Category Archives: Team Leadership

To what extent are you seeing what you want to see and disregarding the rest?

muscles skinny mirror

Meta-cognition is a fancy term for thinking about how we think. We don’t often do it because we’re all so caught up in actually thinking or, more probably, doing stuff with as little thought as possible. (I might be judging myself on that point). The mindset and beliefs we have got us to this point and if this point is OK or better, there are risks in changing and challenging. But things won’t get better if you don’t.

In short, one answer is to deliberately surround yourself and seek out and expose yourself to information sources that you know will challenge you. I’m not suggesting you live in a perpetual state of stressful heightened awareness and self doubt but at the very least you gotta have someone who’ll call you out. Diversity is the broadest sense is even better. Source from beyond your bubble.

You won’t have time to think about everything, after-all that’s why you revert to confirmation bias to begin with, but perhaps approach conversations with an open mind. Don’t be so quick to judge.

Surround yourself with different types of people. Don’t label yourself. Be well-rounded and willing to hear different types of opinions on politics, religion, and life in general. This is a sign of intelligence not passivity.

It takes incredible mental strength to challenge your own deep-seated beliefs. Stand by your convictions, of course, but just realize some of that just may be rooted in confirmation bias. Be open. After-all. life is full of the gray stuff. We wish it were simple. This is right. That is wrong. It doesn’t always work that way. That’s why it’s good to be aware. Self-aware.

This article explains confirmation bias and some more thinking around addressing it.

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Getting Better Buy-In: How to move your people to move with you

231H

In the workshops I lead, and with the people I’ve had reporting to me who also had people reporting to them, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is, “How do I motivate someone”? I don’t think that’s the best or first question to ask.

I’ve been a trainer and facilitator for over twenty five years. In the middle of that, I was also a senior manager in a complex and changing organisation for a dozen years. Both roles involved helping people move towards behaviour change. The thing about behaviour change is that you can’t do it for them, nor can you always be around when the going gets tough, when most people easily revert. For those people doing the actual moving towards behaviour change, they need to:

 

  • want to do it,
  • think they need to do it,
  • believe they can do it, and
  • think they should do it now.

 

The combination of all those conditions is what we label ‘motivated’. They need to be self-motivated. Armies might have generals, stage plays might have directors, and sports teams might have coaches screaming on the sidelines but the soldiers, athletes and actors doing the doing are the ones who need to be motivated. The generals, directors and coaches just need to make sure they recruit well, train for technical skills and create a culture and environment where people’s natural motivations can come through. It’s easy to say in a single sentence but it’s not easy to do, especially when many leaders don’t even realise that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. There’s way too much of that image of the sports coach screaming from the sidelines as the poster child for motivation. There are definite times and places for that approach but it’s far less necessary than many think.

It might sound controversial for someone authoring books on how to motivate, influence, persuade and engage people but I don’t think any one person can motivate any other one person meaningfully in the long run. What they certainly can do is create an environment and provide some tools where individuals and teams have:

 

  • clarity on what they’re trying to achieve,
  • clarity on what action steps are required, and
  • surety that the effort required is worth it, even if the results are not guaranteed.

 

That would apply in war, sports and drama, as well as any workplace you’d care to name.

One of my favourite leadership quotes is, “The true test of your leadership is what happens when you’re not around”. (I tried to find out who originated it to give them credit. Even with Google, I could not find it. Maybe it was me? It sounds like something I would say). Think about the implications of that quote.

I’ve worked for people in the past who were charismatic, passionate and energetic – the sorts of people many would believe to be what motivators look and sound like. Just being around them, you couldn’t help but be turned on to the work by their infectious enthusiasm. However, it quickly became evident that it was all quite fleeting and superficial. Fireworks are exciting but you wouldn’t want to work for them.

I’ve read widely the works of motivational authors and attended the presentations of many motivational speakers. It might be argued that perhaps they should call themselves speakers and the audiences can decide whether or not they’re motivational? Maybe they’re entertaining, and maybe they’ve got great content, but does that move anyone in the audience to lasting and meaningful behaviour change? The truly great ones who genuinely motivate don’t just speak or write, they provide structures, systems, tools and the design for environments that will allow and enable us to motivate ourselves. Because, ultimately, we’re on our own for the most part once we close that book or walk out of that auditorium.

