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Employee Engagement Boosts Productivity And What Else?

boost

This Harvard Business Review blogpost identifies other benefits of engagement, aside from productivity. Of course, workplace leaders who want productivity boosts may not be interested but they should be. I’ve seen workplace safety enhancements due to greater engagement efforts – just to name one benefit in addition to productivity.

“Improving employee engagement is not simply about improving productivity — although organizations with a high level of engagement do report 22% higher productivity, according to a new meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees conducted by the Gallup Organization. “

The author goes on to specify and quantify some other benefits, including safety.

Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

And, of course, improved safety means less costs and downtime, which means… greater productivity.

I keep harping on in my presentations and my books that trying to increase the engagement levels of your employees is not about vague warm fuzzy feelings but that it has practical, demonstrable and measurable outcomes, that as part of a wider business strategy, will increase profits – if profits are what you’re into. If not, then it also drives those other results that organisations seek – fundraising or effectiveness or whatever it is that Government departments are trying to achieve.

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.

Making Your Own Luck

The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get

The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get

There’s a cliche in business that, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” implying that we make our own luck and that it isn’t random at all but simply a set of circumstances within our control that we choose to (or choose not to) control to varying degrees. (Much like I lost control of that opening sentence. Oh blogs with your laxness.)

This article from Psychology Today by Rebecca Webber outlines a few simple, easy, cheap and obvious things we COULD do to increase the odds of something ‘lucky’ happening to us. In short, the more things in total we allow or engineer to happen to us, the greater the number of good things that will occur, increasing our subconscious perception of being lucky. Get out there, meet people, do things, attempt stuff and, in relative terms, more good things will fall into your lap than if you stayed home to watch that solo Battlestar Gallactica DVD marathon you’d planned this weekend.

So, what does this have to do with engaging employees?

Webber cites one experiment by one of my favourite ‘making psychology fun guys’ – Richard Wiseman. In this study, participants were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper that he gave them. There were 43 photographs and the average participant only took a few minutes to get a usually accurate answer. It would’ve taken them 5 seconds if they read the bold headline of the newspaper which said, ‘There are 43 photographs in this newspaper’…

Hmm.

People, eh?

As with our search for luck, or our search at work to achieve narrowly focused goals, too often this overly lazerlike blinkedness prevents us from seeing fresh or different opportunities outside what it is we’re focused on at the time. I’m not trying to diminish the power of goal-setting and so forth, just identify the risks of sunk costs, missed chances and wrong paths taken. Today’s environments are unsuited for longterm and fixed goal-setting approaches. Flexibility, vigilance and adjustment are keys.

Wiseman’s experiment’s newspaper also had another headline that few participants saw, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”

Workplace Culture – One Size Does Not Fit All For Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees

Workplace Culture One Size Does Not Fit All

Workplace Culture – One Size Does Not Fit All

Which company culture is best for productivity and getting the best out of your people – blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance? Are those really the only choices? Sounds a bit loaded to me, like, “What do you want for Christmas – a piece of coal, a pair of socks or a pony?” Coal and socks might seem old-fashioned but they’re functional and damn handy in the right circumstances. A pony might seem like the obvious choice but ponies aren’t for everyone, they require ongoing investment and often they’ll give you another gift for which you’ll require a shovel.

A recent article in The Economist about corporate culture contrasted the view from the top versus the view from the bottom. Bosses disproportionately perceive their organisations to be self-governing, awash with inspiration and driven by values rather than profits. The study was commissioned by Dov Seidman, author of the book ‘How.’ The basic thrust of this book and surrounding consulting empire is that it’s not what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged. (I cannot prevent myself at this point stressing that the foreword to the book is by one President Bill Clinton which, albeit in an unintentionally ironic way, goes a long way to proving that it really isn’t what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged.)

