Posted tagged ‘Corporate Culture’

Compensation Revisited

December 8, 2011

Not unlike a car wreck on the other side of the highway, I can’t stop myself from slowing down just a little and gawking at the latest “better motivations than money for your employees” article.  And it’s not that I don’t believe any of that, but somehow the articles never quite nail the real question in my mind.   Here’s the latest list of things you can do instead of paying your employees more money:

  1. Be generous with praise
  2. Get rid of the managers
  3. Make your ideas theirs
  4. Never criticize or correct
  5. Make everyone a leader
  6. Take an employee to lunch every week
  7. Give recognition and small rewards
  8. Throw company parties
  9. Share the rewards and the pain

Although it might be great sport, I am not even going to pick at each recommendation.  Each could be be useful at times, though I would be reluctant to universally apply any of them.  I am also going to restrain from pointing out the obvious conundrum between #2 and #5 (oops, I guess I just did… dang.)

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I do want to offer one constructive thought, since we are all banned from criticizing or correcting by #4.

Compensation and motivation/morale are two vastly different things.

If you don’t believe me, find a company that has the highest morale and the most motivated employees you’ve ever seen.   Then have the CEO announce that the company is bankrupt and that anyone who wants to stay and work for free can do so starting Monday.  I am not saying no one would show up, but I doubt it’d be business as usual.

Most employees need to work to live, sustain their families, and otherwise pursue their personal version of the American Dream.  That’s why the size of their paycheck matters to them.   They also want to feel good about where they work, who they work with, and what they do.   Here’s a news flash though:  the latter is, to a large extent, out of your control as a company leader/exec for two reasons:

1) you can’t possibly predict or control the complex interpersonal relationships that develop in the workplace.

2) in many organizations (though I am sure not yours) there is an innate skepticism from employees around all new management initiatives.  The “real” reason you’re taking me to lunch, throwing a party, or praising me is always lurking in the back of some of your folks’ minds.

And if anyone even mildly suspects that any of these parties, praise or changes is intended to be a “replacement” for a raise or bonus, you will be well on your way to the exact opposite outcome of what you set out to do.

Instead, just try being Fair, Honest, Transparent and Unflappable.   That’s five less things you have to remember to do, and none of them require you to go to the Olive Garden six times a month…

Two tents

December 1, 2011

There’s a really, really bad old joke where a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doc, I am so confused.  Sometimes I think I am a wigwam and sometimes I think I am a teepee.”  The doctor says, “your problem is that you’re too tense…”   [get it, tents???]

So here’s something that I know I take for granted most of the time.  Springs.  But they are amazing devices and they are everywhere.  Watches, garage doors, shock absorbers and even my lawnmower’s ignition system.  And most of the time, they work perfectly.

imageOne time, though, a few years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night after hearing an enormous “BANG” sound downstairs.  It took a while to figure out what had happened, but one of the giant springs that helps the garage door go up and down (check them out next time you have a minute to kill) had snapped in two.  Yikes!   I didn’t even know that could happen!   Then I learned something else.  Try lifting a garage door without those springs.  It turns out that garage doors are REALLY heavy.  Who knew?

Here’s the thing:  springs work by creating just the right amount of tension.  If there’s no tension, you can’t lift the garage door.  If there’s too much, the springs snaps and goes recoiling everywhere.

I have noticed at several of my clients lately that there’s quite a bit of tension.  The political tension between perfecting finicky software and meeting promised deadlines.  The resource tension between getting things done and training new team members.  And the ever-present tension between wanting to innovate but being constrained by real budgets.

These are your organization’s springs.  I have come to appreciate that it’s not a bad thing that these tensions exist.  They help balance opposing forces.  That’s what springs do.  The question is:  do you know where the springs in your organization are, and are they too loose, too tight, or just right?  Because you don’t ever want to wake up to a loud bang…  trust me.

Big Fish, Little Fish, smells the same

November 4, 2011

Sometimes I worry about running out of things to blog about.   Then I caught a few news stories this week and that fear just melted away…

The first news story I heard, which I am sure many of you did as well, was about the CEO of Nabors Industries, Eugene Isenberg, who stepped down as CEO to remain as only the Chairman of the Board, as I understand it.  For this magnanimous gesture, he was paid a lump sum of $100 million dollars.   Dr. Evil would be proud.

