23, 2010

We’re all confronted on a daily basis with having to make decisions, both big and small, on a professional and personal level. We have all developed our own rules and criteria for taking decisions, particularly at a professional level where the consequences of a good or bad decision can obviously impact the success of the project we’re working on, impact our team, impact the company’s bottom line. We of course can use different methodologies and processes to help us prepare that decision. However, all of the tools and processes don’t replace the moment when we have to make that decision and we all have to make that decision and take responsibility for the results.

We’ve all worked for managers who have either “fired from the hip” and taken very fast decisions they regretted later on or on the other hand, bosses who continuously put off decisions until they had the right data and although they made the right decision, made it too late and their “analysis paralysis” led to failure. Decision-making is perhaps the key responsibility of every manager as everything comes down to making decisions on what strategy to implement, what actions to take, who to promote, who to recruit, etc.

So what makes a good and timely decision? What simple steps can we follow to try to avoid the trap of either “shooting from the hip” or getting bogged down in “analysis paralysis”?

On a recent visit to Google, Mike Useem from the Wharton School, discussed this question and set out some simple rules which we can allow follow to help us decide as leaders nd make good and timely decisions.

The case of General Gustavus W. Smith

Mike Useem begins his discussion by presenting the case of one General Gustavus W. Smith, a leading officer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, who has the dubious privilege of commanding the army defending the Confederate capital, Richmond, from a Union army twice the size for only a day. The Union army was seeking to overrun Richmond and capture Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States. Smith became commanding officer when his superior, General Joseph Johnson, was wounded seriously defending the approaches to Richmond.

Jefferson Davis, present at the scene, asked Johnson who should replace him and Johnson answered that his second-in-command, Gustavus W. Smith was able and competent and so, on the spot, Gustavus Smith won a battlefield promotion. Davis immediately asked Smith what his plan was to stop the Union army. Smith asked for some time to think on the matter. Displeased with the response, Davis nevertheless agreed. Davis returned the next day and asked again what Smith’s plan was. Smith is reported to have replied that he didn’t have one and asked Davis if he had any ideas on what to do. Jefferson replied yes and sacked Smith on the spot, replacing him with Robert E. Lee who was to remain Confederate commander throughout the war. Smith’s indecisiveness led to his downfall while Davis showed quick decision-making by replacing him on the spot.

This anecdote from the American Civil War has many key lessons from a HR and  leadership perspective. Here are but a few key points:

1)    Don’t wait for a crisis to discover if you have the right person for the job. Select and test your talent on an on-going basis.

2)    History doesn’t tell us what the relationship between Johnson and Smith was like but one must ask why Smith did not at least try to implement the strategy of his superior.  Was it because his superior hadn’t shared the strategy with him, depriving Smith of at least a plan that he had already studied?  Whatever the nature of the relationship between Smith and his superior, this highlights the importance of involving direct reports in the elaboration of the leader’s strategy so that the strategy can be implemented even if its owner is incapacitated.

3)    Have a succession plan with multiple successors for key roles. Davis was lucky to have Lee close at hand (Lee was his advisor) but what would have happened if Lee had not been in the role he was in?

For Mike Useem, Gustavus W Smith, demonstrated extreme indecisiveness in a moment of crisis. He had the same background as Lee, the same demeanor, the same qualifications, the same ability to think strategically but not the same decision-making abilities. Robert E. Lee retained command of the Confederate army throughout the war and demonstrated many times his ability to take good and timely decisions.

So what are some of the traits Robert E; Lee may have had which allowed him to make good and timely decisions?

Mike Useem defines 4 key principles which he offers as a template for good and timey decision-making:

  1. Go for the 70% rule: 70% assuredness, 70% confidence, 70% due diligence, 70% consensus.  The more important the decision, the more we tend to want to have all the data, perform all the preparation, increase of confidence of success but the search for perfection is the enemy of decision-making. The more perfection you seek, the more you risk falling into the trap of analysis-paralysis. The figure of 70% is not important and is only a metaphor for setting a level at which you feel you can take your decision as a calculated risk. Although consensus is always best,  it is not always possible to have agreement from all parties and so it is inevitable to have to go with partial consensus.
  2. Be clear-minded and unambiguous about intent. Don’t micro-manager and assume you have good people on your team who will help you achieve your goal.  Set a clear goal and communicate it to all.
  3. Develop a tolerance for first-time errors.  If you adopt the 70% rule above, you therefore need to develop a tolerance for error because errors are inevitable. However, what you can’t accept is the same error twice. Your team members need to demonstrate that they learn from their errors and don’t make the same mistake again. When an error is made, review the error with the team member and ensure that this error won’t be repeated.
  4. Indecisiveness is fatal. A poor decision can always be corrected. No decision will always be too late unless no decision is a decision not to decide. Postponing a decision in the hope that events will deal with the problem is making oneself hostage to fortune.

Finally, if Jefferson Davis demonstrated good decision-making when he sacked Gustavus W. Smith and replaced him with Robert E.  Lee, historians have criticized Davis for being a much less effective war leader than his nemesis Abraham Lincoln, which they attribute to Davis being overbearing, over controlling, and overly meddlesome, as well as being out of touch with public opinion, and lacking support from a political party (the Confederacy had no political parties). According to historian Bell I. Wiley, the flaws in his personality and temperament made him a failure as the highest political officer in the Confederacy. His preoccupation with detail, inability to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, and his neglect of civil matters in favor of military were only a few of the shortcomings which worked against him(paragraph taken from Wikipedia).

