November 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
“He that innovates and is lucky will take the market.”
W. Edwards Deming
Chaos is often thought to be negative. Chaos is confusing which makes it stressful. People like clarity and avoid forced change because they feel out of control. To achieve employee engagement leaders in our knowledge based economy must embrace chaos and make sure that the chaos is positive not negative. Positive chaos is an outcome of a clear set of principles which are embraced and acted upon. The use of clear principles that are aligned with natural law will determine that the chaos will be positive. The lack of clear principles (or the misunderstanding of them) creates negative chaos.
Negative chaos scares people. They don’t like to be changed and they don’t like to be told to change. This type of environment creates fear, less desire to take risk and therefore less innovation. The responsibility for change lies with the management or with the organizational development consultant who brings his or her process and set of rules. Senior leaders decide everyone must change and so a change initiative is born and often added on top of all the other work responsibilities people must juggle.
This is one reason why about 70% of planned change efforts fail to achieve the intended outcomes. Planned change efforts are often doomed from the beginning because the responsibility for creating change lies at that top and is forced on those who “must be changed.” The principles of this type of change communicate management knows best, people don’t know what they need (management does), people don’t like change and so they must be changed through bribes or threats. I believe these principles are contrary to natural law. These principles that are flawed and so people resist, feel confused, and feel stressed.
Positive chaos operates under a different set of principles. It embraces a high level of trust and clarity. Positive chaos means people are willing to adapt to change as it happens based on their own perceptions and decisions (experiments based on the learning cycle) to serve a higher purpose. They don’t have to be changed via threats, bribes of other controlling means. They willingly change their actions and procedures as needed because they understand why the change is needed and they have the ability to make those decisions. They have autonomy. They are trusted. They have the skills to match the challenges they face. They are given the choice about how to change to serve their internal and external customers. There is stress in positive chaos but the stress is positive because it stems from the desire to meet a challenge. The challenge is to accomplish what is best for the customer and the organization and employees are able to fully deploy their skills and their cognitive energy to meet these challenges.
In an organization that embraces Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge, employees have a greater probability of experiencing positive chaos. The employees are entrusted to follow specified processes. They understand the unambiguous connections to their customers and what their customers need. They continuously look for ways to make the pathway to their customer simple, direct and improved. Their actions for change are made in accordance with the learning cycle of plan, do , study , act. Knowing and utilizing this method fosters trust throughout the organization. Employees and management don’t always understand what changes are coming from their fellow employees but they can be certain the changes are consistent with principles which will deliver the best for the organization and the best for the customer. This is positive chaos in action.
Negative chaos means people are being asked, told, threatened, or bribed to change. Positive chaos means they are trusted to adapt as they see fit to serve a higher purpose (satisfy customer needs). They maintain control of their own decisions and they answer to their customer not to their manager (or to the management). Management supports their decisions because those decisions are made for the right reasons and with sound theory and practice.
In our world of accelerated change the only change that will endure is the one ruled by positive chaos. Only those principles of providing autonomy, trust, and expecting people to respond positively by applying their skills to the challenges they face will keep us competitive.
September 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Employee engagement levels have the attention of many C-Suite executives. The latest research by Towers Watson (2012), a human resources consulting firm, confirms the wide acknowledgement that employee engagement is a critical element for high levels of financial and operational results. Any executive who doesn’t pay attention to employee engagement might be accused incompetence and/or malpractice. This is especially true in light of the Tower Watson research which shows the average percentage of employees who are highly engaged comes in at only 35%. We need improvement. Here are three good ideas that will help us.
There are multiple models about how to achieve engagement. Many of them are very similar. The one outlined here might make some uncomfortable because it requires employees to be trusted. That need for trust will make some executives nervous. It will seem too risky to some.
For purposes of simplicity I name these ideas the Triple “A” Engagement Model
The first “A” is for Anxiety. Anxiety is often considered a negative force (emotion) that causes stress and stagnation. Positive anxiety, on the other hand, is the urgent emotional need to act before an opportunity is lost. Positive anxiety is useful for learning and development. A balance between the challenge a person experiences doing a task and the skills he/she uses to perform those tasks will generate positive anxiety. This positive anxiety is required for engagement and necessary for learning.