Seidman talks about the different categories of company culture – from the command-and-control military style of ‘Blind Obedience’ to the less-bad ‘Informed Acquiescence’ with its rules and carrots and sticks to the sleek and shiny ‘Values-Based Self Governance’ resplendent with missions and inspiration. I see his argument visually as that classic ‘Evolution Of Man’ poster with Neanderthals evolving to the modern whatever we are. (Hint: Command-and-control leaders are supposed to be the Neanderthals in this picture.)

Of those surveyed, 43% felt their company was in the ‘Blind Obedience’ category, 54% felt their company was in the ‘Informed Acquiescence’ category and a mere 3% had achieved the supposed ‘Self Governance’ nirvana. I did the maths. That adds up to 100% which means those surveyed were only given three mutually exclusive choices. Are they really mutually exclusive? Wouldn’t it be more useful and realistic if they could co-exist in a managed way?

I’m always a bit wary of surveys that end up in articles. Time Magazine reported one recently declaring that 78% of burglars regularly use social media to choose and / or plan their crimes. So when you ‘check-in’ via FaceBook to that out-of-town resort hotel, you’re declaring to the world that you’re not home and your high definition everythings are unattended. Who are these burglars that they’re surveying!? And even if it did satisfy all the criteria supposedly reputable survey companies say are necessary, maybe the burglars being surveyed have their own motives other than the noble truth? Maybe employees might too? (85% of my friends think I’m being cynical about surveys.)

Are these cultures really mutually exclusive and is one better than the others? The answers are, “No” and, “It depends.”

In his book ‘Drive’, Dan Pink writes about the uses and limitations of extrinsic motivations (carrots and sticks.) He says that they have their place and can be very effective in simple, mechanical, programmed or scripted task-oriented roles. Studies repeatedly show positive correlation in those type of activities between incentives and improved performance. You reinforce the behaviours that you think you want and you get more of them but that is not a universal truth. If a task calls for “even rudimentary cognitive skill”, larger rewards lead to poorer performance. Thinking tasks require thinking people and they are internally motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Carrots and sticks don’t work for those people in those roles.

We need to nurture a culture for these people that allows a range of self-direction, develops them beyond their immediate work itself and plays to people’s inherent need to feel like they’re part of something bigger. Chances are, you have people like this in your workplace as well as those with routine task-oriented roles. The same culture won’t work for both groups. So it seems company cultures are like pants – one size does not fit all and you really can’t operate professionally without them.

Different people in different situations requiring different results at different times need different approaches. Crazy stuff but doesn’t it match your experience of reality in managing people? Fitting the right aspects of culture to the right person at the right time is a major driver of employee engagement.

Engaged employees shine out like diamonds. Karen was one such diamond. I met Karen at the supermarket where she worked as a checkout operator. It wasn’t my usual store but I was running a workshop nearby and popped in afterwards to buy some ingredients for dinner. I plonked them on the conveyor as Karen cheerfully greeted me. She looked at me, looked at my choice of groceries and asked, “Chilli for dinner tonight is it sir?” Before I had time to feel judged that chilli was all she felt I was capable of making, she added, “I always add cloves to mine.” It wasn’t busy so I explained to Karen who I was, what I did and asked her about her choice of conversation topic. She wasn’t on commission from the multinational clove corporations. She didn’t have a command-and-control manager dictating that she must try and upsell cloves. (“Do you want cloves with that?”) In a role that has precious little opportunity for discretion, she exercised discretion and was encouraged to do so. For her, it made the day go faster and amped up ever-so-slightly her job satisfaction. That radiated through to my perception of improved customer service. And, in a little but repeated way, she improved the quality of my life. (Try cloves in your chilli. Seriously, try it.)

