Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Don't Kick The Cat!

There used to be a saying that when you'd had a hard day at work, when you got home you should 'kick the cat' before you went in the house. This theory was based on the idea that if you 'kicked the cat' then you could let out your aggression and everything would be okay when you went inside.

Thankfully such thinking is long gone! Not only would it be politically incorrect to take such action, it would be morally and legally inappropriate! So please, don't kick your cat.

Unfortunately, however, this metaphor is alive and well in 'Organisation Land'. Maybe some of you have been the 'cat' who has been 'kicked' (metaphorically speaking).

A case in point. A client of mine has a national sales role. In 2010, prior to her taking on the role the sales team failed to achieve their prescribed 2010 targets.  In 2011 they just achieved their prescribed targets. Celebrations followed. The 'cat' was patted.

In 2012 they just missed their prescribed targets after having been ahead of them for most of the year. What do you think is happening now? Yes, you guessed it, the 'cat' is being 'kicked'. Apparently in 'Organisation Land' kicking the cat inspires the cat to higher performance. What do you think?

Personally I have never found getting kicked motivating. Unfortunately I am hearing more and more stories like this.

In this specific example my client was informed by senior managers that she and her team would be trusted to contribute to the targets process once they could be trusted to achieve them. Interesting logic, that!

Let me just walk through that logic again. Once the team regularly achieve budgets that they had no input in creating, that's when they will be trusted to put forward budgets in the future. Oh, by the way I should mention that I'm not talking about junior staff here. I'm talking about staff with a minimum of seven years experience. There's a lesson in how to de-motivate people right there!

'Kicking the cat' creates demotivated and disengaged staff. Seriously, if you think that such behaviour really motivates people to perform at a higher standard, you probably also believe that if you go outside and yell at your grass to grow that it will! I'm sorry to let you down but both strategies don't work.

Folks, growth doesn't happen in straight lines, not in the short term that's for sure. Linear growth expectations are flawed and ultimately cause senior managers to do 'kick the cat' type behaviours.

My client is a wonderful, high performing person. She did amazingly well to achieve her result in 2011 and also did amazingly well given local economic conditions to achieve what she did in 2012. I doubt that any other team could have matched her teams performance. Yet do you think she is feeling valued right now?

You know what's going to happen, don't you? This high performer will leave and will end up serving another organisation more worthy of her commitment. 'Kicking the cat' doesn't work so if you're one of the guilty ones who does this behaviour, stop! Treat your people like human beings - you may just be surprised by how well they shine.

If targets aren't achieved by experienced, engaged people, then sit down with them and work together to work out what can be done. Maybe achieving the 2012 target in 2013 would be, in reality, a success. Just giving people bigger numbers to achieve because it is a new budget cycle is seriously flawed and lacks using the knowledge, talent and expertise that exists within organisational teams. People don't want to fail. People don't try to fail. Not most people. Work with people so success over the long term can be achieved. It is possible.

What's your experience of being 'kicked'?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You determine the 'meaning' of what happens to you

Recently I have re-read a book that is now a classic, Breakpoint and Beyond by George Land and Beth Jarman. One of the major tenets of the book is that organisational change and transformation must start with personal change and transformation.

One of the key requirements for personal transformation is the ability to activate a creative mindset. The creative mindset provides you with the power to choose the meaning that you add to events. Let me demonstrate what I mean.

One of my friends seven year old daughter spilt her cereal on the floor. "Oh, look sweetheart! Look at what you've done. You made a big mess!" my friend exclaimed. His tone indicated that he wasn't pleased with what his daughter had just done. She had done a 'bad' thing.

"It's okay Daddy. When I clean and vacuum it up the floor will be cleaner than what it was when I first sat down for breakfast."

Out of the two characters in this brief example, who had chosen to be more upset about the event? My friend.

"But it would have been a mess Gary!", you might exclaim.

Well, only if we choose to see it that way. If we had a video recording of the event what would see is the cereal fall to the floor. Any meaning that we make from that event is added by ourselves.

Let's look at another example. Plane travel. You arrive at your destination and your bags do not appear on the baggage collection carousel. Everyone else has been able to collect their bags except you. What would your reaction be?

