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Is Employee Experience Talent Management’s Ziggy Stardust?

15 Feb
ziggy-stardust-2

photo credit: revolveribiza

I recently came across an interesting article touting the death of Talent Management. The concise introduction to the growing focus on Employee Experience was thought provoking. Unlike the attention seeking headlines about performance management being dead we too often read of these days, I think the shift to Employee Experience is a legitimate and productive application of human-centered design to employment.

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Today, the demand for skilled talent outpaces the supply of capable employees in a growing number of areas. Many of the terms of the employment contract desired by job seekers have also changed or at least have become much more variable (e.g., by generation). Some organizations have shown the agility to respond to this consumerization of employment, while many others, particularly slow changing organizations in industrial and highly regulated industries, are struggling to accept that the change is even necessary.

In 2014, HBR printed Ram Charan‘s proposal that it’s time to split HR into two groups – HR Administration (HR-A) and HR Leadership & Organization (HR-LO) with HR-A reporting to the CFO and HR-LO reporting to the CEO to focus on improving the people capabilities of the business. Dave Ulrich is known globally for helping the HR profession develop the capabilities and structures needed by their changing organizations and environments. While few argue that the field of Human Resources is changing and requiring innovation to compete, the reality is that making the right changes fast enough is difficult.

Ziggy Stardust was a short-lived persona adopted by David Bowie that allowed him to explore, then taboo, topics in his art. As Ziggy, he was able to venture into territory where David would never have been heard. Similarly, Employee Experience is an outcome to focus on much more accessible than many of the topics organizations have to face to consistently produce great employee experiences and compete for talent. Employee Experience has the potential to enable successful changes aligned to a common interest. Much like focusing your operations on value streams or your marketing and technology teams on user experience (UX), integrated strategies to optimize Employee Experience could enable organizations to make bold moves where current functional strategies such as Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, Talent Management, Total Rewards, etc. will fall short.

Employee Experience has the potential to be what Edgar Schein calls a cultural island. To overcome the subcultural issues that he credits as the real problem in many organizations hindering their ability to make needed changes. A cultural island is a happening where the norms, rules, interests and virtues of a culture can be suspended to try something new because the environment is exceptional enough to allow for it.

I have begun to think about this notion of cultural islands. Where can you actually get multicultural units into a talking relationship with each other so that they can begin to explore their common ground? It is not going to happen in the daily work scene. I think that we have to create cultural islands to allow that kind of communication to occur.  ~ Edgar Schein

Talent Management is not dead. To the contrary, there is a deficit of competent expertise available to help organizations grow and develop. Employee Experience is a useful concept to most organizations that can help overcome current circumstances and the energy that goes into keeping your organization as it is. Even if, like Ziggy Stardust, the useful life of Employee Experience is short, it has the potential to make a significant difference mobilizing management teams in alignment to a shared priority.

 

The Dojo is now closed

23 Feb

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I received this text recently…”the dojo is now closed.” It was sad – a moment of silence type of experience where you recognize something that mattered is no more. I led a team of four Organization Development Specialists, three grew up in the organization in various operations roles before taking to facilitating learning and planned change; the forth an exceptionally eccentric trades expert from the area, but new to the organization. In the weeks after I joined the company and the team’s formation, they were being moved out of our beautiful new corporate HQ to an empty room in a nearby engineering building. The day they moved in, I was there with them when I had the idea that what we needed was a meeting table in the room and a white board. We would have our team meetings right here; no tracking to a HQ conference room. They were no longer run out of corporate. We were given a sanctuary. Much fun and great work came out of what we affectionately called The Dojo.

I was very proud of this place. I spent time there pretty much everyday though my desk was in the HQ nearby. This was the best work environment I’ve ever worked in. Not because it hosted perfect people, Google like design, or progressive HR policies. We had an engaged team, each member learning and making the greatest contributions of their careers. Within six or seven months of this team being organized and me being brought in to lead it, in addition to our core accountabilities, there seemed to be no initiative happening in our organization that we weren’t needed to contribute to in some way. Additionally, we were meeting with and coaching every Manager, Director and VP in our customer group on a monthly or quarterly basis.

After two-years, I decided to leave the organization for completely personal reasons – to move my family home where my wife and I could raise our kids to know their grandparents, extended family, friends and church. Unfortunately, the magic of the dojo faded quickly. The team members have each moved on now, better from the time they spent together in this place and now using their talents to further other organizations. Who we hire, promote and recognize…who we entrust the duty of leading our talent…This experience was a very personal example for each of us on how the acts of the local leader can enable something remarkable to develop or tear it down. I’m thankful and better off for the years in the dojo.

