Category Archives: workplace

Leading Employees Through the Process of Change

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the challenge of change.  It is an uphill battle full of twists and turns.  Those having an attitude of change require commitment, persistence and patience.

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the complexities and dimensions of change. It is a frustrating uphill battle full of twists, turns and disappointments. Those having an attitude of change must be armoured with commitment, persistence, patience and lots of love.

I am sure you have heard it said that the only constant in this world is change itself.  And it is for this reason that I keep coming back to the topic of change, examining it from different perspectives.  With change going on around us at an alarming pace, our greatest wish might be to have the capacity to truly and comfortably keep up!   If only managers and employees could embrace change and alter their thinking “on demand”.

In my book, “Stepping Stones: Values Based Stories and Strategies for the 21st Century”, I acknowledged that change itself is a worthy value and allocated one whole chapter to the topic.  Change is simple to embrace when you are leading a process; as the conductor, you can detach from the anxiety of change because it is others who must comply with the flick of your baton.  However, when you are at the epicentre of a tumultuous and turbulent operation, you must share in the discomfort.  Yes, ain’t change wonderful!

In a previous post, I also introduced brief therapy. Most therapeutic tools address change directly using a rational approach, while confronting the conscious mind; brief therapy, in taking on the most difficult disorders enters through the back door, tapping into the sub-conscious mind and using the element of surprise and what many clients would perceive as being irrational, maybe even nonsensical  assignments.  While many therapies fail, brief therapy is claiming sensational enduring breakthroughs for clients who had given up any hope of emotional health.

Many direct techniques seem promising at first glance; however the relief of symptoms is not lasting and after yielding partial and temporary results from yet another magic bullet, clients simply give up and learn to accept their albatross.

This leads me into my most recent discovery on the process of change.  Not a therapy, the work of David Logan, a participant in the annual TED seminars (filmed March, 2009; posted Sept.2009), offers a model on how change occurs and thus some insights on how change agents can address the subject.   In this presentation, he is talking about tribal leadership — in his language, the people we associate with everyday form into tribes of  people ranging in size from 20 -150 members.

David Logan infers that tribal association influences how we understand and then participate in this world.  The weaker the tribal association, the weaker the capacity of the individual to participate in significant change.  He breaks down this human understanding into five categories or stages.

The first and least developed stage is “life sucks” and about 2% of the world’s population find themselves mired in the misery of this tribe.   They associate with individuals who have a commom understanding of the world and have severed from functional tribes to practice their own dysfunctional behaviour. Their group behaviour is justified by the fact that the complete tribe shares the “life sucks” perspective.  They are not positioned to participate in any meaningful change proecss.

The second stage is “my life sucks”. Sadly, 25% of people are stuck here, lacking belief in themselves and their capacity.  Although this is still a negative and a dysfunctional behaviour it represents an evolution in that the individual has escaped from the constraints of negative group behaviour.  The individual no longer acknowledges the need for membership in a reinforcing dysfunctional group.  Still their limiting vision of their personal reality affects the contribution they are capable of making in this state.

The third level, representing 48% of the population, is “I’m great” The positive side of this tribe is that the individual sees their own value.  On their own, they do their job effectively.  The challenge is that they do not value others.  The absolute limitation of this behaviour is that they cannot particpate effectively on teams of positve likemanided people.

The fourth level is “We’re great”, and it is great that almost 22% of folks have aspired to this level.  These are people who work in teams to achieve common work goals; with excellent leadership they have accepted a work vision and are working cohesively.  They have aspired to group benefit.

The final and optimal stage is “Life is great” and only two percent can be found at this level.  These are people who have a world embracing view, who are working for a fundamental global change.

In David Logan’s interpretation, true leaders only exist at level five.  Since his interest is in a world embracing change, leaders must be at this level; of course, it could be argued that leaders at level four indirectly support movement to level five, by drawing membership in level four.  Still at stage four group size is limited.  There is still a comparative view as opposed to an all inclusive stance found at stage five.

Since, as Mr. Logan points out, individuals only have the capacity to move up one level at a time, absolute change is a long term challenge.  Following are four difficulties that leaders, alias change agents must address:

  • What kind of manager are you?: Where do you fit on the continuum?  If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you have at least reached stage three.  If, however, you intend on leading your employees to the promised land, you will need to embrace “life is great”.  It is interesting that this stage is strongly consistent with the writings of the Baha’i faith.
  • Considering your workplace, at which stage do the members of your group reside?: In the absence of leadership, your employees could all be members of different tribes — that is, at different stages.   It is interesting how the five stages come together and give the illusion of a cohesive community.  A conscientious manager will invest in truly knowing both thee limitation and the potential of the employee.
  • Develop strategies to gradually move all employees up the ladder: Knowing that your employees most likely will be sitting on different rungs of the ladder, you will be called upon to develop customized individual programs. It will not be easy.
  • Patience will be your greatest friend: As you try to inspire your crew to step up a rung, they will occasionally succeed and they will just as often fail.

This model highlights the importance of one of my persistent messages – that the true leader manages people; when epople are effectively managed, they will effectively deliver products and services.  What is your view of this model?  Please let me know what you think.

Happiness in the Workplace

The Dalai Lama tells us that happiness is more than a state of being it is also our life purpose.  In the workplace this means that we have a responsibility to model positive team building behaviour, even in the fce of those who chose onflict and destructuve behaviour.