This portrait of Jefferson Davis would seem to suggest that to be a good decision maker, you do indeed need to develop your leadership skills  by

  1. applying the 70% rule(don’t get lost in detail for the “devil is in the detail”)
  2. delegating responsibility effectively(as this speeds up decision-making and increases chances of success for many heads make light work)
  3. accepting criticism and opposition (as “contrarian” views ensures that as many bad decisions as possible are avoided)
  4. keeping touch with your internal and external customers by proactive listening and understanding what they expect as a result.

What are your ideas on the subject? What other simple rules would you add to the good and timely decision-making template?

Check out Mike Useem speaking at Google

Making good and timely decisions: 4 key principles

The lion and the ant: some lessons for managers and HR

May 8, 2010

I came across the following fable recently and  I found it an interesting way of challenging the roles of the manager and HR alike in many organizations.

“Every day, a small Ant arrived at work early and starting work immediately, she produced a lot and she was happy. The boss, a lion, was surprised to see that the ant was working without supervision. He thought if the ant can produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t she produce more if she had a supervisor!

So the lion recruited a cockroach who had extensive experience as a supervisor and who was famous for writing excellent reports. The cockroach’s first decision was to set up a clocking in attendance system. He also needed a secretary to help him write and type his reports. He recruited a spider who managed the archives and monitored all phone calls.

The Lion was delighted with the cockroach’s report and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and analyze trends so that he could use them for presentations at board meetings. So the cockroach had to buy a new computer and a laser printer and recruit a fly to manage the IT department. The Ant , who had been once so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which used up most of her time.

The lion came to the conclusion that it was high time to nominate a person in charge of the department where the ant worked. The position was given to the Cicada whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office.The new person in charge, the cicada, also needed a computer and a personal assistant, whom he had brought from his previous department to help him prepare a work and budget control strategic optimization plan.

The department where the ant works is now a sad place, where nobody laughs anymore and everybody has become upset. It was at that time the cicada convinced the boss, the Lion, to start a climatic study of the office environment. Having reviewed the charges of running the ant’s department, the lion found out that the production was much less than before so he recruited the Owl, a prestigious and renowned consultant to carry out an audit and suggest solutions. The Owl spent 3 months in the department and came out with an enormous report, in several volumes, that concluded that ” The Department is overstaffed..”

Guess who the lion fired first ?

The Ant of course “Because she showed lack of motivation and had a negative attitude.”

If we transpose this fable to the world of work, one is tempted to offer this fable as a good illustration of why it’s necessary to promote and implement empowerment in every organization and how the role of a manager should be to empower the team member to that he/she can do the job effectively and not be burdened by excessive layers of red tape and administrative tasks which only serve to justify and prove that actions are being taken rather than that results have been achieved.

Indeed, as we all know, the amount of reporting and administrative tasks required by an organization is inversely proportional to the effectiveness of the organization in question. The more reporting you have in an organization, the more tempting it is to conclude that performance is low.

Results speak for themselves whereas failure always seems to have to justify itself!

However, in the above fable, one has to question the motivation of the Lion. Rather than trying to improve the productivity of the ant by adding more ants (which would seem the logical step) or by simply asking the ant what needed to be done to make things better (even more logical as the ant is best placed to know what needs to be done to improve productivity at least initially), without consulting the ant, the Lion adds backroom staff because one suspects that the Lion doesn’t understand what makes the ant effective in the first place nor does the lion understand how to go about improving things, because if he did, he would have begun by asking the ant first!

All the measures the Lion takes seek to control rather than encourage and reward the ant. Why?

Perhaps it is because the Lion may be confused as to what his role is and he  seems to think that if he doesn’t implement a whole arsenal of checks and controls which allow him to monitor the ant, he isn’t playing his role as a Lion.

The Lion seems indeed to think his role as a Lion is to control and monitor the activity of the ant rather than freeing him up to be more effective. Of course,  as the working day is not endless (even for ants), the time needed to produce more and more reports means there is less time for operational issues and this impacts inevitably on the ant’s productivity and in the long run on his engagement and motivation. And so the ant becomes trapped in a vicious circle of more controls, more reports, more reports less productivity, less productivity more checks, more checks more reports, more reports less productivity and so on.

Perhaps one is reading too much into the Lion’s behaviour and perhaps his motives are more well-intentioned. However, whatever  the Lion’s motives, one cannot blame the ant for perceiving this behaviour as a demonstration of a lack of trust in his abilities to perform. Rather than consulting him and asking him what needs to be done to improve productivity, the lion deems it necessary to impose on him all sorts of checks and controls.

Is it any surprise the ant may become frustrated? As the lion is confused as to his role, is it any surprise he fails to understand why the ant is frustrated and that he concludes in error that it is because the ant is disengaged and negative?

Indeed, this is an example of the Pygmalion effect in reverse. The “lion” seeks to assert his authority rather than guide performance and imposes a command and control mode of management which generates frustration in his “ants” and this in turn in the “lion’s mind legitimates the command and control management mode generating the frustration in the first place. What a paradox!

Lessons for managers

So there is a lesson for managers here. One clear sign of a poor manager is that he/she is guilty of playing the wrong role and will spend more time checking and monitoring his/her “ant” rather than supporting them and ensuring that they have the means and resources to perform effectively .

Good managers, on the other hand, dedicate themselves to supporting, coaching, developing and rewarding their “ants”, building the environment which helps their “ants” perform better and supporting them when necessary to clear any obstacles which impede performance. Good managers either add more ants(they understand the profile and recruit similar complimentary profiles) or they work with the ant to build an action plan to optimize performance. Above all, good managers sit down with their team members at year start, set SMART objectives their “ants” can achieve and then work with them  throughout the year to ensure they remain on course. In other words, they empower their people to act and then get out of the way and let them perform but check regularly to ensure they keep on track.

