Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

The Power of Purpose

February 22, 2016

Check out this very enjoyable and thought-provoking speech by Robert E. Quinn from the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan  in which Robert reveals very simply how we can all bring positive change around us. The secret lies in discovering our sense of a higher purpose!

As Robert Quinn explains, “when we embrace a sense of a higher purpose, meaning increases in our lives. When we increase meaning in our lives, we increase our sense of empowerment. When we feel more empowered, we take more actions and when we take more actions, our positivity goes up.

Increased positivity allows us to see things in new ways, make new associations, build more positive, enriching  relationships around us. More enriching relationships helps free up untapped potential. When we have sense of a higher purpose, we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and do things we didn’t want to do before, take those difficult decisions and face those conflicts we avoided before”. Empowering!

Driving higher engagement – 6 rules for Smart simplicity

January 26, 2014

“Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler”. Albert Einstein

Why is productivity in some organizations so disappointing? Despite all the innovations in technology and all the investment in training and developing employees and managers to adapt to more and more complex organizations, why does it appear (and statistics would seem to bear this out) that a significant number of workers are disengaged from their jobs and feel unhappy at work?

In his insightful presentation, Yves Morieux gives his views on the main drivers of employee disengagement. More than that, he offers 6 simple rules for driving employee engagement and higher productivity.

For Morieux, traditional approaches on how to engage employees to be more productive have up to now focused on two main management pillars:

  • the “Hard” pillar which seeks to improve productivity by working on structures, processes, systems, statistics, KPIs,…
  • the “Soft” pillar which seeks to work on the interpersonal communication and personal relationships, the traits and personalities of the individuals in order to help them adapt their personalities to the constraints of the organization

Many companies spend large amounts of money on reengineering their structures, processes and systems in order try to drive higher productivity and engagement and/or on training their managers and employees to adapt to these new structures, processes, systems.

But for Morieux, these two pillars of management are obsolete and are even counterproductive. Why?

All organizations are becoming more and more complex and by trying to improve engagement using one or both of these two traditional management pillars (work the structure and train the people to adapt), they in fact only add on more complexity.  Rather, they add on layers of “complicatedness” to an already complex environment.

For example, in the car industry, a drive to reduce repair time led to the creation of a specific “repairability” requirement which in turn led to the creation of a specific “repairability” function, the role of which was to align design engineers to repairability objectives. This inevitably led to the creation of a specific “repairability process“, a “repairability scorecard” and “repairability KPIs “to measure engineering  alignment to process objectives. But when one considers that there were 25 other competing functions each with its own process, scorecard and KPIs, very quickly one realizes how complicated it was for the engineers concerned to comply meaningfully with so many competing constraints and requirements and for “Mr Reliability” to impact positively on the “repairability” issue in a meaningful way.

The inevitable result is that rather than improving productivity, such a traditional approach only complicates things by adding extra layers of administration, back office work and non added value tasks. Costs are higher for zero results.

The secret for Morieux lies in not drawing additional boxes with complicated reporting lines or adding on extra organizational layers. It lies, as he says, in understanding the “interplay“, the connections and cooperation required between functions to deliver the required result. In simple terms, what is key is how the parts “cooperate” or should “cooperate“. As Morieux points out, “every time people cooperate, they use less resources and not more“.

Conversely, when functions don’t cooperate, they always need “more time, more systems, more processes, more teams….which means higher costs. 

But who pays for this?

Not the shareholders. Not the customers. Individual employees must eventually pay by overcompensating for the lack of functional cooperation  through higher effort and this inevitably leads to burn out, stress, disenchantment and disengagement.

Faced with such productivity problems, the “Hard” management pillar seeks to add on extra boxes to the “organizational skeleton”. The “Soft” pillar believes that if functions  like one another and fit better together, this will solve the problem. But in fact, the result is often the opposite because to maintain the relationship, functions will seek to add on extra organizational layers expecting these extra layers to resolve the conflicts or deliver the tough trade offs required which they don’t want to address themselves  for fear of endangering relationships.

These two approaches are therefore obsolete in a complex organization because they only generate unnecessary complicatedness and Morieux offers instead 6 key rules for smart simplicity :

Rule 1: understand what people really do.

We need to go beyond the job descriptions and the organization charts and understand what others really do operationally so that we know how different functions depend on and interact with one another. The designer should understand the consequences of his design for the customer services team and for the repair teams before he commits a design and generates costs further down the line.

Rule 2: we need to reinforce the role and powers of the  integrators.