I mainly work with leaders or potential leaders in the workplace or those that support them. That said, I see the principles I write and talk about being applied successfully outside work. You might be a sports coach or captain. You might be in the arts or sciences. You might be a sales person, business owner or project manager. You might be a mum or dad. Chances are, you have more than one of these life leadership roles where you need to move people towards behaviour change. Whether it’s to practice the clarinet late into the night before the national championships or whether it’s to get a marginal customer service rep to answer more calls, you’d like some tools to motivate people that don’t rely on you doing all the heavy lifting.

My drive to collect ideas, techniques and tools to help motivate and engage people stepped up a gear in earnest in 2013. I had just finished presenting to a group of dairy farmers. One came up to me afterwards with a question. They had a worker nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ (red flag right there) and, as a well-meaning employer, they felt Sleepy had heaps of unfulfilled potential but was just doing the job and no more, and was treading water. I didn’t have an answer on the spot and was frustrated with myself as a result. So, me being me, I threw myself way too obsessively into research which led to me having a couple of books published on the subject.

Motivation is a toolkit approach in my opinion. A foundation tool for me is one that influences focus and attention. It’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS). What is this RAS?

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone asks you a question like, “Hey Terry, have you noticed the new Toyota Prius? It’s that fluorescent lime-green colour”. And you hadn’t noticed it but, the moment it’s drawn to your attention, for the next two weeks you see nothing but lime-green cars everywhere you go. That’s the RAS in action. You knew what it was but you might not have known what it was called.

Picture the RAS as you’d picture a bouncer in a nightclub. The nightclub in this metaphor is your conscious mind and it has a limited capacity. The clubbers in the queue are the sensations from our five senses. Ideally, the bouncer would only let in VIPs and exclude the riff-raff. “You’re in. You’re in. You, not with those shoes”. But, as we’ve already demonstrated, riff-raff does get in, such as lime-green cars. And it gets in using the same technique that clubbers have used on nightclub bouncers for years – bribes. For a brain, that’s dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure. The problem for many of us is that random stuff gets in there like lime-green cars, the ranting de jour on our Twitter feed and shiny things. What we’d like in there are high-value thoughts that can help us and move us forward. How can we switch our own RAS onto deliberate and positive foci and how can we do that for the people from whom we’re trying to get buy-in? For now, let’s focus on how you need to represent your goal tangibly in the physical world so it can serve to activate your RAS.

This physical form needs to have three characteristics. The reason the lime-green car activates your RAS and sticks in your mind for ages afterwards is that it’s:

 

  • novel,
  • distinctive, and
  • physically exists in multiple locations.

 

Advertisers know this, which is why you often see an ad on a bus shelter at the same time you hear it on your car radio – behaviour change is moved by multiple aggregated hits. To leverage this mind-system to your own ends of self or team development and reaching whatever goals you have, you need a novel, distinctive and physical reminder in multiple prime eyelines. For your team, where are these eyelines? What are people looking at all day and as they arrive and leave? Is it their computer screen, clock on the wall, the fridge door in the kitchenette, the entry door to the office? Mass-produced motivational posters of geese flying in formation or rowers at dawn are all well and good but do they really motivate at all, or are they just good for covering the smudge marks on the wall? If you’d spent the twenty dollars you spent on that poster on a pizza, would that have been more motivational? The trouble with posters and pizzas is that they’re both short-term motivators, if they’re motivators at all. What would be more specifically motivational for your people on an ongoing basis?

Whatever personalized and customized focus visuals you create, their images and messages will wear off, so they need to be regularly updated. Short-burst campaigns are more effective than dusty old posters. Those things just become part of the wallpaper and certainly quickly fail the novelty and distinctiveness tests. A powerful one I saw in one sales workplace was a wall-sized graphic of an airliner that was coloured in as the team progressed towards their sales incentive of a trip for everyone to Fiji.

A second tool, useful for teams, that I see gaining momentum is the ‘personal one-page user-manual’. Rather than hope those around us figure out how to get the best from us, why not write our own one-page user manual and show it around? This helps people connect better and work together more effectively, removing a common demotivator. They’re written informally and bullet pointed on one page – no ‘Game of Thrones’ epics. It’s a great way for people in workplaces, sports, schools, and even families to better synch their personal ‘operating systems’ and lessen unproductive and demotivating conflict & stress. I’ve popped a template up at www.myusermanual.net.

