Aligning Your Stars
It’s easy in an organization to spot the bright stars, the individuals who seem to be in the center of all the creativity and positive change. But in fact our organizations have many, many stars – multiple galaxies full of them ranging from barely twinkling to awesomely bright.
When I wrote Business at the Speed of Now I wasn’t focused on all the bright stars because they thrive in the sky of work. I was focused on all the less bright stars that no one currently notices.
Our organizations are filled with people with unseen talent. We get to see them sparkle on rare occasions. But if you could peek into their personal lives you would see people with gifts and talents far beyond what we see at work.
I just wanted to draw attention to the person you regularly see at work who is a fully capable human being – yet is a person who works the way they have been trained to work. Head down. Mouth shut.
There is much discussed about employee engagement that views this body of work as being about employee satisfaction. It’s not. Employee engagement is about tapping into all those stars so they can constantly help your organization grow, create amazing customer experiences, and reduce your costs.
We have so many stars to work with… but we have to get them aligned to where we want them to go. Then we need to give them the tools, information, development opportunities, and coaching they need to become bright stars – or at least brighter stars. That’s how you drive up employee engagement.
Engaging your employees is not about creating a satisfying environment because that does not assume creativity or going the extra mile. Instead, employee engagement is about creating specific expectations and the tools needed to excel. It’s about running your business in a way that expects accountability and also enables it.
If every one of your employees really understood where you are trying to take the organization, if they really understood their part, and if they had everything they needed to be a bright star, don’t you think you could better achieve your vision?
Of course you could.
When things go wrong
Any leader worth their salt understands that when things go wrong you have to take responsibility. How you take responsibility reveals a lot about your character as a leader.
This week I received an email from a CEO whose company had violated some LinkedIn policies by doing outbound marketing to individuals utilizing several group lists.
With “great regret” the CEO sent an email titled “Public Apology.” In it he took personal responsibility for the misstep and ardently apologized for the break of social media protocol.
That was all good and, even though I was not affected, I thought the gentleman was doing what he should be doing.
But then, I kept reading.
He said that he told his entire internal marketing team “not to come in on Monday.” Then, he announced after some thought he was firing the entire marketing team, as well as the research team. He claimed that all of this was necessary to develop a different culture in his company.
I about fell out of my chair. The CEO created the culture. The violation of protocol resulted from the very aggressive culture he had created – and he had failed to put appropriate boundaries around his team.
They didn’t screw up, he did. His team shouldn’t be punished. If anyone should be it is the CEO.
While initially the apology email caught my interest because it seemed like such a bold and appropriate action, in the end my opinion of the CEO and his organization tanked seriously because of how he handled the situation.
If he felt someone needed to be punished he should have done something like donate a month of his pay to a charity or something that impacted him, not his employees.
We all want our employees to engage. But it can’t and shouldn’t be a free-for-all. As leaders we set the context for that engagement. When a whole department or team gets off track, the failure is ours as leaders, not our people.
The Monster Under the Bed
“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt. The quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill — and rightfully so because his bold leadership — triggers an instant insight into one of life’s most paralyzing dangers.
Churchill knew that the worse thing England could do in response to the German threat was be paralyzed with fear. On September 1, 1939, the day Poland was invaded by Germany, the British began the largest single organized movement of people in world history. The country evacuated some 3.5 million children out of London before the inevitable bombing began. It is hard to imagine the mothers watching as their children marched off to train stations to be transported to some unknown place for an unknown period of time.
The courage to do what was needed to eventually win the war was demonstrated before the war even reached England’s skies. Because of the decisiveness of its leaders to face reality and do the right thing, even if it was incredibly hard, the Allies prevailed.
When change is inevitable, being paralyzed by fear only moves control of the change out of your hands and into the hands of others.
As leaders when we make decisions that set transformative change in motion, everyone involved will experience some degree of fear. Even when organizations make a commitment to dramatically increase employee engagement — something you would think employees would embrace — the fear of change can haunt people like a monster under their bed.
Equally paralyzing in the midst of inevitable change is blame. When change is coming, fear can cause us to blame people who are driving the change and make them the enemy. The enemy is not those who are leading the change — the enemy is the problem that requires change.
The only viable response when changes is inevitable is to head into the it with eyes wide open and a commitment to do something to help it be successful.
Yes, the monster under the bed is dangerous indeed, but only as long as we refuse to look it square in the face – only to discover the monster was our fear.
Who let the dogs out?
Transforming an organization into a culture of high employee engagement is challenging enough, but leaders have to face the reality that certain entrenched naysayers may have to leave in order for the effort to be successful.
