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.
The two are not mutually exclusive, but often we get one or the other – accurate or useful. There is also the all-too-frequent moment of your life wasted on something neither accurate nor useful.
This is tough for me…I like accurate. A couple of things that are accurate, but not necessarily (widely) useful – The trap here is misapplication:
Spelling bee champions
Space pens – even though “they write upside down”
Most filed records
Things that are not accurate but are useful:
Most models of human (fill in the blank) – e.g., Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, EQ – emotional intelligence
Biographies and other historical accounts
Resumes and other marketing
Analogies and fables
Things neither accurate nor useful:
The feedback most people receive in reviews of their performance
Half of the consumer products my kids come home from school begging for
Consider your desired outcome. What’s important, accuracy, usefulness, both or neither?
Leadership 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.
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?
This post is about questions. There aren’t enough questions being asked and those that are asked are often really statements disguised as questions. I don’t hear (or say) “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” nearly enough. Answers and solutions are praise worthy; questions to ensure a problem is defined, not so much. I’ll share a few different ideas related to questioning in posts to come.
A lesson I learned from Jim Tull has really influenced how I think about learning, persuasion and influence. Jim presented Argyris‘s Ladder of Inference as a way to model situations where you’re trying to reach agreement. Imagine an issue you have very strong beliefs and opinions about. If you apply the Ladder of Inference to your situation, when it comes to this topic, you are at the top of your ladder. You act based on these beliefs and you feel good about it. You’re living your values. Then, you’re confronted with a person or situation that challenges your “position” on the issue. They’re on the top of another ladder. To reach agreement – which yields benefit you want – you need to get on the same ladder. So if an agreement is to be reached, either someone’s changing ladders or you’re both going to move to a third ladder. Otherwise, no agreement. So how do you go about this process of determining who’s switching ladders, where to build a shared ladder, or deciding that your position is more valuable than the benefit?
Questions of Inquiry vs. Questions of Advocacy
It turns out that most people try to accomplish this challenge from the top of their ladder – using advocacy – the equivalent of suggesting the person leap from the top of their ladder to the right ladder, your ladder. Advocacy develops a position (or moves up the ladder) and consequently, strengthens the attachment of other parties to their position(s). The skill is to go down the ladder – using inquiry. Inquiry is based in questions about what others believe to move down the ladder. This is not a new obscure idea. Stephen Covey has popularized the principle (Habit 5) “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Once you’re down your ladder, you can learn and understand their “data,” interest, rationale, etc. and also review your own. Without inquiry, we cannot empathize. Without feeling understood, you are much less likely to find mutual purpose. And, without mutual purpose, you’re not likely to reach an agreement or solution. If we have no agreement on the problem (shared purpose), we will most likely not agree on the solution (shared benefit).
Curiosity of how others form their positions and how their interests are served by maintaining these positions is undervalued and underutilized. It really doesn’t follow the social order, making it that much more powerful and differentiating for the skilled. Why is inquiry not practiced more? Perhaps:
1. an attempt to appear confident and of strong conviction in your position due to fear of being taken advantage of or belief that seeking to understand will bring you to a less powerful position (fear or lack of confidence)
2. seeing situations at hand as zero-sum (bad logic or bad motive)
3. lack the skill to explore your and others’ positions and seek mutual benefit (ignorance)
Being interested is often more persuasive than being interesting. When someone truly feels that you understand them, yet still do not draw the same conclusions and agree with them, the natural response is curiosity. What additional information do you have? How are you ending up somewhere else? This is the time for advocacy. You are now serving their need and not your own. You don’t concede your position (or values / beliefs) by working to understand others’ positions and how they arrived at them. You can always climb back up. Though, be forewarned, you may learn something that will cause you to choose not to.
I love to succeed. I love to do things that I’m good at for as many people as possible, providing me plenty of examples (or evidence) that I am successful and high levels of esteem are justified and secure. Building this self-efficacy is both important and constructive to motivation. Individual satisfaction and meaning occur when we are contributing Personal Best Performances.
Applying the Hedgehog Concept (Jim Collins, 2001) to our individual careers yields higher performance and more Personal Bests.
A Personal Best has 3 components:
Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
Organizational Value – the contribution needed or opportunity to create value.
I have developed a tool for helping clients identify Personal Bests. I have used this approach with a broad group of customers with favorable results. If you’re a consultant, helping a client through this self-discovery process is impacting. In my experience, clients have valued the exercise and some have used the process with those that they lead. If you’re a leader, using this process with your team members is an effective way to support their development and build a stronger relationship, both supporting higher levels of engagement.
Personal Best Interview
Purpose: The purpose of the Personal Best Interview is to guide your thinking about personal development to help you make your greatest contributions through efforts that are personally meaningful and satisfying.
Directions: Answer the questions below to help you identify high-impact development goals for your personal development and to prepare for development discussions with your Manager, mentor or other coaching resource.
Personal Best Examples: Describe 2 – 3 examples of experiences when you felt most enthusiastic and positive about your work.
For each Personal Best Example above, what about that experience made it such a positive and motivating experience for you?
What are your talents (those things you’re good at and can constructively apply at work)?
What are you passionate about (Those things you are motivated and enthused to do at work)?
What contribution can you make to the organization leveraging your talents in an area of passion?
What do you not want to do? (What would you like to avoid doing? (e.g., relocating, shift changes, roles)
What are your career goals and plans? Do they position you to contribute more personal bests?
What do you need to learn, become more skilled at, and experience to make your best contribution to the company and achieve your goals?
Focus on WHAT to develop or change rather than HOW at first.
Example – “develop the ability to develop and communicate strategic plans to align your team and achieve objectives” rather than “complete strategic thinking training.”
What barriers or development needs could keep you from making your best contribution and achieving your goals?
A common area of opportunity to help many of the technically brilliant people I enjoy working with – scientists, engineers, supply chain experts, even financiers – is career development. These colleagues become frustrated with their perceived inability to engineer and control career advancement when transitioning beyond individual contributor roles where relationships, interest-based negotiation and influence skills become important to get results. In my experience, this results in a presenting problem like (generalized examples):
Career paths are not established and communicated clearly enough…
The organization doesn’t value the technical skills that create value here…just look at who gets promoted…
There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for me in this organization…
each of which may be true. The problem with these beliefs is that they are totally passive and the expectation is to fix “them” or change how “they” do things. These are difficult expectations to fulfill. However, there is a change that each person can make that is totally under our control and with a much higher probability for success.
A model that I have found helpful is Novations’ 4 Stages of Contribution. I first saw this model in a conference session jointly presented by one of Novations’ consultants and a learning & development manager from Intel. It has influenced the career development processes and tools I have designed and implemented. Since the model focuses on the contribution or performance of an individual rather than position, it integrates well with strengths-based approaches, which I advocate.
Careers are moving from position focus to contribution focus to increase impact and influence. Flatter organizations and critical individual contributor talents need not mean career ceilings. High-performance is achieved by aligning talent with opportunities to deliver greater contribution in-position, laterally, through advancement, or in a role that’s currently undefined. In fact, it is this ability to mine the greater contribution that can be made from each role that truly differentiates top talent and their organizations from the status quo.