Unfortunately feeling comfortable (or satisfaction) usually does not create development. Neither does negative stress. Unfortunately the stress most employees feel today is negative and caused by pressure to perform using threats or bribes. Pay for performance policies and/or performance appraisal ratings are substituted for the required positive stress and results in a reduction in engagement. Positive anxiety is intrinsic (internal), self-imposed, and naturally healthy.
People can use positive anxiety to make positive change. A great example of positive anxiety in practice is seen in the process of learning “speed reading.” Many “speed reading” teaching techniques require the student to push themselves to reading speeds 5 or even 10 times faster than their normal pace. This “push” creates positive anxiety and trains the eyes and the brain to adapt to a much higher speed. The push creates positive change even though during this push causes an experience of anxiety.
The second “A” is for Autonomy. Autonomy is the freedom to determine actions and decisions. Autonomy is a higher standard than just empowerment. Empowerment is the act of giving power to someone. Empowerment suggests there must be an authorization by management to perform a task or responsibility. Autonomy is about freedom for self-government or self-management. With autonomy the employee decides when and how to act to solve a problem. No authorization by management is necessary.
Autonomy is best provided when employees understand the principles under which they can make decisions on their own. This doesn’t mean specific processes and/or detailed steps are missing. Toyota, for example, has four principles employees must follow to work toward improvement in their plants.
Principle 1 states that all hand-offs, between internal suppliers and internal customers, must have clear steps in a specific sequence and these steps are defined by the customer. The second principle states that every supplier-to-customer hand-off is direct and unambiguous. The third principle demands that the pathway for these hand-offs must be simple and direct. The forth principle states that improvements can be made by anyone and at any time as long as those changes are done using the scientific method. This final principle is the most influential for allowing employees to demonstrate autonomy. In these principles the decisions are dependent upon what employees want and not on decisions from above.
The final “A” is for Advancement. Employees need to see how their efforts truly make a difference. This advancement must not just be progress for the sake of progress. It must be in context of a higher purpose and vision. In order for advancement to happen the progress seen by employees must be toward a vision and aligned with the values of the organization.
Three elements are needed to achieve advancement. First, we must understand the aim of our actions. The aim is also often known as the mission or purpose. We must be able to answer the question, “Why are we taking this action? What’s the point?” For example, if our task is to clean a table we must know for what purpose the table will be used. Is it a table to clean fish or to do open heart surgery? The purpose will determine the method we decide to use for our task.
Secondly, we must have feedback from our tasks and that feedback should be immediate (or as close to immediate as possible) and frequent. Without immediate and frequent feedback we will lose motivation. The delay between action and information must be as short as possible to optimize engagement and minimize frustration. The other day I planted grass seed. Although I know it takes about 10 days to germinate and to show little sprouts, every day after planting I watered the spots and looked for evidence of progress. It was frustrating for those first 10 days with no feedback.
Finally, we must see progress toward achieving our aim. Without progress frustration will emerge and frustration will damage engagement. The combination of taking action toward a clear compelling purpose, receiving feedback, and seeing credible progress will create the experience of advancement.
The Triple “A” experience generates powerful employee engagement. The three A’s create a recipe for success and will help executive to achieve the organization results they seek. All three elements work as a system. They must all be present. Too often leaders leave out one or more of these A’s. When they do engagement and results suffer.
September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Parents and teachers face daunting challenges. Students in the US rank 14th in reading, 25th in math, and 17th in science skills in world education rankings. Bullying is rampant with 77 percent of all students are being bullied verbally in some way or another including mental bullying or even verbal abuse, 56 percent, of all students have witnesses a bullying crime, 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied and, 71 percent of students that report bullying as an on-going problem.
Tools that were supposed to work have failed. No Child Left behind has failed with waivers being provided to 19 of 50 states. Standardized testing has failed as measured by world rankings and by the achievement gap being the highest in history.
Why are our schools failing? The system is creating victims not leaders and dependency not autonomy. A reliance on grades and standardized testing is killing autonomy of both teachers and students. This situation is translated into our workplace. For example, the number one time waster for managers today is dealing with poor performance of people. Nearly 30% of the average manager’s time is spent on poor performers. Nearly 20% of a manager’s time is spent correcting mistakes causes by poor performers.