In my first major management job I learned an important lesson about change. That lesson was that some people have no interest in change, and will do everything in their power to stop it. I learned that deeply entrenched naysayers need to either genuinely get on board or leave the organization in order to make way for positive changes.
One guy who worked for me, I’ll call him Jack, was a real downer on ideas his teammates had for making things better. He had a tremendously negative impact on his team because every time someone put out an idea he would immediately shoot it down. For some reason Jack set the tone for the team and it was not a pleasant tone. He happened to be physically bigger than the others, more experienced, and more educated.
As leaders we all run across naysayers – people who pretty much have a negative response to everything. But over the years I have learned to sort “challengers” into two categories: Barkers and Biters.
Barkers are people who care about good work and want to make a real contribution to the success of the organization, however they are frustrated when the organization resists making common sense changes. Barkers are some of your best people who, when they see change that makes sense, often quickly embrace it. They are the people that when you persuade them to join a team to fix a problem make huge contributions and do what it takes to make sure the problem is really fixed – and fixed right.
In the end, barkers are huge supporters of effective employee engagement efforts. They know that employees will become more engaged when common sense changes are implemented. So their barking has always been about the absence of common sense. Once their frustration is removed they put their energy into fixing the very problems that have long driven them (and others) crazy.
On the other hand, biters are a different lot. They are like the unsociable dog who is just itching for a fight. Their anger is barely below the surface, however it is anger not frustration. They are mad at the world and it has nothing to do with work. It has everything to do with their ”stuff.” They have an ax to grind and it is an ax that never seems to get sharpened enough to stop the biting.
I remember coaching my employee, Jack — before I finally faced the reality that he was a biter, not a barker — saying to him, “You are a tidal wave of cold water on good ideas.” When I said that, I was nearing my conclusion that the change we were trying to make couldn’t happen with Jack on the team. Jack needed to go and it was my job to make that so. And I did.
When people resist change, it’s critical we differentiate the barkers from the biters. Barkers become your best change agents, but biters need to be let out.
What are you doing about your biters?
Employee Engagement: The Soviet Lesson
People are messy. They have feelings, opinions, moods and likes and dislikes. But in all this human messiness is human brilliance.
One of the very first major articles I had published over 20 years ago was titled, “Thanks Boris and Mikhail, The Soviet Lesson for American Business.” I wrote it shortly after Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev had been instrumental in the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.
The message was clear: if you try to control people and try to centrally plan everything, you are destined to failure. And, I argued, the vast majority of businesses apply principles more aligned with the Soviet Union than with those of a genuine free market system.
At the human level setting up a management system designed to control people, whether be it for a profit-making venture or for a government entity, removes the natural human drivers and motivators.We as humans, each of us, come equipped with gifts. Human gifts, aligned to a meaningful vision, are what enable a vision to be fulfilled. The more we are able to tap into and align those gifts to our purpose the more readily any vision will be achieved.
That’s what management is. That’s what real employee engagement is.
We face a crisis in this nation. After all these years we still run our organizations more like the Soviet Union was run — than on the ideals that our nation was founded upon. Our systems of management are old, faded and tired at every level of endeavor.
It’s time we learn the lesson.
Being a NOW Leader
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It demands that we part from the pack in order to define a new future by redefining the present.
We are in the midst of the most fundamental economic shift in a century. For 100 years our economy was driven by the realities of Mass Production. The Mass Production way of thinking created more wealth for more people than any system in the history of man. And it permeated EVERY part of our society from the office to the factory to the classroom.
We have certainly been blessed, however our challenges are far greater now and as leaders we face new macro trends.
Just as the Agricultural Age ended around the turn of the previous century and was replaced by Mass Production, we now see that Mass Customization drives our economy enabled by instant access to everything courtesy of the Internet.
Mass Production was THEN; Mass Customization is NOW.
THEN leaders are those who live in the past believing that hierarchy, command and control, functionalization and centralized decision making are still relevant concepts and viable models. NOW leaders understand that the economic shift is so huge that is has flipped pretty much every traditional rule of good management.
Today decisions are made and customer problems can be solved at the speed of light. Leaders that understand this see that their role has shifted from making decisions and solving problems, to enabling others to do this work. They also understand that for their people to make decisions in real-time that are aligned with business goals, employees have to truly understand where the business is going and what part they play in its success.
NOW leaders are a new breed of cat – or perhaps it is better if I say they are the best of the old breed. This is because they are leaders who are smart enough to see and embrace the shift from THEN to NOW, and recognize that the shift redefines the very role they must play.
