Sunday, May 30, 2010

Are “Classic” Management Theories Still Relevant?

I was in a meeting recently and we were discussing the potential impact of a new management initiative we were about to launch. I made a reference to “the Hawthorne Effect”, and half the room, mostly the gen Xers and Ys, had no idea what I was talking about. The crickets were deafening.

Now THAT was a senior moment.

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom and ask myself a few questions:

1. Should a good management or leadership theory stand the test of time? At the end of the day, will the competencies required for great leadership ever really change from what was required for Hannibal to lead his men across the Alps?

2. As practitioners in management & leadership development, if we don’t build a foundation of “givens” within our profession, don’t we run the risk of always chasing after the latest fad or flavor of the month?

3. Do we need to keep coming up with new labels that basically mean the same thing (e.g., delegation > empowerment > distributed leadership )?

4. What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?

5. After they make Styrofoam, what do they ship it in?

To some extent, I would have to say “yes” to the first three questions (#4 & #5 courtesy of Steven Wright). There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920’s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

As for coming up with new names that mean the same thing as something else…. So what? Is there really anything wrong with that, as long as it’s been repackaged in a way to make it more appealing to a new generation? I’m thinking we’re better off keeping our mouths shut, instead of trying to prove how smart we are. Besides, when you’re over 40, it’s not good a good career management strategy to be caught saying things like:

- “same old same old”
- “we’ve tied that before”
- “back in the day”
- “when I was your age”
- “I can remember when we didn’t have”
- “The greatest thing since sliced bread”

Getting back to Hawthorne…..

According to my Google Analytics statistics, this blog has a lot of gen X and Y readers, so chances are, you’ve never heard of the Hawthorne Effect. Here’s an explanation, from

It’s a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables.

This effect was first discovered and named by researchers at Harvard University who were studying the relationship between productivity and work environment. Researchers conducted these experiments at the Hawthorne Works plant of Western Electric. The study was originally commissioned to determine if increasing or decreasing the amount of light workers received increased or decreased worker productivity. The researchers found that productivity increased due to attention from the research team and not because of changes to the experimental variable.

So can we still rely on this study to guide our decisions today? To some extent, I’d say yes. If you put a lot of focus and attention on something, people will realize it’s important and change their behavior accordingly. It’s called “inspect what you expect”. That part still fits.

However, today’s workers and working conditions are VERY different than the early factories of the 1920s. In today’s knowledge-based society, employees are much more used to being treated with respect (hey, it’s all relative) and having more autonomy in how they perform their work. The rate of change has also accelerated, so we’ve built up more of a change tolerance and immunity to the effect of small changes.

It’s also important to note that later research into the Hawthorne effect has suggested that the original results may have been overstated. In 2009, researchers at the University of Chicago reanalyzed the original data and found that other factors also played a role in productivity and that the effect originally described was weak at best.

Yikes, in some ways, it seems like management and leadership advice is about as useful as advice from nutritionists and health experts. Is coffee bad or good for you?

So what’s a practitioner do to? I’d recommend:

1. Be a lifelong student of leadership development

2. Read and respect the classics and keep up with the latest

3. Periodically question conventional wisdom and keep an open mind to new ideas

4. Never start a sentence with “when I was your age….”

5. Drink all the coffee you want. (-:

How about you? Can you think of a "classic" management model that's timeless, or one that no longer is relevant?

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to Hire for Cultural Fit

Here's a guest post from Right Management's Michael Haid, a nice follow-up to "It's the soft Stuff That's the Hard Stuff".

It's also part of a guest blogging exchange - see my post on Distributed Leadership over at Right's Talent@Work blog.

It’s not what you know, but how you fit in the culture that results in accelerated performance. While technical skills generally can be taught, cultural and motivational fit involve innate characteristics that can be difficult – or impossible – to coach or develop. The clear implication is that leaders need to hire employees who, in addition to meeting the technical requirements for the job, naturally have the right qualities that mesh with the overall organization or team.