Other than developing an effective strategy (business model), the ability to manage people issues is the most important skill a leader can develop. This skill can accelerate an organization’s success. When this skill is missing everything slows down. Because change is occurring at hyper speed, global competition is growing fiercer and the need for innovation and knowledge accumulation is increasing, leaders need fully engaged people to address today’s challenges. Because we have created victims in our schools and universities we inherit them in the workplace and begin to believe we must continue to control them because that is what victims expect.
The current leadership model used in both schools and in most workplaces is proving ineffective because it focuses on things that send a message of mistrust and the need for bureaucratic control. This message causes employee engagement levels to stall and innovation to disappear. The victims from the school system enter the workplace and causes managers to cling to the skills they were taught i.e. giving direction and judging people. Employees therefore cling to their victimhood by waiting to be told what to do and remaining fearful of making mistakes (victims). It’s a vicious perpetual cycle. For today’s challenges we need a new model. We need self-management and self-management tools. We need leaders not victims. We need autonomy not dependence.
We know that self-managing employees working in collaborative environments produce superior results. Leaders must know how to engage and develop self-managing teams in order to create more adaptable, innovative, and productive organizations. There are 3 steps leaders can take to reverse this perpetual dysfunctional trend that’s damaging our global competitiveness.
First, leaders must truly trust employees. They must expect them to behave like adults and therefore treat them like adults. They must expect them to care about each other and about their customers. Leaders must expect them to be trustworthy. This is not just empowerment. Empowerment means management is still in control and they are merely giving employees something that the managers can always take away, i.e. power. A leader who truly trusts people is acknowledging that employees already have the power and the leader knows it.
Second, we must rely on principles and less on policy. We must clarify operating principles and stop relying on following more and more bureaucratic policies. Today it seems the typical Human Resource professional must either be an attorney or be totally familiar with laws, regulations, and policies. I spoke at a three day HR conference last year. Two of the three days was devoted to legal issues and government regulations.
A reliance on following policy is death to the ability to adapt to change. Let’s forget the reliance on polices and instead agree on principles that everyone can follow. Here are some examples of principles that can be clarified, “every action must be aligned and consistent with a specific vision and aim.” Here’s another, “every action is consistent with specific values behaviors.” Another could be, “everyone is responsible for identifying and delivering excellent interactions (both interpersonal and process hand offs). The quality of these interactions will be defined by their internal and external customers.”
By following principles instead of policy, employees are able to make quick decisions to improve their performance without a reliance on manager oversight and performance appraisal bureaucracy. They are also able to adapt to quickly changing customer needs and market changes. When we tell employees they must follow policy they are restricted. Their creativity is stunted and their sense of autonomy is lost. Lost autonomy creates victimhood.
Finally, employees must experiment. Trusting them to follow principles and to experiment creates an entrepreneurial environment that optimizes innovation, quality improvement and productivity gains.
We must move away from command and control. We must embrace a different philosophy and a different relationship with employees. We must break this cycle of creating victims. The new model and environment must be based on trust and learning. It must acknowledge and expect employees to be adults with autonomy who experiment.
September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
There are two things the typical appraisal and bloodletting have in common. First they both were developed and utilized with the very best of intentions and with the very best thinking of their time. Second, the evolution of professions has made both practices obsolete. But, why is one of them still being used?
One Hundred years ago, or so, the US economy adapted a set of strategies for leading people. The population at the time, lacked education, often did not speak or read English, and was often required to work in a manufacturing environment. The school system therefore had to be designed to help everyone to learn how to work in a factory environment. The leadership model and practices we adopted were based on Frederick Taylor Scientific Management. This was the best model at the time to address these issues. We applied this model with the best of intentions to structure the education process in our public schools and the manufacturing environment of our workplaces. We adopted a model with the knowledge and conditions we had at the time.
Conditions have changed. Workers are highly educated. They speak English. They don’t just work in factories. Issues that once dominated now don’t apply to today’s economy. The evolution to the knowledge economy (away from the industrial age) is in full swing. We have new knowledge and we have new needs. We need new tools to help us engage the passion of our students and the engagement of our workers. But our schools and workplaces still embrace the remnants of the Taylor industrial age strategies.
