Make our three engagement drivers second nature and you will win a lot of competitions!
Countless studies support the proposition that stronger employee engagement raises productivity. Yet, organizations still struggle with it:
- 29% of employees declare themselves engaged, according to this year’s annual Gallup survey.
- The other 71% are either disengaged or, worse, completely unengaged.
We know why: Employee engagement can only be sustained over time in an organization that adopts a ‘mindset of engagement’ and makes all the drivers of engagement second nature for every leader at every level. There are multiple drivers. We touched on just nine of them in this month’s newsletter.
We can condense the message down from nine to three: Here are the overriding personal and corporate mindsets that we focus on when building an engaged workforce:
A reverence for the truth –Real information can be shared up and down the chain of command without assigning blame or retribution. Pressing through assumptions to facts should be valued. Bad behavior should be addressed as a teaching moment, with curative rather than punitive responses.
Clarity of communication – Share goals, aspirations, challenges and hurdles. Ask for input. Value the input. Act on the input. Give credit to the source for good input.
Building a high level of trust – Fulfill promises. “Tuesday is Tuesday,” not Wednesday or Friday. Never throw anyone “under a bus,” aside from yourself. Accept full personal accountability for past results, and be a leader in solving problems. Ask not “why did this happen?” Ask “What can I do to fix it?”
There is no quick fix for a lack of engagement. Your organization earns it from each employee through the actions of its leaders over time. It is far easier to lose engagement (especially the underpinning trust) than it is to earn it, so you can never take a day off! That is why it must be a mindset rather than a program.
What do you think of our three key drivers, or our nine more tactical areas of focus? Let us know!
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tells her employees to get back to their desks, then get up and walk around!
Image credit: loosechange.co.za
If you missed the recent media kerfuffle over Yahoo’s decision to significantly reduce work-at-home options for their employees, you missed a great example of how senior executives can have the best intentions, but cause as much harm as good by taking the wrong approach to implementing their vision.
Yahoo takes the position that working at home deprives the employee of that creative day-to-day interaction employees get when working in an office. Innovation happens best through collaboration, which is facilitated when people are physically in the same place.
This article from Deborah Kotz on Boston.com did a nice job of objectively discussing the pros and cons of work-at-home arrangements.
Here is a strong defense of CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to eliminate work-at-home arrangements.
From the outside looking in, we cannot gauge what drove Mayer to make such a sweeping decree. We guess that she has decided that one clear strategic need for Yahoo is to raise the pace and quality of innovation to keep up with Google and other competitors. She came from Google, where innovation seems to start over breakfast and go all day. She definitely wants to foster that same environment at Yahoo.
She may be right in trying to move Yahoo in that direction, but we don’t think imposing a blanket ban on working from home is going to achieve that for her. This is a big, jarring culture shift in her company and her industry: Silicon Valley companies have been pioneers of flexible working arrangements, and that flexibility has actually been cited as a core method of employee engagement and retention: In short, companies help employees strike a better work/life balance, which raises morale and therefore productivity.
We think Mayer should have been more constructive in approaching her target, moving the company more sustainably toward the creation of a more innovative organization. Here are some steps you could consider when redesigning working patterns for your employees as Yahoo wishes to do:
- Ask the employees what is working, and what isn’t. What currently inhibits creative collaboration? How can we create more opportunities to interact productively?
- Rather than unilaterally eliminating work-at-home options, make coming into the office more enticing:
- Run regular workshops within departments that focus on collaborative innovation.
- Have one day every week be a mandatory “office day.” Schedule your innovation sessions for those days.
- Schedule “work with a senior executive day,” and assign all senior executives a specific schedule to work within multiple departments for a number of hours or even whole days, multiple times each quarter.
- Organize a transition from ‘work-at-home’ to ‘work-at-the-office’ that minimizes the disruption to employees’ current carefully constructed patterns of work and family care.
- Retain plenty of flexibility to allow employees to take care of sick kids, school scheduling issues and so forth.
In other words, entice employees into thinking that working at the office is preferable by offering productive opportunities for collaboration and career advancement that only happen at the office.
We feel strongly that CEOs must avoid trying to be the smartest person in the room. As with Mayer, CEOs usually have a track record of success, and can fall into the trap of thinking they know what is best. They may be right, but they need to stress-test their assumptions against organizational and marketplace realities before acting.
Marissa Mayer was hired to “straighten Yahoo out.” Part of that mandate is shaking things up to see what might work better. Getting people to come in a work at their office desks might be part of that. We don’t get the sense that this particular idea came up through the ranks, however. It’s a pretty safe bet that its imposition may cause more harm than good to Mayer’s goal of raising the rate of employee engagement needed to build the highly innovative culture she seeks.
We are pleased to have a new article accepted by eZineArticles.com, on the topic of Accelerative Learning. This training facilitation methodology really captures the best of decades of corporate training philosophies, and we are excited to share our perspective on how it accelerates learning and sustains corporate training benefits well after the participants return to work.This is also timely, as a number of Bovo-Tighe facilitators are in Texas this week at a seminar brushing up their own Accelerative Learning skills in preparation for a very busy 2013!