Integrators are not middle offices but managers who must  “have an interest in and be empowered to make others cooperate“. How do you empower managers? Firstly, by removing unnecessary organizational layers. When you have too many management layers, you have more and more managers who are  “too far removed from the action” and who need “KPIs and score cards” to see reality.  What they see is not reality but a proxy of reality. Secondly,  you also need to simplify the management rules because the bigger and more complex an organization becomes, the more you must give discretionary power to managers to solve their problems at their level. Quite often, we do the contrary and we end up by creating huge systems of rules which freezes initiative and drains local managers of responsibility. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules but it is vital to ensure that the rule book is lean and that managers can act effectively and quickly.

Rule 3: Increase the quantity of power to everyone

If you want more employees to take initiatives and “engage” more with the organization, you must give more power to everyone so that they feel they can use their initiative and intelligence to good effect and that they have all the cards in their hands to make a difference. Only then will they be ready to take risks and really seek to cooperate meaningfully with others.

Rule 4: Create a shadow of the future

You must expose employees to the consequences of their actions by constantly creating feedback loops, thereby creating a shadow of the future.  This is what the car industry did when they told  design engineers that they would move to the after sales service three years on so that they would have to live with the consequences of their own designs. If you empower more people, you must also ensure that these empowered people get effective feedback on their actions so that they are constantly  adapting their behaviors to organizational expectations and can clearly link their actions and organizational results.

 Rule 5: Increase reciprocity

This means “removing the buffers that make functions self-sufficient”. There is too much dysfunctional self sufficiency in organizations, largely fed by increased organizational layers and sub layers. Remove these unnecessary layers and interfaces which interfere with meaningful cooperation and we will encourage greater productivity. Above all, seek to design your organization in a way that creates interdependencies between functions so that only cooperation can deliver the required result.

Rule 6: Reward those who cooperate, blame those who don’t cooperate

Rather than promoting a culture that blames failure, we should promote a culture that rewards cooperation and blames non-cooperation. Morieux cites the CEO of Lego who believes  that “blame is not for failure, blame is for not helping or not asking for help“. This indeed changes everything because it encourages us to be transparent and to cooperate.

These 6 rules have profound consequences for organizational design, for finance policies, for human resource management in complex organizations. Above all, if we implement these 6 simple rules, we will manage complexity without being paralyzed by complicatedness. We will create more value at lower cost. We will simultaneously improve performance and job satisfaction because we will have removed the root cause that hinders both : “complicatedness“. This is the real challenge facing all leaders of complex organizations.

Why some succeed where others fail. Start with “Why” and not “What” or “How”!

November 5, 2013

Why do some succeed where others fail?
Why are some organizations so successful where other organizations fail ? Why for example is Apple so innovative year after year after year whereas other computer manufacturers such as Dell or Gateway have failed in various initiatives to diversify?

Why should customers buy your products or services in a market place where your competitors have the same access to talent, the same agencies, the same marketing tools, the same market conditions, the same resources, the same technical expertise? What makes you different?

Start with “Why” and not with “What” or “How”
Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action” answers these questions in a very clear and simple way. The reason why some organizations succeed where others fail is for one simple reason: those who succeed are those who think, act and communicate in a totally different way and follow what Sinek calls the principles of the Golden Circle. Successful and inspirational leaders start by defining “why” they do what they do before explaining what or how they do it.  In other words, they define their purpose clearly and act and communicate aligned to that purpose. They communicate from the “Inside out”.

The Golden Circle

Communicate from the “Inside-Out”
Most organizations communicate from the “Outside-In”: they describe what they do, how they do it and then expect or hope customers to make a decision based on the facts presented. In fact, many organizations proceed this way because they don’t know “Why” they are doing what they are doing.

But this “Outside-In” approach as Sinek point out is very uninspiring and doesn’t capture the minds and hearts of the largest audience and certain doesn’t set us apart from the rest. Indeed, if you don’t know “Why” you are doing what you are doing, how can you hope to inspire others to buy your products or follow your lead?

Rather provocatively and counter-intuitively, the goal of business, Sinek reminds us, is not to do business with people who need what we have, the goal is to do business with people who believe what we believe.

When we communicate from the Inside Out and get others to buy in to our Purpose, we speak to the fundamental drivers of human decision making, the “emotions” and we inspire those who think the same way as we do, feel the same as we do, see the world as we do, who are ready to trust us because we share something in common more than simply a basic business need.

Apple is so innovative because it succeeds in inspiring those of us who share the same purpose and see the world as Apple sees it. Apple doesn’t first try to sell us technology or extra functionalities. Indeed, their products as a whole are perhaps no better than those of its competitors. But what they do best is sell a vision and a purpose which many customers buy in to perhaps even despite the short comings of the products themselves.

Indeed, the Golden Circle principle can be applied to all areas of human endeavor.