We still have an emphasis on grades in school to control student learning. We still rely on standardized tests to tell us if students are learning the same material at the same rate. Similarly, employee creativity and decision making was discouraged by the Taylor model and to a great extent that has not changed today. In the past it was assumed employees disliked work and so workers needed to be “motivated” or controlled to work hard. Similarly, a grade was needed for students to be motivated to do school work.
The typical appraisal uses a grade. We still see the need to use the typical performance appraisal in 80-90% of the work places in order to control worker performance. The typical performance appraisal process is dreaded by managers and employees alike. Furthermore, study after study confirms that the typical appraisal rarely if ever meets its intended purposes. It probably even makes things worse and it is difficult to measure its impact. It was adopted as a tool for the industrial age. This embrace of an obsolete tool reminds me of the evolution of the medical profession and the practice of bloodletting.
For more than 3,000 years bloodletting was a common practice to alleviate the common ills of mankind. The doctor would drain a portion of the blood the patient. The practice was used with the very best of intentions because it was based on a theory that disease was caused by evil spirits that inhabited the body. The bloodletting was intended to relieve the body of these unclean spirits and thus allow good health to emerge naturally. The medical profession has evolved to embrace different thinking based on different research. The treatment of ills has therefore evolved beyond bloodletting.
Bloodletting is no longer a widely embraced practice because the “spirits in the blood” theory has been replaced with a more useful and predictable understanding of the root causes of illness (bacteria and viruses). This shift in thinking has lead medical practitioners to change their methods. The typical appraisal is still widely used because the Frederick Taylor model is still widely embraced.
Just like bloodletting doesn’t work with patients, the typical appraisal doesn’t work for managers and employees to manage the big issues in today’s knowledge economy. We therefore continue to be disappointed.
August 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
According to Gallup and some prominent human resource consulting firms, employee engagement scores continue to hover at inadequate levels. I believe our misunderstanding and misuse of the phase “employee empowerment” exemplifies why these results remain at unacceptable levels.
The dictionary definition of empowerment is “to give power or authority.” If we accept this definition we must assume that managers and/or leaders in organizations own the power and they willingly give it to employees. This suggests that leaders retain the power they just lend it out to employees and this means they can take it away anytime they wish. What impression does that create? For me it is arrogant and controlling. Arrogance and control damage employee engagement. This is why empowerment is inadequate if we want to solve this engagement dilemma and raise the scores.
Our Declaration of Independence clarifies the natural law rights (endowed by the creator) of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t those same rights apply to all employees? Aren’t they guaranteed by the creator and not granted by the leaders? Why are we not living the same principles in our organizations that we espouse for our society? If we did, wouldn’t that increase employee engagement? Wouldn’t that acknowledgement shift a leader’s job from oversight (the granting rights) to support (the protection of natural rights)? The reason empowerment is inadequate to raise engagement scores is because the concept of empowerment is not aligned with natural law. I believe employees (just like citizens) naturally have the right to life, liberty (freedom and autonomy), and the pursuit of happiness (pride at work). Leaders should not be in a position to grant these. They should instead realize their responsibility to protect them.
My step son and his 7 year old daughter went to the lake for a swim. A raft is situated approximately 50 yards off shore and he and his daughter decided to swim out to it for a relaxing sun bathe. The life guard stopped them because my step son was swimming out to the raft with his daughter clinging to his neck. The life guard explained that, for safety reasons, policy stated that everyone must be able to swim to the raft unassisted. The life guard asked them to go back to shore.
My granddaughter was very upset and started to cry. She wanted to go to the raft but she was not sure she could swim on her own. She thought for a moment and told her dad, “I think I can swim it. Will you help me?” Of course he agreed and she was successful. She felt great e and happiness. It was not because he made her do it and it was not because he granted her the right to try. It was because she exercised her rights and he supported her.
