THE POWER OF APPRECIATION: A 3-part Blog Series – Part Two: More than the air we breathe


Part 2 – More than the air we breathe

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”  —Warren Buffett

kayakWhen I first moved to Colorado I was enamored with all the outdoor activities that were possible and I promised myself I would try them all. A number of years ago, I decided that summer would be about learning to whitewater kayak. I had a friend who was a professional kayaker and he offered to take me and a friend out at a nearby creek that was mellow enough we could practice.

A few things to know about whitewater kayaking: Kayaks are small, very small – getting in is difficult and getting out seems nearly impossible. The water in Colorado is cold, like ice-cold – consider it was snow only a few hours ago and this makes sense. And whitewater kayaks tip over easily, very easily. After maybe 15 minutes of paddling, the bow of my kayak caught a little ripple and I learned how all three of those factors can induce immediate panic when you are upside down, underwater, half-way jammed into a plastic coffin. It probably only took a few seconds for me to extricate myself from the boat and resurface but it felt like minutes. And it made me realize how much I appreciated breathing.

All due respect to Mr. Buffet but I think it is more than just noticing the air – I mean I appreciated it. And it’s not just that way with trust or air, it seems to be a theme in most people’s lives. We only seem to appreciate the sun when it’s raining, we only appreciate the rain when everything starts to turn brown, we only appreciate programs and perks when they go away, and a saddening majority of the time we only truly appreciate great people after they have left.

IMPACTS BEYOND RETENTION, ENGAGEMENT, AND PERFORMANCE

Interestingly, the benefits of employees feeling valued and cared for extend far beyond getting good people to stay and perform well. People who feel valued at work report less stress (25% vs 56% of those who do not feel valued) and better overall psychological health (89% vs. 69%). Even more interesting in how feeling valued correlates to employees’ perception of their company and work culture:

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
Overall, I am satisfied with the growth and development opportunities offered by my employer 75% 10% -65%
I receive adequate monetary compensation for achievements and contributions at work 70% 17% -53%
Overall, I am satisfied with the recognition practices of my employer 75% 7% -68%
My employer regularly makes changes in response to employee feedback 56% 5% -51%

It’s not just about keeping good people; it’s about making good people better; it’s about improving how we feel about coming to work in the morning, and it’s about gaining a stronger sense of self and self-worth. If you want your company to be awesome, you need to start by being awesome. Want to feel more appreciated? Appreciate people more. Want something to change? Then you need to change what you do. Breathe deeply, appreciate it and use that breath to tell someone how much you value them.

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Leadership Feedback – Are you asking the wrong people?


product-reviewsWho is the best judge of quality when it comes to a service or product provider, the company selling or the customer? When you look for a product do you just look at the marketing information or do you look at consumer reviews? Do you look at 3rd party expert data? Smart consumers always look at all of it. But when it comes to evaluating talent (especially leadership ability), the typical approach is from the top down, which ignores all the consumer data.

I’ve facilitated a countless number of what most people would call “soft-skills” classes; you know, the people stuff (those soft, squishy, emotional people.) From topics like listening, communicating expectations, providing feedback, coaching, mentoring, conflict resolution, supervisory skills, etc. And more than once, I have had someone say in class that they are “a great [insert skill I am teaching here].” This especially bristles me when it comes to these interpersonal skills because ultimately, it’s not in your authority to judge how good you are – it is up to the other person. The only person who gets to evaluate me as a good listener is the person I am listening to. So why then is “leadership ability” evaluated by the people above them? Shouldn’t the people being led be the authorities on that? After all, if no one is willing to follow you, how can you (or your boss) call you a good leader. You may be a good employee, sure, but being a good leader is only substantiated by those who choose to follow.