So some tips for managers who want to be “good lions”:

  1. Understand your role and play it effectively: avoid the  “command and control” mode. Act as a leader. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  2. Listen to your “ants” and ask first before acting in their place. Respect your team members and demonstrate that respect. Always be fair and treat all objectively and equally.
  3. Set clear objectives and empower your competent “ants” to act on these objectives.
  4. Get out of the way and let your “ants” perform. Don’t step in when things go wrong but support your “ants” to solve the problem themselves.
  5. Monitor progress regularly but not excessively.
  6. Demonstrate trust and respect your “ants”. Admit your mistakes. You will gain your followers respect.
  7. Support and defend your “ants” in the event of turbulence. Don’t hide behind your team. If you delegate a task, you remain responsible.
  8. Keep reporting to a minimum. Remember it is more important to talk to your team members on how they are doing than hide behind statistics.
  9. Be lean and don’t create multiple layers of management as this will only slow down decision making and frustrate good “ants”
  10. Reward and recognize good performance. Praise good performance in public. If you have to give negative feedback, do it in private.

Lessons for Human Resources who want to have “good lions” in their organization

There are also some simple lessons for Human Resource managers. Rather than promoting management practices which only serve to frustrate and block the effective ants in their organizations or which generate disengagement and lack of motivation, HR should be promoting policies and strategies which empower the ants to act effectively  and which develop them, recognize and reward them in level with their line of performance.

As importantly, HR should ensure that the Lions in the organization understand their role and how to play it, should train and develop each lion to play this role effectively and step in whenever one or more “lions” confuse their roles and switch to command and control mode too systematically. After all, every lion is also an ant to someone higher up the chain and a “command and control” management mindset only generates disengagement and demotivation and frustration throughout the organization.

Some tips for HR

  1. Clarify manager roles and responsibilities: banish “Command and control” mode and develop managers to lead.
  2. Train and empower managers to play that role
  3. Step in if some managers demonstrate role confusion or revert systematically to command and control mode.
  4. Promote corporate values which empower all employees to act at their level and show initiative.
  5. Promote a culture which listens to all employees
  6. Allow employees contribute to their own objectives
  7. Promote a lean management culture
  8. Keep reporting to a minimum
  9. Recognize and reward performance as a partnership between manager and employee
  10. Cherish not only your “lions” and but also your “ants” because performance depends on both.

Disclaimer:” The characters in the fable above are fictitious and resemblance to real people and facts and any coincidence with corporate world is purely coincidental”.

Leading clever people: some useful tips for talent managers

April 4, 2010

All organizations have clever people who produce exceptional results. Talent managers and management in general spend a lot of time and effort identifying who these clever people are and where they are in the organization. The challenge is of course not only to know where they are but to ensure that the organization manages them well so that their talents are optimized.

To do so, the first step is to know what makes a clever person “tick” and what motivates him or her to perform. As with all other team members, knowing what makes a high performer tick is critical for the leader tasked with managing that resource and getting the most out of the skills that person brings to the organization.

So what are some of the key characteristics of a clever individual?

According to Bob Goffee and Gareth Jones of the London Business School, Here are some of their key traits:

1)    Clever people have a high sense of their own worth; they have skills that are not easily reproduced in the organization and they know it.

2)   Clever people ask difficult questions and are ready to challenge the status quo.

3) They know their way round the organization better than most and their roots run deeper.

4)   They are not impressed by corporate hierarchy and don’t respect rank.

5)   They expect instant access to decision makers and senior management.

6)   They are well connected outside the organization.

7)   Their passion is for what they do and not for who they work for.

8)   Even if you lead them well, they won’t thank you.

In a nutshell, clever individuals can be difficult to handle and can demonstrate behaviors which may be perceived to be rough, hard-edged and abrasive.

So what can a talent manager do to manage such profiles and get the most out of these key contributors?

Here are some tips Bob Goffee and Gareth Jones propose:

1)   Explain and persuade: you can’t tell clever people what to do. Telling them what to do undermines their self-esteem because they believe they shouldn’t have to be told what to do in the first place.

2)   Use knowledge and expertise, not hierarchy as a management lever. Clever people don’t respond well to rank or hierarchy. They do respond to knowledge and expertise.

3)   Don’t tell them how to do something, tell them what needs to be done. Clever people rise to a challenge and need to feel stretched. Give them an objective and a sense of direction but don’t tell them how to get there.

4)   Provide limits.  Clever people need space. They also need structure and discipline. Talent managers and leaders need to walk a fine line between ensuring the rules are followed and allowing the clever individuals the space to be creative. Impose the rules blindly and they will dry up. Leave them alone and they will get lost in the maze of their own ideas.

5)   Allow them to question. Clever people need to feel they make a contribution and will readily challenge the status quo. Talent managers and leaders should recognize this and engage directly with them directly rather than avoid confrontation. Clever people will feel undervalued if they are not listened to and indeed, if they can’t express their own ideas even if these ideas seem to contradict the “party line”.

6)   Give recognition and amplify achievements. Clever people are motivated by what they do and recognizing their achievements is vital. Moreover, they tend to value recognition from their peers and customers outside the organization most of all.  So it’s important to ensure they get recognition from the right sources. As they work on tasks which may often be long-term or with difficult outcomes, you don’t necessarily need to give them frequent recognition but you do need to do it. Allowing them to represent the organization to customers is only one key way of such recognition.

7)   Be tolerant of failure. Organizations can’t afford failure and invest heavily in training to reduce risk of failure. However, as clever people have already achieved a high level of expertise, they need to be stretched further and this may mean giving them high-risk projects with uncertain outcomes. Clever people respond well to difficult tasks but this means of course more exposure to failure. Organizations need to be able to provide them with such projects and provide them with more support to ensure that they learn as they go. And if they do make mistakes, talent managers need to ensure they learn from the experience without being burdened with the blame of coming up short.