In our Mass Customization world engaging employees is not merely a good idea, it is a survival requirement. Research shows that high-engagement companies enjoy a 19% increase in operating income, a 13% increase in net income, and 27% increase in earnings per share versus low-engagement companies (Peter Crush, “Employee Engagement ROI: Rules of Engagement”).
As a nation our futile attempt to engage employees, the people who determine our success in a NOW economy, is nothing short of sad. The Gallup Organization shows a slow but steady decline in employee engagement over the past 30 years. In the typical organization, leaders have managed to engage only 25% of employees.
Last year at this time I was finishing up Business at the Speed of Now (which was published in December). I believed The Great Recession was not going to go away easily because it is not what it appears to be. It is not about bad loan practices, it is about a global economic shift of seismic proportions driven by customer’s desire for Mass Customization. And my hope remains that my book will help leaders find the courage to part from the Mass Production pack and cross the chasm into the new world of Mass Customization.
On one hand I see THEN leaders spinning trying to find a way out of their own private recession; we still see business failures and layoffs in the headlines every day. On the other hand, I work with NOW leaders who see their organizations prosper even in this rugged economy. This prosperity is in no small part because they see the shift and have embraced it as opportunity.
Are you a THEN leader or a NOW leader?
Why So Many Employee Ideas Don’t Make Sense
One of the great beliefs we have as managers is that our job is to listen to our employees’ ideas and then go implement those that we find valuable. Sounds like a great idea. But as managers we know the reality is that a good many employee ideas just don’t make business sense.
My last week’s post was titled Engaging Employees: The Economics of Micro Ingenuity. In that post, I referred to research that shows for every employee that crosses over from being disengaged (meaning they do only what they are told to do) to engaged (meaning they make decisions and implement improvements without being asked), you can expect to add an incremental $13,000 to the bottom line each and every year. That’s $13,000 per year per employee. Just do the math.
So if employee ideas often don’t make business sense, how is it possible that when employees implement their own ideas they somehow magically bring great results?
In traditional low-engagement organizations there are five reasons employee ideas are only half-baked if they were baked at all:
- The idea solves a problem that is not really a problem
- The idea addresses a problem in some other department, addressing work they do not understand
- The solution has negative impacts the employee has not considered or intended
- The cost of the solution exceeds its benefits
- The solution addresses a problem’s symptom not its root cause
In organizations where employee engagement is high, as I explain in Business at the Speed of Now, it is high because management has worked hard to ensure employees know where the organization is going, they understand their specific accountabilities, and they know how to effectively use facts to solve problems.
Then, when employees know they are expected to implement their own ideas they actually come up with ideas that focus on the things they can control. They also focus on improvements in the areas where they have a lot of knowledge, experience and insight.
As a manager if you routinely experience employees coming to you with half-baked ideas, you might want to look in the mirror and ask yourself why the ideas are not focused on the work the employee controls.
When employee ideas focus on the routine work they do and know well, and they have data-driven problem solving skills, the ideas almost always make good sense.
What’s been the most half-baked suggestion an employee has ever made to you?
Engaging Employees: The Economics of Micro Ingenuity
BY JOHN M. BERNARD
Wouldn’t it be a dream if every employee could add $13,000 to the bottom line of your business each and every year? No need to dream because research shows that’s exactly what happens when an employee shifts from being disengaged to engaged.
Every employee has ideas for taking waste out of their routine work. Some frontline workers see simple things that can be done to improve the customer experience and others have easy-to-implement ideas that can grow revenue.
In Business at the Speed of Now I demonstrate the economics of small ideas. A simple example is that if an employee has an idea, and that idea removes a small amount of waste from a repetitive process, it doesn’t take much of an idea to save $1,000 annually. So, using simple math, if you have 100 employees and each saves $1,000 by implementing one equivalent improvement idea each, your business adds $100,000 to its bottom line.
Now, keeping the same math in mind, if each of your 100 employees implements 10 ideas annually and each saves $1,000 then your business will enjoy $1 million more on the bottom line every year. This is how the economics of micro ingenuity pays off.
This may seem like a wild dream, but not when you realize that Toyota’s employees on average have been implementing 70 ideas annually for more than 30 years, according to Toyota expert and author Norm Bodek. At the same time General Motors implemented one idea per employee every seven years. Yes, you read that right. And this fact reveals why Toyota has grown at a much faster rate than GM, which was once the most powerful company in the world.
Toyota is a NOW company, General Motors lives in the THEN world.
Micro ingenuity is a powerful reality, and in my experience is the one true sustainable competitive advantage a company can build. But how does Toyota do it?
Next week I’ll share how Toyota focuses employee ideas on the practical reality of their daily work – the work employees can and should control.