Here is a link the article.
This article grew out of a previous blog post. We have expanded it to include more thoughts about the critical role the facilitator plays in fully benefiting from a commitment to using this approach.
We should note: Accelerative Learning is “new” only in that it unifies and rationalizes teaching methods that have been in use for decades. The benefit of combining all the complementary approaches under one banner is that applying all the techniques together give our clients a big boost to training productivity!
As always, we welcome your comments!
Assumptions stand in for the truth when people are in a hurry, or lazy. If the assumption proves true, you have gotten away with taking the short cut and may proceed to your destination. If you err in skipping the step of stress-testing assumptions to confirm or deny their validity, you may cost your team and yourself some combination of time, energy and money. This is a gamble that most leaders must make occasionally, but they should keep it to a minimum by planning ahead: If you are active in embedding the mindset that truth is the best long-term foundation of success throughout your organization, people will seek it, challenging institutional or “accepted” wisdom before it becomes a critical issue.
In a recent article on ezinearticles.com, our own David Tighe explored this concept of “the pursuit of truth” in a bit more detail. His short summary:
“To be effective, a leader must adopt the mindset that accepted truths be challenged to prove their continued relevance for the organization. This “pursuit of truth” is a core leadership success factor. Recent research from Harvard Business School provides an excellent example of how popularly held beliefs can be wrong, and be a drag to productivity.”
Find the article here.
Tell us what you think about how committed a leader must be to the pursuit of truth in all aspects of his or her work, and how often a leader must take a risk and assume the facts will support their decisions about which courses of action to take.
We recently shared our passion for the topic of “passion” in an article on ezinearticles.com. The column summarized a series of blog posts from last month that explored the topic in greater depth. (Start here and scroll down to review them.)
In the article, we outlined a few of the key areas on which to focus when a leader puts his or her mind to infusing passion up and down the ranks to energize the workplace and raise productivity.
Maintaining passion for the organization’s mission is incredibly hard once the enterprise grows past a size where founders can personally connect with each employee, but it can be done if leaders actively share their passion constantly and consistently. This requires a mindset shift in leaders to focus less on task accomplishment and more on engagement.
Engaged employees need less micro-management
Leaders can spend more time injecting passion if their employees are motivated to handle more day-to-day activities with less supervision. Training employees to keep that mindset as their mantra must start on Day One of employment, when their passion for their new role is at its peak.
Here is a short list of areas that need attention:
- Be inclusive: Find ways to make a new hire part of the club quickly, cementing this focus in formal orientation programs that last the entire first year of an employee’s tenure.
- Stay connected: Schedule performance and engagement reviews as often as weekly.
- Share knowledge: Set a very low bar on “need to know.” Employees do not take ownership of tasks and projects unless they see how their work fits into the corporate whole.
- Be equitable: Fewer preferences for time served! Or, at least, make those preferences performance as well as time-based.
- Find the time (and a system) to properly recognize and reward employee contributions as you go along.
For more, read the article. And let us know your thoughts about what we wrote, either here or under the ezinearticles entry.
We are pleased to share a new article, recently accepted for posting on eZineArticles.com.
The title: The Cure for Bad Meetings: Pay Attention and Contribute
This topic started life as a blog topic, but nothing beats repetition for driving a point home; changing mindsets and improving behavior!
The Key Point to Remember and Internalize:
You control your own behavior in meetings, and that behavior is infectious.
Examine your own actions to see if you are part of the problem:
- Arriving with a bad attitude about any particular meeting, tuning out the speaker, “enduring it”
Or the solution:
- Arriving with energy and engagement, setting a standard for participation that others can emulate
Positive and negative attitudes are equally contagious! What sort of behavior are you promoting through your own actions? Make sure you err on the side of “positive” as often as possible. You will find meetings easier to take, and even find value in them nine times out of ten!
Think about how much more productive all your meetings will be if you relentlessly approach each with a positive mindset focused on the following personal objectives:
- Support the organizer to achieve the meeting objective
- Keep the momentum moving forward (volunteer to “keep the clock” and keep people focused on the task at hand)
- Ask forward thinking, action-oriented questions that are germane to the topic
- Never use the meeting to advance a tangential agenda, score points or make a fellow employee look bad.
For more, click through to the article.
At Bovo-Tighe, we place a big emphasis on moving leaders from “transactional” to “transformational”.
The distinction is critical, because a leader who is transactional gets stuff done, but does not inspire his or her followers to go above and beyond their assigned tasks to exceed expectations and sustainably improve productivity.
Our Co-Founder, David Tighe, recently had a article about our Transformational Leadership philosophy accepted for posting on eZineArticles.com. We recommend it as a great summary on why any organization should prioritize the creation of transformational leaders within its ranks, and how individual managers can transform themselves pretty quickly without waiting for the blessings of senior management.