Hire people who share the same goals and values
From a Human Resource point of view, when seeking to build a great team, we shouldn’t simply seek to hire people who can simply do the job. As Sinek says, attracting people who want to work for the paycheck is not enough. We must seek to attract people who believe what we believe, who share and identify with the goals and values of the organization because only those who share the same goals and values will go beyond the simple actions required to earn the paycheck and will engage fully with the organization, especially when the going gets rough. How do we find those people? By talking about who we are and by communicating from the “Inside-out”, we will attract more people who share the same values as us.

The perhaps apocryphal advertisement supposedly placed by the Irish Arctic explorer, Sir Edward Shackleton in the Times newspaper illustrates how building a strong and effective team depends on much more than simply knowing how to perform the tasks required. The ad is supposed to have been published as below:

“MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON”

Perhaps this ad was never indeed placed but it captures what all high achieving teams really need. Going the extra mile, making the extra effort depends on much more than simple technical competencies and in Shackleton’s case, his team survived because they shared the vision, the same goal and values.

Leadership by authority versus Leadership by inspiration
From a leadership point of view, Sinek makes the difference between those who are in leadership positions because they have power and those who are leaders because they manage to capture the hearts and minds of their audiences. Power is not enough to inspire others and all the great leaders in history, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, JFK, Churchill (to name but a few), were effective leaders because they managed to capture the hearts and minds of their audiences through a shared vision and purpose rather than through any exercise of pure power. As Sinek so provocatively suggests, leaders inspire us to follow them for ourselves and not for them, because they personify what we believe.

Check out Simon Sinek on TedTalks for a fascinating and charismatic presentation of his views on how answering the question “Why” makes such a big, big difference.

U are alive! Avail of this “once in a lifetime opportunity” – Discover Maser, Dublin’s leading street artist

October 27, 2013

http://maserart.com/video/

Maser is a Dublin street artist whose work not only celebrates the city and the people of Dublin but ordinary citizens everywhere.

Maser’s message is simple and his objective is to use street art to raise people’s spirits.

He reminds us all to be positive and encourages us to remain resilient when faced with difficult times.

Maser teamed up with the singer Damien Dempsey to launch the “They are Us” project in support of the Simon Community which supports the Homeless in Dublin. His retro type faces and bright, bold colors combined with Damien Dempsey’s words splashed on the walls of Dublin city streets highlighting simple but thought provoking maxims and proverbs challenge us to rise above the gloom and look optimistically to the future.

Maser’s work is fun, very simple, very effective, reaches out to all and helps to remind us about what really matters.

Check out more at Maserart.com

Maser - tough to be a nice guy

Maser - Inside our minds we hold the key

Maser- Dare to be different

Maser_Belfast_Mar11_1000

Grow your top performers in house – don’t buy them from the outside

February 19, 2011

Talent management is a very hot topic for many businesses today. A lot of time, effort and investment is being dedicated to attracting, retaining and developing key talent for key organizational roles. Quite a lot of companies are tempted to fill key roles by recruiting “stars” with proven track records from other firms, the logic being that success is guaranteed and results will come more quickly by bringing in someone from the outside with the specific skills required to do the job.

Such a policy can have a strong impact on workforce morale. Many employees may often feel they are neglected or passed over as the company seems to give a clear signal that it doesn’t have the skills internally to deliver the desired results and this in turn can lead to disengagement of good performers.

However, research recently performed by Professor Boris Groysberg from Harvard Business School indicates that it is not always such a good idea to “buy in” talent from the outside. Indeed, quite often, “stars” who have performed successfully in one environment do not necessarily succeed in their new environment and their “talent” does not necessarily transfer over into the new organisation. Why?

Boris Groysberg points out some very simple but fundamental reasons why talent is not automatically “transferable” from one environment to another.  Talent is not simply a question of “individual qualities” or “expertise” held by the person but depends also on the system which surrounds and supports that individual: the company culture, the team, the “talented” person’s  direct manager, the IT systems, etc. Talent is therefore also a product of the organization and the individual loses this when he/she moves elsewhere.

Above all, High Performance is a question of trust and depends on relationships with others. Even highly talented individuals need to build trusting relationships with the world around them and building such trust takes time.

When a “talented” individual leaves one organization for another one, building the trust network takes a lot of time and therefore the individual’s performance is likely to dip significantly in the short to medium term in the new organization while he/she is busy building such relationships.

In other words, companies may buy in the “talent” but they can’t buy the trust and that’s why  many individuals who have been successful in one organization fail to replicate their success in their new organization. Indeed, some individuals may fall victim to the “talent paradox“. A company recruits a talented individual to deliver immediate, short term  results but his/her ability to perform depends on relationships of trust which take time to build and so he/she is caught between the short-term requirement to deliver results and the long-term need to generate trust within the organization.

