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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.

Noel Tichy on Teachable Points of View

24 Sep

“Great leaders are great teachers not only because they know what they think, but because they take the time to organize their thoughts in ways so that they can communicate them clearly.” – Noel Tichy, The Leadership Engine

Teachable Points of View (TPOV) are by far the most frequently visited topic I’ve written about. In my own work helping develop leaders, learning to develop and communicate TPOV’s continues to be one of the most needed and, when used, effective skills of leaders. Here, Noel Tichy speaks on this concept that he has developed and instructed for decades.

Related Post: TPOV: Good News Fast, Bad News Faster

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.

Feel good or Be good?

10 Sep

Your expectations impact us both.

Helper: “Do you want to feel good or be good?”

Client: “Both!”

Helper: “Agreed. When we are good, we should feel good about it. If we focus on being good, we’ll get both.”

Client: “It doesn’t sound good. It sounds like you’re going to tell me we’re not very good.”

Helper: “Well it depends. What do you expect? How good do you need to be and why?”

The point – being good, better or even great requires a standard. Being good also requires coming to terms with where you are and doing the things that will make you good.

As the saying goes, feelings make great followers but terrible leaders; feelings make great servants but terrible masters.

The Environment Always Wins

4 Jun
“The group to which an individual belongs is the ground for his perceptions, his feelings, and his actions.”

An area that we (you, me, and our groups and organizations) have the greatest gap between what we know and what we do is our understanding of the effects of environment on our behavior and results and how we account for it. We apply a bias so consistently it’s called THE fundamental attribution error. Things that go well, I likely give too much credit to myself and factors within me, while things that do not, I find factors that are outside of me (“not me”) to blame. You do to. It serves our interests and some theories of motivation suggest it protects our most fundamental needs.

From 2004 – 2009, I had the privilege of ministering at the Oakland County Jail Boot Camp on most Thursday evenings. Men, and some women, with remaining sentences of one year could earn a sentence reduction to 8-weeks if they could complete the intensive and challenging program. While in the program, the trainees were subjected to challenges that forced them to adapt to a military-like physical and social regimen. For example, they had to immediately refrain from using pronouns (not easy). It was a very rewarding experience to be involved in the lives of these trainees as they committed to healthier self-disciplines. However, after attending my first graduation ceremony, it became clear that when the trainees graduated, they were met at the ceremony by a social system that knew them as they were and had not changed with them. When we would visit the men and hear about how they were earning their GED’s and gaining skills to secure employment upon completion of the program, they would share how they looked forward to a new life after the program and how they weren’t sure they could make it in the program. I would quickly share that having seen many groups of men come and go, we worry more about their well-being after the program. We tried to ready them for the culture shock they and their loved ones would experience when they were reunited. Most found it difficult to follow through on the changes they planned for their lives. Those that were successful returned to a social system that supported their changes or they changed the social system they lived within.

Is this so different from what we experience in industry?

Main Idea: To learn and change, we need to do more to ensure the environments where we will perform (do what we’re attempting to do differently) support the new behavior. Before assuming the cause of a problem lies in individuals’ knowledge, skill, capability or motivation, we need to look beyond the individual to the environment they will act within. As we as individuals plan to make improvements in our own lives, we must look beyond our individual ability and motivation and ensure we support the changes we want for ourselves in our environment, social systems, and the structured ways we do things that form our habits.

There are many fascinating and counter-intuitive studies around this topic. Below are several I’m happy to share.

In the summer of 2009, I was blessed to attend a week-long program with Edgar Schein at the Cape Cod Institute where he lectured following the release of his book Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help. Dr. Schein presented extensively on “the coercive nature of the social order and the deep impact of culture.” All relationships are governed by the cultural rules of interaction and for change (learning) to occur, these rules have to be suspended to enable safe passage from here to there.

Seth Godin provided creative reference to the culture rules of interaction Dr. Schein describes (Social Economics, Social Theater and Situation Propriety) in his blog Extending the Narrative.

The socialite walks into the ski shop and buys a $3000 ski jacket she’ll wear once. Why? Not because she’ll stay warmer in it more than a different jacket, but because that’s what someone like her does. It’s part of her story. In fact,it’s easier for her to buy the jacket than it is to change her story.

Recent studies published by the NeuroLeadership Institute and it’s affiliates are providing evidence of how the brain functions that illustrate just how social the human brain is. From Your Brain on Facebook by David Rock

Here’s how social the brain is: the brain network that is always on in the background is a region involved in thinking about yourself and other people. This network is so ubiquitous it has been labeled the “default network.” When not doing anything else, the brain’s favorite pastime is to think about people. We actually turn this region down when we do any active processing, such as doing math. One study showed that inactivity for just two seconds switched the default network back on.

Many studies have emerged in the last few years about the importance of human social interactions to our well-being. We know that social rewards light up the brain’s reward circuits more than non-social rewards, and that social threats, such as feeling lonely or ostracized, light up the threat center more than non-social threats. We’ve even seen that social pain, like being left out of an activity, lights up the same regions as physical pain. And that taking Tylenol can reduce social pain more than a placebo.

Just recently we learned that where you are in the pecking order of a group of people taking an IQ test has an impact on your own IQ score. We even know that positive social habits are more important for health than diet and exercise. (Surprisingly, moderate drinking is likely to have you live longer than being a non-drinker, probably due to the social benefits.)

A recent Freakonomics Radio Podcast Episode titled The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It? shares an engaging account of a study that illustrates how the supremacy of social acceptance is not just for the weak. A study was conducted to understand the effect of scientific literacy on decision making around controversial topics. Common thinking would suggest that the more “rational” scientific types would be less impacted by their social systems, right?