What follows are a few highlights from the full article:
We emphasize “transformation” in an effort to distinguish “transactional leaders” from leaders who innovate, engage, encourage and motivate (the last two are not the same) their teams to perform at higher levels consistently. Not for a month, or a special project, but all the time.
- The verb “transact” implies getting a series of tasks done. Most leaders who show up get this far. Transactional leaders drive performance. They focus on results, and “accomplish what they can” with limited time and resources.
- The verb “transform” captures what a leader must do to create a fully engaged, highly productive and innovative workforce. Transformational leaders also focus on results, but solve the limited resource problem by unlocking extra productivity within their team, engaging fully with them to tap more of the capabilities, energy and desire inherent in each team member.
Moving from “transact” to “transform” is the hard part of leadership, and is the leap that so many assigned leaders (those in official leadership roles) fail to make.
This failure is not from a lack of desire to be the best. Most people want to succeed and earn recognition for what they achieve. But, if their organization does not provide the training, tools and permission to build a sustainably productive culture, team leaders will not make the transition from transactional to transformational.
If you want to become a transformational leader within your organization, start by adopting a more engaging communication style that is founded on personal responsibility and is action-oriented:
Eliminate the “Blame Game”:
- Take the lead in identifying and interceding in conversations that involve blame or adopt “victim status”. Teach your team members to drop the need to assign blame and adopt instead your forward-focused mindset.
- Redirect the energy in the group by asking “What can we do now?” We call this “keeping a next-action focus.” It is your job to train everyone to adopt that mindset permanently.
- Publicly accept personal responsibility for any results, good or bad. Challenge your people to do the same, and never stop leading by example.
Open up Communications:
- Stop directing, start listening and supporting. If you are always doing the talking, you will never hear about a problem, or a new idea.
- Expand your definition of “need to know.” Engaged employees need to know a lot about the company’s goals, its limitations, and the truth behind those energy-sapping rumors. Employees work harder if they know how their piece of the puzzle fits strategically.
Communicate with a “next-action focus”:
- In meetings, define desired outcomes for each discussion
- Turn every discussion you have about work from cause of problems to what to do next
- Finish each meeting with a summary of mutually agreed actions
- Follow up based on these actions. You must be reliable and predictable in applying these habits to all your co-worker interactions.
For more details, click through to the article.
You cannot be fully effective as a manager of people or projects unless you inject passion into your work, and instill that passion to those with which you work. Adopting a transformational leadership style allows you to more clearly communicate that you care about your people and their success, collaborate more effectively with them, and therefore transfer your passion to them. A win-win all around every time!
We have had a new article accepted by eZineArticles this week. It focuses on a core tenet of our Foundations of Excellence employee development model: The Pursuit of Truth.
Find the article here.
Most organizations waste the performance evaluation process, even though it is a great tool to improve performance. The best way to fix that is to evaluate continually rather than annually.
- Annual reviews should be the icing on the developmental cake: You review performance all year as a core managerial responsibility.
- Your goal must be retention, not elimination. Fix the skill sets and mindsets that inhibit productivity.
Read more in this month’s newsletter. Also in this issue:
- Do you hire the “best” person, or the right person?
- Leaders must drain fear from their organization to enable the pursuit of truth and maximize productivity.
Please share this newsletter with friends and co-workers who may find our insights productive in their own professional and personal lives.
Our most recent client newsletter focused on maintaining a real commitment to transparent and true acceptance of personal accountability (for both actions and results,) which proves time after time in all of our work with clients to be a highly productive mindset if adopted throughout your organization. Here is the topic list:
- Visible Personal Accountability is Critical to Business Success
- Do You Have What it Takes to Manage A Crisis?
(Hint: It has a lot to do with accepting personal accountability!)
- Exceptional Leaders Foster Employee Engagement
Click here to open the newsletter. If you know people who could benefit from these insights, feel free to share the newsletter with them! And let us know what you think, too.
Other items of interest
To support our work with public agencies like the Cities of Palo Alto, Richmond or Benicia, we explore their trade associations and publications to keep current on their issues.
The most recent issue of Public Management, a trade magazine put out by the International City/County Management Association, had a nice article by Quint Studer on the mindset any worker needs to better engage with his or her superiors, especially elected officials. We find it translates pretty well to all types of employment.
But when you do, have a solution ready!
Mr. Studer called the list a “skill set.” We think it goes beyond that: These skills need to become second nature, where you act in positive, engaging, forward-thinking, action-oriented way as a matter of course. This is a personal leadership mindset that applies to every interaction you have with bosses, peers, constituents, citizens, customers.
Here are some of the mindset aspects we most like from the article:
“Never let yourself be the hold-up of an assignment.”
“When you bring a problem to elected officials, always bring a solution.”
These two go together. If you hit a roadblock, raise awareness immediately, but also offer what you see as the best way over or around it.
“When organizations implement change, there’s almost always a reason why. But leaders may not always explain that reason, and people almost always assume the worst.”