That’s why Boris Groysberg recommends developing talent in-house as you will then be able to lever the trust network built up by those key individuals whom you gradually grow to become  your organizational “stars”. In other words, companies  need to “make their own stars”  and effective talent management therefore requires systematic long term planning and investment, training, coaching and mentoring of key individuals from beginning to end.

In this interview, Boris Groysberg addresses many other key talent management issues such as:

  • should you inform your key people that they are considered stars?
  • do you increase the risk of losing your key people if you inform them they are considered key talents
  • Why do key talents end up leaving your organization?

Check out Boris Groysberg discussing Talent Development by viewing the video below.

Imagine yourself leading: be the change you want to see in the world!

February 12, 2011

At the heart of all human performance and engagement  is a fundamental desire to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. The world is changing so fast and so many barriers are collapsing. And yet, so many people are still so much in need. Never before perhaps has the world required positive leadership, not just from politicans but from all walks of life and especialy from ordinary people who have extraordinary powers to change things for the greater good. Many political leaders have already led the way by challenging the established order of things for the better: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi to name but a few. Business leaders have also taken the lead: Warren Buffet and Bill Gates for example. One common value unites all: each leader walked the talk and led by example. What’s more important is that you can’t resolve problems with the logic that caused those problems in the first place and the world needs new, fresh, innovative ideas. And those new ideas can come from everywhere and from anyone.

As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Check out XPLANE for inspiration on leadership.

What are your thoughts on leadership and change?

Effective performance: it’s all about trust. 10 tips for managers to develop team trust

February 7, 2011

It is clear to many people today that we are experiencing a crisis of  trust. The recent global banking and financial crisis seems to have undermined radically the bedrock of all business success: TRUST.

All the traditional pillars of society are now more or less in question and all levels of society seem to be affected by this fundamental lack of trust. It’s not surprising that this crisis of trust has spilled over to the world of work and many internal employee surveys continue to show that employees the world over place seem to place less trust in their organizations and management to look after their best interests.

A lot of employees feel indeed they are now paying what Stephen M.R. Covey calls a hidden “trust tax”: the less trust they have in their organizations, the more they adopt counter productive behaviors to compensate, generating in turn further distrust. The excessive use of emails at work may be only one basic example of this “trust tax” because excessive email ties up unnecessary time for many people who don’t need to be necessarily on copy for everything.

And yet, never has trust been more necessary because as Stephen M.R. COVEY points out in his book  “The Speed of Trust“, nothing can be achieved long term without trust. Without trust, short-term gains may indeed  be acquired but at huge cost and after huge delays and in today’s fast evolving business environment, speed is key to business success.

Trust is therefore the fundamental driver of performance in the new global economy and indeed is “the key leadership competency” required to drive effectiveness. Especially in fast evolving, matrix, lean organizations, it’s not possible to monitor every employee and “compliance” can’t be the only management objective. Only a culture of trust delivers the behaviors businesses needed to get the results required at the cost and speed expected by customers.

For as Stephen M.R. Covey indeed points out, trust always impacts 2 key outcomes: speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up. When trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down. In high trust environments, all the different ingredients which contribute to effective performance are encouraged: internal communication is smoother, collaboration is more effective, execution is faster thanks to quicker decision-making, innovation is greater, alignment is easier, employee engagement in increased, partnering and relationships with all stakeholders are more positive.

In low trust environments, of course, all of these ingredients are impacted and impaired. Communication becomes difficult at all levels as employees may hide information, collaboration within teams becomes more complicated, execution becomes cumbersome as decision making involves more and more people, the source of innovation dries up, there is misalignement between strategy and individual actions, employees become more disengaged and relationships with stakeholders inevitably suffer.

Trust is not some soft skill “nice to have but hard to measure“. Covey quotes a 2002 study by Watson Wyatt which shows that return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low trust organizations. Trust or the lack of it impacts on the bottom line dramatically.

What’s more, managers can actually do something about it. Trust is something that can be developed and managers have a responsibility and an opportunity to build trust with their team members and with stakeholders  across the organization.

Here therefore are some tips for managers to help build trusting relationships within teams:

1) Recognize that trust is the key driver of performance and that building trust is a key management responsibility and objective. Too often, managers set themselves hard, quantifiable, task-oriented objectives but they rarely set themselves an objective of building a culture of trust. As trust is the bedrock on which everything else rests, this is very surprising, to say the least.

2) Walk the talk by setting example. Say what you do and do what you say. Meet your commitments small and big. You build credibility and trust by demonstrating that you keep your word and that you can be counted on to deliver. Team members lose faith and become demotivated when they notice a gap between the “talk” and the “walk“. Worse, they may even adopt the same behavior because as we all know, the manager’s behavior sets the tone with regard to what is/not acceptable behavior within a team. Pay attention to detail and to the small things because as we again all know, the “devil is in the detail“. Failing to meet commitments in apparently “small issues” can set the tone. Quite often, team members don’t see the big things but notice the “small details“.

