This last absolute is really the culmination of all the others and sometimes is also the most misunderstood. Like the Hippocratic Oath, leadership at its core is founded on the principle that the people who make up your team or organization have worth, and need to be treated as such. This understanding drives us to provide vision, direction, get buy-in, and provide reinforcement for good performance. You want them to grow into leaders in their own right, and ensure that they understand the meaning and scope of their work. All those things communicate worth.
What are some of those things that we do as leaders that are actually harmful to our people? Let us start with honesty. When we are dishonest with our people about the things that impact them or their performance, we do them harm. I am not talking about high-level strategic initiatives that require a level of confidentiality to maintain a competitive advantage. I am talking about those day to day things that someone does that either causes you or the team irritation, yet no one wants to speak to it because no one likes conflict. Or it could be performance-related or just something as simple as fit where someone seems to be having trouble fitting in with the group. If we are honest about it, we avoid those conversations and hope that it will fix itself. In case you missed it, not telling someone about an issue that you are aware of is as dishonest as lying about it.
Here is something to consider; from an objective level, what is more painful, watching someone struggle with either performance or fit and ultimately failing or sitting down with that person to create a plan that honestly addresses the issues. That’s not to say that failure may still happen, but at least they had a chance to make it work, and they knew you had their back.
What message are you sending?
Here is the other nuance that we often don’t think about when dealing with staff. When you do or don’t step up to address those staff issues, you send a message to the other staff on your team. Is that message a confidence booster or a morale deflator? In a recent survey, 45% of respondents cited trust in their leaders as a factor regarding productivity. You may think you are only avoiding the one issue, but in reality, you may well be creating a host of others – be frank, be honest, and always from a perspective of sincerely wanting what’s best for that person.
Do YOU own your teams performance?
Another way we can harm our staff is the proverbial throwing them under the bus! I wish I could say this does not happen often, but we all know that would not be true. Sadly, it is also the surest sign of a weak leader. We all want our teams to function with a high level of accountability, but how often has someone been rewarded for that with a rap on the knuckles, or worse. The hardest thing to learn as a leader is to admit when you have erred and “own” it. Placing the blame on an underling only inhibits productivity. It is pretty hard to throw yourself into something wholeheartedly when you wonder whose head will roll if something goes wrong. As we are fond of saying in the patch, nobody moves, no-one gets hurt. And, of course, nothing gets done.
Even when something goes wrong that belongs to someone in your team, you should be the first to provide assessment and a remedy and work to mediate between your staff and your leadership. The bottom line is this; in most cases, their failure is really your failure.
What do you permit?
I am sure that there are as many ways to harm staff as staff policy manuals on the planet. Let me leave you with one last idea on this. Don’t hurt your team with what you permit. This may sound strange, but we have all done it. When someone gossips about a fellow team member, when someone continually shaves time off each working day with smoke breaks, when someone consistently breaks a safety policy around eye protection, or when someone is grousing about company projects or leadership, and you permit it, you are harming them and your team. When you don’t address these types of behaviors, they become unwritten policy. How many times have your kids said to you, “but daddy (or mommy) didn’t say anything the last time?”
Your team, no matter how big or small, is your team. Nurture them and be a catalyst for their success. You have more influence and power as a leader than you realize, be sure to use it for good and not for harm. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
What do we mean when we say leaders need to provide meaning? Let me share an example through an anecdote by John Girard, which points to this absolute at an individual level and its implication for leadership.
Three Workers - Three Stories
On a foggy autumn day nearly 800 years ago, a traveler happened upon a large group of workers adjacent to the River Avon. Despite being tardy for an important rendezvous, curiosity convinced the traveler that he should inquire about their work. With a slight detour, he moved toward the first of the three tradesmen and said, “my dear fellow, what is it that you are doing?” The man continued his work and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.” Realizing that the mason did not wish to engage in a conversation the traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question. To the traveler delight this time the man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and stated that he was a stone cutter. He then added, “I came to Salisbury from the north to work but as soon as I earn ten quid I will return home.” The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home, and began to head to the third of the trio.
When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question. This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact, and then looked skyward, drawing the traveler's eyes upward. The third mason replied, “I am a mason, and I am building a cathedral.” He continued, “I have journeyed many miles to be part of the team that is constructing this magnificent cathedral. I have spent many months away from my family, and I miss them dearly. However, I know how important Salisbury Cathedral will be one day, and I know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop once told me his vision for this great place. He described how people would come from all parts to worship here. He also told us that the cathedral would not be completed in our days but that the future depends on our hard work.” He paused and then said, “So I am prepared to be away from my family because I know it is the right thing to do. I hope that one day my son will continue in my footsteps and perhaps even his son if need be.”
Who Would You Want?
In this example, we immediately take note of the difference between the first worker who has no meaning for what they do beyond the immediate task at hand, which is cutting stones, or the second, who is there to earn a buck, and we are drawn to the account of the third stonemason who demonstrates a grander vision that gives meaning to his work. This speaks to something that I believe resides in all of us that our lives have meaning not only in our personal lives and relationships but also in our work. This is crucial, particularly when it comes to performance, after all, which of the three would you hire?
You Can Create Meaning
This worker was gifted with an understanding of the meaning of his work, but where did he get that meaning? The Bishop. Not all of us will immediately see the meaning of the work we do, so it is something those good leaders must provide for their team or group. We have an innate need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Some in leadership will create the connection between the work and the greater good - for example, Starbucks does not "just" sell coffee, they provide a social experience; a place for people to gather. Some companies tie the work with philanthropy by directing some of the profits and/or, providing time for staff to volunteer toward causes of their choosing, such as "Habitat for Humanity" or the "United Way."