If you as a leader are not fully engaged with your team, with good two-way communication, they will assume the worst of any change to their work environment. This is an easy problem to fix if given the least bit of attention!
“Apologizing shows one’s vulnerability, which is a powerful trait. … It actually makes people like us. It shows we’re human, just like them.”
“Blaming, finger-pointing, and badmouthing are deeply destructive to your organization’s image.”
The second quote here might resonate with anyone: It is deeply frustrating when a public employee passes the buck when confronted with a problem by a constituent. When a citizen presents a problem to you, take it on as your problem and make their day. This lead directly to another line we like:
“Complaints are gifts. Handle them right and customer loyalty will skyrocket.”
We have some edits, of course, to a few of the points presented. We will limit ourselves to two. The first is:
“Leadership is exhausting and ineffective.”
We are not sure what Mr. Studer meant to say here. We prefer:
“Management is exhausting and ineffective when conducted with poor leadership techniques. Good leadership energizes rather than exhausts, and is quite effective.”
We do agree that you should not simply shove problems upstairs to “let them deal with it.” Always package that delivery with a solution, as noted above.
And the second quibble:
“Go out of your way to make people happy when you can, and they’ll forgive you when you make a mistake.”
This doesn’t go far enough. Being pleasant every day is great, but in the end people want leaders to help them get where they want to go, either professionally or personally:
“Go out of your way to help people to get where they want to go, and they will forgive you when you make an occasional mistake. They might even help you fix it!”
Now go out and help someone through a problem! And let us know how it goes.
Our gal in Houston, Kris Hermes, sent the video you can click to watch below in a staff e-mail to remind us of the true essence of leadership:
- It is a day-by-day process that can lead to grand one-time events, but doesn’t have to or need to have such grand moments. Indeed, such highlights can distract you from the nuts and bolts of a real ongoing leadership mindset.
- It goes on without limit. You can have results that mark milestones, and wonderful successes that everyone notices. But leadership goes right on through those and must keep thriving in the shadows of those great events.
- And it can be as simple as connecting two people with a lollipop to break the ice and open the door to engagement (in all sorts of ways!)
Leaders are not the source of productivity and innovation. Their people are. Leaders are the catalyst that unlocks the people’s energy and gets it focused in the right direction.
Watch the video, which features a speaker named Drew Dudley speaking at a TEDx talk in Toronto a few years back. Let us know what you think! Spot on? Too simplistic?
We find useful information about talent management and corporate culture in all sorts of places. Just this week our marketing guy got an e-mail from a marketing company he follows called HubSpot. It surprised him with this headline:
“Advice on Corporate Culture From Netflix’s Former Chief Talent Officer”
Wait. What? Why is a marketing company like HubSpot sharing thoughts on corporate culture?
The answer is simple, and informative: HubSpot takes its culture very seriously, and feels that all their clients (small companies for the most part) could benefit from the productivity gained by building their own consistent, transparent organizational culture.
Sharing their philosophy freely benefits HubSpot, because if their clients do well, so do they! (Reminds us of our own Communication that Counts philosophy.)
How valuable were their insights?
In the e-mail, we received two fascinating presentations about building productive corporate cultures:
Both had nuggets we could use in our own work, but the underlying message here was not “adopt our cultural approach.” Instead, it is “can you describe your desired corporate culture with such clarity?” Here are the benefits of that clarity and focus:
- Better hiring of people: They fit their jobs and your organization better so they hit the ground running faster and find it easier to generate passion about their work.
- Faster onboarding: New people need less adaptation to fit into their part of your environment, and require less intensive management oversight.
- Better retention: Employees engage with your organization’s mission and its people more quickly and find satisfaction in your approach to recognition and reward.
- Easier offboarding: If you know what you need in a position, spotting the poor fit is less complicated (we don’t mean uncomplicated, just less complicated!) Perhaps we should call this one “re-boarding”, because a misfit can be fixed by moving the person to a better-fitting role, or giving them the right training. Plus, people who understand what is expected of them will self-offboard if they decide they do not wish to work within your culture.
As is always the case, we found some aspects of their cultural philosophy a bit off the mark. One quote we really didn’t like from the one-time Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord:
“You either have power or you don’t. If you wait around for someone to give you permission, you’re going to get passed over.”
We like a bias towards action, but this is too tough: Huge amounts of untapped potential get “passed over” every day in corporate America because the loudmouths (louder voices?) dominate the decision-making process. Empowerment is a constantly recurring theme in successful organizations because the concept recognizes the need to get the quiet people to speak, and the louder people to listen.
HubSpot, as an example, does a better job of addressing this need to encourage the silent majority by emphasizing the need to hire “humble people.” Not shy, just humble. As they state in the above presentation:
- Humble (is) modest despite being awesome – Self-aware and respectful
- “Wait. Doesn’t humble mean lacking confidence?”
- No. The very best people are self-aware and self-critical – not arrogant.