8)   Protect them from red tape. Clever people don’t like red tape and feel under-utilized when they have to dedicate time to mundane administrative tasks.  Leading clever people means stepping in where necessary to clear the administrative obstacles that prevent the clever people from doing what they do best.

9)   Talk straight. Clever people know when they are being dealt “corporate speak”. Don’t try to lead them up the garden path, tell it as it is. They will appreciate it all the more.

10) Provide realworld challenges with constraints. Leaders may be tempted to motivate team members by saying that everything is possible. Clever people don’t react well to this. They prefer to take on difficult challenges with uncertain outcomes.  Tell them this and they will more than likely respond well to the challenge. They are at their most effective when they have real challenges to meet with real constraints.

11)  Help them build a network.  Some leaders may be tempted to hide away their key contributors, for fear of losing them.  However, the real leadership task is to connect the clever people up together so that they set the standards collectively for the organization to follow.

12)  Don’t hog the limelight. Some leaders feel threatened by clever individuals in their teams and take every opportunity to show who is boss. This will seriously impact the productivity of your clever people. Leaders of clever people need to get out of the way and allow them perform.

As a lot of research shows, clever people don’t necessarily want to manage others. They want to feel that their particular skills are being utilized to the full. The role of the leader of such individuals is therefore to recognize their particular needs and adapt his leadership style to meet their particular requirements.  So leaders need to look beyond the abrasiveness and hard edge and adapt their leadership style to get the most out of these key resources.  What leading clever people shows is that leaders need constantly to understand the key “motivational characteristics” of the people they lead and adapt their leadership styles accordingly.

More easily said than done but critical for all organizations. Even more critical for talent managers and for organizations alike is the need to  look beyond the behaviors to understand the drivers of those behaviors. The temptation may be to categorize those clever individuals as not conforming to the behavioral standards espoused by the organization (respect for authority, team work, discipline, etc.) and therefore more trouble than they are worth. However, the “dark side” is part and parcel of their nature and needs to be managed correctly rather than stamped out; otherwise, the organization risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Check out the article “Here come the clevers” by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in the April 2010 edition of Talent Management magazine.

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/mediatec/tm0410/index.php?startid=24#/26

Higher performance: it’s all about co-ownership of objectives

March 21, 2010

There is an old joke to explain the difference between being “committed” and being  “concerned” that goes like this. One day a chicken invited a pig to breakfast by saying “you bring the bacon, I’ll bring the eggs”. At this particular breakfast, the pig is committed and the chicken merely concerned!

When we work in an organization, we are all in a value chain and we all sit before a boss at some stage to discuss how we performed according to the objectives set. We are all therefore like the little pig (no insult intended) in the joke above. The individual contributor has his backside on the bacon slicer as he is the one who is committed and the manager is more or less concerned (accepting that the employee has of course real responsibility and is recognized for that responsibility).

And yet, in many organizations the world over, some managers seem sometimes to behave as if it’s the other way round and consider that they are the only ones who are committed and their team members are only concerned. Of course, their team member’s objectives contribute to their own team objectives and so, of course, they have a commitment to ensure these objectives are delivered. However, this overall commitment should not lead the manager to forget that his team member is also a stakeholder. After all, most employees come to work wanting to do achieve and they themselves don’t want to fail.

This implicit “role reversal” quite often reveals itself in the way managers approach the annual appraisal process. Too often, managers simply dictate objectives without taking any time to get their team members’ opinion or input on what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. There may be many good reasons for not always doing so: some team members may not be mature enough to contribute to defining their own objectives or objectives may be simple and recurrent for some teams depending on the work organization or type of tasks. However, in organizations with more and more highly educated knowledge workers tasked with achieving objectives in complex, matrix, virtual teams, it would seem dangerous not to discuss with team members beforehand what they should be doing and how they should go about it.

 

Today, knowledge workers have more expectations in terms of being allowed to contribute to their own career path and this means giving them the possibility not only to give their inputs to their own objectives but also at year end give their own inputs on how they see their performance.

 

Objective setting and performance appraisal is therefore a question of co-ownership and co-commitment: the employee is a necessary stakeholder in his own objectives and the manager is a stakeholder because individual objectives contribute to team performance.

 

Is there really any viable alternative?

If you as a manager don’t begin the performance appraisal discussion by asking the employee what he believes he has achieved and how he sees things, you don’t recognize his commitment and you acknowledge tacitly that he is merely there to execute without exercising and assuming his own share of responsibility. You tell him implicitly that he is only concerned, just like the chicken in the joke. You also tell him implicitly that the objectives are yours and yours alone and not his because you again send an implicit message that his opinion doesn’t count.

The real issue is empowerment and empowerment is a two-way street. Empowerment begins by recognizing that performance is a win-win relationship between manager and employee and that both manager and team member have a commitment to producing positive results. Employees will perform better if they can give their input into what they are supposed to do and give their views on how they have performed rather than just receive their objectives at year start and then, at year-end, receive judgement on their performance.

All engagement studies today (discover Towers Perrin for example) show that employees lose commitment when they feel disempowered and disempowerment begins when they feel they are not listened to by their managers and when they feel they don’t have a sense of co-ownership for their objectives.

 

Co-Ownership is a necessary prerequisite for commitment and performance. If a team member doesn’t have some form of ownership for his objectives and results, he can’t be committed, will feel disempowered,  will lose motivation, will subsequently underperform, etc and the vicious circle continues.

It is this vicious circle that organizations must break if they want to drive performance and all begins by recognizing that employees are also stakeholders in objective setting and performance appraisal.