The Dalai Lama tells us that happiness is more than a state of being it is also our life purpose. In the workplace this means that we have a responsibility to model positive team building behaviour, even in the face of those who chose conflict and destructive behaviour.

A young associate of mine recently shared with me, “I don’t have to like you to work with you”. I was shocked and amused by his comment. Shocked because I thought of him as a person who selected his acquaintances and clients with great care; although highly motivated and determined, he had a gentle, loving nature and clearly cared about the people who crossed his path. Amused because, I found myself judging him based upon his age – in my reactive analysis, he was just too young and inexperienced to have worked in a situation where there was interpersonal conflict. He was unable to mark the distinction between a loving work environment, where employees collaborate and support and enjoy time spent together at work and often beyond; and, of course, a destructive work environment where workers oppose each other and willingly undermine competitors to further their own advancement.

Only yesterday I was consulting with an associate and he commented on his workplace saying that their top man was toxic to the organization.  The bad news is that this person will not be leaving the workplace tomorrow.  So what can you do, in fact what must you do to create a work environment where a senior person makes life a living hell and you have no power to escape the influence of this person?

The loving, nurturing, helpful workplace contributes to improved health, while the stress and anxiety caused by an indifferent workplace lead to disease.

Could this be why the Dalai Lama (Vancouver Sun, Compassion for our Fellow Human Beings is the Key to Happiness, Sept. 25, 2009) says that the purpose of life is happiness. As the Dalai Lama cites “every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering”.

The Dalai Lama suggests that our mental development is of the greatest importance to each of us and this should be where we invest the greatest time and effort; and why is this important? As the Dalai Lama points out, “I have found that the greatest degree of tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well being becomes”.

To my young friend: it is not enough to work in an environment where we are polite and courteous to each other. We must invest in caring about the people in our lives and, yes, this includes the workplace. The Dalai Lama adds that “True compassion is not just an emotional response, but a firm commitment founded on reason”. The extreme of this commitment is unconditional love, where an individual continues to love in spite of the hurtful intentions of others.

So here are a few suggestions on how you can make a significant contribution to your workplace:

  • Treat your work as service: To take a service approach requires you to care for your colleagues and clients. It is not enough to deliver a service or product at the margin. You must be sure that the work you undertake is truly meaningful and appropriate.
  • Spend time with your colleagues and clients: This means that you must get to know them. You must be willing to listen to their ideas and they must know that you feel they are worthy.
  • Try to understand the motives of others: Nine times out of ten, people’s intentions are constructive and positive. They are in fact doing what they think is integral and worthy. Avoid your first response to react and take the time to dig a little deeper. This could pay huge dividends.
  • Think of your colleagues as family: Typically family protects family even when they can see the error of their ways. Be responsible to them by offering needed support and by occasionally offering a little honesty.
  • Use life tests as opportunities to grow in compassion: Understanding that more compassion in the world is a good thing is not enough; as the Dalai Lama points out, conflict creates the training ground for personal growth, “…and who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, but our enemies“. He says that we should start by feeling gratitude when a challenge is sent our way.

In conclusion the Dalai Lama puts an optimistic spin on the condition of man. He points out, if hatred and anger had been the predominant emotion on this planet, the human species would have ceased to exist. In his mind, it is the love and compassion that we show for each other that has permitted the human world to survive and thrive in many ways.

Please tell me what you think.  The person who chooses to lead in this way will surely become an ambassador of love.

The Workplace as Sanctuary

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on ungent tasks.  Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true.  The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on urgent tasks. Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true. The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Strengthening Workplace Relationships

For some employees their workplace is a sanctuary; compared to the realities of their home life, it is a paradise.

These employees look forward to going to work in the morning, often choosing to arrive early and they are reticent to accept the end of the work day, regularly opting for overtime beyond the hours of darkness. In fact, they will choose to hang out in the quiet corridors of the workplace on weekends rather than finding themselves immersed in the anxiety and stress of homelife.

When the stress of addressing a problem at home becomes overwhelming, flight to what is perceived to be a safe environment is rationalized. The kinds of stress that may provoke this response include family violence against men and women, relationship dissolution, financial distress, depression in various forms, and emotionally and physically draining health issues affecting a family member.

What are the implications for the workplace? To begin, the line between home and work is becoming blurred. And just as some teachers believe that their role is teaching and not character formation, some managers believe that their role is solely to deliver services and products. They would gladly prefer to ignore than engage in this issue, usually because they are competent managers of services and products, not people.

A sensitive manager will observe and recognize this behaviour and will immediately confront the employee on the cause; together they will seek out appropriate solutions.  The work focussed manager will be elated that he has an employee who can take on excesses of work and overtime and will often be oblivious to the cause.

Failure to address the problem will result in an exacerbation of problems for the employee at home; the greater the stress at home, the more this will influence the employee’s and the unit’s productivity.  At some point, the manager will be faced with decisions about dismissing this employee.

Even if some managers do not have the tools to recognize a problem brewing, the good news is that someone in the work area will usually pick up on the clues and inform their superiors.  Given this good fortune, the role of the manager is simply to problem solve — to identify support available for this employee and either to recommend or require that the employee start a process of healing.  In larger organizations these supports are readily available and widely advertised; in smaller organizations, managers will have to be creative and may be well advised to incur some cost to retain a highly trained and valuable employee.  In addition, managers observing an empathic approach to workplace related problems will build trust and loyalty for the business.