The Idea Pit: 5 Stupid Reasons Smart Ideas Die
Enthusiastically Kathy takes her idea to improve customer response time to her boss, Gabriel. Gabe is a good guy and he’s so glad he found Kathy to fill a vital position in customer service. She’s doing exactly what he had hoped she would do–bring innovative ideas to him, which he hopes will get Gabe’s boss off his back about the poor customer service satisfaction scores of the past six months.
But there’s a problem with Kathy’s idea.
To implement the change Gabe needs the cooperation of production. That requires he take the idea to his boss, who then has to work with the vice president of production. But Gabe’s boss and the VP of production don’t get along.
Kathy’s idea is dead on arrival and is headed straight to the idea pit. Plus, Kathy’s level of engagement is going down due to the mixed messages she is getting about bringing innovative ideas to the department.
This situation illustrates one of the common reasons good ideas die young.
What causes great ideas to be tossed into the idea pit? The top five reasons are:
- Poor internal working relationships/organizational politics
- Differing or conflicting objectives
- Managers who are just too busy to take time
- Employees who don’t know how to develop and sell an idea
- The absence of data to validate the idea or the problem it solves
A fraction of employees ideas ever get implemented primarily because those ideas have to go up and down the chain of command and across the organization. And unless ideas are presented with data that validate they are big enough and how the economics justify management’s time, they get discarded because of the simple reality that there are bigger fish to fry. That’s why in a LinkedIn poll we conducted 80 percent of managers said that less than 10 percent of employees’ ideas ever get implemented. Sad.
I often ask managers this question: “Is the key thing a manager can do to engage employees is to listen to their ideas and increase the number that get implemented?”
The consensus of the room is always yes.
However, in reality I don’t believe this happens. Management is already the primary bottleneck to the implementation of ideas. There is no way they can find the time to process all of the ideas employees have.
To create a high engagement organization employees must be able to implement their ideas without the direct involvement of management. I know this is provocative, but it is possible. I’ve seen it happen and what a difference it makes!
For employees to be able to take action management has a lot of work to do to enable them. Employees need to understand where the business is going, what they are accountable for, and how they are expected to solve problems.
We’re wasting a lot of creativity and passion with our out-of-date THEN management thinking, as I describe in detail in Business at the Speed of Now. In the end analysis, it won’t take enthusiastic Kathy long to learn Gabe can’t help get her great ideas implemented.
After she sees a few ideas tossed in the idea pit, she’ll stop sharing her ideas. What a waste!
What do you think causes ideas to get tossed in the idea pit?
The 7 Deadly Sins of Management
In 1987 when Japan’s hot breath was being felt on the back of the neck of U.S. automakers, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Its intent was to inspire U.S. organizations to do what Japanese companies had been doing since the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers founded the Deming Prize in 1950. The Deming Prize had inspired Japanese companies to test themselves against a rigorous set of best-practice management standards.
I’ll skip the detailed history lesson and cut to the chase.
“We have a problem Houston!” The problem is that most U.S. organizations suffer from the 7 Deadly Sins of Management, which I elaborate on in detail in Business at the Speed of Now (pages 28-38). The 7 Deadly Sins of Management are:
- Lack of clear direction
- No line of sight
- Unclear accountability
- Inconsistent language
- Poor issue transparency
- Insufficient resources
- Inadequate tools/skills
Leadership is about vision, setting tone, inspiring people and working from a deeply held set of values. If you want to read the best blogger I know on leadership read Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak.
But the work of management is to prioritize and organize work, set up measures, connect people, eliminate fear, communicate progress, and make sure the right resources are in the right place at the right time. I am sorry to say the work of management is tedious and detailed work. And because of that a lot of us are guilty of not wanting to do that work. Heh, life is short and who wants to spend it working in the weeds.
However, by avoiding the detailed work of management, the 7 Deadly Sins of Management propagate in our organizations. But the 7 Deadly Sins of Management come at a heavy price because it causes our people to disengage.
There are several reasons our people can’t engage. They can’t engage because they don’t understand where the business is going. They can’t engage because they don’t see their part. They can’t engage because they don’t know what they are accountable for and they don’t understand the language of the business. To top it off our employees suffer from the fear of making problems visible, inadequate resources and tools, and weak training.
It’s a wonder our people even show up to work at all!
Of course I am being dramatic. But what I am saying here is more commonly true than not. Our people don’t engage and can’t engage because management is not doing its complete job.
Management’s job in this Mass Customization world is to enable people to act on every opportunity every time in order to meet customer needs. For that to be possible, we have to eliminate the sins that prevent our people from being engaged.
Let’s sin no more.