Posted tagged ‘leadership’

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.

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!

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I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…

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…

Down to the Crossroads

September 19, 2011

We went out to dinner last night with another couple.  When we got to the restaurant, a cool little Turkish place with great food and suspect service, it was still pretty crowded.  We found a spot at the bar, watched a little of the Oklahoma/Fla State game, and figured we’d have a drink while we waited for a table to free up.

About fifteen minutes went by, and no one even came to ask us if we wanted a beverage.  But gratefully, someone finally came and told us a table was ready.  Woot!

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So we sat down and waited for our “dining experience” to begin.  And we waited, and waited and waited.  We watched the bus crew clear a few other tables, and a waitress slowly bring checks to other tables.  By now, it had been close to 30 minutes and we were no closer to a meal than when we walked in.

I decided it was time for “action.”   I got up from the table, walked up to someone I was pretty sure was the owner, and said we’d been waiting a LONG time at the bar AND at a table and we hadn’t even gotten so much as a menu and a glass of water.

Moment of truth!

The owner was remarkably apologetic.  The manager said he would serve us himself, and then, after a conversation in Turkish with the owner, told us our drinks would be on them.  I am pretty sure they also threw in a free appetizer.

As usual, the meal itself was fantastic.   We stuffed ourselves and I made sure to go back to the manager before I left to thank him for taking such good care of us after our initial wait.

Here’s the thing:  the owner and manager, in an instant, had the option of making me a bigger fan of their establishment, or putting me in a position where I probably never would have returned.  But, in order to do that, they had to swallow just a tiny bit of pride and be apologetic and conciliatory.

When you find yourself at the crossroads of ego and customer service, do you turn left or “right”…?

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?


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