Monday, 6 December 2010

Manager on my Tombstone ?

Following on from the Leadership and Jazz piece, LIW's CEO Pia Lee explores the importance of purpose in business.

"Most people live lives of silent, screaming desperation, doing jobs they hate, to buy things they don't need, to impress people they don't like." This cheerful quote comes from Nigel Marsh's funny and moving talk on Work-Life Balance at TEDx in Sydney this year. However depressing it sounds, there is a ring of truth to it, isn't there? While the West's obsession with possession will have to be the subject of another article, it is clear that there's so much more that organisations can do to fulfil the working lives of their employees.
We devote the majority of our waking moments to work and yet we would all laugh if our loved ones chiselled 'Manager' on our tombstone as a fitting epitaph. Surely there is a moral obligation for leaders to provide jobs to people in which they flourish, rather than scream? It also seems logical that the organisations who do will be better at attracting and retaining talent and so have an edge on those that don't.
"We devote the majority of our waking moments to work and yet we would all laugh if our loved ones chiselled 'Manager' on our tombstone as a fitting epitaph."
The pessimistic theme of unfulfilling work was reinforced in a recent Schumpeter article in The Economist that considers the trend for companies to offer psychological wellness assessments in addition to the traditional physical check-ups. However, Schumpeter misses the biggest question of all: why do organisations feel in some way responsible for the mental imbalance of their employees? Lurking behind this movement is the unspoken belief that employers are in some way responsible for causing mental health issues among their employees. This is the corporate equivalent of choosing a high-fat diet but being diligent about taking aspirin to avoid heart-health problems. Employers need to be a whole lot more proactive and get to the root of the problem. But what is it?
A new book ‘Zilch’ by Nancy Lublin points to the answer. Lublin debunks the most prevalent myth in business today — that salary drives performance and productivity. She proposes that companies broaden their rewards and their understanding of compensation so that people become deeply motivated to excel. A key learning that Lublin brings from the not-for-profit sector is that these organisations have a clear purpose that is shared by its employees. Does this imply that purpose is the sole domain of organisations with an altruistic philosophy? Not so, as the seminal research conducted by Professors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in 'Good to Great' and 'Built to Last testifies. High performing organisations have a unique blend of core purpose and values as well as the 'and' factor of being able to endlessly adapt their strategy and direction to a changing landscape. This rich combination provides meaning for individuals beyond making money which in turn unlocks discretionary effort.
It's a courageous organisation that asks not just what are they trying to achieve but 'why'? It's also an evolved organisation that asks what its legacy will be. It's the forward thinking organisation that creates the right climate for a motivated employee who sees their career aligned to a purpose bigger than themselves. 'Screaming desperation' now gives way to 'roaring fulfilment'.
Don't fall into the trap of seeing this as a marketing opportunity – an organisation's purpose cannot be window-dressing. Whilst it is a powerful motivator it is also a perishable good and can very easily be destroyed by misaligned behaviour. Who would say that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum now? (This question posted on Twitter came up with 'Broken Pipe', 'Be Prepared' and even 'Bastards Playing', among others). On the other hand, organisations that keep their purpose close to hand, such as Johnson & Johnson (whose credo, written in 1943, embodies purpose as well as values) can weather storms by walking the talk. J&J is applying the credo in decision making around its current Tylenol recall woes and we just know that they will come out the other side with their reputation intact and their customers and employees engaged.
"It's a courageous organisation that asks not just what are they trying to achieve but 'why'? It's also an evolved organisation that asks what its legacy will be."
So what steps can a leader take to bring the power of purpose into their organisations. Having achieved this with many organisations it is, like most leadership tasks, simple but not easy. Getting the top team up to speed on this thinking is a good start – the publications referenced here will be a good start. There is a simple exercise that will get the creative juices flowing: divide your top team into two or three groups and tell them that the organisation is to be closed down. They have one minute to explain to the government why they should be allowed to stay in business. Capture the key ideas and craft a simple statement that embodies them. It should not be a goal as the purpose is never achieved: Disney's 'to make people happy' is an example of this. Now comes the not easy part – the leaders should use this in all their communications and decision making. Everything that is done and indeed, the leaders themselves, are there only to serve the purpose.
To close, consider this: purpose is growing, not diminishing in importance. Generation Y and their successors will not put up with a toxic workplace. They expect more. We, the greying victims of the 'screaming desperation' era, have raised them to do so. They want to work in organisations that have a clear sense of why they exist and will choose them because they are aligned with that purpose. It is in these conditions that people give not just the most, they also give their best. This is good not just for the employee but for the employer and the shareholder too. For leaders, this is the opportunity to leave a greater legacy and even to earn a more inspiring epitaph.
Pia Lee is the CEO of global leadership consultancy, LIW. Pia blogs at LIW’s company website is where you will find the blog and also a number of other leadership resources and articles


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

More than 3 Careers in Lifetime

British workers are likely to change careers "two or three" times over their working life, the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) has suggested.