 

 

To instil this sense of ownership in employees, one must first put first things first as Stephen J Covey said and give each employee first shot at saying what he needs to do according to his understanding of team and company strategy and according to the role he has in the organization.

Here are some simple tips if you are responsible for rolling out an annual appraisal process in an organization or indeed in charge of developing employee performance and engagement:

  • Remember that the manager-team member discussion is the most important thing
  • The better the preparation on both sides, the better the discussion
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of all team members at year start before setting objectives and then review objectives according to the role and responsibilities agreed upon.
  • Give continuous feedback throughout the year. Poor performance evaluation should never come as a surprise to the person concerned.
  • Recognize your team member as a stakeholder in the process by allowing him to make his own assessment first (because in all events, he will have a pretty good idea in his own mind). Either his assessment corresponds to yours and everything is ok or it doesn’t and the job of the manager is to listen to the employee and note the points where there is disagreement. If the employee’s arguments are sound, the manager may change his mind but again this should be rare because the dialogue should be year round and not simply one shot. However, if your view differs to that of your employee, your job is to understand why the employee has a different view and then to explain why you have come to your conclusion. Your job is to give the feedback frankly and propose an action plan to improve the situation and not simply dump the result on the employee.
  • Always finish on as positive a note as possible and give the employee a chance to project positively into the future. If there is poor performance, set an action plan to improve the situation and tell your team member how you will help him to improve. Failure is in nobody’s interest.
  • Share the objectives set for team members with all the team so that everyone knows how each team member contributes to team goals.
  • Set shared objectives across your team so that all can contribute together as a team.
  • Remember that the annual performance appraisal is not only about evaluation but also about motivation. Many factors contribute to motivating a team member and one key factor is of course ownership. I am more motivated when I have a feeling I own my objectives that if I feel they belong to someone else.

In a top-down approach, the manager does all the work and the employee simply takes the feedback. If you really want to empower your employees because you know you can’t have a manager behind every employee 100% of the time and you know that organizations need employees to take initiative and behave responsibly, then the way you manage people has to be aligned to that vision. Modern global, matrix, multi-cultural, flexible organizations can’t work effectively based on a command and control logic, especially if you want them to go beyond expectations and deliver more.

Consider some of the risks of not acknowledging your team member’s co-ownership of objectives:

  • The team member doesn’t take responsibility for results
  • He becomes disengaged and loses commitment
  • Dialogue between manager and team member is poor or even absent and objectives are not adapted in accordance with changes in the business environment
  • The manager does the evaluation without even consulting the employee
  • Stress levels are increased impacting potentially on performance because lack of ownership leads to a feeling of lack of control
  • The manager doesn’t get buy-in from the employee
  • the manager does all the work and alone decides slowing down decision-making in the organization
  • the team member loses all creativity and initiative and problems remain unsolved or get bigger
  • the team member dedicates himself to other things or less important things
  • High turnover of the best talents
  • Inertia in the organization
  • …..

Getting an employee to self assess his performance doesn’t mean that the manager relinquishes his role as a manager. He still keeps the final say and must decide and validate the performance of the employee. However, what a self assessment does guarantee (and the necessary corollary of getting the employee to propose his own objectives) is that the employee must commit to the objectives and the results because he is involved in their setting and their evaluation.

 

Every time a manager performs an evaluation without first discussing with the employee, he may impose his view in the short term but he is leading the team member down the road of resignation and passivity, disempowerment and demotivation.

 

Here are some leadership maxims that reinforce this idea of co-ownership

 

  • A leader is someone who believes in you and gets you to believe in yourself
  • Honour people and they will honour you. Fail to honour people and they will fail to honour you.
  • Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their creativity
  • Leaders don’t force people to follow them. They invite them on a journey
  • Authority is a poor substitute for leadership
  • If the highest aim of the captain is to preserve his ship, he would never leave port
  • Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination
  • Many people would rather you heard their story than grant their request
  • ….

Give your opinion by answering the poll below.


Imagine yourself leading

February 20, 2010

The world is in crisis and turmoil looms. People all around the world are either  losing their jobs, are victims of senseless conflicts or terrible natural disasters. Never more so than today would strong leadership seem more necessary. And yet, never more so than today do so many people seem to have lost faith in leadership. Indeed, many of the problems today seem to be the result of bad leadership.

History shows us that humanity has gone through many crises and driven itself to the brink many times. And each time, single individuals have stood up and shown the way forward through strong and positive leadership.

So what about now and the current crisis? Do we have the leadership to take us forward in a positive manner?

Many of us are not perhaps engaged in actions which impact the greater scheme of things or which can change History with a capital H. And yet, many ordinary individuals can and do change things for the better.

Great leaders from the past can indeed show us the way: FDR, JFK, Churchill, Gandhi, etc. But even more importantly, we can all ask ourselves how we can develop our personal leadership to help turn things around at our own level, wherever we are in the world, whatever our station in life or job.

As Mother Theresa says “we can’t do great things, we can only do small things with great love“.

Leadership shapes our lives for the better or the worse. It brings peace or generates war. Leadership give us direction and purpose for better or worse. It bonds us together or drives us apart. We all can ask ourselves how we want to lead and help to change the course of events.

Rather than relying on some major figure at a global level to turn things round, now is the time to think how we can all individually contribute to changing things for the better by developing our own personal leadership. Leadership is not the domain of the great and the powerful. Everyone can exercise leadership. For what is leadership if not standing up for what one thinks is right and challenging the status quo despite the cost.