How, then, should you proceed? We suggest taking these four steps:

1. Identify your culture and the behaviors needed to support it.
That means pinpointing your organizational values, norms and beliefs and how employees should act when they are behaving in accordance with that culture. It’s important because, while leaders often tend to describe their cultures using the same words, the definitions in the context of the organization often differ dramatically, as do the specific behaviors required to support those values.

Take the matter of innovation. At one company, that may take the form of encouraging risky, out-of-the-box thinking leading to revolutionary change. But, another organization that values innovation might have a very different, but equally valid, interpretation emphasizing incremental improvement and the analytical behavior best suited to support that approach.

Similarly, organizations that value being customer focused may be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure customers come first. To that end, they would need people willing, say, to sacrifice margins or bend the rules to accomplish their goal – and who are unlikely to burn out in the process. Other companies, however, might have a less-extreme definition of what it means to be customer-centric and, as a result, want more-conservative individuals interested in balancing the needs of customers and the business.

2. Decide whether you want the status quo or you need to change the culture.
In some cases, to meet competitive pressures, you might have to change the culture to move the organization forward. While in the past, you might have valued a cautious approach to research, for example, your current environment might require a faster pace. In that case, you’ll probably have to look for an entirely different set of behaviors from those required to maintain the status quo. And, of course, you’ll share that information with HR, so the assessments you use in hiring will reflect those new needs.

In the case where the culture needs to brought forward through change, you should add another element to the assessment: tools that pinpoint whether the applicants have what it takes to be change agents. That’s because, in addition to demonstrating the right behaviors, your new hires will need the resilience to withstand the pressures of being the harbinger of a new culture, the ability to lead the way even in the face of resentment – or even outright ridicule.

3. Partner with human resources to assess for the right cultural fit.
Once you’ve isolated the important behaviors you need to support your culture, you can share that information with your HR professionals. Using a wide variety of tools, from motivational fit assessments and role-playing exercises to personality inventories, and perhaps working with outside consultants, HR can design an effective assessment that gives applicants the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not they’re a good fit.

4. Share with your new hires what you learned about them through the assessment process.
During the first 90 days at work, discuss the results of the assessments, contingent on local laws governing what information can be divulged. Since a thorough assessment process will identify not only cultural fit, but areas of strength and weakness, you can give the individual, in effect, an early performance review. Perhaps the person scored high on team interaction, but lower on delegation. You then can immediately set the wheels in motion to develop those skills that need work while immediately leveraging strengths.

In that way, you will further accelerate your new employees’ development, reduce the time it takes for them to make substantive contributions and feel immediately valued and engaged – all of which significantly affect the impact the individual has on the organization.

Michael Haid, Senior Vice President for Global Solutions, Right Management, oversees Right’s Talent Assessment solutions portfolio, responsible for designing global, scalable individual, team and organizational assessment solutions delivered to meet critical and emerging business needs. Michael has more than 15 years of extensive consulting and leadership experience in the areas of selection, assessment and leadership development.

Friday, May 21, 2010

10 Opinions on Performance Reviews

There’s been a lot of buzz the last few weeks around the topic of performance reviews. Much of it has
re-surfaced as a result of a recent New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope about the mental health risks of performance reviews.

She quotes UCLA Professor Samuel Culbert, who wrote the book “Get Rid of the Performance Review” and the October 20th 2008 Wall Street Journal article with the same title.

Both of the articles are interesting reads, and make compelling arguments. However, neither are the first to suggest the notion of getting rid of performance reviews. There was a book called "Abolishing Performance Appraisals"written back in 2000, and Deming called out the practice as one of his “7 Deadly Diseases” backing the early 1980s.

I’ve even heard that there was an ancient secret society formed within the Catholic Church whose mission it was to wipe out performance reviews. Look for the upcoming book by Dan Brown and the movie with Tom Hanks.

I’ve already written a couple posts about the topic. One of my all-time favorite posts (albeit perhaps overly cynical) I ever wrote was back in January 2008, called “10 Ways to Screw up a Performance Appraisal”.