Better clarity about your culture leads to better hires, fuller employee engagement and greater retention of talent. All of that naturally leads to higher productivity. Hence HubSpot’s and Netflix intensive focus on the topic!
What about your company? How clearly can you describe its culture? What about it encourages higher productivity from employees? What about it inhibits higher productivity?
We have been writing over the last week about the top leadership skill articles read in the First Quarter of 2013 in the McKinsey Quarterly, the online newsletter of management consultancy McKinsey. We are always struck by how many of these articles are focused on people skills and leadership. Clearly these issues remain perennial challenges for senior executives (and leaders at all levels).
In this post, we explore the fifth most popular article: Increasing the Meaning Quotient of Work. (Free registration may be required to read the full article.)
Our first response to this article was “What the heck is a “meaning quotient?” Next, we thought “Here we go again with extra buzzwords that repackage old knowledge.” But, just as the readers who put this article in the top ten found it worth reading, we also found something useful here.
Employee Engagement Demands Meaningful Work
The authors of this article, Susie Cranston and Scott Keller, have spent a lot of time researching work environments “that inspire exceptional levels of energy, increase self-confidence, and boost individual productivity.”
They found three factors that drove heightened productivity, and labeled them “quotients,” as other authors have done:
Intellectual Quotient: They defined this as Role Clarity, Clear Understanding of Objectives, and “access to the knowledge and resources needed to get the job done.” Fair enough. This encapsulates what we at Bovo-Tighe call “Communication that Counts,” injecting transparency into corporate communications and making them forward-focused and action-oriented.
Emotional Quotient: This correlates closely to our “Unshakable Trust,” a critical success factor in effective leadership and collaboration. Elements of this include the quality of the interactions among coworkers, and having “a baseline of trust and respect, constructive conflict, a sense of humor, a general feeling that “we’re in this together.” The goal is to create a caring or emotionally safe environment in which people feel valued and are comfortable taking risks that could lead to improved innovation.
Meaning Quotient: This third quotient was the hardest to foster, as reported by senior executives. Put simply, if the work you ask people to do has meaning for them, whether it is to achieve a personal, organizational or social goal, they work harder.
The authors asked leaders to assess the impact of injecting real meaning into the work they do:
“The opportunity cost of the missing meaning is enormous. When we ask executives during the peak-performance exercise how much more productive they were at their peak than they were on average, for example, we get a range of answers, but the most common at senior levels is an increase of five times.”
In effect, when the work has real meaning to the employee, these leaders saw significant increases in productivity. We doubt an increase of five times is sustainable, but we know from our own work that a consistent increase of 20% can be sustained if employees get more connected to how their efforts fit into the broader mission of the organization.
The authors boiled their advice for raising the Meaning Quotient to three areas:
“Tell many stories”
Don’t just weave a narrative about how an organizational initiative can help the company, but add a second that focuses on how this is a great opportunity for the employees. Then add a third that talks about how the customer benefits, and a fourth about its societal impact. Multiple narratives allow diverse people to find meaning in their own way, one that fits their personal value systems.
Leave compensation out of it.
The desire to work hard must come from the satisfaction of the work itself to maximize its MQ. Rewards should be small and unexpected, marking individual milestones with “thank you” or a day off, clearly acknowledging the quality of the work done without tying their financial security to it.
Let the employee write their own story or “Lottery ticket.”
This was a fascinating nugget of information. In research projects, some people were given “lottery tickets” pre-printed with numbers on them, and a second set were given the chance to choose their own ticket numbers. Then each was asked how much money they would be willing to swap for the ticket. The people who wrote their own numbers (who had an equal chance of winning) demanded five times the money that those with pre-printed numbers. The simple fact of letting them “write their own ticket” gave them considerably more ownership. How can you build on that tendency into your organization? Involve all employees in planning future initiatives, or in scheming to surmount current challenges. As the authors say:
“When Neville Isdell took charge at Coca-Cola, in 2004, he co-created a turnaround strategy by bringing together his top 150 employees for three multiday “real work” sessions. The process was then cascaded further down into the organization, at small working meetings where participants could in effect write their own lottery ticket about the implications for their particular parts of the business.”
The initiative came to be called “The Manifesto for Growth.”
“(It) generated returns of 20 percent, driven by volume increases equivalent to selling an extra 105 million bottles of Coke a day. In this period, staff turnover fell by 25 percent, and the company reported what external researchers called unprecedented increases in employee engagement for an organization of this size.”
Investing in employee engagement should not wait for a crisis, however. Any organization can reap its rewards with a consistent dedication to fostering it, in our experience in as little as 90 days.
This is the second in a series of posts about the most read articles in the McKinsey Quarterly, the management consultancy’s free online business magazine. (Free registration is required to view the articles.)
OK, now fit two more projects into this day.
image source: mftrou.com
This article, ranked second on the most-read list, takes a new angle at the eternal Time Management issue by pinning the blame not just on the individual, but on the organization. We work with clients constantly on individual time management skills, but we do see the authors’ point: Employees can operate at the peak of time efficiency, and still not always successfully manage the endless number of projects that keep piling up.