I was speaking at a conference of dairy farmers about motivation. (Motivating their people not their cows, although, in this country, if I can develop that methodology, I’ll make a fortune!) Afterwards, one farmer came up to me (let’s call him ‘Barry’) to talk about one particular employee of his. The employee wasn’t a non-performer as such but frustrated Barry due to not improving and not making any effort to move towards achieving the potential Barry felt he had. It may or may not be relevant but the employee’s nickname was ‘Sleepy.’ We discussed the various ideas Barry had tried to little or short-term effect. Barry did say that carrots had worked but the impact had worn off. ‘Self Governance’ wasn’t going to work with a ‘Sleepy’ either, at least not by itself. What then? Perhaps a combination.

The group with the best perspective when talking about views from the top and bottom are those in the middle. I’m currently running a year-long development programme for a group of supervisors who are straddling that middle ground. They occupy that dynamic ‘meat-in-the-sandwich’ zone. I asked this group on their views. They’re a diverse bunch culturally and demographically with a range of supervisory experience (including zero.) Their responses were almost entirely questions – requests for more information. Who is this person we’re talking about? What’s the situation? What are our objectives right now and in the future? Smart people ask good questions. If I had to sum up their responses, I’d say, “It depends.”

I recently MC’d a health and safety conference. One of the speakers was Dr Rod Gutierrez, Principal Psychologist at DuPont. He told me about some research that had been conducted on people entering elevators. (He didn’t tell me why they conducted the research. I regret not asking.) People were covertly filmed entering a standard elevator, not one of those double-doored hospital elevators. Like most people I imagine, when you enter an elevator, you turn, press the button for your floor then stay facing the door you entered through. This proved true of all people – if the elevator was empty. They tested two other scenarios – one with a single occupant already there facing the back of the elevator and one with two occupants already there facing the back of the elevator. With the single weirdo facing the wrong way, most people regarded them strangely and faced the usual way. BUT with two weirdos facing the wrong way, over 80% of elevator entrants joined them in facing the wrong way.

Humans are social norming creatures and it’s likely many of your employees are human. The way things are done around here are the way things are done around here. If you’re a leader in a company that sells goods and services, no doubt you’ve got a marketing person or department that knows all about the value of ‘social proof’ in convincing and influencing customers out there in the market. Social Proof is evidence that others like us (or those we would like to be like) have already taken the road or bought the steak knives we’re considering, including the increasingly pervasive online video testimonials and LinkedIn ‘recommendations.’ The same principles apply to convincing and influencing inside the organisation. My advice to my farmer friend is going to be to try some social proof – to find someone who has been in Sleepy’s slippers, gone on to success, and to buddy them up with Sleepy. Let’s see what happens in combination with some of those carrots that worked in the past. Just don’t pick anyone nicknamed Grumpy…

[First published in ‘Employment Today’ Nov 2011]

How To Demotivate Employees (If You Really Want To)

Unrequited hype is one of 3 primary employee demotivators

Unrequited hype is one of 3 primary employee demotivators

This article with video from ‘Good To Great’ author Jim Collins identifies three primary employee demotivators. Actually, he doesn’t limit them to employees but rightly says they are inflicted on people in many forums. Parents especially are noted as perpetrators. Those three demotivators are:

  • hype
  • futurism and
  • false democracy.

There may be others but these three are good ways to put out the fires that might be burning inside people you have who are already inherently motivated. Crazy. You’d think that employers would want to not do that, yet I see an awful lot of hype, futurism and false democracy in a lot of workplaces. All of it is well-intentioned.

In one of my previous management roles where I was a significant agent of change, I had a little personal catchphrase, “No fireworks, no bugles.” What I was trying to reinforce to myself and to others was my own anti-hype position. I really did not want to overpromise. I’d learned from being on the receiving end of too many projects or ideas that were going to magically transform everything into a wonderland of worker amenity and prosperity. Never quite panned out quite as wonderlandy as they painted it. Few things do. Honestly, I’m not anti-hype. It has its place. Used in short bursts at appropriate times, it can generate heat, energy, attention, focus and movement. My problem is that, often, the hype is all there is. In fact, isn’t that the meaning most of us apply when we see, hear or use the word? Too much hype. Nothing but hype. Over-hyped. Don’t believe the hype. What must follow hype to avoid demotivation is prompt and positive change of meaningful substance.