3) Empower team members. Empowerment means giving each person a meaningful role aligned to his/her competencies where he/she feels he/she has “stewardship” for the job. In other words, each person feels responsible for getting the job done and for evaluating results. This doesn’t mean the manager exerts no control because there can be no delegation of responsibility without control. What it does however mean is that employees are given the chance to feel they have a form of “ownership” for their objectives and have accountability for results. As we all know, we all respond more favourably to being trusted and we are more motivated to get things done when it becomes a personal challenge and when we feel we are personally responsible for results.

4) Don’t delegate “tasks”. There may be times when a task needs to be completed and someone has to do it. A manager needs to delegate that task to a team member. However, delegating tasks must remain the exception rather than the rule. Managers should seek to delegate a set of responsibilities that allows a person to take responsibility and accountability  for the expected results for a given role in the team.  Being responsible for a given role obviously allows the person to be proactive and develop strategies to manage work. Being constantly asked to work urgent tasks prevents employees from being more effective. The simple matrix below illustrates  some differences between delegating tasks  and empowering through clearly defined roles.

5) Get out of the way. Once you empower your team members in an appropriate way, get out of the way and let each team member play his/her role. If something goes wrong or if things don’t progress as quickly as desired, avoid the temptation to step in and decide or act in place of the team member who has “stewardship” for the action. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t take back a responsibility granted and don’t short-circuit team members or act in their place. This only contributes to demotivating the person concerned who will feel that he/she doesn’t really have responsibility for the task at hand and that when push comes to shove, someone else will decide.

6) Align “roles and responsibilities” within the team. There can be no “empowerment” without role alignment within the team. Ensure that all team members understand their role and how it fits into and interacts with the greater whole. Too often, even when a manager defines a role with a team member, this is not shared with other team members and role confusion and conflict ensues concerning “who does what“. As organizations are not static, roles and responsibilities will evolve and the key role of the manager is to work constantly with his/her team to adapt roles and responsibilities in an appropriate and systemic way and in a win-win relationship.

7) Establish win-win relationships with team members. Quite often, some managers may see team members as simple cogs in a wheel serving the sole interests of the manager. Managers need to recognize that employees have their own agenda and own personal goals and these goals have to be understood and nurtured in true win-win relationships. If managers only see employees as instruments to help the advancement of their own careers and manage them in a “directive, hands-on” way, this will only lead to demotivation and poor performance as team members inevitably come to the conclusion that their contribution is ignored. Team members are not mere puppets to be manipulated at will. So know your team members, understand their needs and work to help them progress towards their goals in a “win-win” spirit.

8) “Recognize good performance in public, criticize weak performance in private“. Employee engagement is nurtured by recognition. Recognition can take many forms. Obviously, monetary recognition such as a pay increase or a bonus is one obvious way of recognizing performance. However, there are many other more subtle ways of recognizing good performance. One effective way is to give recognition in public in front of the team or through appropriate internal communication tools. A simple thank you  can go a long way. A contrario, never criticize in public. It impacts not only the person concerned but all team members and leads to demotivation and disengagement. If a team member needs to improve, the feedback should be given in private.

9) Consider objective setting and performance evaluation as a collaborative task with each team member. Use the annual appraisal process to reinforce the “win-win” relationship between the manager and team member. Start by allowing each team member to evaluate his/her own performance. This reinforces the feeling of personal stewartship and demonstrates that the manager trusts the employee to evaluate his/her own performance in good faith. Always give the employee appropriate time to respond to feedback, especially when the feedback is written down and/or captured in the annual appraisal. Never confront the team member with a “fait accompli”. Avoid always jumping to conclusions and hear what the employee has to say first. If one accepts that the vast majority of employees want to perform well, one should also recognize that employees are the best placed to know how they are performing.

10) Be open and transparent as a manager. Explain your intentions clearly. In complicated, fuzzy logic organizations where responsibilities are shared, it is becoming more and more important for managers to communicate clearly their intentions so that team members can understand the “why” a course of action is being taken. Too often, some managers resort to “command and control” techniques which gets things done quickly but in the long run, are counter-productive and lead to employee disengagement. Employees can’t evaluate if a manager “walks the talk” if the manager doesn’t first “talk the talk” by explaining clearly what his/her intentions are. Furthermore, hiding information or sharing information sparingly can confuse team members and disempower them by putting them in situations where decision-making is high risk or impossible. Indeed, sharing information and involving team members in decision-making will build trust and reinforce confidence. Openness inspires openness. This doesn’t mean sharing all information with everyone but it does mean ensuring that all team members have access to the information they need, no only to do their jobs better but to avoid errors resulting from decisions taken without the relevant information.

