Category Archives: Leadership

Performance Management Moneyball

data screen

I’ve been following NBA basketball pretty intently for thirty five years. These days I watch games in high-definition on any one of a number of devices via an online streaming or on-demand subscription service the NBA provides me. You know who else is watching that same footage and has access to the same stats and more in real time? The players!

We probably couldn’t see it in 1982 because of collusion with broadcasters or just the terrible quality of analog broadcasts in the 80s but players were probably smoking and drinking on the bench during games. Maybe they were trying to blend into 80s society? I can’t say they were for sure as I wasn’t there but I can’t say for sure that they didn’t. In 2017, modern players all sit each with their own individual tablet device provided by the team with close-to-realtime videos relating to their own performance, accompanied by statistical breakdowns on the team generally and them specifically. No one is smoking or drinking and if anyone so much as opens a bag of skittles, they’ll likely get fined and sent to make an appointment with a counsellor, then attend a restorative justice session for any members of the team who were emotionally triggered by the insensitivity.

Kiwi Steven Adams is doing well in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He, and we, could simply assume so based on his recently formalised nine-digit contract. A nine digit contract!? I barely have that many digits on my hands. Salary in pro sports, as in any other job, is no real gauge of performance. As pro rugby players do, even in little old New Zealand, Adams wears a device within his uniform as he runs up and down the court and it measures much more than the official game stats and transmits that information to where it is automatically and instantly collated and compared and returned as multi-media reports to Adams, his coaching team and the management, who ultimately sign off on contracts.

There is a correlation between easily measured metres run and success at basketball worthy of reward. It’s not everything. If he was a disruptive influence in the team, talent notwithstanding, he could be cut or traded. A Lakers player who thought it would be hilarious to tape one of his teammates confessing to cheating on his popstar wife, then putting it on social media is no longer a Laker. He is now with the Brooklyn Nets – a team with one of the worst 3-year stretches in the history of the game. Karma baby.

The Nets’ GM is Sean Marks. He’s a kiwi – New Zealand’s first ever NBA player and now an executive on the up. When you have a job that is historically on the bottom, the only way is up. He’ll have performance measures of his own in place. The team is owned by a Russian billionaire and they’re famous for feedback. Could marks’ performance be managed as clinically as Adams’?

If we’re talking about performance management in work generally, the underlying foundation ultimately is measurement of the actual level of performance and comparison to an expected level of performance. Ideally, these would be as objective as possible and for some jobs that is challenging. Basketballers can count points, rebounds, assists and a variety of other easily measured things. Historically, some players on poor teams on the last year of their contract did something called ‘padding their stats’. They put their own interests ahead of the team to make their numbers look good. I’ve worked in a couple of places where sales folk did similar things. The nature of the measuring of performance drove behaviours that gamed the system.

Nowdays, with moneyball execs and algorithms and such, there is a basketball measure called ‘Real Plus/Minus’ that, whilst not perfect, does a fairer and more accurate job of ‘scoring’ a player’s actual contribution to the success of the team. Fans can see in realtime and players at the next timeout the difference their efforts are making or not. How do you think that might impact the performance of average working people in more mainstream jobs, like plumbers, contact centre reps or cheesemaker? I have a sideline as a comedian and that is the most well performance managed job on Earth. For a start, it is literally (and I literally mean literally) a performance. If they laugh that’s good feedback. If they don’t laugh, that’s also good feedback. It’s instant, it’s honest and it’s independent.

Real Plus/Minus is complex to calculate and only started in 2014. Not all coaches love it. Some stick to their subjective ways. Prior to that, coaches and scouts had to look at whatever numbers that were available, then think about how they felt about that player and their contributions to productivity. And on that, players were judged. How confident are we that most managers of work performance don’t manage performance like meteorologists of old, licking a finger and waving it in the wind?


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Self-Discipline: How To Refill Your Willpower Tank

brain gym

You’ve only got so much self control; Don’t waste it!

This article in ‘Psychology Today’ by Susan Krauss reports on Roy Baumeister’s work about how our self control can be sapped through overuse.

Personally, I’ve always had a mental model of willpower / self discipline / self control as a muscle that you could exercise and get to grow stronger. It turns out to actually be a tank that gets emptied but can be refilled and we can rely on random chance to do it for us, or be proactive and consciously and deliberately take actions that refill our willpower tank.