Would you be angry, frustrated, annoyed? How would this affect your frame of mind going forward? Would you continue to be angry, frustrated, annoyed? If so, how long would that last? How would it affect your interactions with other people?

The issue with events such as this is that you cannot change the reality of the event. It is what it is. Your bags have not arrived. They are therefore somewhere else.

Imagine if the meaning that you gave to this event was, "Okay my bags have not arrived. this means that right now I don't have my bags and I don't know where they are. I don't know why they haven't arrived - I just know that they haven't."

Notice that at no stage have I labelled this event with an emotional label such as this is bad, good, annoying or that I'm angry and upset. I have labelled the event with the facts as I can see them, including being honest about what I don't know.

Please note that I'm not saying that the event might not be annoying or upsetting. What I am saying is that in these circumstances you have a choice about how you label the experience. In this way you can use the label in the complete understanding of the consequences of the label.

If I were to say, "Gee these people are hopeless. This really P_ _ _es me off! This just stuffs everything up. I'm screwed. Those stupid people!!!" what are my interactions with the airport staff going to be like? And then the taxi driver? And then the people at the hotel? And any colleagues I might bump in to? I've just determined that an event, the fact that my bags haven't arrived, completely influence a negative mood and negative behaviour for a significant period of time. Yet the airport staff with whom I will be seeking help from to find my bags, the taxi driver, the hotel clerk and so on will have had nothing to do with the event that I have chosen to let influence my behaviour.

We are not robots. We do have choices. We have choices even when it might seem like we don't. You can create a more positive future after having experienced an event that may have challenging consequences, simply by recognising that what has happened, or is happening is just an event. And I have the power over how I let this event impact my immediate future.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that a person who approaches baggage staff in an angry, upset mood isn't going to receive the warmest of welcomes. Is such an attitude going to get you your bags more quickly? Not if they are currently halfway across the Pacific Ocean they won't.

What I am suggesting here is not easy to put into practice. I certainly struggle with it, every day. But when you are self-aware enough to catch yourself labelling an event, you can slow yourself down and see it for what it really is - an event from which you have choice over how you react.

Give it a try - it's worth it!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How to overcome low levels of employee trust toward senior leaders

"Gary, I found it interesting that many staff struggled at first to tell me what they really thought. They would say, 'You're not going to like what I have to say so I'm not sure if I should say it'. Each time they said this to me I told them that I needed to hear what they had to say. They would then tell me that they weren't sure they had the right words to use. So I told them to use whatever words they had and that if, at the end of them speaking I didn't understand what they had just said, I would ask questions. Slowly, they started to tell me what they thought. And today I heard things that were different from what my senior management colleagues are telling me. So I have some work to do. And it's good work!".

These words came from the most senior Australian Executive for a European based company for whom I recently facilitated an OTM Strategic Conversation®. The conversation was about success.

Comments such as the ones above are common. Think about it. How often do senior leaders have strategic conversations with staff who are three, four, five or more levels away from them? Virtually never. If these folk ever do have a conversation it is over a cup of coffee after the senior leader has just provided a one way update to a large group of staff. Such conversations are unfocused and polite - most people don't say what they really think because the context doesn't encourage it. You're the boss and you have power over me. If I tell what I really think I risk bad things happening to me. So it is best to keep quiet.

Truth to Power is a concept identified by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and Jim O'Toole in their book 'Transparency'. Organisational values such as Openness, Integrity and Service Excellence are supported by having a high level of Truth to Power. In its simplest form, Truth to Power means that the right information gets to the right person at the right time for the right reason. The challenge, according to the research conducted by Bennis, Goleman and O'Toole is that the vast majority of workers do not trust senior leaders, so they keep their information to themselves.

Part of the reason for low trust stems from the power differentials between people lower in an organisational hierarchy and people higher in an organisational hierarchy. It is natural for people to be wary of people who exert power over them. After all, these people can make decisions that can make their lives more difficult.

This creates a dilemma for organisational leaders. The reality is, most staff don't trust them even if they don't know them. Their title, role and power generate the distrust. Yet the leaders would see themselves as trustworthy. You've heard the saying, trust must be gained - it isn't just given.