Sleepy didn’t last long on that dairy farm. He’s now a very successful commission-based real estate agent. Perseverance is often cited as a major contributor to success but sometimes we all need to know when to quit.


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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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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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Workplace Culture: Cultural Evolution

Yogurt with spoon

There is no ideal model workplace culture and no single path to get there.

I’m writing a new book and am at the research stage. The most obvious visible behaviour for me at this stage is not writing. So much reading! The book will be about adding ten productive years to your life and a section will be about extending our healthy lifespan. As a result, I’m reading a lot of inherently contradictory information, much like we’re all lambasted with constantly. Eggs are good for you. Eggs are bad for you. Some bits of eggs are good for you and some bits are bad for you. Some eggs should face trial for war crimes. That sort of thing.

There is some absolute quackery about miracle cures for aging that, no doubt, someone will try and sell you in pill form very soon. Telling us that there is a restorative compound in red wine is useful. Finding out that we’d need to drink a bathtubfull a day to get enough of that compound is less helpful. I’d need to refer back to my notes but I may have read somewhere that our wine limit should be 2 glasses a day. Perhaps there is a market for glasses the size of bathtubs? That is definitely one bathtub where you’d want to utilize a non-slip bathmat. Perhaps several, for the footpath for your long walk home?

I’m keen to believe the probiotic yoghurt propaganda. (The theme of this month’s issue of Employment Today is, after all, culture.) In case you’ve missed the infomercials, here’s the downlow on the lowdown bugs in our guts. There are bugs in our guts. There are bugs all over our bodies. (And, no, I’m not talking about the imaginary ones you’ll hallucinate when you try to cut down on your two-bathtubs-a-day red wine habit.) There are bad bugs which is why we should wash our hands and good bugs which is why we should not smother ourselves inside and out with disinfectant drugs and chemicals. For decades as a society, we’ve been pointlessly amping up on anti-biotics for sniffles and viruses which is useless and increasingly diminishing the effect of antibiotics and breeding antibiotic-resistant hospital-loving superbugs. Antibiotics also fail to distinguish between good and bad bugs, killing both in a broad spectrum kind of way.

So, the sales pitch goes that this lifestyle, plus our sad, beige diets has led to imbalance in the gut bug world and a lot of our ailments can be attributed to this. Please buy our brand of probiotic yoghurt or pills. I’m prepared to partly accept this because I like yoghurt and I’m always a lot more open to new information when it in no way conflicts with my existing beliefs and behaviours. You know, like virtually everyone.

The thing I didn’t know about our gut bugs is that we don’t all have the same ones or the same mix. At some point in our early development, we get colonised and that type of bug is ours for life. It’s a bit like blood types with types A+ and O-. Some researchers are mooting that in the not-too-distant future, there will be probiotic cafes where you can get customised smoothies with the gut bug that’s right for you. I’m guessing that they’ll get the marketing department working on a better brand name than ‘gut bugs.’ (GB?) Knowing my own gut bug type is currently a level of self awareness that I have failed to achieve.

This might be the longest bow I’ve ever drawn, or the most tenuous of metaphors, but, in a way, isn’t workplace culture a bit like this?

So many books, blog posts, LinkedIn articles and conversations revolve around the premise that there is this mystical, magical and elusive one-right-way to generate a successful results-oriented, customer-focused, highly engaged workplace culture. Implicit is that there is one ideal model culture to which to aspire. There isn’t. It depends.

Like gut bugs, workplace cultures need to evolve. Like the probiotic cafes of the future, we need to know what workplace culture we want before we start any efforts to build one or improve one we got stuck with. And, we need to stop poisoning our workplace cultures, killing the good alongside the bad, with broad spectrum shotgun efforts.

How anyone thinks there can be a uniform and constant workplace culture is beyond me. Just driving around with your eyes open displays sharply that contemporary New Zealand is multi-cultural and increasingly so, in the more usual demographic sense of the term. Workplaces are reflecting diverse racial and national cultures and you can throw in age, attitude and other demarcations too. The point here is that there is no point – not a single point anyway. What’s needed is an openness amongst employers to diversity, coupled with an acceptance that the now and the future need a lot more personalised approaches to workplace culture than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Is there a red wine yoghurt? Asking for a friend.