The message for the manager is simple: Be proactive – look for the early signs – seek out competent help – confront the employee – demand some form of therapy – be visible (as you can be; some issues will demand absolute confidentiality) in your behaviour.

Once again this is the difference between a manager that manages products and services and a manager that manages people to deliver services and products. Which one are you?

The Advantages of Being Single in the Workplace

So you are single in the workplace and you are trying to establish whether

 Change your thinking…..Set your course      * Home     * About Me     * About Shiftack     * Stepping Stones     * Contact  The Advantages of Being Single in the Workplace 2009 November 23 by Craig Angus In curcumstances such as this where it is clear that one group is disadavantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, growth opportunities will disappear. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the isue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.  In circumstances such as this, where it is clear that one group is disadvantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, this negative approach to the problem will cause opportunities to dissolve before your eyes. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the issue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.

In circumstances such as this where it is clear that one group is disadvantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, growth opportunities will disappear. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the issue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.

being single is workplace purgatory or at the other extreme, a powerful bargaining position.  The simple and honest answer is that it is both.

But first, let’s talk about the overpowering evidence of single discrimination.  In her blog, “Nine to Thrive”, Michelle Goodman interviews psychologist and author Bella De Paulo who lists the “top issues plaguing singles in the workplace”:

  • Married workers can include their spouses and children in their health care packages, while singles experience a negative skew in benefits by only having the right for personal coverage.
  • De Paulo actually found a number of studies that revealed the shocking news that married male employees were paid more than their single counterparts.  One case study found a salary discrepancy of almost one-third.
  • Married employees experience favoritism when holiday and vacation time is being allocated.
  • Singles are more likely to be imposed upon to work overtime or to take on time-consuming and travel assignments.
  • There is a perception that the “life” of a married person has greater value than the life and time of a single person.

This is not a new issue as  Gillian Flynn explains in her 1996 article written for Personnel Journal.  Citing a survey of single and childless workers, Flynn noted that 80 percent or more of single/childless employees (1) felt they were excluded from work/family programs, (2) believed they were not receiving as much attention from management as employees with spouses and children, and (3) felt they were carrying more work burden than their married counterparts.  That is, they were contributing more, but receiving less benefit.

Clearly, over the years, management has become more family friendly.  This accommodation has been made at the request of employees with families — a concession designed to retain and attract quality employees in an increasingly competitive work environment.  There was a time when employees would be timid and apprehensive in job interviews hoping and wishing with fingers crossed that they had secured employment.  However, employers now  prepare a package for prospective employees, knowing they will also be  on the firing line during interviews.  The organization nows shares some of this timidity and apprehensiveness hoping they will not face rejection from a high quality prospect

Single and married employee represent different values to employers.  In the eyes of employers, the married employee is seen as a stable resource that depends security to meet family requirements.   Employers feel that a family is an anchor of sorts that will requires spouses and fathers to insist on a stable work environment.  The family employee will leave promptly at 5 but can be counted on to deliver a quality product during normal working hours.  The family employee will likely stay in one organization longer, since the interview process is a stress-or and results in some family instability.  The downside of the family employee?  The more present they are in their family responsibilities, the less they can be counted upon to deliver on urgent needs and perform unlimited overtime.  Finally, the married/family employee is the morn — that is, the family employee is more likely to have more in common with other employees; and in simple terms majority rules — the majority will drive new human resource polices and programs.

While the family employee is an ocean liner, the single employee, in the eyes of managers, is a PT boat — having the flexibility to change directions  quickly.   The single employee will stay later, stay longer and take on more urgent work.  It is hard for managers to think of singles as being loyal, because there is nothing preventing them from leaving tomorrow and causing the organization another costly staffing effort.

The fact of the matter is that this thinking is faulty and discriminatory.  Many married employees think career first and many single employees have time consuming interests away from work.  Many married employees consider overtime a necessary part of advancement, while many single employees would prefer to avoid the stress of short deadlines that involve excessive overtime.  Although this may be true, in some organizations, singles still face this form of discrimination.

Given this reality, singles do have choices:

  • Get married: I would not recommend this action, until you are ready; and of course this may never be the right step for you.
  • Leave: move on and find that organization that respects your status and your right to say no and not punish you for it.  Again, this assumes that you are not particularly motivated or are unable to change your thinking.
  • Play the game to advantage: there is a strong possibility that one day you will be married and will prefer to focus on family.  (There is also the assurance that about half of married employees will one day be single).  But for now, let’s have some fun and make this into a game.  And what is the game?  Use my singleness to advance as quickly as possible in this organization.   First, you will be exposed to work assignments that are above  your current level in the organization.  This means that in essence you are training for you superior’s job.  When these employee s head off on vacation or illness leave or maternity leave, you will be first in line to replace them on an acting basis — this means more experience and greater recognition that you can do the job and more bonding with senior persons.  When an opening occurs, you will be first in line to aspire to these higher levels.  And then?  Continue the process.  You will advance at a faster rate because of the experience and the visibility ans the attitude.  The good will that you will build with the management of your organization will stay with you for your tenure in that organization.