Rather than waiting for a super hero to save us, we must all assume personal leadership and do what we can at our own individual level to make the world a better place. The real lesson from history is that all of those super heroes who saved humanity in the past or who changed things for the better were perhaps ordinary people who stood up when it mattered. How do you imagine yourself leading?  What does leadership mean for you?

Discover the video from the Harvard Business School leadership Initiative.

Imagine yourself leading


 

What helps you perform effectively when you have to make a speech in public?

February 14, 2010

Speaking in public is more and more part and parcel of every executive’s job and public speaking is a task that has to be performed by more and more executives at all levels of an organization. This can be a very intimidating prospect for many people and stage fright can impact a great deal on the performance of the person who doesn’t enjoy the exercise. Here are some ideas on how to perform this exercise more effectively:

  1. Public speaking is a skill that can be learned: some people enjoy speaking in public and don’t seem to fear speaking in public. If you don’t belong to this category, don’t worry because public speaking is a skill you can learn. The first thing to do is to admit that you don’t enjoy the experience and then ask yourself why. This will help you define a simple action plan to manage the reasons why you are ill at ease when you speak in public. You may never attain greatness but you will gradually become more effective and above all less apprehensive.
  2. Prepare your speech in advance: it helps to prepare your speech in advance, especially if you don’t like the exercise. Write down what you want to say.
  3. Follow your plan and keep it simple: Of course, the more you say, the more you may find it difficult. Keep it simple. As you have planned your speech in advance, follow your plan. Tell your audience what you are going to say, say it and then when you conclude, remind your audience what you told them.
  4. Practice makes perfect: Of course, practice beforehand and if possible, learn your text off by heart.  It helps to rehearse, just like actors do before a play.
  5. Share your ideas in advance with some colleagues. If you know in advance that what will say is aligned with what your colleagues expect, you will be more comfortable with your presentation.
  6. Don’t read your slides, summarize them. If you have a powerpoint presentation to support your speech, don’t read your slides as this will possibly bore your audience. Try to summarize each slide in terms of key ideas. This will help your audience remember the key points of your speech.
  7. Find friends in the audience. When presenting and especially if you are speaking to a large audience, find friends in the audience and speak as if you are presenting to them. This will make your presentation more personal and make the context less forbidding. Don’t hesitate to smile when you address a friend in the audience.
  8. Dress comfortably: it helps if you dress comfortably in clothes you prefer. The more you are at ease with your appearance, the more confident you will feel.
  9. Imagine yourself making the speech successfully: just like sportsmen who imagine themselves performing the action successfully in advance (the golfer imagines himself making the putt, the soccer player taking the penalty, etc.). By making the speech in your mind, you are actually doing the action before you actually do it!
  10. Show conviction: people don’t always remember the words or the facts you may present but they always remember how you make them feel. Remember to engage your audience­­­. Don’t hide behind your slides but speak to your audience directly. Prepare a joke and use it at the appropriate moment. Always finish on a positive note.  If you make a mistake or forget a point, keep going. Nobody will probably notice.

Some quotes from famous speakers to help:

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all(Winston Churchill).

It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech(Mark Twain).

In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the language; third the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech(Aristotle).

What helps you to perform effectively when you have to make a speech in public?

Curbing email rage at the office: some golden rules

February 6, 2010

Email is an important communication tool today in all organizations. However, abuse and misuse can contribute to poor performance and poor team spirit. Organizations often neglect to set simple rules and guidelines to help managers and employees communicate more effectively through emails. Managers and team members often fail to understand the negative impact bad practice can have on colleagues and subordinates in this important area. Here are some golden rules I would always promote and include in an email-users charter for all organizations:

  • Always remain calm and cool-headed. Expressing anger and frustration in writing only makes things worse and aggravates the problem (supposing there is one in the first place). Talk to the person directly if there seems to be an issue. Don’t react to an email that seems to offend because it’s only stoking the flames.
  • Always remain polite. Using insulting or derogatory terms serves no purpose. Think twice before reacting and again, putting something in writing only makes things worse and only devalues the author of the comments.
  • Always be positive. Don’t berate or criticize ideas expressed by someone in a previous mail. Again, comments made in writing have much more impact and are more enduring than anything said in haste. Be hard on the problem and not on the person. Be direct and frank by all means but do not criticize the person.
  • Keep it simple and use normal police and characters. Never put whole sentences in capital and/or bold letters to ensure your reader gets the point. THIS IS OFTEN EQUIVALENT TO SHOUTING AT SOMEONE BY EMAIL. People can read and don’t need to have the important points highlighted. Such practice also sends the message that you don’t trust them to understand the point you feel is critical.
  • Keep it short. Don’t confuse emails with internal memos. Emails should be short and to the point.
  • Don’t write if you can speak directly to the person. If the person is in the next room, note the point down and go and see the person. Direct contact is always best.
  • Limit the number of persons you copy. Putting the world and his wife on copy creates information overload. If you have to copy others, be selective and decide on who really needs to know (think RASCI if necessary for important subjects).
  • Set limits as to when to send emails: if the user has a blackberry or other means of sending mails out of office hours, he or she should wait until a civilized moment to send a mail. There is no point in sending an email at 1 am in the morning if the person won’t open it before 9 am the same day. This doesn’t give the right message to team members and invades the private sphere because it supposes that the team member receiving the message is prepared to do the same. If you have to work late, OK. But save the mail and send it at the appropriate moment. If the message is really urgent, use the phone and apologize for the disturbance.
  • Solve the problem, don’t write about it: If there is a problem, don’t hide behind emails. Step in and address the problem or speak to the person responsible. Don’t hide behind an email because the problem will remain unsolved and only get worse.
  • Use Globish : if you work for an international organization and need to communicate with team members in different countries, use simple English and avoid slang, irony and abbreviations as readers from  different cultures won’t necessarily understand the slang or abbreviations or be able to decode the subtext behind irony or understatement.