Oddly, the only thing proven to do so is consumption of small amounts of actual sugar. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as rational creatures who, through strength of character, can be better people, maybe our natural level of self control is set through natural random chemical chance? It’s like those old Donald Duck cartoons where he’s in a dilemma and on one shoulder a little duck angel appears and on his other shoulder appears a little duck devil who argue it out into each of his ears. This ‘strength’ or ‘ego depletion’ theory implies that the angel gets weary and the devil gets his way until the angel rests up. And the best advice is to slip the angel a barley sugar or a powerade like it’s on a triathalon.

Krauss argues, and I agree, that if the model is that of a muscle that gets tired, then maybe the same progressive development can be applied to our willpower muscle that bodybuilders apply to their actual muscles. Keep working it out and it’ll get stronger over time but you need to keep increasing the weight / temptation to build it up. No pain; no gain.

No weight trainer or body builder says, “I’m going to curl this 20kg with my bicep forever,” yet you’re supposed to say, “I’m never going to have chocolate cake ever again.” That seems unrealistic, demoralising and potentially counterproductive. Weight trainers say, “I’m going to curl this 20kg weight 8-12 times or until I can’t, then rest, then do that set two more times. After time, that’ll get easier and I’ll increase the weight.” I don’t know what the cake equivalent is but it isn’t, “None ever again.” Work up to it.

Employers probably aren’t directly interested in employees’ cake avoidance or body building abilities but willpower / self control is likely a contributor to perseverance and grit which, as I write about frequently, are the most common precursors to success at work (or anywhere else for that matter.) So, if you’re leading someone at work who gives up, can’t focus for long enough or is constantly engaging in temptations that are distracting them from activities that should be adding value to their work and their lives, what can you do?

Well, if we’re stick to our weight training metaphor, you become their personal trainer. Not one of those old school cliche ‘Drill Sergeant’ types who shout, “You’re worthless and weak!! Give me twenty!!” Set challenging but realistic micro-goals that progressively build towards the desired target. Each success builds on itself, they’re more likely to buy-in to it and participate and, ultimately, you and they are more likely to achieve the end goal. But even the fluffiest of personal trainers aren’t pushovers. They don’t accept excuses and they demand honesty and effort.

And the irony is, given that sugar refuels our willpower tank, even if you do eat the cake, you may regret it but you’re less likely to eat more cake. So, in a tenuous way, you can have your cake and eat it too. Try a handful of dried cranberries. They’re the supposed ‘Superfruit.’ You never hear of ‘Supercake.’ (If you have heard of ‘Supercake’, please do let me know…)

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Why do some people micro-manage?

time bunny

I ran a couple of workshops this week on effective delegation with a law firm. I’ve also run these many times with many non-law firms. There’s a point after we agree on a definition of what delegation is, then discuss the potential benefits and differing objectives delegating might purposefully achieve if conducted effectively in a structured and tailored way. Right after that we tackle the reasons, justifiable or otherwise, why some people might choose not to delegate, or to do so ineffectively (whether or not those people were even consciously aware of why they were doing so).

Earlier, I’d sought from participants real-life stories from their own experience or observations of instances they considered to be effective and ineffective delegation. This week, as always, the vast majority of ineffective and unfortunate examples involved actions that could be encapsulated as ‘micro managing’.

We’ve all been there.

My own story was being lectured and berated on my sweeping technique in a building supply warehouse in which I worked in the mid 80s. I’m certainly over it but even in the retelling, I still get a hackle-raising sense of frustration in my blood. Others shared similar tales from their own back-stories.

One of the major reasons the groups self-identified behind people choosing to either not delegate or to pretty quickly start sticking their oar in again was to do with time and perspective.

If all you’re focused on is today and the ticking clock of a deadline, it may well be true that you can do it better and quicker yourself rather than delegating it. But if you’re focused on the big picture and the long game, you’re more open to realising and accepting that the point of delegating isn’t just about getting this piece of work done as soon as possible. It’s about getting many more pieces of work done again and again constantly. It’s a false economy to try and fool yourself that hanging onto tasks that could be done by others is effective leadership, simply because this one time you beat the buzzer. There are many more pieces of work than you are physically and mentally incapable of doing. It’s a simple capacity issue – if you’re focused beyond today. Delegating isn’t about flicking a task or two to the lowest-cost grunt able to competently do it, it’s about building capacity in your team in a planned, measured and deliberate way. Quite apart from getting stuff done, it exposes different people to your clients, builds trust, identified problems and mistakes early enough to rectify them, creates skills for succession planning and developing cover. If only one person can do a particular task and they get hit by a bus, or leave, or set up in competition, that’s a poorly managed risk.