Changing your thinking is not a simple task.  First you must be aware of the possibility and the advantage of change.  I have employed this strategy with many employees and it has paid handsome dividends.  What do you think?

Principle-Based Management

hockey-hitA couple of weeks have passed since Ben Fanelli, a 16 year old rookie defenceman playing with the junior Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, was seriously injured by a viscious hit.   Hits like this one occur just about every game in amateur and professional hockey.   It’s part of the “code”.  Hockey is a macho sport and hitting is a tactic used to intimidate, in particular the skilled puck-carrying players on opposing teams; the end goal is to make these players think about something other than slick, efficient puck movement and thereby force errors.  In the eyes of sport officials, you cannot eliminate hitting from the game and retain the inherent nature of the sport.  Therefore,  responsibility lies with the player about to be hit to keep his head up and protect himself at all times; God forbid that a player is seriously injured, then officials will point a finger at the offending player who through some convoluted interpretation of the rules must be held accountable for the injury.    The issue here: a principled approach to responsibility for the consequences of hitting in the game is absent.

Since the beginning of the NHL hockey season, a number of star players have been seriously injured, mostly with concussions; and Ben Fanelli came close to losing his life.  He still has a major battle in his future to restore his health, let alone the possibility of returning to serious hockey.  The trend towards  serious injury has been increasing in recent years as players are bigger, faster, stronger, their equipment harder and their training better.  There used to be an unwritten rule that protected the best players; however, this has vanished with the respect for life and limb of opposing players.

Since this form of intimidation has become an important tool for coaches, each team recruits and trains a number of players best suited to this style.  League officials, miopic in their view, can only see the hitting in the narrowest context.  As a result nothing is done to protect the immediate or long term health of players.  In the short term, league brass need to protect valuable marketing assets; in the long term, officials need to consider the impact of serious hits on the health of players who will become fathers and husbands.

Given this context — an absence of appropriate rules to control the impacts of hitting — it is not surprising that the junior league needed a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the Ben Fanelli injury; Michael Liambis, a 20 year old veteran of the Erie Otters who delivered a hit arguably within the rules of the game has been outrageously suspended for a full year — a length of suspension which is unprecedented in the sport and which effectively ends his junior career.  What a burden to place on a young man!  He must deal with the suspension and the guilt, because the league says that he did something wrong and should be punished.  I hope he has found a competent therapist to help him through this ordeal.

To reinforce this picture of ambiguity, in professional hockey, if a hit does not result in an injury, it will usually go unpenalized.  If an injury results from the hit, the “offending” player is removed from the game pending a hearing by the league.  Usually a suspension results.

I agree with the junior league that someone must bear responsibility for the Ben Fanelli hit and, in my view the needless injury of this young player.  I disagree with the league that that the message should be sent at the expense of this boy’s junior career.  Clearly, responsibility lies with the league itself and for that matter all professional hockey leagues.  Ambiguous guidelines result in arbitrary decisions.

Come on hockey officials!  It is time to “fess up”.  With this kind of hitting in the game, you are quite fortunate no player has been killed.  You are quite lucky that more players have not suffered brain injuries.  It is surprising that more players have not been paralysed.  Are you waiting for the worst?

The Ben Fanelli hit is a wake up call.  “WAKEUP” before more serious injuries occur.  Extricate this abyss of ambiguity and confusion and replace it with a well thought out principle based solution.  Stop blaming players and show solid leadership in this area.

In closing, how about a little justice for Michael Liambis?  It would be appropriate to see the Ontario Hockey League relent on its severe punishment of Michael Liambis and allow this young man to finish his junior hockey career.  Michael, I am in your corner.

Do you know of situations in your workplace where ambiguity is used to advantage by your employers?  What should the principles be in this area?

Working for the Right Reasons

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years.  Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years. Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

Why do most of us work? The answer is simple. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go”. Clearly this reality is not about to change any time soon, in spite of the “leisure society” that sociologists of the 1960’s promised would soon become our way of life.

For most of us going to work is not a choice.  We have chosen to eat and live under a roof; so, in the absence of a wealthy benefactor, we must of all necessity set the alarm clock at 6:00am or earlier every workday morning — rain or shine, hail or sleet, we hop in the car, wait at the terminal so we can work. And as our incomes increase most of us pay tribute to our material culture by “investing” in larger homes, more luxurious cars and toys of all descriptions.  And through this decision we reaffirm our need to spend our weekdays in huge mirrored towers oblivious of the sun.

How important is money as a motivator for going to work?  How did you choose your career?  Did you select your career based upon what you love to do with your time or did you opt for work that pays well?  Do you feel trapped by your lifestyle, such that leaving what you do is too great of a stretch?  Do you look forward to going to work, or do you find the workplace a source of stress and anxiety?

Clearly money is and will always be a significant reason for enduring extensive commutes, bad bosses and monotonous work assignments; however, in the final analysis, it will be just one of many influences.

In this post, I want to encourage you to reflect upon two related “showing up for work” issues:

First, in your life, does money overpower all other rationales for working? Can you feel the stench of that ominous black shadow of debt and the devastating threat of bankruptcy? Are other motivators such as meaning and purpose subjugated by money fears?  You have a choice to take action and restore the balance in your life.