I followed up that up with a much more constructive, but still snarky posted called "A No Bull- #$%! Performance Review Process”.

If you read both posts, you’ll get a good idea where I stand on the issue. I hope I've offered an alternative that makes sense, as opposed to just whining about it.

Since I've written those posts, I've thought about the topic of performance reviews some more, and for the most part, I'm still in the same place. Here are my latest 10 completely unscientific and biased opinions on performance reviews:

1. Most, if not all, managers hate writing them and hate delivering them. They hate them because it’s so hard to come up with new things to write about “communication” every year, they are time consuming and tedious, and delivering feedback about a performance issue is about as fun as getting a root canal.

2. Despite of that, a lot of managers, maybe even most, put a lot of work into the process, try to do a good job with them, and play by the rules that are handed to them. Despite the watter-cooler & blog horror stories, the majority of managers are not complete morons.

3. Employees love getting positive reviews. They actually do take them home and show their family and hang them on the refrigerator. However, very few people enjoy or respond well to “constructive feedback”. Basic human fight or flight mechanisms take over. It doesn’t matter if it’s delivered once a year or once a day, it still feels the same. So if it’s not outstanding, employees hate them too.

4. No one should be immune from being evaluated, judged, graded, or scored. I don’t buy those philosophic arguments about power, status, human rights, etc… That’s part of life and being accountable. I always find it interesting when tenured academics write about the evils of performance reviews. In general, teachers and professors don’t like being evaluated or held accountable to begin with, so of course they can come up with all kinds of passionate arguments why no one else should.

5. HR managers are often the worst offenders when it comes to either not doing them or doing them poorly, yet the most vocal critics of managers who do them poorly (according to their unrealistic standards).

6. If you decide to try to “fix” your performance review system, be careful what you ask for. The solutions designed by well-meaning task forces, consultants, academics, HR, and rouge managers are often worse than the problems you’re trying to fix. They do, however, make very nice PowerPoint presentations.

7. Performance appraisal software can help make the process more efficient and effective – or make it all worse. It all depends on who’s doing the configuration.

8. Peer or multi-rater assessment are OK for developmental purposes, as long as the results are seen only by the individual being assessed. They have no place in performance appraisal – that’s the manager’s dirty job. Oh - and self-directed work teams? Good luck with that one.

9. "Experts" (often trainers or HR) usually overstates the reasons why they “have” to be done. It’s for “legal” reasons, employees “deserve” them, it’s “your job” as a manager. Really? Ask the expert exactly how many court cases the company has lost because of a missing or poorly written performance review. As if they would be willing to survey employees to see if they how much they contribute to performance or job satisfaction. Ask for some research that proves the ability to do good performance reviews has anything to do with leadership excellence. Ask for data that shows how doing or not doing performance reviews has ever improved the companies’ bottom line. You’ll be sure to get scowls or blank stares.
I'm not saying there really are some good reasons - I'm sure there is even some credible research - but more too often heavy-handed, uninformed arm-twisting is used instead of valid reasons. It's OK to step back and ask "why?"

10. At the end of the day, we’d be better off getting rid of the complicated forms and mandated practices, and just practice good day-to-day management and leadership. Under performance should still be documented, great performance should be recognized and rewarded, employees should get feedback, we should be held accountable, goals should be established, career and development plans should be discussed, and merit pay should be based on performance.

OMG, does all of this sound like performance management? Maybe, but please don’t make us fill out a damn 16 page form every year. Let's either do it right or not do it at all.

How about you? Have any opinions on performance reviews? (-:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Results Are in: 2010 Top Workplace Pet Peeves

A new Randstad Work Watch survey reveals what really irks employees. did your favorite make the list? If not, go ahead and get it off your chest and add it as a comment.

My additions: swearing (particularly dropping the f-bomb), whining, finger pointing, and a lack of leadership (surprise!).

ATLANTA, May 5, 2010 – Employees would rather deal with gossiping co-workers than with colleagues who have poor time management skills, according to Randstad, a leading staffing firm and workforce solutions provider. The company’s new Work Watch survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs among more than 1,000 employed U.S. adults, revealed the top three workplace pet peeves to be: people with poor time management skills (43 percent), gossip (36 percent) and messiness in communal spaces (25 percent).