The Organization Assumption: Every Employee’s Time is Limitless
The authors of this article (Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet of McKinsey) surveyed nearly 1,500 executives across the globe about how they spent their time. Here are some of their findings:
- Only 9 percent of the respondents deemed themselves “very satisfied” with their current time allocation.
- Less than half were “somewhat satisfied”
- About one-third were “actively dissatisfied.”
- Only 52 percent said that the way they spent their time largely matched their organizations’ strategic priorities.
- Nearly half admitted that they were not concentrating sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business.
One factor driving this frustrating trend is that organizations make the assumption that “leadership time…too often gets treated as though it were limitless, with all good opportunities receiving high priority regardless of the leadership capacity to drive them forward.”
The Delusion of Limitless Executive Time
The fiction that executive (or middle management!) time is unlimited allows organizations to “do more with less,” a trend that was exacerbated during the recent recession. Organizations have cut administrative and clerk positions drastically to save money, and make the assumption that the tasks traditionally done by these positions can be added to the managers’ list of responsibilities without constraining their ability to perform their leadership responsibilities. For this to work, everyone must buy into the delusion that the extra work is done in extra time, and doesn’t detract from the amount of time these managers need to dedicate to their primary responsibilities.
Bring back the Administrative Assistant!
What to do?
- Work with executives to better balance their days.
- Examine in detail all the tasks they are being asked to do.
- Assign rote tasks and administrative paperwork to less expensive people.
The economics are clear:
- Pay someone $40 an hour to run rote, day-to-day tasks.
- Let the $400-an-hour executive spend more time balancing employee engagement activities with strategic thinking
The authors shared a graphic that illustrated how the most satisfied of the executives in the time management survey spent their time. It can serve as a great template to which less satisfied executives can aspire.
As with so many penny-wise, pound foolish cost-cutting initiatives, eliminating administrative positions makes short-term sense, but sets the organization up for missed revenue opportunities long-term, as the executives tasked with finding them spend too much time on tactical day-to-day items.
What do you think? Has the elimination of administrative and analyst positions gone past the point of economic sense? Should the trend start moving back the other way, or has technology truly allowed fewer people to handle administrative tasks without them?
The McKinsey Quarterly has released it top online articles for 2013’s first quarter, and four of the ten focus on interpersonal skill development. This confirms once again that senior executives are focusing on better engaging their human assets as a profitable area for investment.
Let’s take a quick look at the top-rated article that is focused on human asset management. It argues that old-fashioned hierarchical oversight and control must be replaced by a lighter, more trusting leadership style.
Wikis, jams and blogs make collaboration more productive
The explosion of social media tools that are available within an organization to foster and manage collaboration has started to shake up management control of knowledge, and challenges the assumptions that underpin past collaborative practices, according to Don Tapscott, a professor at the University of Toronto.
“Wikis, blogs, microblogging, ideation tools, jams (real-time online collaboration sessions), next-generation project management, what I call collaborative decision management: These are social tools for decision making. These are the new operating systems for the 21st-century enterprise in the sense that these are the platforms upon which talent—you can think of talent as the app—works, and performs, and creates capability.”
Palo Alto steps up its commitment to collaborative innovation.
Two of our own Bovo-Tighe clients, the City of Palo Alto and Salesforce.com, have teamed up to create this sort of internal collaboration tool using the Salesforce Chatter service. (You can also find a press release here.)
Tapscott echoes this example when he talks about replacing e-mail with wikis and other collaborative tools that allow updates to be posted once centrally and found by all participants the next time they check in. The key here: The employees must be enabled as champions of knowledge and idea creation and execution. Oversight is necessarily less direct and harder to achieve. What is needed? UNSHAKABLE TRUST in the talent and motivations of your employees to use the tools productively and make progress using their own initiative, and those of their peers.
Constructively, intra-company social tools for project management also improve transparency about who is doing what work! So, while oversight is harder, tracking results can be easier, and corrective action quicker to occur. Employees will respond to this greater responsibility with greater personal accountability if encouraged and sustained in their efforts by their leaders.
Finally, we love this example from Tapscott about how executive thinking must change in this 21st Century world:
“Knowledge management has failed. We had this view that knowledge is a finite asset, it’s inside the boundaries of companies, and you manage it by containerizing it…And this was, of course, illusory, because knowledge is an infinite resource. The most important knowledge is not inside the boundaries of a company. You don’t achieve it through containerization, you achieve it through collaboration.”
Controlling knowledge cannot be your goal. Seeking it must be, and you must trust your employees to find it and share it with everyone through all the new collaborative tools. The endless search for knowledge (our Pursuit of Truth philosophy) is the mindset we teach our clients.
How is the pursuit of truth going in your organization? What stories can you share about it?