The second got a bit less notoriety, but is eerily similar in many ways except for the size of the payout.   Turkia Mullin was the Chief Development Officer of Wayne County in Michigan.  She left that job to take over as CEO of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which, no surprise, is in Wayne County.  For this shift in roles, she was paid a “severance” from her CDO job of $200,000.00.   As you can see from the article, once this payment came to light, she announced she would be returning the money.    Which only adds to the innate sense that the payment was completely unjustified in the first place.   Otherwise, you’d think she would have kept it.

imageI think we can all agree that executive compensation often feels completely out of line with performance, actual responsibilities, value to the company as a whole or other factors.  But it is even more disturbing to me that, now, executives are getting big payouts just to change jobs or titles within THE SAME COMPANY (or county, in Turkia’s case…)

CEO News flash:  Whether you support our current president or not, I think we’d all agree that Barack Obama probably makes more gut-wrenching decisions in a month than either of these folks made in their entire careers, including sending brave young women and men into harm’s way.   If you don’t believe me, do some reading about the marines in Dark Horse battalion.    I am pretty sure Barack’s salary is closer to Turkia’s “bonus” than to Eugene’s base pay, no less his “lump sum” payout.  So whatever contrived justification you CEO’s are creating inside your heads that help you believe you deserve this type of financial compensation for your efforts, I don’t think they have anything to do with leadership.

In the 1800’s, a term was coined for folks like this.  Robber barons.  Might be a good time to revive that catchy little label…

If a tree falls…

October 28, 2011

This is perhaps a bit less of a blog post and more of a question to my avid reader…

I have been in several meetings in the last few weeks where I cannot help but notice that many attendees (and, I might add, often in meetings with less than 6 people) are emailing, texting on their phones, and generally and openly ignoring whoever happens to be speaking at the time.  Granted, most of the time it was me talking and therefore highly justified, but I swear at least 3 times it was someone else.

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In any case, my questions are these:

  1. have we reached a point where we are all so busy and “meeting overloaded” that we feel it is necessary to respond immediately to other demands on our time, even if it means that you’re openly disrespecting someone else in the room?
  2. Is this just the nature of multi-tasking?  So these folks really are listening intently and doing something else at the same time, because we are all just that good at it?
  3. Is it that this just turns out to be the best use of the attendees’  time?  Because whoever is speaking is doing it just to hear their own voice and there’s really little value in the perspective/opinion they’re sharing?

I am genuinely puzzled by this, because I still cherish the infrequent opportunities to be in the same room with others, where their body language, facial expressions, intonations, and gestures convey something that is completely lost on con calls and IM.  But I am also open to the fact that I may, yet again, be clueless.

What gives???

Worth Repeating

October 21, 2011

I really do enjoy the “Corner Office” pieces in the NY Times Sunday Business section.  A lot of no-nonsense and inspiration leadership from CEO’s doing Q and A with Adam Bryant or another reporter.  So October 9th’s piece was no exception.  And I know I’ve written about root causes and understanding the real motivations of your teams before but this anecdote is absolutely worth repeating…  And if you can’t relate to this, you have never run a sales team.

Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, a BIG pharma company, was responding to the first question, right out of the gate.  The question was about important leadership lessons.  Allow me to summarize and paraphrase:

Joseph said he was appointed to head a division of another company and ‘turn it around.’   One serious problem was that the division missed their sales/revenue forecast every month.  He brought in a consultant and they concluded that they needed a better and more analytical sales process.

So they put the new process in place and the forecasts did not improve.  Hmmmm… 

Then he brought in a behavioral psychologist who reported, after several weeks of study, that the problem wasn’t process, it was “truth.”   Throughout the division, team members would assemble the forecast KNOWING they weren’t going to hit it and that it was, essentially, made up.  Joseph realized that, starting with him, the willingness to hear bad news as a means of getting to the truth was the right next step.

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This week, at the Berlin SharePoint Conference, I had an opportunity to spend some ‘face time’ with the CEO of a successful software company that I admire quite a bit.  He told me they were getting ready to do business reviews, and he had decided that he was going to kick off the meetings by asking everyone to list two or three mistakes they’d made in the last year, and he was going to go first.  Brilliant.

In your organization, would you be comfortable standing up in front of your peers and listing your mistakes from the past twelve months?   Because if you can, you will take a big step toward creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as learning opportunities.  That’s the  one time when mistakes are worth repeating…

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.

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Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…

Is Everybody Happy??

September 9, 2011

I am not a huge believer in polls.  I think that regardless of statistical sampling size and other factors, the way that questions are ordered, worded and who you ask still affects the outcome in ways that belie objectivity.

Be that as it may, has anyone seen the latest Gallup Healthways Well Being index as it relates to “employee engagement?”  Interesting stuff!

Allow me to summarize.  The Gallupians use three categories to segment employees:  engaged (in their companies), not engaged, and actively disengaged.  It may surprise no one to hear that 30 percent of American workers are engaged in their work, 51 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged.   A sad state of affairs indeed.

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What can you do about this??