By Jennifer Churchill,

Rachel Krys, campaign director for the EFA, said that because people will have to work for longer, they will be more likely to try different career options.

"Employers are going to be faced with many more people in their 50s who are not looking to wind down but are actually looking to retrain and have a whole new career that might have to last them 20 years, because they are going to have to work for that long," she said.

Her comments follow a survey by LV= last week which shows that 2.7 million UK over 50s believe they will keep working beyond the state retirement age, while research from Kelly Services recently found that 64 per cent of people expect they will change careers at some point in their working life.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

How are you learning what's important to your staff?

by Trudy Triner

As all corporate trainers know, there are very few leadership training activities that have an absolutely predictable outcome. But as I traveled around the world for a large Boston-based training and consulting organization, there was one activity that did. I referred to this activity as a "thrilling" experience as I introduced it to groups in France, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. In truth, it was probably more thrilling for me to watch than for them to participate. But the learning was always profound, if sometimes frustrating and even a tad annoying.

Here's the activity. A class is divided into two groups: one is Management, the other is Staff. They are told that, working together, they must solve a physical challenge. That challenge requires Staff to complete a series of physical moves with their bodies, much like a Chinese checkers game. However, only Management is given complete instructions for the task. The two teams are in separate rooms. Only one person from Management can enter Staff's room at a time. And the activity begins.

Here's what happens time and time again. Management works diligently to solve the problem on paper in their room. They sweat. They try options. They even try moving pieces of paper or sugar packets or pencils to represent the Staff. Meanwhile Staff members wait and wait and wait. They begin to conclude that Management is trying to trick them or make fools of them. As time goes on, they begin to get angry. They disengage. Some start to read the newspaper. Others plot revenge and vow to do nothing Management asks. When a Management person finally appears, they usually have paper and pencil in hand, scribble a few notes, totally focus on the task, ignoring the people, and retreat to share their findings with their Management team as they continue to struggle to solve the problem. And so it goes, most often until the allocated time expires. The problem remains unsolved. Staff is frustrated and sometimes angry. The debrief is rich, but often emotion-laden. "Why did you treat us so badly?" Staff will ask. "We were just busy trying to solve the problem," Management says – truly surprised, and somewhat hurt, that their efforts weren't more appreciated.

The secret to success in this exercise, which is almost never discovered, is for Management simply to explain the problem to the Staff and ask for their help in solving it. Staff members become intrigued. They become engaged. They try alternative moves with their bodies and within a few minutes, they solve the problem. They are proud. Management is impressed and relieved. Everyone wins. And it almost never, ever happens!

I was reminded of this activity and its vivid demonstration of the futility of management trying to solve important problems without engaging staff when our Senior Leadership team asked for a training program that would help managers understand the need to engage employees in solving some of the most important challenges in our health-care organization. They wisely understood that without that engagement, it would be very difficult to meet the challenges in store for health care in the coming years.

We partnered with Richard Axelrod, co-author of You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done, and designed a half-day program for our 650 leaders, managers, and supervisors. We called the program, Engaging Staff to Lead, believing that the ideal was to have staff become so involved, they actually led the improvement effort themselves. And it worked. We saw dramatic improvements in service scores and other important metrics.

After the training effort, the coaching and reinforcement began. During coaching sessions with managers who might be having trouble with staff engagement, I asked them, "How are you learning what's important to your staff?" "How are you supporting them in reaching their goals?" "What do you do to demonstrate your understanding of the world from their point of view?" "How are you demonstrating your appreciation for their efforts?" "Are you providing as much feedback as they feel they deserve?" And, "Are you providing a motivating challenge and empowering them to solve their own problems?"

A light bulb often goes off as managers answer these questions because these are the types of management behaviors that lead to staff engagement. I love those forehead-slapping moments when they realize they've neglected one or more of those elements of engagement. And they love walking away with a plan to engage their staff more fully and avoid all the negative ramifications of leaving staff standing in a room waiting for management to solve all the problems in another room. That is truly a lose-lose situation to be avoided at all cost.


Axelrod, R. H., Axelrod, E. M., Beedon, J., and Jacobs, R. W. 2004. You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishing.