Did you know…

8 Jun

Most days I get to eat dinner with my three young children, two attend school, one not yet. The frequent conversation, like many homes, is how was school today? What did you do? What did you learn? The answer of course is I don’t know. But, every so often, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a “Daddy, did you know…” sneaks out to reassure us that there is life and growth there. This is what someone says when they have discovered something. When they are engaged and learning. When they are connecting. When they are opening up and sharing. Something that wasn’t expected was found.

Why the need to share? Why is it such a surprise to learn?

All things flow from creation to stasis. This entropy or decay is the norm for most of us, most of the time. Significant energy is consumed by maintenance to keep things within control. Maintenance and compliance with control mechanisms drains our energy and requires no creativity. When we don’t use it, we lose it – or at least forget how to access it.

When things go as we expect them to, we are more or less on autopilot. We spend energy. Things don’t go wrong. We’re not disrupted or surprised. To make our days more engaging, more energizing and more memorable, it would seem that two things need to happen:

1. more new and different things need to happen – more sparks of creative genesis

2. we must be more observant of the positive effects of continuing to exert energy towards things that are not new.

What progress has been made? What level of performance has been achieved or surpassed? What benefits have been realized from the efforts expended?

It must be a combination of both. Becoming addicted to the thrill of something new and different, but failing to follow through on anything to develop breadth and mastery is not a formula for success. Neither is mechanistic routinization driving everything to a checklist task. Engaging our creativity to learn and make change combined with continued development with feedback as we progress towards mastery is the ideal.

Are your days aptly disrupted with surprise and wonder? Do your continued efforts leave you reflecting on the importance and significance of continuing to strive? Try the approach above to gain some energy and satisfaction.

Fundamentals: One-on-one meetings

29 May
partnershipLeadership is socially demanding. Interaction with those you lead (and hopefully serve) is necessary. I’ve found that it is very unlikely that we as leaders will consistently behave as we wish to – recognizing, coaching, supporting, developing, empowering and engaging…more – without creating some type of structural space/time and process to enable it. A practice that I use and recommend is creating a norm around meeting with each member of your team for one-on-one discussions to focus on their personal learning and performance.
Commit to meeting with each of your direct reports on a consistent frequency. For me, the minimum is 30 minutes bi-weekly. It’s their meeting, so I ask them to schedule the time in open space on my calendar at a time that works for them, booking 3 – 6 months into the future. I’m available for more if they want or need it. Our meetings do get moved as needed, but very rarely cancelled.
I require a written update around a loosely structured agenda built around roles I want to play as their leader:
  • to provide recognition – My Accomplishments (what have you accomplished since we met last?)
  • to serve their needs and support them – My Needs (what can I do that will be helpful to you?)
  • to build trusting relationships – FYI’s (no action needed updates), My Team (skip-level updates)
  • to engage and develop – My Development (what have you planned or accomplished to learn, experience and connect to develop yourself?)
  • to coach and empower performance – My Project Updates (what’s the status / how are you planning to progress?)
The purpose of the written update sent in advance is it allows us to make better use of our time together discussing and responding to the situation rather than using our limited time describing it.
Feedback I’ve received on the process:
  • I get a sense of satisfaction reporting my progress and it forces me to acknowledge ownership of my work.
  • Conversely, knowing the time is coming where I will report on my status and what has been accomplished (or not) also motivates me; I want to avoid having nothing to report but excuses.
  • I like having the consistency. It’s easier to get my needs met without feeling I need to “interrupt” as often.

I’ve provided the same update to my bosses over the years and the process makes me better. One thing that is certain is that if I, as the leader, didn’t set the expectation and require the process, entropy would set in; preparation and the good use of our time would end and I’d likely have what most others do with their time.

Committing to this structure and process makes me a better leader and my team members better performers. It also scales really nicely for those of us that manage global, remote or virtual teams.
If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.

Choose Service

11 Nov

When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king of Israel. The people of his kingdom appealed for some relief from the heavy requirements  of them. The new king sought council of two groups, his wise elders and his peers. His elders told him if you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will respond in kind. His peers advised teach them a lesson and make your power known by telling them they have had it good and your requirements are much higher, like scorpions even.

I see plenty of evidence that leaders continue to seek similar council on how to lead.