What golden rules would you promote?

Why geese fly in V formation: some lessons for developing effective team work

January 30, 2010

We all know how powerfully effective team work can be in delivering higher levels of performance and all managers need to focus constantly on developing the capacity of their team members to work cohesively together. Developing team work is a key skill requirement for every manager, especially in highly competitive environments which tend to encourage more individualistic behaviours. Indeed and paradoxically, the standard performance management model used by most organizations today based on Management by Objectives can drive the very behaviours contrary to good performance (individualism, the temptation to go-it alone, silo mentality, every man for himself, dog eat dog, etc.). The sum of the parts does not always necessarily add up to the whole and quite often, the successful completion by individuals of their personal objectives as formalized in the annual appraisal process does not mean that the company is globally  better off at the end of the day.

Effective team work is even more critical today because in most organizations now organized in a matrix format, nobody can achieve anything alone and everyone depends on the inputs of many contributors at different levels to succeed. This is even more the case in international organizations where teams are spread out geographically, speak different languages, work in different time zones and have different cultural mindsets. In such environments, success can’t be imposed by command and control through top down management techniques. Leadership has to be more inclusive and focused on leveraging the strengths and capacities of all team members, wherever they may be and whatever their cultural background or organizational roles.

Developing team work is key and mother nature can teach us humans many lessons in the art of effective team working. Take the example of a flock of geese which you may observe flying across the sky in a V formation? Here are some simple reasons why geese fly collectively in V formation and the lessons we can  learn from their example to develop effective team work.

Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

So as a manager seeking to drive performance through effective team work, apply the following five leadership principles (V principles):

  1. build a shared sense of community around a shared vision, set of values, common direction and shared objectives
  2. build, encourage, reward and recognize the sharing of resources and skills, knowledge and best practices throughout your team
  3. share your leadership by empowering team members to take responsibility at their levels
  4. Always encourage, never blame
  5. Always Stand by and defend your team members and promote solidarity and collective responsibility at all times.

Apply these V principles with your team and it will mean V for Victory!

Check out the video by clicking on the link below

Leadership and teamwork lessons geese teach us

Why do so many companies die prematurely? 4 key factors

November 29, 2009

In his book “The Living Company” first published in 1997, a former senior executive of Shell, Arie de Geus, asked one simple question: why do so many companies die prematurely? A key contributor to business strategy at Shell, de Geus was investigating how to diversify the activities of Shell, knowing that its core business, petroleum,  in the long term would disappear. When he investigated what other companies were doing to ensure their long term future, he was startled to discover that there were few companies of the size of Shell who had the same or a longer lifespan.

The figures presented by de Geus on the subject of company longevity are indeed depressing. The average life expectancy of a multinational company  is between 40 & 50 years. One third of companies listed in the 1970 Fortune 500 had vanished by 1983. Human beings at least in the developed world now enjoy a life expectancy of 75 years and more yet companies have a mortality rate which is much higher. Indeed, if large companies can somehow hope to survive at least 40 to 50 years, this figure falls dramtically if you consider all companies big and small. De Geus quotes a study performed in Holland where the life expectancy of all firms investigated was calculated as 12,5 years!

The current crisis with the failures of institutions such as Lehmann Brothers (initially founded in 1853!) and the virtual bankruptcy of General Motors  makes the question of company mortality rates all the more relevant today.

When you consider all the social misery that such high levels of corporate mortality bring, it seems important to try to understand why so many companies fail and why some seem to survive despite all the political, social and economic upheavals around them. So why do so many companies fail? For de Geus, the reason is that their managers focus on the economic aspects of producing goods and services and they forget that their organization’s true nature is that of a community of humans!

Some companies nevertheless indeed last hundreds of years and de Geus gives examples such as DuPont, Kodak, Sumitomo, Mitsui and Daimaru. In France, Saint-Gobain has been around since 1665! So if you want to understand what is the secret to corporate longevity, study those large companies which have the longest lifespan to see what secrets they share.

De Geus identified 40 companies who were as large as Shell and older. After much analysis, he identified 4 key factors shared by all companies with a long lifespan:

  1. Longlived companies were sensitive to their environments and constantly adapted to societal changes around them.
  2. Long-lived companies were cohesive with a strong sense of identity. No matter how diversified they were, their employees felt they were all part of one single entity. It would appear that strong employee links is essential to survival in times of change.
  3. Longlived companies were tolerant and did not try to dominate or impose a centralized control throughout the organization.
  4. Longlived companies were conservative in financing, were frugal and did not risk their capital gratuitously. They managed cashflow wisely to maintain flexibility and independence.

What does this mean for managers running businesses who are fighting to deliver short-term results while guaranteeing the future?

De Geus defines the 4 factors in the following ways:

  1. sensitivity to the environment represents a company’s ability to learn and adapt
  2. cohesion and identity concerns a company’s ability to build a community and a persona for itself
  3. tolerance means the ability of an organization to build constructive relationships with other entities within and outside itself.
  4. conservative financing means the ability to govern its own growth and evolution effectively.

These 4 basic components: leaning to adapt, building a community with a shared purpose, building constructive relationships and being able to govern one own’s growth form a set of organizing principles of managerial behaviour and represent the critical aspects of the work of any manager who wants his or her company to survive and thrive for the long term.

But these 4 components can only flourish if we operate a paradigm shift and change the way we think of a company. For de Geus, a company is a living entity and not just a machine built to deliver products and services or satisfy customer or shareholders.

Anyone who has worked in a business would not be surprised with such a view of an organization. Organizations need to learn, all have an identity, all seek to guarantee their coherence, all build relationships with other entities and all grow and develop until they eventually die.