Elizabeth Pineau (Reuters, March 25, 2009) reported that designer Kenzo Takado was downsizing his life, selling off his Paris home and many of his art treasures and antiquities. “Today I want to turn a page and live differently, more free, lighter,” the 70-year-old told reporters. This is not a new story; we frequently hear of people who need to downsize their lives as though they are possessed by their material obsessions. Clearly, the stuff we accumulate will encumber our emotional and spiritual capacity and influence our peacefulness, our joyfulness, our freedom and ultimately the clarity of our decisions.

A young man I know was raised in a good family but with very little in terms of possessions. From childhood, he was determined to show the world that he could succeed in this material world and of course, demonstrate to others his personal worth and self esteem through his accumulation of personal possessions. Through great determination and resourcefulness, he worked two and sometimes three jobs. He immediately spent each pay cheque, first on a house, then on home furnishings, clothing and travel. He was topped up and his lifestyle was defined by work required to maintain his stuff. He was, of course, exhausted and then it happened; he lost the most lucrative of his positions. His immediate response was sadness and anger, as the meaning that surrounded his life was being threatened. Like Mr. Takado, he will also have the choice of chaos or order – bringing balance into his life, positioning important rationales where they should have been.

Second, have you thought about why you are working? Let me rephrase – beyond paying the bills and sustaining your family, what are your underlying motivations for showing up to work everyday?

Looking at the working conditions of those 65 years of age and over could offer some enlightenment on this issue. It is clear that many Canadians in this cohort want to continue working even though they can safely retire. Leigh Felesky and Amil Niazi (Your Top 10:Reasons to Keep Working, Monday, July 21st, 2008, ) raise the court case of one New Brunswick miner whose desire to continue working was thwarted by The Supreme Court of Canada. In their post, Felesky and Niazi cite a range of reasons why people like potash miner, Melrose Scott, want to continue working after the age of 65: job satisfaction and downright enjoyment, learning about new things and keeping the mind sharp and just plain keeping busy.

There is another very important reason and perhaps overriding rationale for going to work – to make a difference, to give to humanity, to make the world a better place. In other words, my work should have purpose and allow me to serve humanity.

Although there is a continuum of importance, most jobs can be defined by their value; that is, a creative manager will find a way to ensure that the work of all his staff ties into a meaningful purpose. If you understand how your work fits into a bigger scheme and that it is important to the achievement of that goal, you will be more committed and extract greater enjoyment from your work.

For those working for non-profit groups whose work directly serves the needs of a defined community, the purpose is immediately clear. Further, the importance of this work may be so important to those in the organization that they will willingly take lower pay to be a part of a hands-on and goal-oriented team. Further, just about everyone on the team will out of necessity wear a variety of hats to accomplish essential tasks.

In conclusion, starting from a concept of service to humanity will change the way you see your work and perhaps alter your career plan. Baha’u’llah stresses the importance of service,

“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches”.

Please participate in a dialogue on this issue. Is your reason for working clear? Are you the problem or can your organization help in making reasons for working clearer? Do you have any workplace challenges? Please share them with me.

Employment Strategies During a Recession

It is no surprise that this year’s college graduates are finding the job market unreceptive;  and “even those who land jobs” says Sara Murray in her education blog at the Wall Street Journal, “will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times”.  Murray cites numbers from a longitudinal study conducted during the recession of the 1980’s by Lisa Kahn, a Yale School of Management economist.  In simple terms, this study shows how income for recent graduates decreases considerably as employment rates rise; further, this data reveals that overcoming a lower starting salary may be close to impossible.

David overcame Goliath by rejecting the traditional terms of battle and by thinking of alternatives that woud level the "battlefield".

David overcame Goliath by rejecting traditional terms of combat and by thinking of alternatives that would level the "battlefield".

Murray offers some good news for graduates who are fortunate enough to find employment in their field of study, referencing Canadian data covering two recessionary periods collected by Columbia University economist, Till Marco von Wachter.  This study states that graduates who found work in their field of interest were better positioned to recover when the economy rebounded, even though their starting incomes might be lower.

In his most recent publication, Outliers:The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell offers additional perspective on the principles of success.   First of all, Gladwell makes a strong case for preparation as a critical component for achieving the highest levels of success.  He examines the absolute dedication that must be invested to become an expert in any field and explains step by step how high achievers  like Bill Gates, The Beatles and others were able to outperform the field.   He also establishes a threshold for the commitment level that will produce excellence.  And from this comes the “10,000 hour rule”.   Step 1 — I have achieved a level of expertise.  I am prepared.

The balance of the book is dedicated to a necessary and complementary factor on the path to success — opportunity.  Although there is an abundance of research on the subject of opportunity and we understand that some people have more opportunity than others, Gladwell presents his case in the most compelling and unique  manner.

Gladwell presents substantial evidence to make the case that success, even for the most prepared and the brightest, is influenced by factors such as year of birth, month of birth, being in the right place at the right time, cultural heritage, family heritage and serendipity.

Considering the 2009 graduates, Gladwell would conclude that their diminished opportunity is simply a matter of bad luck — they have had the misfortune of graduating during a world-wide recession.  Their preparation compares to previous years’ graduates and is not a factor.  No, the year 2009 is simply a year with less opportunity and that’s just the way it is.  Step 2 —  I am prepared, but where is my opportunity?

