Friday, October 21, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Air

Aesop's Lions and Oxes

In a recent article from TheStreet, Brad Hall described the eight things Google's Project Oxygen discovered about truly effective management; He wrote:

"As a young PhD student, I read thousands of academic articles on leadership. But one day a friend asked me a simple question on how to coach a struggling manager. I was baffled. I could compare and contrast almost any prominent leadership theory, but I had no idea how to fix the simplest management problem. I realized that I was lost in a sea of knowledge. The more I learned, the less I knew."

Google's Project Oxygen was designed to identify what successful Google managers do. Too often, training departments try to help managers improve their "skills" or "traits." But changing traits is very difficult. Instead, Google chose to teach managers what to do - after doing a lot of very disciplined research.

"The team spent one year data-­mining performance appraisals, employee surveys, nominations for top manager awards and other sources. The result was more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviors. The research complemented the quantitative data with qualitative information from interviews. The interviews produced more than 400 pages of notes, which were coded using standard behavioral science methodologies."

The final result was eight behaviors great managers do that make them great. (I broke one of them apart into two, so now there are nine. -df)

They are, in order of importance:
  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower (don't micromanage)
  3. Be interested in direct reports, personal and work success and wellbeing
  4. Be productive and results ­oriented
  5. Listen to your team
  6. Be a good communicator
  7. Help your employees with career development
  8. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  9. Have key technical skills, so you can advise the team. 

Interestingly enough, these correlate with another list, complied by Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer in his 1998 book The Human Equation - Building Profits by Putting People First, which he called Seven Practices of Successful Organizations. These are not in any order of priority. Pfeiffer is known for his steadfast commitment to data backed recommendations, not fluffy leadership advice backed by guesses.

  • Extensive training
  • Employment Security
  • Selective hiring of new personnel
  • Reduced status distinctions and barriers across levels
  • Self managed Teams and decentralized decision making
  • Extensive sharing of financial and performance information
  • High performance driven compensation compared to your competition

Sheryl McMillan took it one step further in her July 8, 2016 posting, which began with a re-telling of Aesop's tale of the Lion and the Oxen;

"A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four."

United we stand, divided we fall."

Cheryl wrote of how she was once part of a leadership group formed from two merged organizations. Headcount reductions ("right sizing") followed, and all leadership jobs, including her new boss’s, were under scrutiny. The new boss only liked ideas that supported his position. many felt that he didn’t care about others' opinions. As a result, instead of being encouraged to work together for the good of the organization, everyone felt pitted against one another and found themselves protecting their own “corners of the pasture”.

Cheryl observed that in every interaction with your employees, you are either creating a psychologically safe or unsafe environment and gave three concrete suggestions to help build what Simon Sinek calls a "Circle of Safety:"

Actively Seek and Take Feedback

Understand that as the leader, you hold position power and can directly impact the livelihood of your employees. You must make it safe for your employees to challenge you and to give you candid feedback. Share some examples of your own past bad ideas and decisions, and explain the dangers of future one’s going unchallenged. Frequently request feedback and grateful to receive it. Never rebuke what is offered. Instead, restate what you heard and thank the giver for the feedback.

Learn to Listen with Empathy

Learn how to really listen so that your employees feel your empathy. Restrain yourself from reacting and responding before the other person acknowledges that you understand their position. Be curious about their perspective and ask open questions when you need clarification. Having empathy means you understand and respect the other person's point of view even if you end up not initially agreeing with it.

Work is About Relationships

As social beings, we are wired with a strong need to connect and belong. Only when employees feel safe will they pull together as a unified team.

According to a research study published in Harvard Business Review about key leadership competencies, “Making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.”

Note that none of these points say anything about using your position or authority to direct or order the other person to do anything. Quite the opposite; Your role as a leader is to figure out how to bring the best out in your employees and make a safe space for them to discover and do what needs to be done. (Even the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers.)

Now, go out and ask your people some open ended questions. Listen. Take notes. Thank them for sharing and encourage them to tackle the problem as a team.

You'll be amazed at the results.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Contingent Workforce Contradiction

Why are these Contingent Workers smiling?

In a recent article entitled "No Longer Just A ‘Temp’: The Rise Of The Contingent Worker,: Maria Wood quotes some interesting statistics about the "Contingent labor" workforce.

"In 2014, the average share of contingent labor was 18 percent, up from 12 percent in 2009."