Considering a company as a living entity has important implications for answering another key question: what are companies for? According to the dominant paradigm in business, a company’s purpose is to deliver products and services, to serve customers and deliver ROI to shareholders.

De Geus anwers this question in a far more provocative way. A company, like all living entities, exists for its own survival and improvement : to fulfill its potential and to become as great as it can be. Just like a human being who doesn’t exist solely for his/her job or his/her career but seeks to survive and thrive, to realize his/her potential.

Profit, return on investment are a means to an end but not the end in itself. The end in itself for a company is simply to grow and thrive.

The implications of defining a company’s purpose in this way for managers and management practice are fundamental and far-reaching. If we accept that the purpose of a company is simply to survive and thrive, then the priorities in managing such a company are very different to those set forth by the champions of the dominant paradigm which sees a company’s purpose only as to deliver short term results.

Those companies with the longest life span would seem to have understood that their real purpose was to survive and thrive in the long term and they consequently managed their businesses around that goal.  In the present crisis, with so many companies going to the wall, it would be well worth rediscovering the views of Arie de Geus and investigating more deeply how we can benefit from the lessons and management best practices of the tercentenarian companies who put the sense of community first.

For more information, read Arie de Geus,  “The living company, Growth, learning and longevity in business“,  1997

arie de geus on organizational change

The Pygmalion effect: expect the worst and we most likely will get it!

November 11, 2009

We have all heard of the “self-fulfilling prophecy“. One way to look at this idea is to say that “we get what we expect” and if we expect something to happen, our expectation will tend to make it so.

Our expectations often drive the events which occur, rather than the other way round. A leading researcher on this issue, Robert Rosenthal, labelled this expectancy effect the “Pygmalion effect” and if we are not all familiar with the Greek myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor, who fell in love with his own statue of a woman, many of us have seen the movie My fair lady, inspired by the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, where Professor Higgins sets out to transform a girl of modest origins, Eliza Doolittle, into a lady.

Rosenthal has researched this issue for many years and has come up with some interesting findings. In particular, he performed a study at an elementary school in a lower middle-class neighbourhood of a large US town. This experiment has been called the Oak School experiment. Simply put, with the agreement of the school administration, all the children in grades 1 to 6 were given a standard IQ TEST at the beginning of the school year. The teachers were told the test was the Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition and that the test was designed to predict academic blooming. In other words, teachers were told that students scoring high on the test were ready to bloom academically and would progress in the coming year. If the test was a valid one, all the rest was not true and the test had no predictive nature whatsoever.

All the teachers subsequently received a list with the names of their students who had scored in the top 20% on the “Harvard Test”. Of course, the names provided were at random and the children in question had done no better than the other pupils forming part of the control population.

Near  the end of the year, all the children at the school took the test again and the degree of change in IQ was calculated for each child.  To summarize, the results showed that the children for whom the teachers had expected greater intellectual growth averaged significantly greater improvement than did the control children.

Rosenthal explains the differences in terms of teachers expectations. When teachers expect greater intellectual development from certain children, these children did show greater intellectual development.

Rosenthal defines 4 key factors which drive this Pygmalion effect:

1) Climate factor: teachers who expect more of certain students tend to create a warmer climate for those children, both verbally and non verbally (for example, they will smile moe often at them).

2) Input factor: teachers will tend to teach more material to children they think are smarter

3) Response opportunity factor: children who are expected to bloom academicallly get more chance to respond.

4) Feedback factor: if more is expected of a child, he/she gets praised more when he/she is right but gets more differentiated feedback when he/she makes a mistake. Children who are not expected to perform get less feedback when they are wrong because teachers would seem to think that the children in question would not understand the correction and so the teachers spend less time trying to correct them.

If you transpose these findings to the world of work, what conclusions can be drawn for high and low performers?

Obviously, managers have to question their role in generating performance through the expectations they develop in relation to different employees. If they expect more from certain employees (for example, those who have gone to certain universities or grad schools), their expectations will tend to drive the results they expect because they will create the climate, give more input, be available to listen more and above all give more differentiated feedback to help the employee for whom they hold high expectations.

On the other hand, they will tend to spend less time maintaining a favourable climate with workers for whom they have less expectations, give less feedback, make themselves less available to listen and finally, give less differentiated feedback to employees they deem to be struggling or not able to understand the feedback that is required to hep them progress.

In other words, some managers get the performance they expect and either consciously or unconsciously, adopt behaviours which may drive success for some but also drive failure in others.

The manager’s role is to drive better performance in all and so everyone in a management role should be alert to the Pygmalion effect and how preconceived notions and bias can perhaps deliver high performance in some (the so-called stars or A-players) while driving poor performance in others.

Simply put, if you are in a management role,seriously question your preconceived notions about team members. Be alert to how you behave towards all team members in terms of the climate you establish, the input you give to each team member, the response you give to each person in terms of support and coaching and how you give differentiated feedback to all. If you truly believe in team work and how 1+1+3, then you need to focus on how you can get more from all employees through higher and more positive expectations focused on all.

To conclude, the bad news is that our expectations as managers toward employees can drive both good and bad performance.

The good news is that we can drive good performance in all team members if we adopt the correct behaviours and if we have positive expectations for all team workers.

If poor expectations drives poor performance, positive expectations can and will drive good performance. Positive expectations are the key and this means trusting your employees more to deliver to your higher expectations. People will deliver more if you expect them to do so. Higher performance is a case of Greater expectations aimed at all employees be they Harvard graduates or employees of more humble background.

Check out the video which features Robert Rosenthal discussing the Pygmalion effect.

The Pygmalion effect


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