Process Triangle

Now, I am not advocating for a complete 180 and have your employees dow you performance reviews entirely and if you want to get a more complete view of someone’s leadership, doesn’t it make sense to get data that speaks to that? This is the whole purpose behind a 360-style review process. If you want know how you are doing influencing and interacting with you senior leaders in the company, ask them. If you want to know how you are as a teammate and collaborative colleague, ask your peers. If you want to know how you are doing as a leader, ask the people you are charged to lead. In fact, when trying to determine your location on a map, the process of using three reference points is called triangulation.

And what if (here is something to think about) what if, your team got to choose their leader? Sure, the execs and bosses get a say in the final candidates but how powerful of a shift would it be to know that you are not only accountable to your boss in your effectiveness as a leader, but also the people you would be leading. How powerful would it be to know that your team voted you as their leader? We do it for public representation, why not for corporate representation as well? If you are constantly seeking feedback from your team then you probably know whether they would pick you or not…and if you are not getting feedback from your team, well, you probably know too.

159701686_winston-churchill-quote-9b-postcardsIt may not be perfect, but as Winston Churchill pointed out, “democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Help me understand how the modern corporate structure is unlike a political system? The purposes may seem different but in the end are we not servants to our customers? If you are a trying to be a leader, just who do you think your customers are? Doesn’t their voice matter?

 

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Dave Needham is a leadership coach, speaker, and President of PeakAlignment, Inc. He thrives on building awesome workplace cultures and leaders. Contact Dave Needham if you think your workplace could use more “awesome”.

 

Superman needs Kryptonite


If kryptonite didn’t exist, would you cheer for Superman? If action heros never get scratched, would you root for them? If leaders never admit mistakes, would you follow them?

We all know that perfection is an asymptote – something we approach but never reach. Why then, is perfection or being infallible so revered by people in power? If you interviewed me and asked what I feel my greatest weakness was and I said “nothing”, you’d call “bullshit” and move to the next candidate. And rightfully so. To avoid claiming your errors or pointing fingers to make sure the blame does not land on you is a sign of fear, not perfection. It’s also a sign of low self-awareness and accountability.

People are inspired by Superman BECAUSE he has a weakness. There would be no point in cheering for a foregone conclusion. People do not follow perfect leaders, they are not inspired by people who hide their mistakes. People are inspired by those who dare great things, fall, and get back up. We are inspired by resilience, grit, perseverance, and those who chose to get up one more time and push on. We cheer for the boxer who gets knocked down and gets back up at the count of 8, we cheer for the little guy who was beaten 9 times but comes back to win the 10th, we cheer for “Rudy“, the “Gipper”, and we follow those who show us that life is hard, you do not have to be perfect to be great, you just have to keep getting up more often than everyone else.

The world is changed by the people who keep getting up. Sure, you need to be good at what you do, but before you try to be perfect, be inspiring.

 

Why being a Leader OR a Manager is bad


I’ve met many people who consider themselves leaders OR managers in my career…and I’m still pretty young. What I have NOT met a lot of are people exemplify the full spectrum of competencies.

The focus on leadership lately is not bad per se, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. Managers have focused so much on being collaborative and consensus building that they have forgotten or are unwilling to make decisions, and yet they have not yet learned how to release decision making to their team members. So either decisions take far too long to make or they never get made at all. And in the world of accelerated change this can be a major hindrance.

I see the challenge coming from the contrast of knowledge and wisdom. As I interpret those two terms, knowledge is about information and learning of a topic or principle; wisdom is about balancing when to apply that knowledge and when not to. So simply knowing how to collaborate or achieve consensus is not enough if you think it is always appropriate. (See Over-collaboration) Even more dangerous is when collaboration and consensus are confused.

Managers need to be able to make decisions, regardless of their level. And they need to know when their team needs to make decisions. Developing leadership and management skills together and knowing which tool to use is what makes you effective. If you are not good at one, your efforts at the other will probably suffer. As an example, if you struggle with delegating completely and giving ownership to your employees (management skill) then setting a vision for them to move towards (leadership skill) may leave them frustrated. It would be like setting the rabbit running but keeping the greyhounds on a leash.