While wise and wildly successful organizations like Southwest Airlines signal servant leadership and respected thought leaders like Jim Collins give us Level 5 Leadership, that’s not really how most of us have ever been led (especially when things aren’t going well) or what we see our peer group doing. Sure, it stands rational to align your service-value chain with how you operate and deliver value – leaders serving associates / organization members, who in turn serve external customers, who in turn chose your organization, fulfilling your organizations purpose and delivering value for stakeholders – but that’s not what my peers do. Do you know what they will think and say? And, being served has its perks. I have the power to…

Great leadership is delivered through individual choices to serve. Great organizations don’t exist without aligning leaders at all levels to make the choice to serve.

Choose service. Not to self-actualize and for virtuous altruism alone, but to deliver enduring value and effectiveness.

The survey results…you really don’t know what they mean

11 Apr

When you’re presented with survey results, do you know how to “read” them? Do you show a great “bias for action” and jump to action planning? Maybe you’re a great communicator and you promptly pull everyone together to explain how they responded and how the organization is reacting. Perhaps you’re skilled in data analysis, use SPSS, remind others that correlation doesn’t mean causation, etc. You likely know what the data is, but most of us can only speculate what it means.

A lesson I learned from Dr. Kathie Sorensen of The Coffman Organization is when you’re collecting information from a group of people to try to understand something of importance, it’s not smart to review data and then tell the organization what their responses mean. When working with Kathie, before leaders received survey results in a report, they were instructed to “Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I will not tell my team what their survey results mean.”

When measuring social factors – why people do what they do, make the choices they make, feel how they feel, believe what they believe – I’ve found it effective to follow a process to share what the results are and use questions to seek to understand in more detail what they mean from the people who provided the responses. I’ve never seen this process fail to drive improvement just through the process itself, independent of any action that comes from it. I’ve also, never seen a leader do this and not be surprised by how much they learn. It’s an exercise of empathy.

When Dr. Sorensen first delivered the “Raise your right hand…” message to our leaders, many of them struggled. They scoffed at the idea that they couldn’t interpret and plan actions against such simple surveys. The very idea of presenting a set of data – some of which wasn’t that positive about their leadership and the environment they were responsible for – and then asking for help with what it meant was threatening. Results come from action, not talking and deliberation, right? We were stuck until I presented an analogy to tip the group back to support by showing similarities to a concept they were more familiar with – a key investment the organization made in manufacturing – the condition monitoring systems.

Me: We’ve made some significant capital investments in condition monitoring systems for the plants right?

Leaders in group meeting: Yeah. Those systems keep our plants delivering the product we sell to make money. What does that have to do with these surveys.

Me: I think they’re similar.

Leaders (laughing): You do? How?

Me: How do the condition monitoring systems work? They don’t actually tell you what to do to the machinery, right?

Leaders: No, the condition monitoring systems measure things like temperature, vibration, and volume. When the machines are going to fault, there are changes in these factors that you can see leaving their normal levels well in advance of the machine failing. This allows us to plan maintenance or repair at a time that works best for us and not shut down production while product is scheduled to run and labor is on the clock.

Me: Exactly what we’re trying to do too. The survey results don’t tell you what the problem is. They tell that something is vibrating or hot and you should work to figure out what it is before it causes a system failure that will be expensive and uncomfortable.

Another analogy that may work better for you if you’re not in manufacturing is measuring your vitals (blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, pulse, weight, blood sugar, etc.) to monitor health.

Related posts:

What is Engagement, Really?

There’s no such thing as a great organization

There’s no such thing as a great company

10 Mar

There are great teams and not so great teams. The best companies are networks of great teams. When you look at organizations, there is a huge range in performance team by team by team. There are differences within high performing teams compared with underperforming teams. These differences impact not only business outcomes, but lead measures like the ability to attract and retain talent that create the valued product or service that customers trade money for.

In 1994, a HBR article titled Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work (J. L. Heskett et al.) introduced a model that is widely referenced and used. This year, DDI published their DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast. In it, they illustrate an adapted version of this value chain based on their huge biannual leadership study. Integrating the two looks something like this:

I do this to illustrate a (simplified) sense of cause and effect. The best companies are made up of great teams. Great teams have high quality leadership that build a uniquely positive work environment / climate. This leadership and context supports team member engagement in work that allows them to contribute their strengths. While the local leader exists within a system – enabled or confined by talent systems and process, as well as the broader management culture – it is the leadership of the local manager that has the greatest impact on the engagement and performance of their team. While leaders are as much a product of this system as they are nodes within it, positive deviants exist and they make the most significant difference. Most team members’ knowledge of and beliefs about the organization are driven by how the organization is presented and exemplified through their local leader’s words and behavior.