Key points from studies presented:

  • numeracy …should help you to better understand information. And that kind of comprehension is a basic building block for good decisions across a variety of domains. …should also help you process the information more systematically and help you to get to better decisions that are more in line with the facts.
  • however, studies referenced show people who are highly numerate and highly scientifically literate, they seem to actually rely on preexisting beliefs, on these sort of underlying cultural cognitions (how public sentiment about issues is shaped by cultural values) they have about how the world should be structured more than people who are less scientifically literate, or less numerate.
  • So, the more education a culture gets, the more likely we are to have intense polarization at least among the educated classes. High scientific literacy and numeracy were not correlated with a greater fear of climate change. Instead, the more you knew, the more likely you were to hold an extreme view in one direction or the other — that is, to be either very, very worried about the risks of climate change or to be almost not worried at all. In this case, more knowledge led to … more extremism!
  • Why on earth would that be? Our individual beliefs on hot-button issues like this have less to do with what we know than with who we know.
  • While my activities as a consumer, my activities as a voter, they’re just not consequential enough to count. But my views on climate change will have an impact on me in my life. If I go out of the studio here over to campus at Yale, and I start telling people that climate change is a hoax – these are colleagues of mine, the people in my community—that’s going to have an impact on me; they’re going to form a certain kind of view of me because of the significance of climate change in our society, probably a negative one. Now, if I live, I don’t know, in Sarah Palin’s Alaska, or something, and I take the position that climate change is real, and I start saying that, I could have the same problem. My life won’t go as well. 
  • People who are science literate are even better at figuring that out, even better at finding information that’s going to help them form, maintain a view that’s consistent with the one that’s dominant within their cultural group.  
  • it’s actually more important that I align my life with that belief not because of anything I can do, but because it helps me fit in better in my circle, there’s more currency to my belief there. 
  • We like to think that we make up our minds about important issues based on our rational, unbiased assessment of the available facts. But the evidence assembled shows that our beliefs, even about something as scientifically oriented as climate change, are driven by a psychological need to fit in. And so we create strategies for doing this.

Finally, something applied for us practitioners. The model below (Gilbert’s Model) segments the performance factors into three different areas: Information, Means, and Motivation; and two levels: what the organization can provide (Data, Methods & Processes, and Incentives) and what the employee brings to the job (Knowledge, Capability, and Willingness to Work).

If given the options 1 – 6 below for areas to place emphasis to improve your learning and performance as an individual, where do you think your organization should invest? What choice would have the greatest leverage to improve outcomes?

In my experience using this tool when working with leadership teams, about 2/3 of responses prioritize acting on the organizational level (#1 – 3) to improve performance. Research shows that the greatest leverage — the best return of improved outcomes for the least effort—is produced when an organization ensures employees have good data, effective work methods and processes, and fitting incentives. These items also tend to be under the direct control of the organization and lowest cost to change. In contrast, less leverage for driving improvement and greater cost go with change focused on what the person brings to the work situation.

In presenting field theory, Kurt Lewin wrote “all behavior change results from learning – norm reeducation – at the group level.” Change requires action at the group level and should be a participative and collaborative process. If you’re a leader, what change are you making personally to support the changes you want in your organization? If you’re a consultant, what are you doing to ensure environmental support for change following your interventions?

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?

Do You Moneyball?

25 Feb

I recently saw Moneyball for the first time on a flight and was jumping out of my seat. There are so many clips in the movie that parallel how OD & Talent processes can enable performance. My favorites:

1. GM, Billy Beane confronts his scouts about the subjective discussion of perspective talent – “…you’re just talking…”
2. Near the end of film, the Owner of the Red Sox invites Billy to Boston. Over coffee, there’s a brilliant series of lines where he say’s to Billy that anyone that’s not using his system the following year is a dinosaur.

I’d love to (plan to) use these clips in a session with leadership to frame up the talent system improvements that most organizations are working to implement. I knew immediately that I wanted to write on the topic, but David Almeda beat me to it with his post Hitting a Home Run in Talent Management: The Value of HR Analytics. The key point to me is somewhat buried in the middle – “Doing this work effectively requires an understanding of the organization’s value chain: How does the workforce help the organization make or save money? It also requires a clear understanding of the company’s future strategy” (or in how we will make or save money in the future). This same thinking applies to organizations with a purpose other than making money as well.

Baseball games are won when your team has more runs than your opponent. In Moneyball, they show how the Oakland Athletics moved from static score watching and individual performance analysis to analysis of the dynamic process of run creation and then systematically build a team, as closely as possible – given present constraints, around effectively performing this process of run creation.

How do you and your organization win? Do you view it as static through lag measures and a “great man or woman” profile for talent? Or, do you manage and enable performance in those things that actually build performance with individuals positioned in area of strength to “get on base” to enable the organization to score?

Under-resourced ≠ Lean

25 Feb

In the workplace, Lean is a term most often used in reference to a way of thinking and acting, a management philosophy and process, that maximizes value while reducing waste – usually, paying homage to the Toyota Production System (TPS). However, I’ve observed colleagues from many different organizations state that they lack the resources required to provide value because their organization “runs lean.” Fiscally conservative about adding cost, sure. Lean, no.

Being over-resourced is wasteful, but being under-resourced is often even more wasteful and damaging to creating value while eliminating waste. Each of the forms of waste and flow are negatively impacted by being inappropriately resourced. All the worse, it’s usually stated with a sense a pride, as if good stewardship is being practiced.

If Six Sigma is the management strategy of your organization, being under-resourced is at cross purpose with your goals too. The goal of six sigma is to improve quality through reducing process variability. Being under-resourced most often reduces quality and increases variability.

Lean is an investment strategy. Describing a system that is starved of a needed resource – human, material, or other – as Lean is inaccurate. This is a perversion of the fundamental ideas of Lean and Stewardship.

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