It’s not about how leaders and managers are different, that just creates a false belief that people are (or should be) one or the other. Ultimately, it is a false differentiation and needless labeling. Regardless of what you call yourself, you need to be good with people if you work with others and you need to be effective with processes and things if you manage a function.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Command and Control” is not about being “Commanding” and “Controlling”


It’s a fairly common confusion; and like most confusions in the workplace, the confusion stems from our interpretations. The problem here lies not in the words themselves but how most people interpret them. It’s easy to do, they are both verbs, right? Nope, not in this case. “Command and Control” is a noun and the two are meant to be used together to name a leadership model, not to describe behavior. This is a huge confusion that most people make and it creates poor leadership. So what does it mean?

Like many leadership systems, “Command and Control”, originated in military study and practice. This association can further exacerbate the confusion for the general population. Most people who hear it or think of the military, think of boot camp or basic training,which has its own rules and is designed for a very specific purpose. Sadly, most people confuse the training model of “boot camp” as the leadership model “command and control.”

At this point is important for you to perhaps know my history. I’m not in the military, I’ve never been in the military. However, I am passionate about leadership, training, and development. And if anyone has the BEST designed training and the most EFFECTIVE leadership in the world…it is the US Military. Basic Training is by far one of the most intensive and effective models of training. It lasts a mere 2-3 months (9 weeks for Army, 12 for Marines) and equips people with a mental, physical, and emotional fortitude that no other training program in the world can match. Now, I say that with this caveat: The training is the best in the world for creating combat ready soldiers. That is, if you are looking at training from a pure perspective as an effective means to increase skills and competencies in a very specific direction, no one does it better.

The leadership model of “Command and Control” is the not a training model. Basic training uses adult learning principles, neuroscience of behavior change, and physiology to achieve its objective. Basic training develops an army of soldiers, not a cadre of strategic leaders…that is what leadership training is for. Leadership training is where “Command and Control” is taught – sometimes by name, sometimes by principle. But the meaning of “Command and Control” is as important as any when it comes to leadership, whether it be in the military or in the civilian world. Also worth noting is that within the US military, leadership development is not reserved just for officers; all levels are expected to understand and practice it. Yes, much of leadership training focuses on military strategy, but the principles of human leadership are ubiquitous (human psychology, sociology, group dynamics, communication, etc.)

So here is the punchline. The “command” in “Command and Control” is about decisiveness – make a decision and ensure its execution. “Control” is the process of collecting information to verify and correct activity such that the objective or goal of command is accomplished. The Marine Corps Doctrine Publication (MCDP) 6 (link to pdf) speaks very specifically of “Command and Control.” Intended as a compliment to the MCDP 1, Warfightingthe MCDP 6 “sees command as the exercise of authority and control as feedback about the effects of the action taken” (page 40) Within the US Army Regulation 600-100, “Army Leadership”, the purpose of developing leadership is to “enable [personnel] to learn and adapt in ambiguous situations in a constantly evolving environment” (1-4.c.) Learning does not happen without feedback…and adaptation in a constantly evolving environment is impossible without a clear exchange of information.

This is no different in the business world than it is in the military. The business environment is constantly evolving and adaptation and learning is a must for success. Leaders and managers need to be decisive when the time calls for it, and with that authority, take responsibility for ensuring its execution – which requires feedback. Too many managers and leaders make decisions from a removed position and rarely ask for feedback. And just as bad as not getting any feedback to inform decisions, is not making a decision at all. Over-collaboration can lead to decision paralysis. You need both. “Control” without “command” is impotent, and “command” without “control” is ignorant. Ignorant, not stupid,. But when it comes to leadership, one is just as bad as the other.

