When communicating and delivering foundational information and services to your organization lag the rate of decision making and change, It’s like a latency tax that constrains performance and frustrates your team.
“…every business must be world class at all forms of synchronous and asynchronous communications, to sustain culture across the organization.”
HR, IT and other functional leaders are working to transform their service delivery models to improve employee experience, performance and cost. While many have mature Shared Service Center operations in Best Cost Countries (BCC), these approaches are being challenged with accelerating labor cost inflation, labor scarcity and turnover.
I was recently introduced to MeBeBot and managed to sit down with Founder and Chief Bot, Beth White, to talk about how MeBeBot brings innovative options that deliver many of the benefits of BCC Shared Service approaches while also improving employee experience and cost through technology integrated into Slack and Microsoft Teams.
If you are considering a work enablement strategy to improve the quality, delivery and cost of your functional service delivery, MeBeBot may fit nicely as an investment in automation for highly routinized tasks that do not require significant collaboration. This can strengthen your employee experience, add capacity without adding headcount, and as Beth states, “this is about job elevation.”
Arts We Like is a series of posts spotlighting great ideas, products and partners that we share to help enable remarkable performance through more effective and engaged organizations. Contact Us about how to deploy these solutions as a part of a broader HR Strategy or engagements to develop your organization, capabilities and talent.
Entering a new organization in a senior position can feel like the proverbial “dog that caught the car.” This is a post for leaders in transition by a leader in transition, sharing in hopes of making your move better for you and those depending on you.
You’ve prepared and pursued a consequential opportunity that has some hope and promise. You’ve likely left a position of strength, a context you understood, a reputation, and a team of people. Now, amidst the congratulations and feelings of achievement, you must make the transition effectively for your vision to become a reality. Like your past successes, your future success will be constructed upon not only what you bring to the party, but also upon your understanding of the context, your ability to earn trust and influence in the relationships you form, and the choices you make about priorities and how to expend resources. While evidence is mixedon whether it is rational to evaluate new leaders by performance in the first 90 to 100 days – clearly it varies by role – it is clear that transitions into positions of significance carry expectations that new leaders must acknowledge. It is also clear that your actions – or lack there of – impact your team and other stakeholders from day 1.
I’m in a period of transition myself. After 8 years of progressive leadership responsibility with an organization, leading talent and HR, I’m in transition from a place of being well established to what’s next. While I’ve planned and contributed to the onboarding of many leaders joining the organizations in which I led, a recent experience provided additional insight into how consequential transitions can be. I was asked to present how I plan to approach onboarding at the final stage of a selection process for a CHRO position for a firm that was: (1) planning a large acquisition, (2) working through a previous merger that occurred before the on-set of the C19 pandemic, and (3) joining a very impressive international team who are committed to delivering a challenging plan. The opportunity didn’t materialize in the end as the acquisition wasn’t successful, but the work that I put into preparing was very well received and has been valuable in several forums where I have shared it as an example. I hope the underlying approach will be helpful to you.
When planning to onboard a new team member into an organization, there are many things that the organization will (or should) provide and likely has owners for (e.g., INFOSEC, travel profiles, electronics and systems access). There are areas of orientation that process owners and hiring managers within organizations are accustomed to brief and transition leaders into (e.g., company culture and history, policies / processes / tools). However, the transition agenda and “story arc” priorities for a leader’s appointment must be owned by the leader in transition. It is you who will be judged by the choices made in this period. It is you communicating with the first data points of your time in role to the stakeholders you serve.
In preparing to present my onboarding proposal and transition plan, I revisited the resources in my library and did some research for examples and templates, finding many helpful inputs (see below). I did not find a simple synthesis that I felt comfortable presenting to a selection committee, so I made one. In the end, the core came together in three steps / views for me.
Objectives for the transition period. What do you want for yourself and your stakeholders in this period to form a foundation for your tenure?
2. Break down the transition period into addressable parts, what objectives will you prioritize in each period? What will you focus on to know, do and value and in what sequence? What choices / decisions do you plan to make and in what timing (to set and manage expectations)?
For step 2, having a view on the business calendar to understand key milestones in the planning cycle (e.g., budgeting, talent review, strategy and board reviews) along with the status of key projects / decision points is critical.
3. Plan activities to deliver on the planned commitments and achieve the objectives set in steps 1 & 2. This is where you commit time on calendars and enlist others into the agenda.
Plans are a starting point for actions. They will change. By having this foundational work prepared, you will be able to enlist available resources and activities in service to your objectives. You will have clarity on your priorities. You are prepared to show great respect to the team you will lead and demonstrate your commitment to delivering for your stakeholders.
Add to the conversation – what can you share to help those of us in transition? What have you experienced that has made a significant difference?
I was recently interviewed by Anil Saxena from the ChangeNerd Community Future of Work podcast to discuss ways to connect HR to business results. Throughout the conversation we discuss the value of understanding the business and pain-points, understanding your customers and the value proposition HR needs to bring the business.
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.
I was asked to develop the problem solving capabilities of a group of staff. The group, like many of us, had members who were zealous about various steps, tools and forms they used somewhere else and now advocated for. The leaders were completely agnostic about the philosophy underlying the methodology. They liked how I helped them solve problems and wanted me to help their teams.
Most problem solving methodologies are limited to the task of cause analysis; a very important task, but not the only task. In the end, I prescribed the framework below – a thinking process – to guide the group through solving problems that honors the existing knowledge of the people involved and allows them to use any tool at their disposal.
**Two ways to apply these steps: (1) deductive – solving repetitious problems (2) inductive – designing the problem / risks out (opportunities in). It’s all cause and effect – either what did cause or what would cause an effect.
1. Awareness: How do we know there’s a problem to be solved? What is the importance / value of intervening?
Collect data and relevant information.
2. Team: Who should be involved in solving the problem? Involve Stakeholders (aim for representation from each group that touches or is impacted by problem) to:
Build problem solving skills
Improve understanding of process and interdependencies
Increase support and sustainment of outcomes
Transfers ownership to team for thinking and doing.
3. Contain – How can we manage loss while we identify the cause and correct it?
Band-aid over a bullet hole or finger in the dam. If we stop here, we’re firefighting and nothing ever gets fixed.
4. Define the Problem: What outcome or effect is problematic?
“We want an outcome that is…”
“We want an outcome that is not…”
Reach agreement of what the problem is. If you can’t agree on the problem, you won’t agree on the cause or solution.
Say “so what” until everyone on the team cares.
5. Identify cause(s)
cause [kawz]: 1. the producer of an effect.
Tip: Avoid discussion of solutions prior to agreement on cause(s).
There are too many good tools from people way more skilled than me. Here’s a couple of good resources though:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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:
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.
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.
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?