Leaders must get over these thoughts of omniscience and omnipotence related to employees. They must realize instead that they are servants in charge of protecting the natural rights that already exist. Unfortunately we have been taught to run our organizations with control and arrogance. Both are inconsistent with natural law. If we shift that thinking we can shift employee engagement. The idea of empowerment must be discarded. The idea of support for natural rights must be embraced.
July 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Employee engagement is the hot topic today. More and more leaders today are beginning to recognize and appreciate that engaged employees are more productive and do higher quality work. Engagement is an emotional response to work such that employees willingly exert extra voluntary effort in their jobs. Unfortunately, every measure of employee engagement remains at a dismal level between 21% and 31%. Is the root cause of these dismal scores in the employees or in the leadership?
Apparently there are an entire series of quotes that take the form, “There are no bad [something], only bad [something else].” For example, “there are no bad dogs, only bad owners”; “there are no bad foods, only bad diets” etc. I want to add a new one, “There are no purposely disengaged workers only leadership malpractice.”
I hope it is clear that I am not suggesting employees should be treated like dogs. My point is dogs are naturally motivated and happiest when they are treated consistent with “pack mentality.” Dog trainers who treat dogs consistent with pack mentality have the happiest and best behaved dogs.
Similarly, people are naturally motivated by “engagement psychology.” Leaders who understand engagement psychology and create an environment consistent with it will have engaged employees. Unfortunately, most leaders have not been taught the correct engagement psychology thus many organization (if not most) consistently have high disengagement, poor productivity, and poor performance.
Leadership malpractice typically takes the form of sophisticated ways of blaming employees for poor results. Leadership malpractice uses phrases like “a leader must drive performance” or “we must drive results” because, the assumption is, employees can’t do it without the leader pushing, pulling, driving, supervising, overseeing, and evaluating.
There are many policies that emerge from this way of thinking but I want to address them one at a time in a series of blog posts. This post will deal with the very popular pay-for performance policy. This policy is consistent with malpractice because it’s designed to control employee behaviors in order to achieve specific results.
People want to be rewarded for their hard work and they should be but when leaders make the individual rewards contingent on specific individual goal achievement it crosses the line into malpractice. Leaders think this policy will increase employee engagement but it instead violates the engagement psychology. The use of contingency pay-for-performance to achieve organizational results is akin to the use of bloodletting leeches by physicians in the 1700’s to cure heart disease. The typical pay –for-performance policies violate employee engagement natural law and therefore they:
• Attempt to control behaviors (e.g. they limit options)
• Send a message of distrust (i.e. employees would not work on the right things with the right effort without a reward)
• Limit innovation (there may be a better result employees could work toward)
• Ignore interdependence (achieving a goal in one area of an organization might cause waste in another area)
• Increase the probability of dishonesty to achieve a specific goal to receive a specific reward (e.g. people often cheat if they think they need to do it to achieve their individual goals and if they think they can get away with it)
An alternative reward system consistent with systems thinking and aligned with engagement natural law will instead:
• Align with a larger purpose and or the compelling mission of the organization and not just the individual needs of the single employee
• Allow for choice in methods for completing tasks and accomplishing the individual goals
• Give employees opportunities to be challenged and to optimize the use of their strengths
• Enable employees to track their own progress with control over their own feedback without dependence on the biased ratings usually issued by managers
• Demonstrate clear progress toward a win-win set of outcomes for both the individual and the organization.
• Share profit increases (because of the collective accomplishments) with a clear specific method and without biased judgments about individual performance e.g. who is more responsible for a winning no-hitter baseball game, the pitcher who throws the ball, the catcher who reads the batters and calls the types of pitches, or the teammates who field the grounders and fly balls?
This alternative reward system optimizes intrinsic motivation and increases employee engagement. It minimizes the controlling extrinsic motivation created by contingency based policies.
Leaders who want to increase employee engagement must design their pay-for-performance policies consistent with employee engagement psychology. Otherwise, regardless of their good intentions, they are undermining the very thing they are trying to accomplish i.e. engagement and sustainable improved performance. They will be practicing leadership malpractice.
Leadership malpractice will be a series of blogs. Please email me with any ideas or comments.
