Speed Kills.

Faster is not always better. Speed chess isn’t great chess. Great isn’t the point. It’s fast. Watch them obsess over the clock…double and triple tapping to be sure.

“If you want to make me twice as smart and helpful, give me 10 minutes notice that we’re going to meet and what about.” This was my plea to a leader I worked with. He would drop in to discuss strategy for important and complex topics on a moments notice. This almost always caught me highly focused on another topic and made it difficult to switch gears and offer the quality of help that I expect of myself. It seemed as though everything was being dealt with as a crisis out of habit and preference rather than necessity and each topic was discussed and planned for individually and not as a system – or at least utilizing the same resources.

Tony Schwartz’s “why don’t we act in our own interest?” brought this all back to me. While the blog is familiar, the synthesis was new. The level of proactivity vs. reactivity that we focus our efforts and resources towards causes us to think differently, ultimately changing the interests (i.e., need or problem) we work to fulfill. We intuitively apply this, but it seems we don’t rationally consider how the time-focus of a planning effort changes how the mind works and impacts outcomes.

…we don’t make a connection between our current behavior and its future consequences. As Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist, put it, “Leaders don’t have time for the future because they’re too busy with the present.”

We’re familiar with the fight or flight instincts that are triggered in response to threat. We physiologically become dumber under these circumstances as blood leaves our brain towards our extremities to support the fighting or fleeing activities. I had not, however, considered that such a condition is created when we work on things that are of great urgency and perhaps importance. In my experience, importance becomes less clear with greater urgency and pressure. When we are fixated on short-term interests we make “dumb” decisions relative to our long-term interests. If we do this long-enough, we may not even be clear on what our long-term interests are. When we allow the focus of our efforts to be too urgent, it’s like bad ergonomics – the cumulative effects hurt you over time because you’re doing it wrong. You’re using parts of your brain intended for mere survival.

Time Matrix for prioritization

The good news is while we may “lack vision” or “have no strategy,” it’s likely as much a matter of process and not ability. This isn’t a new idea. It’s FranklinCovey’s Habit 1 – Be Proactive. When we work on things that are important and not urgent, we make better decisions because we literally plan differently and serve greater interests and values. The bad news is the environment always wins.

Do you reward crisis managers more than those who consistently deliver to plan and implement in a way that integrates?

Do you find yourself inflating the level of urgency of tasks (or procrastinating) because, if you’re honest with yourself, you prefer a crisis?

Are you bothered by the ambiguity of the not urgent but fundamentally important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO WHAT?

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

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

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

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

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

What is Engagement, Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Post:

There’s No Such Thing as a Great Company

Do You Moneyball?

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

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.