The results show a slight, but interesting, shift in employee sentiment on this subject since the last time Randstad conducted a similar survey on workplace pet peeves in 2007. In that survey, gossip ranked as the biggest workplace annoyance, followed by others’ poor time management skills and messiness in communal spaces.

“The economic occurrences of the past 18-plus months seem to also have impacted what annoys people at work,” said Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development for Randstad. “Whether it is budget cuts or staff layoffs, employees are being asked to do more work with fewer resources, which directly affects how they view their time in the office. Employees are looking for ways to increase their value at work, so it would only make sense they would be a bit bothered by coworkers who they believe are having an impact on their time, and, possibly company productivity.”

Other workplace pet peeves making the 2010 list include: loud noises (21 percent), potent scents (20 percent), overuse of personal electronic devices in meetings (15 percent) and misuse of email (12 percent).

Since the original Randstad survey on workplace pet peeves was conducted in 2007, social media use, whether for personal or professional reasons, has exploded onto the scene. Additionally, America experienced a presidential election and a recession, each spurring a number of political hot button issues. These events prompted Randstad to add two additional choices for respondents to consider when identifying their top workplace pet peeve. Interestingly, social media use and political conversations didn’t rank in the top six selections of respondents pet peeves. A comparison follows.

Top Workplace Pet Peeves                  2010 Rank                2007 Rank

- Others’ poor time management skills        1                                 2
- Gossip                                                    2                                 1
- Messiness in communal spaces                3                                 3
- Loud noises                                            4                                 5
- Potent scents                                          5                                 4
- Overuse of personal electronic devices     6                                 6
 in meetings
- Political conversations                             7                               Not included
- Misuse of email                                       8                                 7
- Personal use of social media sites            9                               Not included
 during work hours 

Peeves About Time Management
So what, exactly, do employees find most annoying about colleagues time management practices? The survey revealed that 22 percent of respondents listed people who take excessive breaks – long lunches, smoking breaks, online surfing – as their chief aggravation. After that, “pet peeve parity” kicks in as roughly one in ten workers named the following as their top time management frustration:

• people who abuse sick days (11 percent)
• meetings without agendas or structure (11 percent)
• meetings that cut into personal time, including starting before or ending after traditional work hours (10 percent)
• meetings that start late or run over (10 percent)
• people who are distracted on their Blackberry or who text during a meeting (10 percent)
• people who consistently miss deadlines (9 percent)

Not surprising, employees under age 35 were more likely than those who are older to say that their biggest time management pet peeve is when meetings cut into personal time (16 percent vs. 7 percent). However, 13 percent of respondents say that none of the above pet peeves bother them.

Social Media Impact
With only 12 percent of respondents saying that personal use of social media sites in the workplace was among their biggest pet peeves, it’s reasonable to say that this activity has either become a part of the “everyday” at work or that companies are now cracking down on social media use through formal policies. When asked what was most annoying about people’s personal use of social media during work hours, the top two responses were the amount of time wasted that should be spent on work assignments (28 percent) and when it causes users to ask others for help with their workload or responsibilities (20 percent). “This makes sense as both of these activities could impact a worker’s ability to manage, or not manage, their time,” added Habelow. “Just as telling is the fact the survey also found that 27 percent of respondents don’t have any concerns over people’s personal use of social media during work hours which again could be because of workplace policies or general acceptance.”

How Pet Peeves Are Being Addressed
Just as workers have a variety of pet peeves, they also tend to deal with them in different ways. In most instances, employees say that they typically deal with their pet peeve by saying something directly to the person involved (29 percent). Additionally, the survey found that very few opt to directly email the person (2 percent) when dealing with their pet peeve. The next best way for most workers to deal with or respond to pet peeves is by venting about it to co-workers (19 percent). Only 9 percent say something to their boss/supervisor and even fewer, 1 percent, leave an anonymous note or vent on a social networking site. Interestingly, more than a quarter of respondents (27 percent) stated they ignore the situation completely.