Curt Coffman and his partner Kathie Sorensen have taught me a lot about how local managers drive engagement. Most engagement research consists of reporting data collected from a large sample of employees from a broad set of teams and organizations – how do a broad range of factors impact engagement. Coffman’s research surfaced drivers of engagement by finding the correlation between employee responses to questions and team performance. For example, while a question like, “I’m fairly compensated…” is a highly rated hygiene factor that individuals rate as highly influencing their level of discretionary effort and intent to stay, It’s important to everyone regardless of performance level. However the question “My manager really knows me” is rated significantly higher on high performing teams than low performing teams. This research shows that highly engaged teams delivering superior results are different and the key differences are under the control of and most influenced by the local leader.

Despite more than a decade campaign to refocus leaders on achieving greatness through allowing talent to contribute those things they are truly great at, we remain fixated on being “not-bad” by trying to put in what’s not there or improve what we are remedial at. Good is not the opposite of bad. It’s entirely different.

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

There’s no perfect job. The ideal for most people, when they are asked to describe it, is an enriched and empowered variation of what they are doing now.

SO WHAT?

Glad you asked. Leadership matters. How we feel about our contribution at work matters too. Focusing on these two things will make you and your organization more effective.

Leaders – Focus on leadership drivers of engagement. How would those you lead respond? Ask them?

  • What are the outcomes that you are accountable for?
  • Do you feel that you really know me? Is there anything you’d like to know?
  • Do you see additional opportunities where you could contribute your talents and abilities?
  • What’s the best (most meaningful) recognition you’ve ever received at work?
  • What are you doing when you’re doing what you’re best at?
  • Who was the best manager you’ve ever had? Tell me about what he or she did that you liked so much?
  • How do you feel you best add value to the organization?
  • What are the strongest teams in our organization? Tell me about the strongest team you’ve ever been a member of?
  • When have you grown most professionally in your career?

Each of us must better understand our strengths and use them more. This will serve our personal interests, benefit our organizations and the stakeholders we impact – family, community, etc.

What, in your experience, causes an organization to be seen as great?

What is Engagement, Really?

5 Mar

Several years ago, I received an email from a senior leader that read something like:

“What is all this about engagement? Is this your department’s new buzz word to replace empowerment? In 40 words or less, tell me what this is.”

I was happy to respond. It was a candid fair request. I also had a great relationship with the leader. I knew that this was a transparent question. He knew that if I didn’t have a legitimate response, I would candidly tell him it was empty talk. I’m sure there were others that questioned in the same way, but acted like they understood and were in full support. These are the ones that make it difficult to be successful, not the leaders that demand that we make it plain.

Engagement is not empty words. There’s real benefit – personal, organizational, even societal (See this article by Gallup Workers in Bad Jobs Have Worse Wellbeing Than Jobless).

Think of the best person you’ve ever worked with. The person whose contribution was so impacting and valuable that they top your list.

Think of your own Personal Bests – a time when you were at your peak performance making a motivating and meaningful contribution.

Simpler…think of the last film or activity where you lost track of space and time because you were locked in – a state of flow.

What words would you use to describe these states? What are the benefits of bringing more of this to the workplace?

I responded: “Challenge accepted! Employee engagement is a condition that yields higher levels of Organizational Citizenship Behaviors – discretionary effort that cannot be achieved through punishment or reward, and improved intent to stay. Let’s discuss in our 1:1 Thursday. Do I get bonus points for the hundred-dollar words?”

His response: “Thanks. I don’t give points for big words. Next challenge will have a character count instead of word count.”

Engagement isn’t visible, but it’s effects are:

  • higher productivity through increased discretionary effort
  • affinity to the organization
  • intent to stay / retention
  • greater contribution
  • increased innovation

An individual’s level of engagement is the extent they are emotionally invested in their work, team and organization. It influences our behavior similar to a belief or value. Through it we experience, interpret, decide and act.

Most research and change initiatives are centered around measuring the level of engagement and engagement drivers that cause these desired effects. There are many companies working to help organizations in this way. Comparing their studies and tools reveals agreement on key drivers:

  • Trust in leaders – confidence x competence x commitment of managers
  • Relationship with manager – I have a relationship and personal connection to my manager
  • The work itself – work is stimulating and meaningful
  • Knows outcomes – line of sight how what I do contributes to performance
  • Leverages strengths – I’m able to contribute what I am best at
  • Learning and personal growth – I learn and become more effective and valuable
  • Team pride – I’m a member of a strong team
  • Recognition – recognition is fair and consistent in appreciation of high performance

Additional Resources:

 

DDI Monograph – Employee Engagement: The Key to Realizing Competitive Advantage

Five Questions to Reflect

12 Feb

Build reflection into your processes to increase learning and improvement. Use these simple questions to facilitate an actionable planning session:

What is my (our) role and purpose?