As leaders, we do this because we value our people. You communicate worth when you take the time to create meaning in the work being done.
You will find that it helps to have your own meaning for what you do figured out as well. For example, I do what I do because I believe that leadership, though fraught with all manner of pitfalls and opportunities for failure, can be an amazing experience that need not be terrifying or mundane. That leadership can be larger than us and can be enjoyed, and the more we enjoy it, the more those we lead and work with will benefit.
Have you created meaning for your leadership and for your team? If not, why not? Hu centered leadership, think about it.
Hu Centered Leadership - Leadership Absolute #5 - Great leaders multiply or why the Borg will never win!
Okay, I confess that I am a secret Star Trek fan, and maybe I was looking for a way to insert my guilty pleasure into our discussion on leadership. I think you will find that this is a good fit for this topic.
Good Leaders Make Good Leaders
Perhaps the number one characteristic of good leaders is that they produce other good leaders – they multiply. To quote Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence - Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders. In today's competitive market, this is a crucial advantage for businesses.
Looking To Improve
The reason for this revolves around the concepts and practice of continuous improvement. One of those concepts is the need for innovation. Not just some innovation, but a constant flow of innovation. How does this relate to leadership? Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, sums it up this way; Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. As leaders, we can develop followers who will be very good at following and will, for all intent, do what they are supposed to do. Great leaders develop other leaders. These, in turn, not only do what they are supposed to do but always are on the lookout for ways to innovate and improve.
Followers React - Leaders Anticipate
Why is this important? Simply this; followers react, leaders anticipate. In a competitive market, that may well be the difference between surviving and bankruptcy. When you develop a team to be leaders in their own right, you create a group that can anticipate and innovate rather than reacts. It is necessary to understand that reacting places you at a disadvantage because it confirms you are already one step behind.
Failure To Develop Leaders Is Costly
I will not kid you it's hard! For most of us, this seems counter-intuitive. It means you look for people who are smarter than you and then invest in their success. The hard part is overcoming the fear that in doing this, you put your position at risk. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. The top reasons for leadership failure are as follows - leaders become selfish or greedy, they become reactive, and they stop developing their team. Note that nowhere in this list is the idea that they developed people who took their jobs. It is just the opposite where failure to develop the leaders on your team is a leading cause of failure!
Leaders vs Followers: A Competitive Differentiator
How then does this relate to the Borg? In the Star Trek series, the Borg was an alien race that operated from a collective base of knowledge. They grew by assimilating other cultures. Fashioned like a giant matrix, each member had access to that knowledge base, and as such, they were able to react and learn from threats quite quickly, which made them almost unbeatable. (Know any companies like that?)
Yet, for all their knowledge, they lacked a key advantage; innovation. The Borg had access to knowledge and could respond quickly, which initially gave them the upper hand. Yet, their weakness was in the fact that they could not anticipate or innovate. They did not have leaders but followers, and that initial advantage in terms of knowledge and speed of reaction could not overcome the group that could anticipate and innovate.
Great leaders multiply leadership in and through their team. By doing so, they grow and develop teams who can anticipate and innovate, which I submit is THE most potent advantage a business can have over its competitors. It is also a key feature of continuous improvement and the reason the Borg will never win. Work to develop the leaders in your team, and in case I forget, in the words of Spock, live long and prosper! Hu centered leadership - think about it.
The behavior of individuals on a team is one of the most fascinating areas of leadership study. It is also probably one of the most uncomfortable. When I meet with leaders, often one of the first issues of discussion will revolve around either performance or culture and usually both as they are intimately entwined. When I tell senior leadership that they are getting the culture and productivity they are reinforcing, it almost always elicits an "...oh ya?" response.
Of Course I Want Poor Performance - Said No One Ever!
Of course, no leader sets out to reinforce low productivity or negative culture, yet often that is what happens. Getting into that bind usually happened over a long period, and getting out of it will take some time, as well, but the good news is that there is a solution.
In the simplest terms, we inadvertently reinforce low productivity or poor culture based on a series of responses (or non-responses) to perceived behaviors. In one company, there was an unspoken rule - when someone got their work done early - they got to sweep and clean the shop. The intent had been to ensure everyone was seen as busy during the shift, but as I am sure some of you realize, it also had the effect of guaranteeing no one finished early, and the net result was low productivity.
Daily Reinforcement But What Kind?
That is an easy example, but there are literally hundreds of interactions that leaders have throughout a typical day that have the net effect of reinforcing or ignoring (what we call extinguishing) behaviors. A crew needs to meet a deadline but doesn't make it, and they need to stay late to complete the task and collect overtime pay in the process. An employee comes into your office to complain about something or someone, and in the interest of getting them out of your office so you can get back to work, you promise that you will look into it. You notice one of your staff not wearing the proper safety equipment and make a note to talk with them about it but get busy with your daily responsibilities and forget all about it. In a staff meeting, feedback is sought, but when a new employee offers some, they are belittled by the supervisor. And you wonder why one crew seems to lag behind the others, why that person seems to "always" be in your office, why safety events are on the rise, or why staff are not engaged, and no one is willing to come up with new ideas?
What Do You Want?
The path to the productivity or culture you currently have is made up of many of these types of decisions. The first step in turning this around is in recognizing that this is indeed happening. The second step is to decide on what behaviors you want. This may seem obvious, but our environments have actually taught us to look for those things we don't want. To test this, ask yourself, have you ever told your parents or had your kids ask you, "can you name one thing that I have done right in my life?" If that left you a tad uncomfortable, don't worry, you are in good company.