Additional findings from the survey included:

• Workers under 35 are more likely than those 55 and older to say that loud noises (25 percent vs. 16 percent) and political conversations (15 percent vs. 8 percent) are pet peeves
• When it comes to email pet peeves, forwarding chain emails and jokes topped the list (19 percent)
• Women are more likely than men to be annoyed by unnecessary “reply alls” (15 percent vs. 10 percent)
• Workers aged 18-34 are more likely than workers 55+ to be bothered by people who ask a question that was just answered in previous email (12 percent vs. 3 percent)

Abbreviated Survey Methodology
For the survey, a national sample of 1,037 adults aged 18 and older who were currently employed from Ipsos’ U.S. online panel were interviewed online from April 13-16, 2010. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20 of what the results would have been had the entire adult population of employed adults aged 18 and older in the United States had been polled.

About Randstad US
Randstad US is a wholly owned subsidiary of Randstad Holding nv, a $17.7 billion global provider of HR services and the second largest staffing organization in the world. We play a pivotal role in shaping the world of work, leveraging the true value of human capital for the benefit of our clients, candidates, employees and investors.
More information is available at the company’s website,

About Ipsos Public Affairs
Ipsos Public Affairs is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research practice which conducts strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations, based on public opinion research. They are the international polling agency of record for Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. To learn more, visit:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

5 Ways to Train Executives

Designing and implementing an executive education program is not for the inexperienced or faint hearted. What’s so different about executives? Wouldn’t universal training and learning principles apply to them as well as anyone?
To some degree, yes. However, I’d recommend being aware of and paying attention to the following differences:

1. Pace
Generally, executives are very intelligent and can absorb A LOT of complex information very quickly. They also have the attention span of fleas. They have to. Take a look at the typical daily schedule of an executive. Their day is an endless parade of meetings, bouncing around from one topic to another. Most of these meetings involve quickly absorbing information that others have spent weeks or months preparing, and they are expected to make decisions and provide direction. You can’t take a group of individuals out of this kind of environment and expect them to slow down and reflect for endless hours at a time. A few may try to help you out by frantically waving their hand in a circular motion, as if to say “come on, pick it up!”

2. Content
Content needs to be sophisticated, provocative, fresh, and VERY relevant to your business and industry. Executives need to see how what they are being asked to consider will help them accomplish their business objectives. While there may be some that might have a natural sense of intellectual curiosity, most will need to the immediate business relevance or they will tune out. You’ll know this right away when the iPhones and Droids start appearing. They have NO patience for their time being wasted, and will not be shy about letting you know. Why should they? Add up the cost of the hourly salaries for a room full of executives, and you’ll understand why.

3. Competition
Executives are, in general, a competitive bunch. Forget what you were taught about the importance of establishing “a safe learning environment”. They are also – again, in general – very quick to assess and judge.

4. Autonomy
Executives don’t need to be, nor do they like to be told what to do. They are used to making their own decisions and have a high degree of autonomy. They don’t need to be spoon-fed and are used to making up their own rules.

With these principles in mind, here are a few approaches to executive education that companies that are known for world-class executive development are using:

1. Action Learning.
Action learning is probably the most widely used method for internal executive education programs. An action learning program usually consists of the following components:
- The CEO, or a sponsoring senior executive selects a business challenge. The business challenge is usually some strategic issue that the senior team has been wrestling with – some tough nut to crack.
- The program is designed around putting teams of participants together to learn about and develop recommendations to the challenge or challenges.
- Participants are usually current executives or high potentials, identified through the succession planning process.
- Teams are usually provided an internal senior executive sponsor, access to internal and external experts, and a facilitator and/or executive coach.
- Participants have the opportunity to broaden and deepen their business acumen, strengthen their leadership capabilities (influence, presence, leading change), get feedback and coaching, and get a valuable exposure opportunity.
- Organizations can get a significant return on investment by solving a real business challenge, gain insight into their executive talent, and strengthen their team.