What am I (are we) doing well that should continue or even do more of?

What am I (are we) doing that requires improvement?

What should I (we) start doing?

What should I (we) stop doing?

Expected results:

  • everyone learns something
  • innovative ideas are developed as people play off each others contribution (aka Catchball)
  • plans are better aligned
  • the team is more engaged in and committed to the plans that are made (and question the leaders’ awareness of what’s really going on much less)

Some Practical tips, should you try it:

  1. The goal is learning – the tone should be set by the leader. Prime the group with an idea of your own for each of the questions. Express your value for the activity and the good you expect to come from it. Praise some things that others are doing well, point out something under your own control you recognize needs improvement, an opportunity you’d like to see the group capitalize on, etc. Some of the leaders I’ve helped thought it was best to leave the team to work on the exercise and then return after 90 – 120 minutes to discuss their ideas.
  2. As a facilitator, I find it works well to project a document for recording notes and summarizing key points for each question. The participants reading the idea seems to stimulate more questions, clarification and conversation as they see the ideas summarized.
  3. End the session with a recap and summary of the key points and any agreements made. I have found it effective to ask members of the team to lead this.

More broadly, discussions with the word “review” in the title (also, debriefs) should honor this same reflective intent. The idea – there are lessons here that should guide our future plans and actions. Don’t limit your conversation to only the misses and opportunities. Ask, why are we experiencing the success we are having and how do we make sure it continues?

TPOV: Good News Fast, Bad News Faster

16 Jan

Today, I was reminded of an impacting Teachable Point of View (TPOV) from Mike Wells, CEO of Wells Enterprises – makers of the worlds best, Bluebunny, ice cream. When introducing the company’s updated “Fundamentals,” Mike communicated a principle for communication that resonated with me immediately as one that I share, support and advocate. I read it on the handout provided at the all employee meeting I attended as he said the words, “Good News Fast, Bad News Faster.” I can’t remember the words he used. I left knowing that he meant the organization believes in recognizing, celebrating and rewarding success, but it also depends on each person to confront reality and make problems visible to allow the team to provide support, problem solve, and act accordingly. It agrees completely with a couple of ideas I regularly express to my teams and colleagues:

1. never, EVER, hide a problem

2. If I have to take a hit now or later, I’ll take it now

An example: A high performing consultant from my team sent an email to a group of managers with an excel spreadsheet as an attachment that he learned minutes after sending was a pivot table that contained confidential information. He immediately called my cell phone and told me directly what happened and who it went to. I then called my boss and IT. Within about 10 minutes we had surgically removed and destroyed the message and attachment from each recipient’s mailbox, identified who had opened the email and whether a copy had been saved locally, and replaced the message with an attachment including only the information intended to be sent. The next day, I took the opportunity to recognize the employee that made the mistake for modeling our values. His response – “I made the mistake and wanted to make sure you (me) weren’t surprised and that we got it fixed before it got out of control.”

We will make mistakes. We will form imperfect plans and then imperfectly execute them. It is certain. This does not and should not limit our drive for excellence, even as Toyota states it in their Lexus brand – the pursuit of perfection. If you are a purpose driven person that acts on ideals, you are pursuing an asymptote. This principle that tells employees bad new faster is an expectation that is liberating. Do not play not to lose. Do not waste valuable time and resources hiding information and strategizing how to skirt ownership or place blame because you are afraid to share what is now reality with your team. The message is also clear that when bad news is presented to you, don’t punish the informant to teach them to fear making mistakes and keep them far from you.

Though not common, I’ve witnessed great individuals, relationships and teams that are truly safe and open. When something happens, there is little or no inhibition to discuss it. It may be a lucrative opportunity, a total disruption to the status quo, or a threatening mistake made by the team. They are able to lay the issue out, walk around it and look at it from various points of view and assess:

  • is this real?
  • what is happening here? how does it work? how did it happen?
  • what does it mean to us? who does it impact?
  • is there a lesson to be learned? is there a weaknesses that is revealed?
  • is there an opportunity to exploit?
  • what will we do?

The environment is engaging with heightened arousal in focus and curiosity. There is ownership and accountability. There’s no burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. Run to the issue. Assess what it is, does and means. Own it. Move forward.

This TPOV creates competitive advantage and is a fundamental to a learning organization. It takes what most organizations fear and run from – their richest lessons – and uses them as fuel for success and growth for talent and the organization.

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