You need to be intentional, identify the behaviors you want, and start to reinforce those behaviors. This is hard at first, but once you begin to identify those behaviors, you will be surprised at how fast things fall into place, and I suspect you will be surprised at the staff you start to interact with and who you never noticed before.
Next time you take a look around the office, walk out on the production floor, or have a staff meeting ask yourself what kinds of things am I reinforcing? Like the answer - great, don't like the answer - time to make a change. Hu centered leadership, think about it.
The idea of the social compact is not a new concept. It has been around since the 17th century. Writers such as Locke and Rousseau began to explore the relationship of the individual to those in authority. They examined how an individual would cede certain individual liberties to a governing authority in exchange for that authority providing certain things like the enshrinement of those rights and the provision of a level of order. They called it a social contract, which was either explicit (a constitution) or implicit, and the understanding was that one exercised authority only at the consent of those being governed.
While this is admittedly a political concept, the fact is that it can be applied to leadership in general. Its application can range from informal settings such as a group of friends to more formal settings like teams and certainly to business. And it is a leadership absolute.
What are the components of this absolute, and how does this impact you as a leader? First and most importantly, it is based on the premise that those you lead have value. Your team has value because of what skills they bring to the business, and also because of who they are as individuals. What are some of the features that make up the value of the individual?
A Complete Package
People are more than the sum of their resumes. You hire someone for specific skills, which of course is the point, yet they come to you with far more than those skills. They come with a desire to learn, to grow, to contribute, to be recognized, to be provided with direction and feedback, and as humans wired for community, they desire to have that community acknowledge their value beyond their skills as a whole person that comes with that package. In short, our people are not commodities or assets to be used and then discarded.
The social contract subscribes to two principles; people have an inherent worth that must be respected, and those in authority act as trustees of that worth and lead accordingly. In a political setting, when that contract is violated, those who are governed rise up and replace that government. In business, when this happens, they leave. They leave in one of two ways; literally, or they just check out emotionally and productively. Either scenario is costly.
The expression of this social contract in business can be seen with good leaders igniting staff to new levels of engagement and productivity or bad leaders driving good people out. People have figured this out and now companies rate leadership on things like employee retention or satisfaction. Of course, that is only one measure, but folks are getting the message.
Engage the Whole Individual
Think about it this way, you may get promoted into a position of leadership and have the ability to exercise whatever authority comes with that, but you will never really lead unless you have at least the implicit consent and support of those under you. We all know that those who treat staff poorly can get away with it for a time, but sooner or later, it will catch up to them. Either in low productivity or high turnover. Remember you lead by social contract - do right by them, and they will do right by you. Hu centered leadership, think about it!
If vision is about what you are going to accomplish, then philosophy is about how that will look and how it will be done. All of us will apply a leadership philosophy of some sort, but few of us will do so knowingly or with intent.
That is not to say it won’t happen but that it happens by accident and often haphazardly. Leadership philosophies are prone to trends like many other things in the realm of social interaction, and most leaders (70% according to Gallup) report they develop an approach through trial and error.
Whats the Cost?
What this means is that if you manage to get through the first year of your leadership role, you just may survive. But there are costs; talented and high performing operators get thrust into front line leadership roles and struggle with the new skill sets, and many fail. That failure is not just theirs alone as well over 60% of workers cite poor leadership as the chief reason for leaving a company. So we not only lose a good potential leader, we lose staff. For example, an average-sized company of 150 employees with an 11% turnover rate loses 16 people per year. The cost to replace each employee is conservatively around 50% of their annual salary. Let’s assume average wages of around $50,000. What that means is that poor leadership at the front line costs this company around $412,000 per year!
What Does This Look Like?
The good news is that companies are starting to realize that leadership development is not just about looking good for the resume but is, in fact, an essential element of driving performance and competitiveness. So what role does philosophy play in good leadership? It should provide you with a few key points of direction. Those points include:
- a focus
- a timeline to achieve that focus
- how your team contributes to the accomplishment of that focus
- and how you know that’s been achieved.
Lastly, it includes how do you improve in the achievement of that focus?
Pick One And Stick With It.
I will tell you a secret, within that set of parameters, there are literally dozens of approaches that can be taken. Pick one and run with it! Any action that you “knowingly” apply is far superior to doing nothing, or what I call “accidental, run and gun leadership.” The research on this is pretty compelling in that a leader is 80% more likely to succeed through the application of a structured approach to achieving team or company goals. (Prosci)
In my experience, leaders deal with this one of two ways; either they don’t have a defined philosophy or methodology in place, or they overthink the one they have and keep changing it to adjust to the current crisis. The bottom line with a leadership philosophy is this, pick one that works for you, communicate it vigorously to your team, and stick to it. This is one absolute of leadership you can literally take to the bank. Hu centered leadership - think about it!
This is going to be the first of a series of articles related to how leaders can explore Hu (human) principles around their role and anchor their leadership to create engagement, provide purpose, and foster performance. I feel led to explore these issues because of the feedback I have received from many who lead. This is centered around their struggle to create meaning and unity for their teams. Many see this because we live in a pluralistic society that enshrines individual perspective and perception as paramount. While most have no issue with this concept, they struggle with how to provide tangible, productive leadership from within a team setting.