Workplace examples of death by overhyping I’ve seen have included introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures. That said, I’ve also been involved in introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures that were highly successful, well received and used hype, to some extent, very well. So, I’d disagree with Collins if he means that all hype is bad. I suspect he doesn’t mean that. I believe he means the hyperbole that isn’t followed up with action of substance. Far better to, as he says in the video, “…to confront the brutal facts.”

How is futurism bad? I thought we were all meant to be planning for the future, setting goals, anticipating and pre-solving problems etc? Once again, Collins isn’t slamming all futurism, merely those bosses who focus on nothing but the future with little or zero emphasis on the now or recent history. Those bosses can’t learn from mistakes, can’t celebrate successes and can’t leverage employees ‘in the zone’ or in ‘a state of flow.’ These high performers don’t ignore the future but when they’re at their most productive, they are very much solely in the now. Bosses who break that focus and drift off over the rainbow are counter-productive.

Collins says to show results as an indication of progress, to show that people are part of something that is actually working. He refers to this as ‘clicks on the flywheel.’ (I get what he’s saying but will admit to having to go look up what a flywheel is – a heavy disk or wheel rotating on a shaft so that its momentum gives almost uniform rotational speed to the shaft and to all connected machinery. I’m pedantic enough to argue that change never happens at a ‘uniform rotational speed’ and I don’t even like the metaphor’s ‘rotational’ representation of change. But I still get it and love the whole point of it which was the benefits of showing progress and being part of something that works!)

False democracy is a label for all the actions by those employers who have already made up their mind but would like to paint over their intentions with a thin veneer of dishonest inclusiveness by engaging in some token campaign of capturing ideas and inputs from the team. Not that anything ever amounts from these campaigns. This is worse than just being a blatant autocracy. At least that’s honest and transparent. Sometimes even well-meaning managers will engage in such a campaign even though the system of their workplace is so rigid and unresponsive that actual democracy is unlikely. That might be worse as it raises false hope?

Doctors have their oath and the first part is about at the very least not doing harm. Leaders, when it comes to motivating their people, could, at the very least, take that page out of the doctors’ book. (Don’t take a page out of their prescription pad though. You’ll never read their handwriting!)

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

A 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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Motivation Is A Joke

Can you really motivate someone else? Really? Really really?

Of all the questions I get asked after presentations or during workshops, probably the most frequent is, “How can I motivate this person (ie slacker) I have in my team?” Or variations of that same query born of frustration. It being the 21st century and all, and given the calibre (generally) of the clients with whom I choose to work, it’s not like these are impersonal, command-and-control drill-sergeant-types. Mostly, they’re reasonable people with a fairly good idea of how to work with most people. You know, like you.

One of the little rituals I get going during my sessions is that the answer to most questions a leader faces is, “It depends.” (Don’t knock it. You have to be there and it does make a good point at the time.) BUT this time with this question, my answer is, “You can’t.” Usually I’d say something provocative like that simply to be provocative and generate debate etc but increasingly I truly think that’s the answer and thinking the opposite can only lead to behaviours that ain’t going to work for anyone concerned.

Whatever motivates me (and I’ve yet to consistently work that out myself) may not only not motivate you, it can have a wide range of alternative effects, including the opposite.

I don’t want to get all Clinton on you and start defining what I mean by ‘motivation’ and ‘can’t’ (or in Clinton’s case – ‘shouldn’t’) but you might be getting upset as you think you’re a great motivator or you were once impacted by someone you felt was a great motivator or you heard that your favourite sports team brought in a former champion at halftime for a speech that motivated them to a win.