Follow these 10 tips and you will transform you “trust tax” into a “trust dividend“. You will also go a long way to building trusting win-win relationships within your team and thereby drive better performance and higer engagement in the workplace.

View Stephen M.R. Covey for more insights on the importance of trust in driving higher performance.

The speed of trust by Stephen M.R. Covey

Finding your leadership compass – 5 key principles to help you become an authentic leader

November 1, 2010

In 2008, former CEO of Medtronic and current Harvard Business School Professor, Bill George presented his thoughts on leadership and what makes a good leader to Google employees as part of the Google leadership series. Delivered 2 years ago in the early days of the most dramatic economic crisis since the great depression of 1929, the arguments Bill George presented in his speech then are even more relevant today, now that we are even clearer on the human, economic, industrial and financial consequences of a crisis brought about the reckless behavior of a few financial institutions “too big to fail”.

Bill George indeed begins by stating the obvious : the financial crisis is also a leadership crisis because it was brought about by individuals who preferred short-term, personal, gains to long-term organizational goals. For Bill George, organizations have been choosing the wrong people for positions of responsibility for too long and charisma has taken precedence over personal integrity and the desire to put collective before personal goals.

Basically, organizations have been choosing takers and not givers and examples abound of individuals who succeeded in the short-term but who put their organizations in dire circumstances in the long-term (only they weren’t there to take the blame). Given the consequences of the crisis we are now enduring, it is easy to understand why so many people may have lost all confidence in the whole idea of leadership and this crisis of confidence makes Bill George’s ideas even more relevant for anyone seeking to develop effective performance in organizations today.

For Bill George, leadership cannot be equated with the simple wielding of power or being able to command others to do one’s bidding. Leadership is about responsibility to others and to the organization and being conscious of the impact of one’s decisions on the well-being of the organization and of its members.

 

For Bill George, as for Peter Drucker, the old hierarchical, leader-follower, top-down, command-and-control, management model has failed and cannot work in today’s global, flexible, high tech organizations staffed by highly educated, white collar workers.  Knowledge workers do not respond to command and control management techniques and as they often know more than their bosses, refuse to be dictated to in the way blue-collar workers once were. Hungry to maintain their expertise, knowledge workers expect more opportunities and won’t wait in line patiently for promotion or new roles, preferring to move on if necessary to develop their careers and expertise.  Finally, money is no longer a key motivator and as we all spend most of our time at work, we need to find purpose and meaning in what we do at work.  If we can’t find that purpose or if leaders can’t help us find that purpose and meaning, we will become disengaged and demotivated.

So leaders today need to be attentive to 4 key drivers of performance and engagement:

1)   Alignment: as people need to find meaning and purpose in what they do, leaders need to be able to align employees in their organization around a common mission and set of values.  Team members will be more engaged if they adhere to the organization’s mission and if they can identify with the values espoused by the organization they belong to.  A clear mission is a magnet that attracts employees and allows them to work together as a team effectively. Neglect your mission statement and you run the risk of disengaging many of your employees.

2)   Empowerment: leaders are not defined by the power they wield but by how they  empower others to act effectively. In many organizations today, the people with most influence are not those with the most power. Leaders need to be able to recognize this and ensure that those with most influence and expertise are empowered to use that expertise and influence effectively. Empowerment is key to the sustainable development of all high tech organizations today because as Bill George points out, the key to sustainable development is innovation and creativity, which in turn depends on a corporate culture that frees up talent and allows employees to take measured risks to develop new and innovative products. The larger the organization however, the greater the risk of a command-and-control organization taking over as the organization struggles to maintain coherence through the application of rigid rules and procedures. The best way to counteract such a counter-productive culture is to try to segment the organization into small, flexible units that allows for more creativity and innovation.

3)   Customer service: for too long, the message from the financial sector has been that creating share-holder value is the ultimate goal of any corporation but as Bill George points out, any organization which has this as a goal is doomed to fail because the only way to provide share-holder value is by providing customer service and by providing the products and services the customer wants.  Organizations will only be ultimately successful if they meet their customers’ needs.

4)   Collaboration: the challenges facing all organizations today are complex and require unique collaborative skills within and outside the organization. No organization today is strong enough to stand alone and must be able to foster effective cross-functional team work with and effective collaboration with different organizations in the community at large.

So with these four key requirements in mind, Bill George looks at the leadership question and asserts that leadership concerns us all because each of use in our own way can make a difference, not in a history making way like Nelson Mandela, but in a very simple way at our own personal level by the way we interact with our own environment.