 

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Workplace Conflict: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

conflict-1

Conflict conjures up images of stress and battles on the job but managed well, it can stimulate employee engagement and productivity.

Stanford’s Professor Robert Sutton undertook a massive study into organisations and the majority of them were displaying ineffective behaviours when it came to building and maintaining teams. The angle of his research worked backwards from those repeated ineffective behaviours to the leaders’ mindsets and preconceptions that drove them, over and over again. One of those mindsets was a belief that team harmony was crucial to success. It isn’t.

The theme of this month’s issue is conflict resolution. I’ve run the occasional training session around conflict resolution. Often, I’ll ask the group for the pro’s and cons of conflict in the workplace. The cons are obvious enough and people are adept at quickly amassing a swarm of negative thoughts. But if provoked a little, people can work up quite the list of advantages of well-managed conflict in the workplace. And this is what Sutton concluded about team harmony. At one extreme, constant battles are unhealthy and unproductive but at the other extreme, the illusion of constant peace and tranquillity need not be all fluffy bunnies and rose petals either. Often, that veneer of civility is a facade for repressed conflict and passive aggressive behaviour. Zero conflict is unrealistic and not very productive either.

The answer isn’t even halfway, its north of that. Conflict occurs as it will normally with reasonable people. The conflicts are resolved professionally and courteously but they have to occur because it is from those ashes that innovation arises. This is where new ideas occur, problems get solved and sacred cows are challenged. This zone is called ‘Productive Conflict.’ Are you wondering if your workplace is in Sutton’s magical zone of productive conflict? The litmus test is this – Can the lowest ranked, least paid or newest member of your team speak up and say anything, challenge anything to the boss without fear of consequence? If they can, that’s a sign of the state of productive conflict. If they can’t, it’s a sign of something else. And that’s not good.

Most hiring failures occur due to attitude. Some of those failures result in employees leaving. Most result in employees staying but in a disengaged state, doing no more than they have to because they have to with all the performance management workload that entails. There are a lot more dimensions to this thing called ‘attitude’ than just trying to hire those with a ‘good’ one rather than a ‘bad’ one. One attitude to search for and target with your structured behaviour-based interview questions and so forth is a non-avoiding and mature attitude towards conflict.

My kids aren’t perfect and neither is my parenting but we’re all in a good patch at the moment. We have our share of family conflict. My son has had a weekend job at our local Pak n Save the past ten months and got seriously great feedback from his performance review. My daughter went with me to a Warriors game, got to talking to a woman she’d never met and walked away with a job interview appointment for a summer job. The point I’m trying to make here to parents and people who have ever been a teenager that are also employing young people is that young people can chose their attitudes as easily as they can choose their body piercings and tattoos. And that includes their attitudes toward conflict.

I’ve spent the past couple of months delivering thirty presentations to six thousand business people around the country. I’ve shared a bunch of research and a few stories and case studies on team building. A lot of stories came back at me, many involving conflict. Most were realistic about it being a process, a tunnel with a light at the end, albeit with absolutely zero idea of how long the tunnel is.

There’s the old joke that goes like this:

During a visit to a mental asylum, a visitor asked the director how to determine whether or not a patient should be institutionalised. “Well,” said the director, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient, and ask him to empty the bathtub.” “Oh, I see,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”

“No,” said the director, “a normal person would pull out the plug. Do you want the bed near the window?”

 

When people are presented with a situation as a problem with a number of solutions, then that’s how they see it. Conflict need not be a problem but it will be if that’s how you choose to see conflict.

 

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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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Building Teams – Can Your Skills With Lego Help You Here?

teambuilding-main

Too many employers see ‘Team Building’ as an event. Something you do, tick a box and move on. It’s really a continuous process and in addition to any team that’s getting built, your leadership is too.

My local burger place prides itself on being an equal opportunity employer. They’ve hired an Orc, a Hobbit and an Elf. Personally I think it’s just Tolkeinism. Bada bing!

I wrote that joke when the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ movies were big and I’ve never had an opportunity to use it. Many of you might be thinking that I still haven’t had the opportunity and that I just force-fitted it here because I thought it was a good idea. Many times, that’s how employers treat team building – they force-fit people into roles and into groups because that’s all they’ve got to work with, or they think that it is. They don’t take into account the tremendously real, negative and lasting costs of poor fit to the employer, employee and the wider team’s morale and productivity.