Leaders need both: the willingness and ability to make decisions or exercise “command” and the wisdom to seek constant feedback and information to “control” the effectiveness of those decisions. Understanding the true meaning of “Command and Control” is important, both in reference and in practice. Perpetuating the myth that they are verbs is causing you, your leaders, your employees, and your company a great deal of frustration and pain.

Why your leadership development efforts are not netting you more internal promotions…


Paradox Triangle

When perception creates a paradox

There are a number of paradoxes in the modern workplace but one that seems to plague a lot of organizations is leadership development and succession planning not leading to better internal talent or higher retention. And it befuddles HR professionals, senior executives, recruiters, and all employees.

A story (* = fictionalized…kinda)

Ryan* is a 28 yr old IT Jr. Project Specialist and has worked at Vector Resources* for 4 years. Starting as a departmental admin, Ryan proved her ability and moved into the coordinator role after 2 yrs. Since becoming a project coordinator, Ryan has received multiple recognitions from various stakeholders and completed a number of successful projects. She has also taken a few leadership courses and professional development courses as a part of her Individual Development Plan. Now Ryan is looking for her next career step which is to a Project Manager that would include up to two direct reports.  The regional office in New Mexico has an opening for exactly that position. Ryan has long-standing good relationships with the people she would be supervising and they are supportive of her promotion. Ryan’s direct manager feels Ryan would be great in her new role and has acted as an advocate for her promotion as well.

Sounds good, right? She’s got a great track record, recommendations from her boss, colleagues, and recognition from other stakeholders proving her ability to successfully lead projects. Additionally, she knows the company, already has established relationships, understands the strategic vision of Vector Resources, she’s willing to relocate at her own expense, and love’s the company. Seems like a no brainer.

But here is what happens. The position posts internally and Ryan goes through the process and everyone seems to like her…but rather than offer her the job, they decide to post it externally to get some comparisons. EVEN THOUGH SHE IS THE PERFECT CANDIDATE! And here is the kicker, the salary range they are targeting for an external is MORE than they would offer Ryan.

So here is where Ryan sits – capable, recommended, ready, internally knowledgable, and accepting of a lower than external market salary because she loves the company.  Yet, here is the message she is getting – external candidates are worth more AND might be more suitable for a role she is already doing. So regardless of the outcome, Ryan is starting to feel unappreciated leading to disengagement and cynicism towards a company she loved.  Not to mention, the time to fill this valuable position is just getting longer and longer with two direct reports having no manager.

Despite all the things going for her, Ryan is subject to two contributing factors that are roadblocks to internal promotions – her longevity in her position and a concept of internal equity.  Lets look at these individually because they are acting against internal promotions is different ways. One is leadership failure and the other is a cultural failure.

The Paradox of Longevity

Despite the high praise and desire for employee loyalty, it is harmful to your career progression. The culprit to this conundrum is a component of gestalt psychology known as “figure-ground.”  It is a concept of how we perceive things.

Faces or a vase?

Largely illustrated in visual form by optical illusions that show two or more objects depending on how you look at them, the concept of figure ground states that once something emerges from the background as a distinct image, it can no longer be unseen. So while you may see the vase first and then the profiles, you cannot “unsee” the vase.

Old woman or young woman?

How this works against an employee when it comes to longevity in a certain company, and more specifically in a certain position, is people sometimes have difficulty seeing someone as capable of doing something beyond their current position.

Take Ryan’s example, Ryan has been in a non-management role for an extended period of time and as such, the leaders around her (the hiring managers in particular), and unable to see her as a manager. In fact, she may even be told she is not qualified because she does not have management experience, which she will NEVER get in her current non-managerial role.

It is a Catch-22. You aren’t qualified to manage people until you manage people. And if she is not given the position for that reason, what leads her to believe she will ever attain her career goals at her current company. They are in fact sending a message that quitting is the only way for her to further her career.

Seemingly, some organizational leaders are more appreciative of the unknown potential with an external candidate, than with the known capabilities and internal knowledge of an internal candidate.  That is the leadership failure, failure to see your own employees’ potential.