Every St. Patrick’s Day, we go back and reacquaint ourselves with this wonderful old Irish blessing for those we can’t be with each day. Our best wishes that its uplifting message sends you on your way with a lift in your step today!
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you:
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
In our work with clients, we give people tools to make them more productive at work every day. We help them discover their own strengths, and how to become a transformational leader, regardless of their professional status within their organization. Our mission is to make everyone more productive, supportive and collaborative in both professional and personal lives. To that end, we borrow useful tools from collaborative partners that help our clients succeed.
One of those is a concept called QBQ, the Question Behind the Question, created by a friend of ours, John Miller. It is a very simple, direct method for keeping yourself on track when “practicing personal accountability at work and in life.”
QBQ complements our Foundations of Excellence approach very well because it focuses on the day-to-day job of leadership: How do you move your team and yourself forward with energy and enthusiasm towards the accomplishment of your mutual goals?
QBQ in Combination with the Pursuit of Truth
Part of our Foundations of Excellence development philosophy is The Pursuit of Truth, which focuses on the same dynamic activity QBQ does: Ask productive questions that improve understanding, and move the team forward without dwelling on the past.
We emphasize a Pursuit of Truth mindset because you can’t make better choices about future action unless you are frank about your situation. What really caused the event that occurred, good or bad? What are the real obstacles on our path to success? Which solutions could be the most efficient in getting us past the obstacles?
Bovo-Tighe and Mr. Miller have the same goals:
- Eliminate blame, complaining and procrastination.
- Accept personal responsibility not just for results that have occurred, but for moving forward productively.
There are differences, of course, between QBQ and the Foundations of Excellence (FoE).
In QBQ, you don’t ask “why” you ask “how,” as in “How can I help to fix the problem?”
In FoE, you pursue the truth, which does involve asking “why?” because you need information to make better business decisions. Asking “why?” comes in many flavors, of course. Here are just a couple:
- “Why did this happen?” You as a leader must control the conversation that such a question may start. But, while you must nip unproductive bouts of blame-placing in the bud, you do need to explore the circumstances that led to a particular event or result. You cannot fix problems you don’t understand.
- “Why not try this solution?” This “why question” invites input from others about the pros and cons of a new course of action.
So, don’t be afraid of “why”! As long as you keep the conversation forward-thinking and action-oriented, you will get productive answers to “why questions.” (Full disclosure: John Miller is on board with such “why” questions. His focus is on eliminating the “why me?” self-pity traps.)
QBQ is also very much focused on you and your personal accountability, and does not dwell on the behaviors and motivations of those around you. For a leader, however, business decisions cannot be based solely on your own initiative, and fostering strong bonds with fellow workers is critical to helping your team of people succeed. So, with Foundations of Excellence, you do focus on understanding the motivations behind a person’s behavior or position, so that you may adapt your approach to work with them productively.
Adding the forward-thinking QBQ approach, however, reminds us to move quickly back to a position of personal responsibility:
- “How can we make sure we get the results we want the next time?”
- “What can each of us do to achieve these results?”
In the Pursuit of Truth, you ask “why, what, who and how,” and keep asking until you and your team are sure you have clarified as much as possible of the true situation and your real options. We certainly do not recommend endless analysis before taking action, but a better foundation of knowledge allows you to better answer the QBQ (How will I work towards our objective from here?). Embedding both mindsets as core leadership behavior ensures that you answer the QBQ with more productive answers.
Have you adopted either or both of these mindsets personally? How have they worked for you?
We recently found a list on LinkedIn of short advice columns written by successful people. A lot of what they wrote echoed what we teach everyone we support in our work:
- Working with PEOPLE is the center of everyone’s success formula.
- Keep your own energy forward-focused and action-oriented.
These are not mutually exclusive, either: One feeds off of the other. Let’s explore three of the advice columns at random to see how these two themes pop up.
“The amount of time people spend looking back on failed projects has always astounded me. If we were to add up all of the hours spent regretting mistakes and use that time to develop new ideas, who knows how many brilliant new businesses would be created.”
At Bovo-Tighe, we like to say your time is limited, but the energy you pack into that time is unlimited. Richard offers a great caveat to that: How do you use all the energy you pour into your time? Are you forward-focused and action-oriented? Or do you actively dwell on “what might have been?”
“My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made.”
From what Mr. Branson writes, his mother may have more forward-focused energy than he does. That sounds hard to do, but she certainly seems to have set out the template he has followed throughout his career!
Link to his article.
“I’m a nerd, seriously hard-core, and sometimes that translates into being a know-it-all. People got tired of that while I worked at an IBM branch office in Detroit in the eighties. My boss told that that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers.
However, he said that his saving grace was his sense of humor. “When trying to be funny, well, didn’t matter if I was funny or not, at least I wasn’t being (a jerk).”
“The advice was to focus on my sense of humor and worry less about being exactly right. For sure, don’t correct people when it matters little. It took a while to get noticed, but it did get noticed, and some tension got less tense. That felt pretty good. This has had persistent effects, in that I get a lot more done when I take myself less seriously.”