Some people naturally have a time focus on the immediate short-term; others naturally look down the line a bit. The group had some ideas about how to not rely on nature, logical argument and luck to nudge the mindsets of those those now-fixated folk into the future a bit. One was around stories – not dissimilar to Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past and present. If micro-managing leaders can be exposed to leaders who used to be like them but saw the light, or that light they saw was the fire that burned them, them some lessons can be passed along forming organisational learning and memory. And everyone benefits, maybe not today but soon enough. And the sooner they start, the sooner it’ll happen.

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How Much Of A Values Overlap Is Needed Between Employers & Employees?

geese sunset

There’s a lot to be said for working for an organisation where your personal values overlap significantly with the organisation’s. In the employee recruitment process, along with interviews, CVs, referees and behavioural profiling, I’d really appreciate a single, simple graphic: a venn diagram showing how much of a ‘values overlap’ the applicant has with the potential employer. The temptation would be to print it out in full colour. Out of respect for the planet and its future, please do not do this.

How do we know what a person’s values are or those of an organisation? Quite a lot of people and organisations might publically declare them to us and the world. Individuals can pop memes and inspirational posts up on social media in a hope that we will view them and extrapolate them to be lovers of sunrises, geese in migration, or, on Mondays, flocks of geese migrating across sunrises. Companies have professionals facilitate out of their leadership team a printed list of values that gets framed and hung pride of place in reception and the lunch room. I’m sure all these people and organisations are well-intentioned but reality is often incongruous with those stated intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, which still makes it infinitely superior to the intersection of Albany Highway and Oteha Valley Extention which seems to have been paved with 3 different sized ox carcasses, then a very thin and crumbly layer of off-brand asphalt.

Regardless, or irregardless, of what we say our values are, our behaviour betrays us. This is true of us and of organisations. There’s plenty of white collar fraudsters in prison who had accountability, excellence and integrity on the values statements of their business or professional association. Although, in fairness, the fact that they’re in prison does at least tick the ‘accountability’ box.

Venn diagrams and values posters aside, if you’re into observing reality, a good indicator of shared values are the growing range of corporate social responsibility projects going on. Some are well established and more about support and sponsorship. Funding a native parrot is great. Few employees or customers are going to tweet, “I hate Kakapos!!!” Nor should they, as three exclamation points are excessive and the plural of Kakapo is Kakapo not Kakapos. These types of corporate social responsibility efforts are passive for the vast majority of employees. The ones that may be a measure of some degree of values overlap and engagement are the ones that require overt activity from people on the ground. Some are well established and most worthy but do not require a lot of effort or cognitive contribution. Collecting coins in a bucket outside your work’s front door in exchange for colour-coded flowers or stickers for a good cause is admirable. Hoofing it into a steep muddy forest to plant carbon-offsetting treelings to save the world for our grandchildren is up the rankings a bit in my opinion.

If corporate social responsibility can be defined as a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the effects on environmental and social wellbeing, then we need to look at funding or support via inertia for the production and distribution of nukes, landmines and cigarettes. I’m not a fan of smoking but it is kind of shocking to see cigarettes third in a list that started with nukes and landmines. I guess if you added up the death, injury and misery, then cigarettes belong on the list. Someone recently sent me the findings of a study into the world’s deadliest animals. First was mosquitoes, then mankind itself, then snakes. Sixth was freshwater snails. That’s way more out of place than a list with smoking, nukes and landmines.

Collectively, we as consumers have more power than we realise. If we can leverage the power of the group to stop buying the products or services of a company that doesn’t agree with your views on marriage equality, then why can’t the talent in the employee marketplace exhibit that same influence by choosing to work with someone who does agree. A company cannot and should not ask an applicant their views on marriage equality or many other belief-based topics. Most applicants are not going to directly ask a recruiter or potential employer their official or personal views on such topics either. But, they might watch the news or so some internet searching and the organisation’s behaviour will betray its true values.