It hearkens to the old saying that leadership is like trying to herd cats. In our current setting in North America and Europe, our pluralism often leads to relativism, and it is this relativism that is at the root of the angst I find among leaders today. One may subscribe to these principles on a personal level, but as a leader, you are immediately confronted by a myriad of voices, each attesting to their own reality or validity. Many leaders share that they see themselves walking the proverbial "plank" on a pirate ship where one false step or failure to be inclusive puts you in the drink. It is worth noting that most leaders care about giving an ear to all these voices, but good intentions don't necessarily address the reality that trying to create room for other perspectives rarely translates into a unified business approach. And we are back to the cats - lol!
Are There Leadership Absolutes?
Any engineer will tell you that there are absolutes that cannot be violated. So in the realm of leadership, business, and wealth creation, are there some absolutes that can be applied? Over the next few blogs, I am going to suggest a few absolutes, and let's see where the conversation takes us.
First and foremost, effective leadership involves vision. You either have a passion for something and become a leader because of it or, you bring your vision to the role you have been tagged to perform. Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would be an example of the first as their respective vision for computing thrust them into leadership. Sue would be an example of the second.
Never heard of Sue? That's because Sue, like most of us, moved into leadership and needed to bring a vision for that role. She wanted to do a great job, and she wanted to have a high performing team. Early into the role, however, she noticed that this new crew did or didn't do certain things the way that she felt comfortable with. They were a good group, but Sue unknowingly had an approach that was different from the team. They were doing okay, but because of these issues, she was not enjoying her new role.
She approached me one day on the horns of this dilemma. She reasoned that because she had a good team and was uncomfortable with their approach to things that she must be lacking as a leader. As she shared these fears with me, her pain, and struggle with this was very evident. "I am having a hard time controlling my temper, and I am starting to belittle some of the guys," she confided. The reason was her growing frustration with some of these things that she wasn't comfortable with.
After letting her share her thoughts, I asked her why she just didn't sit the team down at the start of the shift and let them know how she wanted things done? "I can do that?" she said. "Of course you can," I responded. The relief was palpable. I told her that just because she inherited this team did not mean that she could not bring her own vision and leadership to the group. Her group should be a reflection of her leadership, not the previous leader.
You Did It Your Way
When I met her a couple of days later, she was all smiles, and life was good. She had learned that first principle, you are the leader - bring your vision and implement it. For those of us who have been there, nothing is more disheartening than failing while in the pursuit of pleasing everyone else and not staying true to our vision. The reality is that many get promoted who have not been mentored concerning developing their own vision for leadership. Come to think of it; what is your vision for leadership? Hu centered leadership - think about it.
I remember discussing applying Hu centered organizational effectiveness with a Frac crew a few years ago. When I started the discussion, I was met with two distinct responses. The first was, "I don't know how this will help, this is the oil patch, s**t happens!" The second was, "I don't know if this will work. Our bosses have never given us much of a say on things." The first response was really a reflection of the lack of understanding and training concerning how much things could be improved. The second response was an expression of the idea that they would like to have input but had never had the chance to provide it before, and they were doubtful that would change.
Been there, done that
This discussion is one that I have had many times, across many industries. This crew was not unique in terms of the conversation we were having. They had seen programs come and go, and as with most staff in organizations, they were looking to take their cue from their leaders. If they saw leadership embrace this, then they were willing to at least try. The way I have seen this translate time and time again is the front line operations take their cues from their supervisors, and the operations supervisors take their cue from area management, and area management takes their cue from corporate.
Keeping it simple
Here is where the challenge is almost immediate. Messaging from corporate leadership has to be simple, focused, and consistent. The more detailed process-intensive things are at the top, the more likely that adoption will be limited. Think of it this way; with a new program, every new step or process introduced from upper leadership is one more potential speed-bump to implementation. The messaging should be short and be presented in the form of a question or two, at each management and operations meeting. Are we doing ..... well? How do we know?
Everyone owns it
Your leaders from corporate right down to operations need to be on the same page about the approach so that as your new organizational effectiveness culture starts to percolate, they will recognize it and encourage it. That is to say that everyone in the organization needs to be on board and be visible. Not only showing support but demonstrating a level of understanding. Remember that while the rubber meets the pavement in operations, everyone is taking cues from up the line. Because organizational effectiveness can and ought to be applied throughout a company, every leader should be trained and conversant with how to use it.
Back to our Frac crew
How important is this? Let's return to my Frac crew from the start of this discussion. When I started with them, they were achieving in the low 50% range for efficiency. (As measured by the percentage of time pumping while in control of the well.) To be clear, this was not low and, by all accounts, was the industry norm. By training front-line leaders and crews in how to set their own metrics, establish their own opportunities lists and follow up on them, they brought their efficiency into the low 90% range in under a year! Not only that, but they started to have months where they would run weeks in a row with 100% efficiency and no downtime. In its early stages, this is a fragile thing, and it does not take much to knock the wheels off it. If leadership up the line is not acknowledging and driving this kind of performance, it won't take. The fastest killer of continuous improvement is to ignore the wins.
Feedback is key
I witness high sensitivity to feedback or lack of it from leadership, and a positive word rightly used goes a long way in reinforcing a continuous improvement culture. This is why a simple training program for leadership at all levels is vital to ensuring the success of your efforts at organizational effectiveness. Your leaders need to be equipped to understand and recognize the culture you are looking to implement and be able, as a team, to drive increased performance. As the saying goes, "Until you are all singing from the same songbook, you are not making music, just making noise!" Hu centered leadership - think about it.