Bill George delivers a very personal message because when he says that we can all make a difference, he challenges us all to discover what makes us passionate and once we have made that discovery, to plot our lives aligned to that passion. Bill George urges us all to use our life to make a difference and this is what real leadership is about: making a difference. Personal values are therefore at the centre of Bill George’s views on leadership.

How can one develop such value-centered leadership and make a personal difference at our own individual  level?

Bill George defines 5 principles of value-centered leadership:

1) Know yourself and this means developing your self-awareness. Leadership does not come from the outside but from the inside, is about the person and we can all be leaders in our own way providing we know who we are, what we stand for, where we want to go, what our strengths are, what our motivations are, what positive forces driving us are. To develop our self-awareness, getting good feedback is vital: from peers, subordinates, bosses,etc…

2) Know your values and base your actions on your values. As you progress your career, you will be more and more confronted by difficult and ambiguous situations and your ability to decide effectively will depend on how clear you are on what you can and cannot do as per your set of personal values.

3) Know what your sweet spot is and strive to find a role in the organization which centres on this sweet spot. Bill George defines your sweet spot as the coming together of your intrinsic motivations with your capabilities. Our intrinsic motivations are those fundamental motivations that satisfy us and drive us on and are different from the official motivations such as earning more money or being promoted. If we can manage to  match our intrinsic motivations and our capabilities in an organizational role, we will increase our chances of being more effective. Traditional management approaches look on individuals in terms of strengths and weaknesses and try to match these strengths and weaknesses of an individual with particular organizational roles. Bill George, however, believes that it is much more effective for an individual to undestand what his/her intrinsic motivations are, what his/her capabilities are and then seek out an organizational role which allows the individual to optimize those intrinsic motivations and capabilities. Find a role that allows you to play to your strengths so that your weaknesses are irrelevant.

4) Build a team around you that will give you good and unbiased feedback.  Others can help us improve and it’s important to put in place different ways of sharing ideas with others. Bill George mentions having a mentor or creating a support group as two ways of getting such feedback and providing mutual help. Professional life has many ups and downs and others can help us adopt the strategies to survive the storms of professional life.

5) Lead an integrated life: rather than trying to develop specific behaviors for work and other specific behaviors more suited to your private life, try to live an integrated life and be the same person wherever you are, whatever environment you are in.  If the gap is too wide between the persona you adopt in an organization and your private life, this quite often can have a negative impact on your sense of integrity. This of course means knowing what your values are, living by those values and taking decisions according to those values.

For Bill George, if you follow these 5 principles, you will be an integrated leader. These 5 principles act as a leadership compass and will help you to go in the direction you want to go and help you be true to your personal direction. If you do so, you will be true to yourself and have a better chance of being true to others. More than 2000 years ago, the Roman statesman, Seneca, stated that “no wind is favorable to he who knows not where he is going” and in those tumultuous times, Seneca was delivering the same message as Bill George today: you cannot perform effectively if you don’t have a clear personal sense of direction. You must know where you want to go in life, what your values are, what motivates you to get up in the morning, what makes you passionate, what you will do and what you won’t do if you want to be able to lead and work effectively with others.

Develop your own personal leadership compass-without it, you wil get lost as many individuals seem to have done when we consider the events which have led us to where we are today in the midst of the worst financial crisis since 1929. View Bill George speaking at Google University by clicking on the link below.

Bill George: finding your True North

You can also discover Bill George discussing what it takes to build sustainable growth and performance by viewing the video


Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose: the 3 pillars of higher performance (or why companies need to rethink the classical carrot and stick approach if they want to engage employees)

July 14, 2010

The carrot and stick approach is a tried and trusted classical way of rewarding performance in business organizations. Paying someone more for reaching specific objectives is generally considered as a simple way of driving the behaviours an organization needs to get the results it requires to satisfy customers and share holders. Money is considered to be the key driver of employee motivation and most organizations have some form of carrot and stick policy whereby they reward good performers and ignore poor performers (or worse). This carrot and stick approach is indeed so classical that most organizations take it as self-evident and as “the only way” to recognize performance and motivate employees.

But what if this very simple and fairly universal way of driving performance is not as effective as it is generally thought to be? Not only that, what if the good old “carrot and stick” approach not only doesn’t deliver the good performance it is supposed to but delivers poor performance, the very opposite?

This is what Dan Pink asserts in a very thought-provoking presentation on the subject of Employee motivation and what drives good behaviour.

For Dan Pink, the basic and supposedly “self-evident” notion that you inevitably get the “behaviors you reward” needs to be challenged. He draws upon different studies made by experts at MIT on the link between monetary reward and increased performance which seem to demonstrate that increased monetary reward, rather than driving higer performance, produces poorer performance. Briefly stated, MIT performed a series of tests with students where they rewarded the participants according to their performance in a series of academic and cognitive tests. The best performers were to receive most financial reward, the worst performers would receive nothing. Surprisingly, these tests reveal two startling results:

1) As long as the test involves purely mechanical skills, the higher the reward, the better the performance. In other words, the “carrot and stick” approach seems to work perfectly for mechanical, unimaginative tasks.