The Cultural Issue

This one is more a fault of systems being designed independent of one another but it becomes a blind spot for many organizations. They pay internal candidates less than external hires. And while the basis of this might be rooted in good financial theory, the human message it sends is, internal experience is worth less than external experience.

The underlying principles at work on this one is from a financial standpoint this practice makes good fiscal sense. An internal will generally accept less for a promotion than an external might demand. But beyond the messages it sends to an internal here is something to consider. The reason an internal would take less is because there is less stress of learning a new organization. It is easier to stay with a company I know for less money, than have to re-establish myself and learn a new role at the same time. The inverse of that is where irony sits. For the external hire, they fully anticipate the stress of learning a new organization and establishing themselves. So in essence, you are paying MORE for someone to learn your organization before they can even bring benefit. You are paying MORE for an external hire’s learning curve before productivity kicks in.

There is also the concept of internal equity that many HR professionals cite saying they do not want to create an expectation of a high raise percentage for internals as they move up. But this tends to be a fallacious argument. It may make sense when it comes to performance or cost of living raises, but it should not apply when the nature of someone’s job changes in accordance to a promotion. The role is worth a certain range and adjusting it simply because someone is an internal candidate is creating a negative culture for internal promotions.

Ultimately, here is the message and culture this practice of basing salary on the internal status and current salary creates: quit and work somewhere else, then come back and we will not only be more eager to hire you, we will pay you more than if you had just been promoted. It encourages the exact thing you are working to prevent. And what is more, you have now taken a sincerely engaged employee and turned them into a cynical job-hopper.

Straighten Things Out

Much of what I encounter in organizational roadblocks to performance are a result of misalignment. Everyone to detours around the roadblock to continue moving forward. In this case, the roadblock is a misaligned compensation philosophy and leadership perception. The detour is exiting people out of your organization only to pay them more to come back.

A major argument I hear from many senior executives is “if we develop people into leaders, they just take that experience to another company.” To which I respond, if that happens more than 50% of the time then you are either not looking at your people with fresh eyes when it comes to potential promotions or your compensation philosophy tells them they would be worth more if they quit.

When leaders start bemoaning the talent shortage and worrying about leadership gaps (such as in this article from Inc.com) it is usually a good idea to start looking at your efforts. If you are not developing your talent, start. But make sure you look the environment you plan to grow them in. You might create great seedling leaders but if you don’t replant them when they need more room or water them as much they deserve…you could find your leadership crop dying off.

Training, Development, and Learning


In this time where talent is getting easier and harder to find (lots of people, hard to find the right ones – ie. the paradox of choice) the need for talent management continues to grow. However, something I see from many organizations and HR leaders is the confusion and the interchangeable use of the words “training”, “development”, and “learning”. One is an event, another is a strategic process, and the latter is an individual experience. Yet many senior level leaders continue to ask for training to answer their development problems…the fly by night training and instructional design contractors (and pretty much EVERY eLearning developer) is all to happy to provide training for a price. And after thousands and sometimes 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars of training design and expensive Learning Management Systems, organizational leaders are not seeing a direct return on their investment in terms of development. And it is killing the credibility of talent management professionals.

Training is like building a house – you start and you finish within a pretty narrow timeframe when you think about the larger span it takes to build a city.  Good training relies on a number of qualified people: contractors, architects, sub-contrators, etc. And if you do it right, it is a great addition to your company. But just as building a house does not create an entire community, training does not develop your pool of talent. It is a piece to the puzzle but it is not development. Development of talent is closer to the development of a community. It takes a greater vision to see how all the pieces fit together. You have the houses, sure, but you also want roads, common areas, sanitation, sales and marketing, regulatory affairs, and landscaping.