You might inspire people, as might that CD you heard or that halftime speech but that isn’t true behaviour-influencing, improvement-driving, long-term motivation. Motivation is a set of chemical and electrical actions in a certain part of the brain that I can’t spell that over time, through repetition and reinforcement, establishes an easily replicable pattern. Some people are highly motivated to eat fried foods, watch Battlestar Galactica or collect teaspoons. No one gave them a ‘motivational’ CD or a speech. It’s all about neurons, synapses and repetition. The bad news is that you’re not a brain. You cannot personally and directly motivate people. The good news is that you can influence. It’s a pedantic but important difference.

So, I’m being slightly disingenuous with my stark, “You can’t!” Leaders can certainly recruit people whose internal motivations suit the team’s. Leaders can ensure that recruits’ personal goals are already aligned with the team’s so YOU don’t need to DO ANYTHING TO THEM. It might take a bit longer to start with but its more effective and less work for you in the long run. Leaders can certainly recruit people who fit with the other team members and thus nurture a culture where motivation can occur amongst themselves. Leaders, to the extent that they can, should pay a salary and provide a physical environment that doesn’t demotivate.

Again, maybe I’m being a bit Clintony, but let’s reframe the question. Rather than ask what you can do to motivate someone else, observe and experiment how you might be able to connect with whatever internal motivations this person already has. (I’m assuming you’ve inherited this person. Ideally, you’d have put in the work up front and recruited people who are self-motivated for your team and fit. To not do that, just to fill a vacancy, will cause more problems long-term than it solves in the short-term.)

Maybe I’ve begun to convince you that motivation isn’t something you can DO to someone else? If nothing else today, I’ve invented an adjective, ‘Clintony.’ (Or, is it an adverb?)

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4 Motivation Mistakes Most Leaders Make

I've learned a lot from my mistakes; I'm thinking of making more of them.

I've learned a lot from my mistakes; I'm thinking of making more of them.

Following my blog yesterday on motivating and retaining the best employees, this article fell into my RSS feed from Harvard Business Review bloggers Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller. I was drawn to the provocative statement in their article, “So, ‘rational’ leaders don’t tap into the primary motivators of up to 80% of their workforce.” (Although I inserted the apostrophe & the inverted commas for more dramatic effect & a sarcastic tone I felt was inferred…)

Hey, it’s short, sweet, simple and makes a great point about people’s differences when it comes to motivation. And it takes their research and plugs it into some practical examples of what actual leaders actually did. Nice.

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The Ever-Changing Workplace Locks In The Need For Lifelong Learning

"What's an encyclopedia?" "Look it up..."

The idea that our education ended once we left school was an accurate and helpful one – for factory owners in the industrial revolution. Since then, not so much. Many people quote the saying from Mark Twain, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” (I suspect that it’s more likely Twain said, “Schoolin’.”)

One of my kids heard a reference to an encyclopedia on a TV show the other day. She asked me, “What’s an encyclopedia?” Wow! My mum back in my childhood to any kind of “What’s a widget” kind of question would automatically respond, “Look it up.” Of course, today it’s inherently ironic that the looking up would almost certainly not occur using an encyclopedia. Things change, the rate of change is increasing and the ongoing need to learn will only increase. What we’re learning and how is going to change. We need for ourselves and our kids, and we need to cultivate in the people that we lead, the ability to learn faster, more effectively and more often.

Quite apart from the likely positive impact on the quantity and quality of our lives as reported in this Guardian article amongst many others, there is a positive correlation between ongoing development and increased success. The noted psychologist Carol Dweck wrote a fascinating book called ‘Mindset’ that’s also an entertaining read. Broadly, she proposes that there are two mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. I paraphrase crudely but the difference seems to be mainly that the fixed mindset folks see that we’re all dealt some cards and our life will turn out depending on the cards we’re dealt. We’re smart or we’re not and our results will reflect that. The growth mindset folks think they can get new cards or more cards or play some other game that doesn’t involve cards. These mindsets are a choice and the beliefs the mindsets represent focus and filter our behaviours which dramatically impact our results.