Team building is a term loosely hurled around to justify ten pin bowling. I’m not disrespecting ten pin bowling. It’s great. I especially like those bumper rails they put up on the lanes for the kids to avoid the gutters. (Some people need those bumper rails to follow them around for when they’ve walking after they’ve been drinking, often during bowling. Gutters are everywhere!) Team building should be a continuous process incorporating a formally thought-out plan for what the team culture is, versus what it should be and how to plug that gap via recruitment, orientation, employee engagement and evidence-based performance management. It isn’t a themed scavenger hunt on Waiheke Island using those motorised bicycles.

“How’s the team building going Kim?”

“Oh, really good, we did it last week.”

I’m not saying that bowling, motorised bikes and drinking aren’t part of the solution. (Although, definitely not at the same time!) These fun aspects are potentially genuine short-term stimulators of productivity, albeit often fraught with some peril for those organising them and paying for the insurance on the bikes. Recent research has proven that time flies when you’re having fun. From the people who proved that men and women are different, diets are never the means to sustainable weight loss and that bears do stuff in the woods. Seriously, Philip A. Gable, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama (yes, THE University of Alabama) has shown via the scientific method that people’s perception of the passage of time is influenced by the nature of the experience including fun. More specifically, Philip used the term, “positive approach motivation” which just goes to show what a wild and crazy guy he must be. Nice work if you can get it.

The Christchurch post-earthquake experience has injected a new word into the zeitgeist. (For me, ‘zeitgeist’ is also a new word and it was also force-fitted because I thought it was a good idea.) That word is ‘deconstruction.’ Not ‘demolition’ but ‘deconstruction.’ There’s a definite, distinct and important difference that also applies to teams.

Few of us get the chance to genuinely build a team from the ground up – so to speak. To start from scratch and recruit people where before there were none, specifically and sensibly chosen for specific purpose. Mostly we inherit a team when we start out leading people and they come and go and we replace them. When you were a kid, maybe you got some Lego blocks as a gift? You opened that box and spilled out the loose individual components? Or did you inherit the blocks from an older sibling with various pre-made and abandoned clumps of failed constructions. Bits were missing. There were teethmarks. And you had to work with what you got? People are like those Lego blocks and not just because they hurt when you stand on them.

Team building, rather than fun and beer and skittles, might have to involve a period of deconstruction. If it’s true that 26% of employees are engaged and 28% actively disengaged, then 46% of employees are showing up and doing the bare minimum. Sure you want to attract and keep more of the highly engaged and sure you want to amp up the efforts of those just showing up but how much angst is warranted with those who just do not fit?

Real and useful team building is made possible when budgets, time and priority is given to planning and upskilling those people who lead teams. Then they’re aware of, and able to do, whatever they can to achieve the fit and goals they need. If that includes a karaoke night then great. (Note – it should not include a karaoke night.)

And just like Lego blocks, if a person doesn’t fit, then no amount of banging with a hammer is going to make them fit. And any teethmarks will be traceable back to you.

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Employee Engagement: WaterCooler-itis

Water-Cooler

This article talks about the impact of employees chatting, gossiping and asking questions about work stuff “around the water cooler.” The grapevine, or call it what you will, is a natural human communication system that occurs whether you like it, want it or not. Trying to tame it is tough and, unless there are legal, morale or safety reasons, maybe you shouldn’t. Trying to leverage it or manipulate it for your own ends? Good luck. Laws of unintended consequences come into play there.

But you should always be aware and have an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse (and a nose to the wheel and a shoulder top the grindstone… Just one shoulder though or you’ll stuff your back.) If issues crop up, you can nip them in the bud. Better to deal with a pimple than a volcano, I always say.

The article rightly reckons that by delving into water-cooler chat, you can pick up the consistently asked questions and that’d be good to know. Questions indicate uncertainty and I believe a critical role of workplace leadership is to minimise uncertainty. The article cites some examples:

1. Are the top leaders at my organisation are committed to making it a great place to work.

2. Is there is trust in the leadership of the company where I work.

3. Can I believe this company will be successful in the future.

4. Do the top leaders at the company where I work really value people.

5. Do I know how I fit into the organisation’s future plans.

6. Are career development and growth opportunities are available to me at this organisation.

And of course, the most pressing question of all – who is going to swap out the empty water cooler!?

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