Ever notice how we are all prone to fads? Whether it's clothes or music or beards (for those that can pull that off), we see fads come and go. The same is so for business and, in particular, leadership. There have been all kinds of trends, and they come and go, but what about the things that work? How do we know there wasn't something there, that when stripped down to its core, was really something that is a best practice behavior?
Metrics = Accountability?
Let's take the issue of metrics, for example. In my work in human-centered leadership and organizational effectiveness, metrics are core to those processes. Yet more often than not, we use our metrics as lagging indicators and never really explore how to use them as leading indicators that can drive performance improvement. Metrics, by their nature, are lagging indicators. They measure something that has happened. It could be the number of widgets made or the timeline for an order to be filled. In these cases, the effectiveness of the metric will depend on how much of a "lag" you allow for. For example, safety metrics that are reported quarterly or yearly will have a diminished effect on changing safety behaviors, whereas safety metrics discussed at daily shift meetings will have an immediate impact on safety behavior. Simply collecting metrics will not drive performance and will not promote organizational effectiveness. How fast you use and communicate them will. That is where accountability comes in.
Before I go into this concept in detail, let me be clear about what I mean when I refer to accountability. In the traditional sense, it was about who would be left "holding the bag" when something went sideways. Usually, it was some poor person in middle management, or if they were deft enough, it was foisted upon someone in operations. As the joke went, when something like that happened, you found the accountable person, and you "hung 'em high to teach them a lesson." That is the old application of accountability.
Free To Make Mistakes And Learn
When I refer to accountability, it is framed within the context of a work environment that allows for mistakes and uses them as stepping stones to improvement. It is centered around the idea that there is transparency in the process, and the goal is to identify issues and deal with them as quickly as possible. In this scenario, accountability is not punitive but transformative. We move from looking for someone to blame to looking for solutions to the issue that confronts us.
Every Link In The Service Chain
Let me use a quick example from the airline industry. Baggage handlers are an element of the industry, and many metrics can be employed in assessing performance. Total time to load, turn around time for transfers, dropped luggage, customer complaints, lost luggage, and so on. These are all useful metrics, and they are all lagging indicators. All the best dashboard reports in the world will not change that, but accountability will. When a manager or leader reports on a metric, guess who "owns" that metric? They do. When a baggage handler uses a metric like the number of drops, for example, who owns it? Again, the baggage handler.
Timing Is Everything
Here is where accountability can be used to take a lagging indicator like a metric around dropped bags and transform it into a leading indicator and a performance driver. If I require my baggage handlers to report to me every day on the number of bags they dropped during a load or unload, what behavior am I going to drive? You guessed it - they are going to focus on making sure they don't drop bags. Now I am using a metric to drive performance. How do you think that works if they only have to report this to me once a month? Once a week? Once per shift? Which do you think is going to be most effective? The closer to the activity you require the communication, the more impact it will have on behavior.
Metrics are useful, but they will never drive improvement or performance until they are hitched to personal accountability. Get your team to own the metrics, relate it to the larger goal of the department, and get them to track and report them. Then stand back and watch the transformation. Only then will you have the gas to drive performance. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
We have been exploring the Hu (Human Element) or how we function as humans and leaders in a digital environment. We have places that make people work like machines. We have companies that have machines replacing people – witness the rise of digital order takers at various fast-food chains. But how do you get people to work and perform to their full potential as people? And why is this important?
In a word - demographics. Boomers are heading into retirement, Xers, Nexters, and Millennials are moving into the workplace, and the reality is that these demographic groups are much smaller than the boomers. What this means is that there will be increasing stress on companies to attract and retain good employees. Business competitiveness will now be as much of a function of staffing as it is about strategic or financial acumen.
Who is Looking?
Gallup’s latest offering, “The State of the American Workplace,” highlights both the problems and solutions that come with this new reality. At a time when the labor market is going to become increasingly competitive, research is showing that over 51% of people are actively looking for new jobs. Let that sink in for a minute.
What do you need to do to retain your staff? You need to engage them. Here is a quick snapshot from the Gallup findings; the top-quartile companies in terms of employee engagement see up to 59% lower turnover than their counterparts. They also have 70% fewer safety incidents, 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profits. That is what engagement gets you.
So what does this new demographic want? What will keep them with you? They want work that lets them work in their areas of strength. They want more flexibility in the workplace in terms of things like flex time, working from home, and pursuit of professional and personal growth. And they want an authentic workplace and leadership that is willing to coach them.
Making Technology Work For You
In short, Millennials have decided to make technology work for them, not the other way around. They want to use technology to give them flexibility around work-life balance. They have to be connected during off-hours or on vacation, then why not take that a step further and actually work from home or other places away from the office?
One neat thing that Millennials are looking for is paid time to work independently on a project of their choosing. Remember our discussion around the satisfaction of accomplishment? This is one way this group chooses to deal with it; work on a project (that could be related to a company need or just a social need the company supports) in which they get to experience the satisfaction that comes with creating something meaningful in a Hu way.
Tapping Into A Different Mindset
There are several issues that Gallup has identified that really differentiate Millennials from the other demographic groupings, and I want to explore that in the next few blogs. Let me leave you with a teaser about what ramping up engagement can mean to your bottom line.
When looking at total Earned value Per Share (EPS) when comparing results from 2011-2013 and 2014-2015, here is what Gallup found.
-Publicly traded organizations that received the Gallup Great
Workplace Award experienced 115% growth in EPS, while their
competitors experienced a 27% growth over the same period.
-The actual EPS of the best-practice organizations grew at a rate
that was 4.3 times greater than that of their competitors.