So now what?  Is that just truly just the way it is?  Do we simply roll over and pretend that having less opportunity is our fate?  After all, isn’t that what we are conditioned to do — believe that our success or lack of it is a factor of our preparation and our ability?  John is so much smarter than I am.  Mary has natural ability in this area that I will never have.  That’s right — the next step is simply acceptance of my limited capacity.  Game over.

Outliers does not change the way we look at preparation; it still takes effort and lots of it to develop expertise.  It is useful to know that 10,00 hours is a goal to which I can aspire to achieve excellence, but it still amounts to lots of hard work.  However, Outliers does offer us a new paradigm of opportunity.   Although preparation is still very important, opportunity outtrumps preparation as a determinant of success.   Opportunity is a commodity that some of us will own in excess, while others will experience a dearth.  Thanks to Gladwell’s, we no longer have to accept the limitation of opportunity.  We can act with effort to create opportunity.

This is the question! What action can I take that will restore an equilibrium of opportunity into my life?

David Brooks, in his New York Times post, shares a story about how the playing field was leveled for some students in inner city schools.  The “Harlem Miracle” as he has dubbed this educational experiment has eliminated the achievement gap for predominantly poor inner city black children when compared to predominantly middle income suburban white children.  The program –currently available to a limited number of inner city children who qualify through a lottery system — counters the view that improved facilities and better teachers will help these impoverished students to achieve at higher levels.  Instead, it has established a disciplined and orderly counter culture of absolute adherence and longer hours of school and study.  In this case, creative thinking has allowed inner city children to compete evenly with their suburban peers.  Opportunity has been restored.

A second story comes from Malcolm Gladwell (How David Beats Goliath).  In this article for the New Yorker, Gladwell explains how a girl’s basketball team, short on talent, size and experience when compared to their competition, managed against all odds to overcome their opponents and win a national championship.  The coach of this team of 12 year old girls, Vivek Ranadive, was of east Indian descent having a heritage of cricket and soccer.  He had a difficult time understanding the logic of how basketball was played.  That is, that a team would permit another to easily enter its half of the playing surface with no opposition.  Once in the offensive end of the floor, skilled teams were at an advantage displaying their dribbling, passing and shooting skills.  And a shorter, less skilled and less experienced team was particularly vulnerable.  Ranadive decided to apply the pressure found in other sports — specifically, he taught his players to apply a continuous full court press.  With constant pressure before the ball was even played in bounds, the playing field was leveled.  The press confused skilled teams and made it challenging for them to unleash their skill advantage.  The press forced skilled teams to play on his terms and allowed his team to outperform far better teams.  Strategic thinking allowed this group to overcome the cultural opportunity that other teams possessed.

In Gladwell’s words,”..substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond girls on the basketball court”.

What are your thoughts about opportunity?  Can you think of times in your life where you sabotaged your own opportunity?  Please watch for “Craig’s Top Five List” for next Friday as I will share five steps that 2009 graduates can take to level the employment field.

Unity-Based Leadership in the Workplace

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

The baby boomers, the single largest generational cohort ever, are still dominant in the workplace, even though the oldest among them have now reached retirement age. And, like the Titanic, this massive age cohort is difficult to budge, let alone turn. In the eyes of many, the baby boomers are painfully slow in reacting to “hit you over the head” trends and “if you can’t see it, you aren’t looking” trends.  In the eyes of many observers , these trends demand serious attention, however, most decision-makers continue to deliver incremental change, on issues that are defining the lives of “next up” generations.

Understanding the importance of unity and collaboration critical ingredient for next up generations.

In the absence of an ethical and moral framework, unity of the generations will not be possible.

And these emerging generations are beginning to assert themselves in the work-a-day world by demanding that they be heard and that the promising attributes of their generation be drivers of a new workplace; in the absence of considerable action, it is the view of many that the “new gens” will reinvent the world, and with it the workplace.

Gary Allen’s excellent post on these “next up” generations amounts to a manifesto of sorts that explicitly advises prospective employers what they must address so that, in particular, the F generation can be adequately accommodated, if not welcomed into the workplace.  In the absence of a reasonable response, the next up generations could very well launch a technology-induced revolution.

Although demographers take full responsibility for naming the new generations, the incumbents so-named proudly claim full membership and have begun to lobby against the establishment generation with an “us versus you” mentality.

We are unique, we have great ideas and we are impatient for change;  we demand change now, or else.

Some might compare the simmering relationship between baby boomers and gens X,Y and F to the way the adolescent perceives the parent.  Mark Twain summed it up perfectly:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

I personally appreciate what these new generations have to offer and there is doubt in my mind that with a little guidance the new gens will change the world favorably; I also see movement from the stodgy baby boomers as the momentum created by the internet and Facebook have contributed to an recognition that the world is changing exponentially — change with it or be left behind.

Still I feel that there is a missing ingredient in the Facebook manifesto.  Simply stated, I don’t believe that positive, sustainable change can be achieved through confrontation, intimidation and manipulation.   Perhaps it will take one more generation to complement the promising package — one that will recognize the critical importance of collaboration, cooperation and partnership.  In my dreams I envision Generation S that will offer the  overlay of an ethical and moral framework that will guide all action — will reinforce the importance of “unity-based leadership”.

As Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith says,

The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.

This is a simple message with a profound complexity.  Clearly, divisions of any kind that create distance between us, whether they be generations, genders, races or nations with all diminish our capacity for unity.  Without unity, we all achive less.

Have you achieved unity in your workplace?  Do you see the importance of aspiring for unity?


Understanding Sabotage in the Workplace

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

Another Friday — another “Craig’s Top Five List”.  On Monday, we put forth a case for the ongoing value of management and success books.  While the current trend in the industry seems to be to discredit these reference materials and fear monger, we argued that the competent manager should understand the opportunities and limitations that come with these materials and include them as part of a package of resources that support a healthy attitude of continuous improvement.

Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

We also reminded readers that workplace sabotage can emerge from the shadows of an organization in many ways, and that pointing the finger at success books is just too easy.   So, on this wonderful wind down Friday, let’s talk about sabotage — specifically, five ways that organizations can interfere with their own success:

  1. It Starts at the Top: A true leader understands the importance of building a strong organization and is constantly in search of powerful guidance.  Sadly, the American Automobile Industry is a perfect example of a rudderless ship.  With countless opportunities to lead the pack, they chose complacency.   For example, they were given the opportunity to be the leader in electric automobile technology and they chose to balk at this gift.  And now, they are scrambling just to survive.  Poor leadership will suffocate an organization; strong leadership will allow an entity to explode with possibilities.
  2. Buy-in, Stay-in: Rightly or wrongly, there will be times in your organization when lower level managers decide to take management matters into their own hands.  This will not be an all out mutiny; no, instead, while smiling and nodding support for their bosses, these managers will quietly and secretly begin the process of undermining the initiatives they dislike, in part by treating their area of responsibility as an island.  These managers need to understand that disagreement is healthy if it is voiced openly and if it is part of an appropriate consultation process.  However, there is also a time for unity of purpose where the team as a whole needs to get on side and offer a plan its best chance of success.  It is often difficult for a senior manager to know what is happening on the ground floor.  In their eyes if they hear nothing all is well.  They need eyes and ears with employees at all levels so they can understand the support or lack of support for their plans.
  3. Silos Belong on Farms: The more we slice and dice our organizations, the lower the unity of purpose.  It is not uncommon for units, sectors, divisions to see themselves in competition with each other, largely a result of both managers and their staff seeing their role in the organization as being critical and successful, while the role of others, their “inside” competitors, being performed inadequately to the detriment of the organization.  Unifying the organization’s sense of purpose and demonstrating how each role is an essential component of the organization’s mission is a critical responsibility of senior managers.
  4. Communicate- Empower- Communicate- Empower: This is “the circle of [organizational] life”.  Managers at all levels who fail to delegate will by definition underachieve.  They will waste organizational capacity; they will damage employee motivation, goodwill, loyalty, commitment, happiness and so on.  They will undoubtedly lose their best staff.  Once managers learn how to empower effectively, they must complete the equation — effective and almost excessive communication.  The empowered employee has a responsibility to inform and advise the manager; however, it is contingent upon the senior manager to ensure that an effective and satisfying mechanism is in place.  When I say excessive communication, I mean it.  This is the tool that allows you to sleep well at night.  Because of clear communication, you know with confidence that all is well on the home front.
  5. You are Only as Good as Your Talent: A couple of stories might help to clarify this point.  Following the interviews for a senior researcher position, the interview team agreed that no one met the minimum qualifications.  “I will cover what the best candidate cannot do” offered one senior manager.  I reluctantly agreed and we offered the job to the best of the group.  Big mistake!  My senior manager was constantly rescuing this employee, time lines were lagging and we lost our capacity to perform effectively.  In contrast, an organization hired a salesperson.  Their expectations for this position were low based upon the performance of the previous incumbents.  In a short time, this newbie demonstrated that she could outperform two people in this area and in fact her area became a significant source of revenue.  The manager quickly realized that he could throw a challenge her way and that she would often out produce established areas of revenue for the organization.  The stronger the talent, the greater the opportunity, the greater the result.
  6. Flavour of the Month Syndrome: Did I say a list of five?  Well, I could not resist offering this one last point. “It’s just the flavour of the month” he lamented, “I’ll just wait it out and before too long everything will be back to normal”.  The manager who gets excited about every new management idea will find that skepticism settles into the organization. Employees will soon realize that the manager does not know how to use creative ideas to effect a change in culture; employees will see the initiative as time wasted and give the illusion of buy-in by saying the right things, while only accepting the idea at the margin.  The senior manager has the right spirit — one of trying to bring the best to his organization; however, with a little help from other managers, he will complete the loop and carefully assess the value of the idea to the organization and the nature of its implementation.

Have you seen any of these at work in your organization?  What efforts were taken to resolve the challenge?

Is it Time to Sell My Management Books?

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

Drake Bennett (Have Success Gurus Steered Us Wrong?, National Post, Saturday, April 25, 2009) and also in Boston.com has an interesting take on the value of “success books”; interesting yes, but he may be missing the point.

His bottom line conclusion, in my words: management books amount to little more than a hoax, a conspiracy of sorts that mislead CEOs and organizations who trustingly chose to adopt their doctrines.

Is it time to sell my management books?

Is it time to sell my management books?