"Elance-oDesk and the Freelancer Union report that 53 million people — or 34 percent of the workforce — did freelance work in 2014."

"By 2017, contingent workers, including independent contractors, statement-of-work-based labor and freelancers, will account for nearly 45 percent of the world’s total workforce."

"MBO Partners’ most recent “State of Independence in America” workforce report revealed 30 million classify themselves as independent workers, either as “solopreneurs” who work independently as their only source of earnings, or “side-giggers” — those picking up outside assignments for extra income. That number is projected to grow to nearly 40 million by 2019."

"Ardent’s found that 92 percent of enterprises indicated non-traditional staffing was a vital to moderate facet of their overall corporate strategy."

At the same time one of the most popular speakers on TED is Simon Sinek. His message is almost the polar opposite;

"The best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build a Circle of Safety. 
This safe culture leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong."

If a contingent workforce is "a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants." there is something seriously wrong.

Do you see the conflict?

For some insight into this, take a look at Benno Bos' EDSO in Action.

Please note, this isn't touchy-feely, guru-speak, munmo-jumbo. We're talking neuro-biology. The type of human neuro-biology at the heart of all the web chatter about Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, and Design Thinking. The neuro-biology that your most basic actions and thoughts are built on.

Quoting from EDSO in action;

"When we are in an environment where we feel safe, with the people around us, we naturally protect them and look out for their interests. Our leaders protect us and we protect our leaders. We hope to make our leaders proud, showing them that their sacrifice to protect us and help us grow has been worth it. We are more capable of overcoming the constant dangers from the outside and creating a Circle of Safety on the inside."

When Simon Sinek asks what it would be like to have a job where you are in a Circle of Safety does working for an organization on a "non-permanent basis" immediately spring to mind? How about being in a family on a "non-permanent basis"?

This isn't about that availability of insurance benefits, or equal pay for equal work, or protection from discrimination of any flavor. It's about belonging to a group with common goals and beliefs.

To get a feel for what Americans are worried about Chapman College publishes an annual survey called America's Top Fears. The group area with running out of money and unemployment ranked #5 in 2015, just behind Man-made disasters, Technology, Government and the Environment.

Its part of the reason 70% of workers report they are disengaged in the workplace and a thinly veiled disguise for lack of commitment, even infidelity in the workplace. Staffing agencies love it. Selfish management loves it. Stopping it should be in the platform of any viable political candidate or party.

Its time to call foul on the Contingent Workforce Revolution for the baldfaced lie it really is.

(End of political rant. We now return you to our regular programming. -df)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

This Truly Changes Everything

An article by Bryan Kolb, Robbin Gibb and Terry E. Robinson of the Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge could literally change your-self perception, enough that you might change your world.

 Yes, you read that right. I said the information in the article could change your world.

The abstract states;

"Although the brain was once seen as a rather static organ, it is now clear that the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience. These changes are associated with functional changes which include memory, addiction and recovery of function. Behavior can be influenced by a myriad of factors including both pre and post natal experience, drugs, hormones, maturation, aging, diet, disease, and stress. 

Understanding how these factors influence brain organization and function is important not only for understanding both normal and abnormal behavior, but also for designing treatments for behavioral and psychological disorders ranging from addiction to stroke."

The popular term for this phenomenon is brain plasticity and the implications are huge.

Generations were taught that the brain grew until we reached adulthood, stopped growing, and that was that. By the time you reached your mid-twenties, the die was cast, the organic computer between your ears was built and the rest was just about applying the information that was stuffed into it at school. That idea was a pillar of education and the law, what we taught and how we taught it, our ideas and definition of crime and punishment, treatment of disease and who you could become in your career and family.

There have been a few who thought about this differently - Carol Dweck and Albert Bandura, for example - scientists and sociologists who dared to suggest that what we teach our children can have a dramatic effect on their success and that even the most primal fears can be overcome. But this confirmation that our brains and behaviors are plastic from cradle to grave, even to the point of recovery from massive loss of function, is more than ground breaking - its game changing.

And it couldn't have come at a better time. The challenges we face in our families and at work are literally tearing the fabric of our society apart. As long as we believed that there was some immutable, organic reason why we couldn't change there was an excuse not to change.

That excuse has been blown away and what is left opens a range of possibilities which could literally change the world.

Don't take my word for it. Read the article

Think about it. Do something about it.

Stop making excuses.

Be the change.

Design it.

Do it.