For an activity to learn more about your team’s values and internal ‘operating systems’, check out my one-page personal user-manual project at http://www.myusermanual.net

The term ‘silent majority’ is likely equally applicable to employers as it is to the voting public. Most people do not attend marches or sign online petitions. Most employers do not declare themselves to be pro or anti most things. But if you’re an employer who wants to attract the truly talented and those within that group with whom you share values, you’ve got to stand for something. Those potential employees are talented; they’re not psychic.

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How Open-Minded Are You?

Minds are like parachutes

This blogpost might be challenging for some. It was for me. I like to think of myself as open-minded. (Actually, I just like to think of myself generally. But that’s something else I need to work on). But am I really that open-minded? How would I know? Is there a scale of 1 to 10 upon which I’m a 7?

Psychologist Carol Dweck led the way with research on fixed versus growth mindsets. Crudely and sweepingly summarised, there are two types of default thinking positions and if you don’t effortfully choose one, you likely have a default. The post explains more. I especially like point 2 – when you meet an idea, do you start in response with statements or questions? That was something of a relief to me as three of my five sentences in paragraph one were questions.

There’s a quote that the ability to change your mind is a superpower and another that the true test of intelligence is the ability to have two opposed ideas in your mind and retain the ability to function. If I’m having a good day after a good sleep and have eaten wisely without deadlines yelling at me, then I’m in a resourceful state and I’m certain I could manage that. Other days not so much. It’s the other days that can cause us and our people some problems. It’s for those other days that wee need to prep and practice so when it gets tough, our open-mindedness keeps goings.

Do read the article but if you’re having a low resourcefulness day, here’s 7 quick questions to assess yourself against:

  1. How do you respond when your ideas are challenged? (My new thing is ABC – always be curious – WHY are they challenging them?)
  2. Are your first responses statements or questions?
  3. Do you seek first to be understood or to understand?
  4. Do you use the phrase, “I might be wrong but…”
  5. How often do you interrupt?
  6. Can you simultaneously hold opposed ideas?
  7. How much effort do you put into testing your own views? Do you deliberately seek evidence to the contrary?

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Family Business: When It Comes To Business, Don’t Mess With The Family

sopranos-the-h-1920x1080

Employees are sometimes heard to say that their workplace is, “like a family.” I always like to presume they mean that in a positive sense and they don’t mean, “like the Bain family.” But is it really a good idea to run a business like a family?

I’ve just completed MCing a series of regional awards dinners around New Zealand for the dairy industry. Hundreds of people from, or supporting, the dairy industry all scrubbed up and dressed up in places like Hawera and Awakeri. I wore a custom-made tuxedo but if I could have found one by Swandri, I would have worn it.

This was my second year of hosting them and, more significantly than just being around successful business people, I was exposed to the system that nurtures, develops and challenges them. You can wax romantically about some rose-tinted vision of families as much as you like but this industry’s consistent success is driven by a system deliberately designed to be progressive and improving continuously on a nationwide basis.

I’m not sure these days what mental images are struck in people’s heads when they think of dairy farmers but old stereotypes should be long gone. I estimate about half the category winners are women. They’re all very online. Many are not from a long line of dairy farmers.

That said, a lot of emotional acceptance speeches are given thanking mums and dads. (When I said “emotional”, I meant emotional. It wasn’t a euphemism for drunk, a.k.a ‘tired and emotional.’ There was only one really drunk speech and that was superbly hilarious for four minutes. I stopped him at four minutes. Trust me, no one ever finishes gracefully after four drunk minutes.) The genuinely emotional and sober declarations of thanks frequently cited the parents and preceding generations. Often there was a joke about providing babysitting services but it was quickly and demonstrably evident that it was much more than that. From capital investment, advice, motivation, assistance and connections, these business families help each other. It goes beyond help into intergenerational sustainability and this is where I think it can be truly powerful to run some businesses like certain kinds of family.

If you ever want to play an original drinking game at a dairy awards, just skull a shot every time someone says the word “sustainable.” You’ll be having an early night I assure you. They say it a lot because they mean it a lot. Environmental sustainability is critical to these best of the best, because it’s also about being economically sustainable. These people don’t have perverse short-term contractual incentives like some corporates designed to encourage the boosting of quarterly profits. This is about the long term in a truly inter-generational sense. I doubt many bank CEOs planting a tree will be in the job when that tree matures.