The “roads” of your organization is how people navigate. If your organization is clogged with politics (think narrow roads with too many cars), misaligned communication structures (roads to nowhere), or broken systems (potholes and ruts); you can’t channel talent and effort in the right direction. People either get lost, frustrated, or just stop. Either way, if the pathways for people to develop are hard to navigate (just like a neighborhood that is confusing) people start to looking to live elsewhere.

The “common areas” of your organization is the culture and how people interact with each other. Without whitespace and freedom for people to move around without constantly bumping into each other, bad things can start to happen in even the prettiest of places. Most employees seek some level of autonomy and room to move independently to some degree. When you ask people to think “outside of the box” for a solution and the only place they can go is into someone else’s “box”, you’re not likely to see a ton of creativity.

Sanitation is your performance management system. How are you getting rid of the stuff your organization doesn’t want and would be better without? Poor performance management, just like bad sanitation, can make a community sick. Even people who are otherwise healthy become infected by toxic and underperforming employees. You have to execute your performance management plan. Holding people accountable is in many ways its own sense of feedback. People want feedback, they want to give feedback, and most of all, they want the employees who are not pulling their weight to either get the feedback they need and adjust their performance, or be shown the door. Poorly executed performance management, similar to missed trash pickup for months, can create a pretty apathetic environment. People stop doing what they should simply because they see that it doesn’t matter.

Sales and Marketing is how you get new people into your community. You have to have a talent acquisition strategy and you need a brand or at least a concept of what you are selling that is bigger than just the location of your community. Without a talented and aligned recruiting team, you’re getting the wrong residents to your company. With the wrong people in your group you risk turning what could be a great place to live into a culture rife with challenges and conflict, not to mention poor performance.

Human Resource Management is your regulatory affairs group. You need to make sure all the permits are filed, all the taxes paid, all the nuts and bolt of invoicing, etc. Human Resource Management is a huge part of your organization and without all the daily transactions taking place (payroll, time tracking, benefits, etc.) you can’t have employees. Keep in mind, however, that human resource management is not the same as human resource development.

The landscaping is exactly what you might think it is; it is the physical climate of your workplace. Do you have art? plants? carpet? tile? etc. Are there drinks in the refrigerator? Do you have a refrigerator? etc. It is the physical appeal of your exterior and interior. It helps create the vibe. While different from the culture, climate can still influence people’s moods so it is something to pay attention to. Does your company look like a nice place to work?

Oh, and learning. That is something individuals do, not something companies do. I cannot make someone learn, I can create an environment that encourages and rewards learning, I can give tools and resources to help people learn, but ultimately, whether someone learns or not is an individual process. I see many employees who are sent to training to correct behavior and they are resistant, combative, cynical, and sometimes toxic to others who want to learn. Learning is not under your control, just as you cannot make someone like where they live. You can create an environment that is makes learning easier and supports it, but it something each individual goes through at their own pace.

And now to my point. Development is how all of these things come together to build a community. And while my analogy is somewhat simplistic, it  illustrates that development is a long-term and continuing process. Training is an event, and usually has a very specific design for a very specific purpose. You build a training class, people come, they leave. Training is a tool in the development process. What are you doing to create a culture that encourages people to do more, try new things, recruit new talent, keep the landscape nice, and keep their “common areas” clean. How are you translating a development strategy into something more than just going to more trainings?  One of the worst things you can do is expect people to be better simply because of training. No matter how great the training is, if people are not allowed and encouraged to do anything different when they get back, then the training was just something they went to and will NEVER translate into different behavior. (read “Dumping the Water Back in the Pond”). How are you creating an environment where people CAN learn, change, and grow?

Daniel Pink’s book “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” highlights Mastery, or an innate desire to  get better at whatever we are doing, as one of three drivers of human behavior (the other two being Autonomy and Purpose). People want to get better, they want to develop. Good talent professionals create communities and houses and cultures that help people do what they instinctively want to do anyway – develop, grow, learn, and expand. So the question is: are you simply building houses or do you want to develop a community?