To those with fixed mindsets, working hard is unnecessary as the talent they have is the talent they have.

Jerry West, is the former NBA Manager who drafted Kobe Bryant into the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers who went on to lead L.A. to five championships. As a player himself, West won a championship. Have a look at the NBA’s logo which includes a player’s silhouette. That player was Jerry West. His business was selecting talent for a multi-billion dollar industry. What sort of player, what sort of person does he look for? He says, “I think you have to look beyond the resume sometimes. It’s easy to look at a kid in college who scores a lot of points and plays on a great team. But can he get better? Can he progress? Or is he not going to get any better?” Jerry West believes in the growth mindset.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the talent mindset in the corporate culture especially citing the Enron failure. Hire the best and brightest and get out of their way led to what happened there.

The number 1 skill I recruited for was the ability to learn, evidenced by ongoing personal development, not necessarily formal education. People toss around the old chestnut, “Hire for attitude, train for skill” for a reason. It makes sense. What are useful indicators of a desirable attitude including success-oriented traits such as perseverance and resilience? Ongoing personal development overcoming challenges along the way preferable in a team-based environment. If you don’t know what any of those words mean, look them up, in an encycl… on Wikipedia…

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Amotivation – What to do with an employee nicknamed ‘Sleepy’?

What clues do the unmotivated give us?

What cluezzzz do the unmotivated give us?

Last week I presented to a group of dairy farmers. And by ‘dairy farmers’, I mean a group of business leaders whose businesses just happened to be dairy farms. I rarely meet people who are so professional AND passionate AND successful. The presentation went well. Laughs occurred where they were supposed to and some where they weren’t, yet it turned out for the best. Questions and comments afterwards indicated that they got a lot of value out of it and it would make a difference to them. One guy asked me a curly question though.

It wasn’t a negative question and he precursored it with all the things you’d expect an experienced and positive manager of people to say. He clearly had bought into employee engagement’s value to his business, along with goal setting and performance management (done the right way!) and feedback and so forth. He knew what a KPI was and he wasn’t afraid to use it. His question was, “What can I do about Sleepy?”

To be honest, it is a question I hear a lot in various forms. Almost all supervisors and managers I meet (and potential supervisors and managers) aren’t too worried about most people. They worry about negative or angry people. They worry about conflict. I’m sure I did too back in the day. Funny thing though, is that they’re relatively easy to deal with. Negative non-performers are obvious and a problem that you’re motivated to deal with. If it is 3-strikes-and-you’re-out level of serious then there’s a fairly prescribed path to follow in law and HR policy. I think the tough ones are like ‘Sleepy.’ Often not obvious, not a squeaky wheel demanding immediate attention yet potentially quite a drain on productivity down the line. There are clues like absenteeism, reduced participation and so forth but a pretty obvious clue is that they have a nickname like ‘Sleepy.’

Sleepy wasn’t avoiding work or doing it below expected standards. The farmer saw him as lacking drive, initiative, repeating mistakes, being ‘blinkered’ and generally operating to the letter of the law.

Sleepy had an actual name but his nickname was Sleepy. I wondered if it might be that quirky nicknaming thing where you do the opposite like calling a redhead ‘Bluey.’ Nope.

I asked my usual range of triage questions of my farmer. What have you done so far? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Tell me about ‘Sleepy.’ Have there been times you have seen him motivated? What caused that state?

My farmer didn’t tag Sleepy as a problem child. Quite the reverse, he was an above-average performer but my farmer was frustrated because he knew Sleepy was capable of so much more and the farmer wanted to move him towards that ‘so much more’, partly to improve results at his own farm but also for the sake of Sleepy himself.

I’ll ask you all the same question. What can we do about the Sleepys (Sleepies?) of this world? I’m giving it some thought and my next few blog entries will tackle aspects of my answer. I’ll probably start by thinking back to when I was that guy.

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