July 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
We have been taught the wrong way to lead. We have been taught a top down authoritarian model of management that damages three important organizational competencies. This model makes the typical manager irrelevant in the current context of global business. One might even claim that the current management model is damaging results in immeasurable ways. Managers need to be supportive facilitators not bureaucratic overseers.
There are reams of data about the current quality of managerial skills. Employee engagement levels are stagnant even though most research confirms it plays a critical role in performance improvement. Change efforts fail at least 70% of the time (some research says it’s 90%). A recent leadership survey revealed how the most important skills of dealing with and developing people were not only underdeveloped but undervalued as well.
Ask yourself, what grade would you give the quality of the job the typical manager does now? The rating is probably below average. Why is that? How can this be? How is it I predict that almost anyone will rate management performance below average? It’s because they have become irrelevant.
They unintentionally damage employee engagement
Employee engagement is one of the hottest Human Resources topics today. Study after study demonstrates that when an employee feels a positive emotional connection with their team and organization they consistently contribute toward increased productivity, customer service quality, and they are more loyal.
The typical manager damages this engagement and they can’t help it. Their responsibilities and way they have been taught to carry them out clashes with what employees need for engagement. To optimize employee engagement a work environment should have these five elements: a clear understanding of how their work contributes to the benefit of the whole organization and the customers it serves, a sense of autonomy in their decision making, a sense of challenge that matches the employee skills, consistent feedback, and a sense of progress toward a desired result.
The typical environment is set up so that the manager is the only conduit for these elements. The manager is the parent and the employee is the child who cannot be fully trusted to act on their own. These manager dependent environments prevent the achievement of these five engagement elements.
For example, employees are most often assigned tasks. They have little or no choice in them. If they are lucky they are told the strategy of the organization. More likely they are merely told what their goals are and they have little choice in their creation. Their feedback is dependent upon when a manager wants to give it and often it is delivered poorly.
They unknowingly stop innovation
The manager dependent environments send subliminal messages about the difference in status between an employee and a manager. The message is “the manager is the parent and the employee is the child.” Naturally if you treat someone like a child it increases the probability they will act like one. Organizations need adults who are innovative not children who comply. The typical manage stifles risk taking and innovation because they are responsible for evaluating their employees. Manages are also evaluated by their managers and so on all the way to the top.
This hierarchy of criticism makes the reward for being truly creative small in comparison to the damage one mistake might make to a career or reputation. Furthermore, that mistake will go in the file and everyone who considers that employee for a future position will be able to read it and know how and why they messed up. This fear of failure, and the label the employee might carry, stops innovation in its tracks.
Managers are told to evaluate employees. They do it and unknowingly damage the very thing that could improve the organization’s competitive advantage.
They accidentally impede adaptability
Today increasing the capacity for change is necessary to match the the speed of change in the global economy. For example, just a few years ago Research in Motion dominated the cell phone market. Today they are dwarfed by Apple and Google. The ability to adapt is probably more important than ever before yet our managers accidentally slow the pace because they are focused more on themselves and less on the elements that create adaptability.
The war for talent contributes to this inability to adapt. Focus is given to improving the parts of the organization (the top talent) while the adaptability of the organization’s system suffers. In the war for talent managers compete with each other for attention and success. These intelligent individuals are often able to manipulate their own success while creating unintended negative results in another part of the organization, e.g. selling more than the operations can deliver or over promising to meet a performance goal. Usually the setting of numeric goals that must be achieved to receive either a pay for performance bonus or a “results oriented reputation” are the root causes of this behavior.
The focus by senior leadership on attracting and retaining talent can accidentally damage the organization’s ability to adapt because the focus is on those individuals and not on encouraging the cooperative effort to detect the subtle important changes that need to be made to continuously respond to changing customer needs and wants. Focus on the wrong things accidentally damages adaptability.
Managers are consistently rated poorly by employees and employee engagement scores are stalled. Why? It’s because managers are being asked to play a role that is irrelevant for the current needs of employees and the needs of the organization. The typical manager unintentionally damage engagement scores, stops creativity and prevents adaptability. Senior leaders need to recognize that the typical manager must be replaced with a facilitator who understands how to lead people to greatness while optimizing a system. Managers need to be supportive facilitators not bureaucratic overseers because bureaucratic overseers are now irrelevant.