I would suggest two things:

1)   it turns out that many economic sleuths are actually willing to admit that there’s a relationship between engaged workers and your company’s bottom line.  Personally, I don’t feel like anyone should even have to make that case, but next time you bump into your CFO in the elevator, ask her if she believes that to be the case.  If not, dust up your resume.
2)   there was an editorial in the New York Times this past week  that referenced the Gallup engagement survey but also proclaimed to find a root cause relationship that will change your workers’ sense of engagement for the better.  Get this!   As a manager, you should acknowledge and praise incremental progress in your team’s work.  That’s what keeps them engaged!  Brilliant!  It gets better.  When 669 managers were asked to rank 5 motivators, 95 percent of them ranked “supporting progress” dead last.

Are we happy now?

Carbon footprint

August 25, 2011

When I was a kid and disputes were escalating among siblings, your “ace in the hole” often was, “I’m telling mom” or “I’m telling dad.”  You knew you ran the risk of being called a tattler or escalating things further, so you tended to only play that card in desperate times.

Fast forward a few years…

I always thought that CC in an email stood for “courtesy copy.”  According to the search I just conducted, it stands for “carbon copy” and is defined as:

Carbon Copy, it is for those that are not part of the main email but are just being informed of it

But that’s not what it’s used for in many organizations, is it???  It’s used to tell mom.

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I have a theory that I bet some really smart developer with access to an organization’s MS-Exchange data store could prove or disprove.  I submit that the level of bureaucracy in an organization can be measured by counting the number of emails that everyone cc’s their boss on in comparison with the total number of emails they send.   The higher the number, the more you have to tell mom to get a co-worker, peer or someone else who doesn’t “report to you” to actually take action and help you when there’s nothing in it for them.

It’s a sad state of affairs when two co-workers who allegedly work for the same organization and should have the same goals won’t collaborate unless it’s under the watchful eye of one of their bosses.

Why don’t you take a moment and ask what your “carbon footprint” is?  If it’s more than 5 to 10 percent, maybe it’s time to reduce your emissions…

You know you make me want to shout

August 18, 2011

As Raymond said in Rain Man, “I’m a very good driver.”  In order to be so good, I need a lot of information.  I need to know where all the other cars around me are, how fast I am going, how much fuel I have left, what gear I am in, what the speed limit is, and of course, who am I listening to on the sound system.  I have devised a system to deliver all this information to me in real-time, while allowing me to focus my attention on the road in front of me as well.

I have five other people sit in the car with me, each responsible for some key piece of information, and have them all shout it at me, constantly, for the entire trip.

What??  You think this is a bad idea???

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Well, then riddle me this.  Why is it that every time I create a well-crafted dashboard for an important project, program or entire collection of projects and ensure that it is kept current, executives and other “drivers” of the business never look at it, choosing instead to be “shouted at” by the other people in the car?

I am not suggesting that a dashboard is a substitute for genuine and important human interaction, but I do think that humans, as many studies show, are genetically pre-disposed to assembling and interpreting disparate visual information quickly and accurately.

What gives?  Is is the colors on my pie chart?  My far too infrequent use of the term “almost done” and “coming along nicely” in the status narratives??  Or do they simply not care?

I can fix just about anything except the last part…

PS – Here’s an awesome footnote:  If you google “dashboard” on Google Images virtually every image is a Business Intelligence Status dashboard, not the kind behind the wheel of a car…  Go figure.

There’s no I in “me” either

August 11, 2011

I suspect many of you will join me in condemning two little phrases that I just can’t stand:

  1. There’s no “I” in “team”
  2. Win, Win

As an aside, I might point out that, ironically, there are two “I”s in Win-Win, but that’s off topic…  So let’s tackle the first one.

The gist of “there’s no I in team” is that high performing teams put the interests and goals of the team in front of their own personal goals and interests.  And I am sure there are many examples of this, even in the business world.

But one thing I am equally sure of is that just telling someone that there’s no I in team and considering that “mission accomplished” and expecting some radical behavior change is completely misguided.  Why?

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Because in most work environments, there are a long collection of motivators that encourage many folks to behave as if they were just told there’s no “I” in Mississippi…  Some of my favorites, recently encountered, include:

  • ego
  • the need to be right
  • a distaste for acknowledging that a different approach that didn’t come from you might actually make more sense
  • your annual merit review, which rarely involves the rest of your team in a group session
  • fear of the unknown

I am sure many of you could add to the list (in fact, feel free to) but my point is really just that if you want to create and sustain a team that GENUINELY and CONSISTENTLY behaves with the team’s interests first and each person’s second, you need to recognize that there are powerful forces working against you and that significant and frequent reinforcement and recognition of team behaviors may become your top priority for the foreseeable future.

If not, I suspect you’ll wake up when it’s time to vote and find out that the “I’”s have it…


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