-The best-practice organizations in the study had 11 engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee. At the start of their engagement journey, these organizations had an average of two engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee. Gallup – “State of the American Work Place” 2017
What are the pieces that leaders need to understand to drive this kind of engagement and these kinds of results? We will look at this more closely in the next blog. Hu Centered Leadership – Think About It!
Perhaps the best motivator for success is the satisfaction that comes with achievement. A sense of accomplishment is an analog experience and something that can be elusive in this digital age. When we think of how we experience a sense of accomplishment, we see this reflected in advertising and other media as the pride a craftsman gets from creating a well-made piece of furniture, knitting that sweater, and so on. To capture that feeling, we often harken back to pre-industrial times, where satisfaction and accomplishment came from what we created with our hands and skills.
Finding Our Way
I use commercials a lot in my coaching because I believe they are a reflection of what is prevalent in our society or what is longed for. One of my favorites had a potent combination of images and music where a song was being sung that spoke about finding my way home. Along with it were images of a woman manning a loom, a mechanic standing at his bench, a woman in front of her tractor, a boy skateboarding, and a girl skipping rope, all meant to convey a sense of accomplishment. It was a brilliant commercial, and I believe it tapped into a deep-seated need.
Are We Repeating The Same Mistakes?
Is it possible that we are repeating the excesses of the industrial revolution in the digital era? Much of the hardship of the industrial revolution was about the move from craftsmanship to the assembly line. From a pastoral setting and pace to the hectic race to keep up with the machines. Workers, often entire families – women and children included – lived a stone's throw from the factory that owned their house, provided their food, and kept them at work often 18 hours a day! Those conditions were brought about by an idea that the worker had to keep up with what the machine could do.
Gone was the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that came with it. People were simply parts of the assembly line that pumped out products that they could neither appreciate nor afford.
Rise Of The Machines
Much like the industrial era, the digital revolution has created an environment where we must keep pace with the machines. What are the issues we are grappling with today? Should you turn your phone off when you are not at work? Do you have time to take a vacation? (Yes, statistics show that holidays are on the decline.) Even more alarming is that when you do take time off, you are still connected to work!
Ask someone what they do, and they will give you a job title, but few can point to a product. Is it any wonder then that we long for the experience of accomplishment and the satisfaction that comes with it? Are we any less constrained by the digital machines than we were by the iron ones?
Can Millennials Lead The Way?
Next blog, we will look at how the Millennials have come up with some solutions to this need and how we, as leaders, can help our teams tap into that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Yes, these things are not only possible but are vital components of the Hu element of organizational effectiveness. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
How we perceive.
When you look at those two lines, you see them as having different lengths. The one on top is longer, and the one on the bottom as being shorter. The reality is that both are exactly the same length. You can measure them, and your mind will still tell you they are not the same. The measures don't lie, but often our minds will trick us. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work I do is the interplay between the role of metrics in driving performance improvement and the role of Hu (Human Elements) in terms of culture, upbringing, and intuition in fighting against it.
Our wiring may inhibit us.
Sometimes these perspectives are so ingrained that we don't even think about it when we are doing it. In one case, I recall a crew in the oil and gas industry who were setting records with performance. In 30 days of operation, they had 17 perfect days in a row! No downtime, no equipment failures, no safety incidents, no issues at all. This had never happened in the history of that company or the history of the client company. Yet, the area manager continued to operate from a traditional perspective that told her that crews needed to be ridden, criticized, and scrutinized.
She moved up the hard way, and her experience and training told her there was the only way to get crews to perform. Every visit to the site required that she find some kind of fault, some issue, so she could "rip them a new one." I pointed out the performance data, but it was as if she could not trust the metrics that were telling her the story, that her experience could not allow for what she was seeing. Fortunately, she eventually came around and became a great practitioner of performance management, and fortunately, too, she had crew leaders who were able to shield the crews from the negativity until she did.
We all do it.
This happens in every industry and every sector, from operations to the C - Suites. It does not have to be a negative outlook; it can involve things like making choices for new hires or promotions. Companies develop exhaustive sets of metrics to try and tease out the best candidates, but often, at those crucial moments when the metrics tell you to go one way, you go the other. In the movie money ball, the scouts for the baseball club looked at things like how good-looking the player's girlfriend was to measure confidence. The influence of the "halo effect" and "confirmation bias" is starting to be explored and factored into our decision making, but our minds and the way we make choices still complicate issues.
Recognize and Trust
Two things to take away from this short analysis is this; knowing that you will bring bias into your decisions and developing a robust set of metrics to guide you are two excellent ways to avoid running contrary to what the numbers are telling you. If you don't trust your analytics, change them so that you do. Understand the tendency to bring bias into decision making and look for ways to combat it, like having hiring teams who are allowed to speak freely and make a case for or against choices presented.
Instinct or Numbers
I have done this a long time, and trust me when I say that having established metrics around the things you need for making decisions, you are going to be confronted at times with results that run totally contrary to what your instincts are telling you. Will you go with the numbers or with your gut? Hu centered leadership - think about it.
Let's review what we have explored in this discussion so far. A leader's role is to create coherence, to provide meaning and context for their company. Arising out of that is creating a climate of consistency and safety so that staff can experiment and innovate. You will notice incredible changes on your team by this point, but now the work of "setting" this performance in place as a permanent feature of your company begins.