Trudy Triner is a writer, speaker, and leadership consultant who has helped people be more successful in their work for over 25 years.


Monday, 27 September 2010

How to Manage Underperformers

How to Handle the Underperformer on Your Team

One of the challenges that today’s busy managers struggle with is how to divvy up their precious people management time. Not everyone is a star performer so you should focus your limited bandwidth on the people who are doing the most for the organization, right? Unfortunately, high performers usually demand little time. They are self-sufficient, self-motivated and often produce great work regardless of how much face time they get.

The reality is that managers spend the bulk of their time thinking about, dealing with and handling underperformance.

Some have argued that this is wasteful: you should spend as little time as possible with your underperformers until they realize they are in the wrong job and leave. This is misguided advice. It is detrimental to ignore an underperformer and the impact that he has on your team. You can’t afford to let underperformance fester. And even if your underperformer does decide to leave of his own accord, replacing people is expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive.

Instead you should take a proactive approach to addressing the underperformance. Can you really turn around a C player? Underperformers can become valued contributors and you won’t know if your employee is capable of reform unless you give him the chance to try.

Below are four steps you can take to helping your underperformer change his ways:

1.Diagnose the issue. Underperformance may be caused by many things: lack of motivation, skill deficiency, misalignment with goals, personal conflicts, or home/ family issues. Very rarely is the reason straightforward, but it is your job as a manager to understand what is going on. Confidentially gather information about the performance issues from people who work with him.

2.Share what you are seeing. Talk with the underperformer. Be frank about what you are seeing and the impact it is having on you and your team. Be specific and use examples. Ask him how he sees the situation and what he feels the underlying causes are. It’s a natural reaction for him to be defensive. Empathize with his frustration but stand by your point of view. Potential is only worth something if it is realized.

3.Specify necessary changes. Explain what needs to change and how he should go about changing. It’s critical to set up processes by which the underperformer has the opportunity to prove himself. Set clear goals and timelines. If you’re not sure how to support him, ask for help from an HR partner or an external coach.

4.Evaluate and take action. If your underperformer meets his goals, congratulations. If he continues to not meet the mark, you may need to take action. Reflect on the person’s value to the organization. He may be invaluable in one arena but underperforming in another. Can you change his job description so that it better plays to his strengths? Or can you find another position in the organization that’s better suited for his skills? If the answer is no, you may need to terminate. Of course, making a firing decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Whatever you decide, don’t leave it up to them as to whether they leave. That’s a surefire way to create deadweight and hurt the morale of your team.

source: 21 September 2010


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

How to Remove the Boulder of Procrastination

By Julie Henderson

Are you a person yearning for change, but haven't found the courage? It's possible that you struggle with the pain of removing the boulder of procrastination, which is often what is holding people back from going after their dreams.

We spend far too much thinking about whether we should or should not make a change. We analyze it far too much and this creates "analysis paralysis." When we over-analyze and when we think too much, we become immobilized and stuck: it's called procrastination. Procrastination can be defined as: our associations of what we link pain to. The longer we procrastinate, the longer we stand still, and the longer we stand still, the longer we settle for a life of mediocrity.

Don't despair, because I have discovered some reasons for procrastination and found solutions that will give you the courage to overcome procrastination.

1. Afraid to make a wrong decision. People often procrastinate because they are afraid that it will be a bad decision. There will always be the risk of making wrong decisions. But even bad decisions can be more valuable than no decision at all, because they present an opportunity for learning.

2. Not sure how to accomplish the goal. People often think they have to know exactly how to achieve whatever they want. If you know the "why," the how will take care of itself. There are people you may have been successful in a similar area and you can ask them. There is an old adage, "If there's a will, there's a way."

3. No time. People are strapped for time, yet it is one of the key ingredients for success. Procrastination can actually cost you hundreds of dollars. The demands of a career, raising a family and managing a home can leave a person with little or no time to think about their personal goals. In order to make the changes you desire, you need to schedule an appointment with your dreams and goals. Treat the appointments as you would a dental appointment or a hair appointment.

If you don't figure out how to drive procrastination away, the stark reality is you will be stuck doing the same thing for the rest of your life. Recognize some of the reasons for procrastination as indicated above, and implement the solutions. Whenever procrastination creeps up, you will be conditioned in driving it away. As a result you will be able to pursue any goal.

Julie Henderson is an Unstoppable Success Coach and published author, Expect Success - Be Unstoppable, A Woman's Secret Recipe. If you could you use some strategies on how to become unstoppable, go here

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Lecture of a Lifetime