Mr. Newmark likes to quote Oscar Wilde regarding the value of humor in the workplace:
“If you want to tell people the truth, make ‘em laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.”
Obviously, we don’t see the same dire threat in telling the truth, but how you manage your conversations with others does have a serious impact on how well your working relationships will develop. Even if you truly are the smartest person in the room, never act like it. Adapt your behavior to those around you. Find constructive ways to deliver criticism. Bite your tongue and accept other perspectives as valuable. Do this tongue-biting every day, in every personal interaction until it becomes second nature. Link to his article.
We see this value of adapting your behavior to your audience pop up again in a reminiscence of General Electric CMO Beth Comstock working with Jack Welch:
“Moving fast and being organized were my strong suits. The more there was to do, the more I felt alive. Productive. Efficient. Every to-do list item was checked, with urgency as my soundtrack. I loved the thrill, and I was good at keeping up with it. Imagine my surprise when he called me into his office that day and admonished me for being too efficient. My zeal to do everything on my to-do list—along with my reserved, even shy nature—made me come across as abrupt and cold. I started every meeting by jumping right in and left with every action under control.”
“You have to wallow in it,” he said. “Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you.”
“At best, my colleagues didn’t know what to make of me—and I certainly didn’t give them time to find out. It took a long time for the impact of his words to sink in, and even longer to change my behavior. After all, those (hard charging) attributes had led to my being in the role in the first place.”
Developing positive, caring, mutually productive work relationships is the key to professional and organizational success. But it is a process, not an event. It takes time to build the unshakable trust that drives great working relationships, and needs constant tending. Plus, as Ms. Comstock found out, not everyone behaves the way you do; adapting your behavior to others actually raises your productivity, as people warm up to you and do more to support you.
Link to her article.
This ‘building of productive work relationships project’ is never done: Focusing on people never drops off the top of your daily to-do list!
We follow McKinsey’s quarterly reports pretty closely, as their articles reflect the concerns of senior executives. Every January the consultancy lists the articles that had the most views by their readership in the past 12 months.
We find it highly instructive that seven of the ten most popular articles in 2012 had employee engagement at their core. (The remaining three dealt with social media and China, which is also not surprising!)
See for yourself using the links below to open the seven human-focused articles. Find out which may relate to issues you face on a daily basis. Note: You will have to register with McKinseyQuarterly.com to access these thought pieces.
We are going to explore just under the surface of the first on the list, and let you continue the journey through the rest of the articles at your own speed:
How leaders kill meaning at work
“Senior executives routinely (and inadvertently -ed.) undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees in four avoidable ways.”
What we liked in this article was the concept of the “inner work life,” which we found highly relevant to fostering employee engagement each and every day:
“Even incremental steps forward—small wins—boost what we call “inner work life”: the constant flow of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that constitute a person’s reactions to the events of the work day. Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, inner work life affects the bottom line. People are more creative, productive, committed, and collegial in their jobs when they have positive inner work lives. But it’s not just any sort of progress in work that matters. The first, and fundamental, requirement is that the work be meaningful to the people doing it.”
People who feel that their work connects in a real way to the success of the organization are more engaged and therefore more productive. A leader must make that connection clear to his or her followers.
Click through and explore four ways how leaders confuse their employees and drain that inner work-life away:
- Mediocrity Signals
- Strategic “Attention Deficit Disorder”
- Corporate Keystone Kops
- Misbegotten “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals”
The other six articles make equally interesting reading, and should stimulate a recommitment to Communication that Counts, Unshakable Trust and the Pursuit of Truth as the best path to fostering long-term high productivity within your organization.
The executive’s guide to better listening
“Strong listening skills can make a critical difference in the performance of senior executives, but few are able to cultivate them. Here’s how.”
Becoming more strategic: Three tips for any executive
“You don’t need a formal strategy role to help shape your organization’s strategic direction. Start by moving beyond frameworks and communicating in a more engaging way.”
Motivating people: Getting beyond money
“The economic slump offers business leaders a chance to more effectively reward talented employees by emphasizing nonfinancial motivators rather than bonuses.”
How strategists lead
“A Harvard Business School professor reflects on what she has learned from senior executives about the unique value that strategic leaders can bring to their companies.”
Managing the strategy journey
“Regular strategic dialogue involving a broad group of senior executives can help companies adapt to the unexpected. Here’s one company’s story, and some principles for everyone.”
The human factor in service design
“Focus on the human side of customer service to make it psychologically savvy, economically sound, and easier to scale.”
If these are the stories that got the most views from senior executives, those executives all still share a desire to shift from being transactional leaders to transformational leaders!
We encourage you to use these articles to help you further your own thinking about employee engagement, transparent communication and transformational leadership within your organization. Some of the advice offered will be germane to your challenges, some not. The point is to stimulate fresh thinking and new perspectives!
Let us know if you find one of these articles useful in achieving your goals of embedding a mindset of full engagement in your team or organization!