You must create a culture for tackling challenges as the first phase of making continuous improvement sustainable. We all want to do good work, and we want to know where we stand with our peers, our boss, and the competition. We are competitive creatures by nature. You don't have to look too far to see evidence of this. A good portion of our leisure time (and for some of us not so leisure - lol!) involves activities around either participating in or watching sports or games of some type. Have you ever gone out for an evening of bowling and not kept score? How about golf or hockey? Competitiveness is woven into the fabric of what makes us human.
As a leader, you need to tap into that wiring to compete. Let me add a quick caution here before going on. You cannot skip coherence and climate and jump straight to challenge. Too many well-meaning leaders have torn the fabric of their companies or groups to shreds with misguided competitions that actually inhibit performance rather than drive it. Once you have created the context for the team and ensured a safe climate to pursue innovation, then you can look at using challenge.
Whose Metric Is It Anyway?
Where does that start? It begins with you, but it is initiated with each and every staff member. What does that mean? By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need each of your staff doing to promote and achieve the goals of the group or company. The way you confirm that is to get them to set their own metrics for performance. Getting your staff to set their own metrics is vital for several reasons. First, it will confirm to you that everyone is on the same page and align with your goals or the company goals. If they aren't, you get the opportunity to guide those staff through a "coarse adjustment" so that their metrics come into alignment with your goals, and they see how they fit.
Second and more importantly, having staff develop their own metrics will allow you to tap into that competitive nature we all have. You can give them metrics to be sure, but they will be "your" metrics and not theirs. Let them develop their own metrics (under your discrete guidance), and they will "own" them.
Keep It Simple
Keep a couple of things in mind. Metrics should be simple, measurable, and tied to achieving group or company goals, and they must be personal. That is to say that each staff should be tracking their metrics but ensure they know they are competing against themselves and not others on the team.
Be There But Listen, Don't Talk
When I have walked leaders through this, I tell them to develop the habit of visiting staff daily and getting them to explain their metrics and how they are tracking them. I instruct them to let their employees do the talking. When folks show their metrics (and you have created the right climate), they will be eager to discuss their performance. Also, they are now driving their own improvement, and you only need to provide encouragement.
This phase must be allowed to grow organically. Don't push it, but let staff become comfortable with the metrics. Eventually, a team conversation will start regarding those metrics. That's when the magic will really begin to happen.
The next step toward this sustainability is about using the information that your staff has been collecting. This really becomes a milestone in the process of establishing continuous improvement. While there may be many ways of achieving this, I have found that the most successful approach can be broken into two pieces.
Build It Into The Schedule
First, establish regular meetings with your staff around performance. If you are in operations, that will most likely take the form of pre or post-shift meetings. If you are corporate, it could be in the form of weekly or bi-weekly sessions. In each case, time must be made for staff to report on performance in their area and discuss with peers overall group performance.
Focus On Goals Not People
I cannot overstate the crucial role you and your leaders will have in this process! The nature of these meetings must be focused on group goals and performance in a frank and non-judgmental spirit. Demeaning or negative comments directed at specific individuals must be avoided at all costs as your goal is to solidify that safe climate. Your access to this crucial information is very much incumbent on making sure it is safe for staff to share it.
You will need to be patient, as this may seem awkward at first. I have timed some of these initial meetings where a group of 20 operators took a grand total of one minute and forty seconds to cover all the areas of operations! Yet within short order, with the patient guidance of their supervisor, those meetings grew into very detailed, 30-minute sessions where everyone left everyone informed and ready to perform.
As this sharing of information begins to take shape, the second and equally important piece is the development of an opportunities list. Your group or team will start to share information, and often as one expresses frustration over one area, another will have experience and knowledge to share concerning possible solutions. I call it tribal knowledge - that collective wisdom that is dormant in the group and generally untapped.
The "Gold" Of Opportunity Lists
A lot of this sharing of ideas will be informal, but you will find as the group matures that more solutions will be generated for improving processes or performance. Those need to go onto an opportunities list. This list will become a metric in its own right as you and your team move through addressing and exploring these ideas for improvement.
This list, and what you do with it, is the "gold" that you have been carefully cultivating on your team. It is the heart of continuous improvement, and each and every idea regardless of how small it may seem has an actual dollar value attached to it. This can be done in small groups, or it can be done across entire companies. There is no limit to what can be achieved, as long as you and your leaders remember to provide coherence, a safe climate, and a challenge to overcome. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
I know of nothing that will solidify a leader's standing with their team than for the team to see and know that she or he is actively advocating on their behalf. Advocacy is a term we don't hear much about anymore. I suspect that there is going to be a resurgence of interest in it as leaders seek to develop an understanding of just what being an advocate is.
I want to share two leadership stories. Both deal with advocacy. Both are different from each other. Yet both had the same powerful and lasting effect on the relationship between the leader and their team.
The crew and the leadership team were tense and anxious as they prepared for the upcoming shift. This was a high performing oil and gas completions team. Their reward was the chance to pioneer an entirely new and risky approach to completions. Everyone knew their role; everyone knew how important this was. The first day was a dud. Formation challenges notwithstanding, one particular operator on the crew seemed to be missing the mark early and often. When the client called a stop so that they could reassess what the issues were, the team leader brought that operator into the van and informed him he was being taken off that piece of equipment and being sent back to the shop for the day. The disappointment was evident and sent a pretty strong message to the rest of the crew.
In a spare moment alone, I asked the leader about this decision, and the response was actually quite surprising. He shared that it was clear to him that this person was not having a good day, and to leave him in place might lead to further issues that would be catastrophic for him. He took him off the crew that day, not because he was mad at him but because he did not want him getting into any further hot water.