2) However, once the task calls for more than rudimentary cognitive skills, surprisingly, a larger financial reward led to poorer performance. The more the task requires conceptual and creative thinking, the less financial reward seems to drive performance.

This does not mean to say that money is not a motivator. However, money, as Maslow and Hertzberg amongst many other thinkers on human motivation have pointed out, helps rather to reduce the impact of  “dissatisfaction” rather than increasing causes of satisfaction.

Paying someone more is simply a way of getting money off the table as an issue and removing it as a distraction. However, paying someone more won’t get you better performance.

So if money in organisational terms doesn’t make the world go round, what does?

Pink points to 3 key factors leading to better performance:

1) Autonomy: back in the 80’s, Peter Drucker already pointed out that you can’t manage people the way they were managed in previous decades. The more educated the worker, the more he/she is driven by a desire to be self-directed. The old “command and control” management mindset cannot work with today’s generation of highly educated, internet focused, highly mobile, generation Y workforce. Today’s workforce needs to feel in command of its destiny and self-direction is key. Management is great if you want compliance but not so great if you want engagement and today, all organizations know that it’s no longer enough to enforce compliance to get good performance.

The key to performance today is employee engagement. Organizations need employees to engage and go the extra mile and you can’t force employees to engage and give discretionary effort. The less self-directed an employee is in his  job, the less motivated he will be and the size of the carrot won’t change this. So for Dan Pink, the first challenge facing all organizations seeking to drive higher performance is to drive autonomy down into the organizations so that employees can direct their own activity aligned to the organizations goals. People will no longer accept being told what to do. They can accept being told what goals need to be reached but they won’t accept being told how to achieve those goals. Empowerment is therefore critical to driving higher performance. Give people more autonomy, empower them to act and you increase the chances of them  delivering more.

Pink gives a very concrete example of how a company can seek to empower its workforce to be more productive through greater creativity and innovation. He mentions an Autralian software company, Atlassian, which seeks to encourage the creativity and innovation of its employees, not through an “innovation bonus” but by allowing their software engineers once every quarter to work on what they want for a whole day. There is only one precondition: the software engineers then have to produce the results to the company in special workshops. Just one way management can get out of the way (if only for a day) and allow emplyees the autonomy to do what they want to do aligned to corporate objectives.

2) Mastery: a second factor driving performance is mastery. The more we feel we master an area of expertise, the more satisfied we are. This is why people take up different hobbies and try to develop expertise in all sorts of exotic areas. We all like to progress and grow and become better at something. More money won’t give us a feeling of mastery if our role is more restricted, more specialised and if we feel we are not growing as individuals and learning more. So individuals will be motivated by tasks which help them acquire more mastery of their area of expertise and money won’t replace satisfaction felt when one has more mastery of a subject.

3) Purpose: finally, more and more organizations realize that we as individuals are not only profit maximizers but “purpose-maximizers”. We all need a purpose gretaer than ouselves to get us up in the morning and get us to engage fully in any activity. Sportsmen will give their all for their country during the world cup and the winners are not always the highest paid. Some people will give up everthing to dedicate their lives to helping the poor and the destitute. Why? Because a fundamental aspect of all employee motivation is transcendance and having a purpose which is greater than ourselves. More and more organizations are coming to realize this. This is why so many organizations spend so much time and effort  formulating mission statements with elaborate declarations of purpose in the hope of engaging emplyees to adhere to a common purpose. As Pink points out, more and more organizations realize thaty if you fail to link your profit motive to a “purpose”, you not only fail to deliver good performance but you drive bad performance and the result is poor products, poor customer service, poor working conditions, higher accident rates, etc. Many examples abound of corporations who lost the link between their profit motive and their purpose motive to dramatic effect (Enron, Maddoff, etc.).

So money can buy you a lot of things but it can’t always buy you higher performance because to get higher performance, you need to build an organization which gives employees more autonomy, allows them to develop their skills and mastery of their chosen areas and allows them to feel that their efforts and commitment feeds into a greater purpose.

So how does your organization seek to empower your employees? How does it seek to develop their “on the job” mastery? How does it link its financial purpose to a greater, more socially responsible purpose? How is your company moving away from the classical “carrot-and-stick approach” to capture the creativity and conceptual talents of your workforce?

Many thanks for your ideas.

Listen to Dan Pink by clicking on the following link:

Drive: the unsurprising truth about what motivates us

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


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