Forbes recently ran an article noting how the companies with the greatest combination of scale and longevity tend to be family businesses, or at least were family businesses originally. Many of these were over one hundred years old. A similar proportion of family businesses fail along the way as non-family ones but a disproportionate number of stayers are handed down on blood lines.

The NZ Institute of Directors estimates that about half of businesses are family businesses. They cite the advantages of adaptability, ingenuity and passion, strong relationships with employees, suppliers and customers, and the ability to retain corporate or specialist knowledge within the company.

My friend Mike has a model of family business that says the first generation has the idea and the passion, makes the sacrifice and gets it going. The second generation takes it mainstream and optimises production, distribution and marketing. The third generation has a sense of entitlement and wastes it away, embarrassing everyone along the way downhill. New Zealand has a few famous surnames conforming to this model.

Dairying aside, the first thing I thought of when writing an article about running a business like a family was The Sopranos. Tony’s management style was effective in the short run but it didn’t end very

 

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Thought Leaders

thought leader

Employee Happiness? Who Cares?

VillaincI’m not suggesting that employees should be made to be miserable. Ultimately, that’s up to all of us individually. The point I’ve been trying to make for ages and this recent article captures nicely is that employee happiness and employee engagement are quite separate and different things. If you want to gift chocolate fish and back rubs (no non-consensual touching!) that’s up to you and your spare time and resources. Happy employees can be unproductive and unhappy ones can be productive. Engagement is about the observable application of discretionary effort at work that on average leads to greater productivity, revenue and profitability. Who knows how happy people are? (Including themselves.)

Here’s an extract. Note that happiness is cited as one of many components of engagement, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I don’t think they’re in order so don’t get excited that happiness is “number 1.” The article talks about a dashboard which also is an interesting idea. It’s all about trending.

Here are the 10 metrics that are proven to have the biggest impact on employee engagement:

  1. Happiness

    How happy are employees at work and at home?

  2. Wellness

    How much energy do employees have at work?

  3. Feedback

    Are employees getting feedback frequently enough?

  4. Recognition

    Are employees being recognized for their hard work?

  5. Career Satisfaction

    Are employees satisfied with their work environment?

  6. Relationships with Managers

    Do employees and their managers get along well?

  7. Relationships with Colleagues

    Do the employees get along with each other?

  8. Company Alignment

    Do employees’ values align with the company values?

  9. Ambassadorship

    Are employees proud of where they work?

  10. Personal Growth

    Do employees have opportunities for career growth?

 

Debriefing: A Powerful Problem-Solving Tool (For the Whole Family)

debrief

This HBR article about debriefing is one I wish I’d written. (From meglomaniacal me, that’s high praise.) I’m often directing participants in my training workshops to conduct debriefs. I tend to use experiential models a lot. For non-trainers (muggles?), that means we do things, then learn from them in a structured way. I favour a 3-phased approach, repeated over and over:

  1. Frame the activity
  2. Conduct the activity
  3. Debrief the activity

I hear a lot of people using the word ‘debrief’ and its meaning seems to vary wildly. In that sense, the word ‘debrief’ is much like the word ‘spicy’ or the word ‘love.’ I try to consistently  summarise the meaning of it in my workshops, not just because we’ll use it in the workshops but because it’s one of the most useful things you’ll ever learn in life, not just for work, but for situations where things happen and you’d benefit from learning afterwards. That applies a lot outside work (hopefully.) Relationships and families could well do with that skill. It’d certainly give us something to talk about over compulsory sunday night family dinners.

To do something and to deliberately learn from it is what successful people do. That might even be a great definition of what success is. To do something and maybe learn from it or not learn from it is what most people do most of the time. Don’t be most people. They’re nice enough but…

The HBR article gives a great structure if you want to either learn debriefing yourself or communicate it to others:

  1. Schedule a regular time and place (ie make debriefing part of the way things are done around here!)
  2. Create a learning environment
  3. Review 4 key questions: What were we trying to accomplish?; Where did we hit or miss our objectives?; What caused our results?; What should we stop / start / continue doing? (I’m a big fan of stop / start / continue; That’s the name of one of my books ‘Stop Start Continue’!)
  4. Codify lessons learned (People after us will learn from our mistakes, not theirs.)

 

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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