The rest of the day, the crew sorted out the issues with the client, and they agreed upon a fresh start the next day. The following morning, to everyone's surprise, that crew member was back. It was noted by the client, and now the leader of that crew stepped up and assured the client that this was an excellent operator and yesterday was an anomaly, that today would be better. He shared that he had spoken with that individual, and he was confident things were back on track.
It must have worked because the day went flawlessly, and they performed a completion that they had never done before. Needless to say, the client was ecstatic, and so was the crew. They were clearly pleased with their success, but even more so (and this came out in their post-shift de-brief) they knew that their leader had "gone to bat" for one of them and had put his own reputation on the line as a result. They respected that he had held the operator accountable but were really pleased that he had also advocated for this person and the crew.
Sometimes the most powerful form of advocacy is to be a buffer for your team from the issues happening further up the line. This may seem at odds with maintaining open lines of communication and expectations, but sometimes the best way to advocate for your team is to protect them from unwarranted negativity.
In one instance, an area manager came onto a lease on a "surprise visit." This happened after almost two weeks of perfect daily completions. As such, the leaders for this crew assumed it was to congratulate them for the outstanding work. It should have been, but it wasn't. Instead of focusing on the success of the crew, the area manager spent time with the leaders' nitpicking over small and trivial issues. The leaders of those crews had a choice; to walk out and shovel the same manure or to bring a different report and shield them from undue negativity. They chose to advocate for their teams and simply exclude the negative aspects of the conversation with the area manager and only report those things that they felt were relevant to improving performance.
Did their teams know that there had been more to this discussion than what they were being told? Absolutely! Did they appreciate that their leaders had chosen not to "let the s**t continue to flow downhill" to them? You bet! Did these crews ramp up their performance for their leaders who had done this for them? Well - you know the answer to that.
These are only two instances of how a good leader is an advocate for their team. There are many others, including things like making sure they are providing for people's career aspirations or giving them opportunities to do special projects in areas of interest and strength. A staff confident that their leaders are advocating for them are 4x more likely to be engaged in their work. Are you practicing advocacy for your team? Hu Centered Leadership - Think About It!
As a leader, you have established coherence and are doing well in interpreting the company to your staff. You have created a climate that is safe and incubates innovation and growth. You have allowed staff to set challenges to meet team and company goals. At this point, your team truly has been transformed. They are clear about what is expected of them, they are collaborating and looking for new ways to improve performance, and people are really pumped about the work. So what is left?
Acknowledge and Celebrate!
The last step to creating permanence for your Hu centered culture is to create an expectation that this work is going to be acknowledged and that each victory is an opportunity for celebration. Sounds easy enough, but the majority of change initiatives that fail will often fail around this principle. How many times have you seen processes or methods implemented only to note months later that things have gone back to the way they were before?
Like breathing, a celebration should be organic and not contrived. I suspect that this is where most of us tend to overthink things, and in making celebration too onerous, we eventually fall out of the practice of it.
Look for the Daily Wins
In applying this approach, you will have created an environment that is rich with things to celebrate. Every team member is tracking metrics, and you have a clear idea of the behaviors you want to see happening on the team. Make it a daily practice to look for those things and celebrate them with your people.
This does not have to be complicated. In one company, I worked with a supervisor to create a schedule to review the team metrics being posted. He would walk out to the metrics board once a day and read the results and just leave his initials on the sheet. No big deal, right? One day after I saw him do this, I did an informal check with the team and asked them if they knew whether he had seen their results? To a person, they said he had. I know each of them had not gone up to the board to check, but it was so crucial to the team that when one person saw it, they would tell the rest! It may not seem like folks are noticing, but they are, and for them, that kind of acknowledgment is a celebration!
Spend Time with Your Team
If that seemed simple, let's take it a step further. When you get out from behind your desk and take the time to simply go and see what your team is doing, it's a celebration. This truth has been borne out by countless observations, and if you have risen through the ranks, you know this to be true - every person on a team can tell you which leaders spend time with the team and which don't. Sadly too often, the perception is that the higher you go, the less time you need to invest in the people who report to you.
Aim for the 90 percent - it's a bigger target!
The goal with this process is to reverse for leadership what I call the 90/10 principle. Most leaders will tell you that they spend 90% of their time dealing with 10% of their staff who are underperforming. There are lots of reasons for that, but most of them fall under the false belief that we must be doing something right if we are spending time working to fix these things. But stop and think about that for a moment. What is happening with the other 90% who are doing their job? Typically nothing. Hu centered leadership shifts your focus as a leader from diving into the weeds with the 10% group to celebrating and driving performance with the 90% group. Where do you think you will see the most improvement?
The Human Element (Hu) science behind this is interesting. We get hits of dopamine when we succeed. From checking something off of our to-do list to finishing that project, all of these types of activities give us a dopamine hit. Here is what is really interesting; it doesn't just happen when we do it. When we see others succeed or when we see others do a good job, we get a hit of that dopamine as well. But here is the neat thing, we also get a dose of oxytocin. This is a bonding hormone. When someone on our team achieves something, and we celebrate, the whole team gets closer. You have heard that everyone wants to be on a winning team, well this is the physiological reason for that!
Most importantly, a celebration is crucial to sustaining your team's performance because nothing kills performance quicker than lack of recognition. We think that because someone is doing a good job, we can let that slide, but nothing could be further from the truth. Don't wait to make the celebration something big and cumbersome. Doing something as simple as a pat on the back, a word of thanks, or even just asking how someone is doing, can be a celebration. Don't wait, celebrate! Hu Centered Leadership - Think About It!