To make his case, he cites the work of a more recent set of experts, counter-gurus if you wish, like Phil Rozenzweig (author of The Halo Effect).  They claim that the suggestions espoused in these books are essentially useless, guilty on several charges.  First, they have done a poor job of identifying successful organizations, since success may be attributable to factors outside an organization’s control such as luck; and there is a fair amount of evidence to show this is true.  Second, what these gurus claim to be research is little more than a collection of soft qualitative case studies and in many instances the accuracy of the numbers can be questioned.

How do I feel about this assessment?  A little conflicted I guess.  On the one hand, I agree with the reviewers.  These earlier management and success books are not without flaws and to some extent these challenges limit their usefulness.   On the other hand, completely discounting these reference text would be counter productive.  So I prefer asking myself what is the value of these materials and how should they be used in the workplace?  These are my observations:

  1. Organizations need some form of guidance: I just recently completed some consulting work with an organization.  There was a great deal of experience in the management group; however, there was little awareness of advances in the field of management.  They seemed satisfied to continue employing inefficient practices, because they had little knowledge of a better way and if they had some knowledge, they had little reason to believe that newer approaches to management were any better.   They were in need of someone to demonstrate that certain management principles actually worked. The “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” mentality that tarnishes a reasonable source of experience, ideas and tactics  makes it difficult for these organizations to bridge the knowledge gap.
  2. Some Disciplines Defy Rigorous Measurement: In my previous incarnation, I was blessed with the opportunity to manage highly rigorous studies using advanced measures and huge data bases.  We had solid numbers, a solid research method and our results were defensible.  For years we deferred studies that defied measurement, mostly because the measures were soft, qualitative and subjective.  It was like trying to build a high rise tower on a bed of   sand.  As researchers, we were vulnerable to attack.   In spite of their weaknesses, these studies were state of the art.  They were the best that anyone had tried; they represented innovation in the field.  Still they were impossible to defend — a nightmare for researchers.  The so-called science of management is similarly difficult to measure and although some researchers claim that they can do better — and perhaps they can do somewhat better — these new studies will also be subject to criticism.  Let’s face it.  These were pretty good studies for their time and in my view they still have a great deal to offer a judicious reviewer.
  3. Theory may have its limitations, but used correctly has great value: I love hockey; for period of time, I studied the sport of hockey very closely.  I was so passionate about the sport that I used to attend advanced hockey symposia with coach presenters from around the world — NHL and AHL coaches, European league coaches, and development league coaches.  They were all there talking about what works.  The irony was that what worked one year didn’t the next.  Last year’s hero was this year’s exile.  Nobody could predict what would work in the future and no one could explain why a certain approach had worked the year earlier.  There were just too many intangibles from talent to training methods to on ice systems to who knows what.  Coaching team sports was and always will be theory.  We will continue to attempt to make it science, and we may have  some hard data that seems to prove part of the puzzle; but in the end, my sieve will continue to be my intuition, my good judgment.   Interestingly much of my management and leadership principles are derived from coaching team sports — more on this in a later post.  Can you think of another domain which continues to be principally theory?  Remember Harry Truman wishing for a one-armed economist?  Why you ask?  He simply wanted some hard, scientific and tangible advice.  Business success and leadership also fit into this category; you must filter, examine, assess and consult to arrive at the best fit for your organization.
  4. Passion manifests itself through preparation: Years ago I attended a presentation by the CEO of a garden tools mail order company.  Most of his presentation I have forgotten; however, there is one thing he said that I found quite interesting.  This CEO had conducted a study of American businesses and from his research had concluded that there were two key determinants of business success — passion and luck.   After everyone in attendance laughed at the simplicity of his formula, we began to assess what this finding really meant.  First let’s look at luck.  I cannot predict when luck will come my way and I cannot even determine the quantity of luck that will fall in my lap.  Clearly this is beyond my humble capacity.  When it comes to luck, however, I belong to the school of luck infused by author Stephen Leacock.  “I am a great believer in luck”, said Leacock, ” and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”.   The work component described by Leacock is equated to my passion.  My passion is my drive that allows me to prepare and those business books are part of the content that feeds my passion — all in anticipation of the day when luck, however defined, comes a callin’.
  5. The formula for success involves more that just a management reference book: A quick story to make a point.  Years ago, a former NHL coach shared with me, over coffee, that he never explained his hockey system to his players; he simply taught them their role on the ice in different situations.  He had learned from the school of hard knocks that players would translate failure of the team with the weakness of the system.  He preferred that the players measure success in terms of their own level of commitment to team success.  Interpreting?  A management book does not an organization make.  The formula is much more sophisticated;  the ingredients of this recipe, if you wish, include items like leadership at all levels, teamwork and talent; all of this is overlaid with a system of guidance largely extracted from management books.  It seems a little too convenient to blame failure on the weaknesses of management information.

I think most organizations realize that neither management books, nor management gurus provide perfect information.  They are merely part of the answer that prepares us to manifest our passion; organizations can then assess the value of these tools and the extent to which they will be integrated.

And in all this, we must keep in mind that there is still no utopia; of course, I would rather be the organization that strives for self-improvement than a laissez-faire business that is mired in complacency.

What is your favourite management book?  How has it helped you or your organization?  Does your organization have a mindset of improvement?