One way to gain that trust is to have regular, focused conversations with employees. Leaders need to engage in Conversations That Matter® with their people. Not just their direct reports and other senior leaders. They need to engage in strategic conversations with everyone.

But leaders are busy. Exceptionally busy. How can they engage in regular strategic conversations when there are so many people to speak with?

Once again, their is a solution to this dilemma. OTM Strategic Conversations® enable large groups of people to have focused conversations on issues that matter to them. Instead of a random and polite conversation over a coffee after a speech provided by a senior leader, imagine sitting down with three or four people talking about the challenges that the organisation is facing in creating the success it desires. Success, by the way, that was just defined by the large group of employees present. Imagine if this same conversation was being repeated at 10, 20, 30 other tables at the same time. Imagine the energy in the room. Imagine this whole process being completed within three to four hours.

Imagine, as a senior leader the genuine rapport that you could build with people multiple levels away from you. Imagine the trust that you could build. What if participating in OTM Strategic Conversations® became a regular and strategic tool for your organisation?

Bennis, Goleman and O'Toole identify that organisations that are high in Truth to Power are also high performing organisations. This means that there is a bottom line benefit for raising the level of Truth to Power in your organisation. Strategic conversations enhance performance. Strategic conversations enhance trust. Strategic conversations enhance Truth to Power.

The internal business intelligence that my client above discovered through his first experience of an OTM Strategic Conversation was priceless. He told me himself. His organisation has customer and staff morale problems that he hadn't fully appreciated largely because he had been receiving a consistent senior management perspective on the issues. In other words, he had only been hearing part of the story.

How do you maintain Truth to Power in your organisation?

Gary Ryan is the Founder of Organisations That Matter and has been hosting OTM Strategic Conversations since the year 2000.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is life balance for managers a joke?

You are a manager. You get paid 'The Big Bucks'. You get paid to get the job done. But do you get paid to give up Life Balance?

Doing long hours is often held as a 'Badge of Honour'. People who aren't seen to be 'doing the long hours' are seen as people who are effectively cheating the system. In other words, not doing long hours is frowned upon.

My work brings me into contact with people in management roles. The vast majority of them work very long hours.  They make a lot of sacrifices for their work. Some don't take holidays for fear that work will get out of control while they are away. Others take on extra roles when organisational restructures occur. In fact I recently had a friend who is a senior manager at one of Australia's largest organisations inform me that he was now doing the role of three senior managers due to two of his colleagues having had accepted redundancies. He expressed his frustration that his normal management practice of maintaining strong relationships with his direct reports had been negatively impacted because he simply had too many direct reports as a result of the re-organisation and he couldn't keep up with what needed to be done, let alone effectively communicate at an individual level with his team members. The amount of work that he had to do, which included getting his head around what each of the two additional roles required was immeasurable. He was originally requested to take on the extra roles for a month. He was into his fourth month of the new arrangement when he spoke with me. Oh, and hadn't received any extra compensation either. What impact do you think this was having on his home life?

Sound familiar?

People say, "Well, that's just the way it is. If you want to be successful then that is the sacrifice you have to make. If you get paid the big bucks then your company 'owns' you. If you don't like it, then get out."

I find this perspective interesting. What if the organisation actually wants the talent that the person is bringing to their role? What if they want their talent fully utilised? Also, who decides what is in a job and what isn't? It seems to me that the amount of work that goes into a management role is simply made up. If the manager speaks up about being over-worked then they are seen as being soft or not a hard worker. So, from my experience, managers just put up with it. And make huge life balance sacrifices along the way. They do longer and longer hours in the office and then, when they are home do even more hours trying to 'catch up'.

I have recently been to two funerals of friends and colleagues. One was 58 years old and the other was 46 years old. Both men were highly successful from a work perspective. What struck me at their funerals was despite their business and work success, very little was mentioned about their work lives. In other words, these two men were far more than their work titles. It was their character, their love of family and community and their deeds of helping other people that were mentioned.

These two men were also very proactive to take charge of life balance for themselves. They didn't seek permission from employers to spend time with their families. They just did it. They worked hard too and produced results. But they did not let their employers 'own' them.

If you are a manager, is the concept of life balance a joke? If so, why? What can be done about it?