Designing and implementing an executive action program is harder than it sounds, so if you’ve never done one, I’d recommend hiring someone with experience to get you started. There are also some good books on action learning.

2. Business simulations
A typical business simulation involves teams of executives running a company, usually competing against each other. Simulations are sometimes computer-based, and some are designed to be run virtually through distance learning. Board games are another option, although often a tough sell for executive sponsors (“What, we’re going to play games?!”).
They can focus on building business skills, behavioral skills, or both.
Simulations can be customized to be company or industry specific.
“Second Life” is an advanced version of a simulation, and if fact, some organizations use it for training purposes.

3. Business War Games
In a business war game, participants are chosen to be on teams representing a company’s primary competitors. Another team represents your own company. Information is gathered about the competition (legally, of course) and the teams face off and play a number of rounds against each other. War games are usually run by an external consultant, although some companies use their own CI (competitive intelligence) teams to design and run the games. While the experience is very educational for participants, the primary purpose is to uncover weaknesses in your own strategy, as well as your competitors. One well known war game expert calls it “competitor appreciate day”.

To learn more, I’d recommend the book “Business War Games”, by Ben Gilad.

4. Executive Team Development
One way for an executive team to work on the “soft stuff” that’s getting in the way of achieving better business results is to improve the way they work together as a team. To accomplish this, an external (or sometimes internal) team development consultant is often engaged. After an initial assessment, the consultant can guide a team through activities and discussions designed to address team behavioral issues identified by the assessment. Sometimes, a concentrated team development effort takes place as part of an off-site retreat.

I’m generally highly skeptical of this kind of activity – I’ve seen way too many of them maybe make the CEO happy, but make everyone else miserable (although they don’t usually admit it). However, in the hands of a highly skilled consultant, and with the right conditions, this kind of work can turn a business around and show dramatic results.

5. Scenario Planning
Like business war gaming, scenario planning is more of a strategy development process than executive education. However, both can be also be educational, in a sneaky kind of way. While there are many variations of scenario planning, they typically involve identifying all of the possible alternative futures around a specific strategy. The process helps executives challenge their assumptions around their industry and develop and test strategies under a variety of plausible futures. Executive teams can then examine those potential alternatives, and build robust contingency plans.

Well run scenario planning sessions can produce high levels of organizational learning and collaboration that wouldn’t normally take place in a traditional strategic planning process.

While these are five of the most common forms of executive education, I’m sure there are more. The best companies for leadership development understand that training does not stop after new employee orientation. Organizations need to be constantly looking for new and improved ways to train their current and future executives.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lead Like A Child

Guest post by Simon Sinek:

As soon as he walked in door everyone immediately stopped talking and stood to attention. That’s the correct thing to do when a lieutenant general walks into the room. The General is considered a leader because he has three stars on his shoulders, but we often confuse rank for leadership. Yes, he is a high-ranking official in the military, but what makes this general a great leader is that he acts like a child.

There is one question that all children ask that most we almost completely stop asking when we become adults: why. With one glaring exception: great leaders.

When we ask “how?” or “what?” we’re usually asking for details, process or clarification. We’re asking for information that will help us do our jobs or get something done. The question why is very different. When we ask “why?” we reveal that we don’t understand something. It shows vulnerability. It reveals not knowing. And that is exactly the reason great leaders ask why so often. They are aware that they don’t know what they don’t know and they aren’t afraid so show it.

The General sat down has his briefing commenced. His guest started sharing with him some new ideas that the General had never heard before, and his whole demeanor changed. He was no longer an imposing general, he became like a little kid. He didn’t pretend he knew the subject matter. He wasn’t intimidated that he didn’t understand some of the concepts. Quite the opposite. He leaned forward with a child-like wonderment, ready to learn something new.

Great leaders are not the ones who hold the highest office or make the most money, they are the ones who inspire the people around them. And people are inspired when they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. The General, like all other great, inspiring leaders, inspires those around them not because of what he knows but because of how he makes others feel.

When someone of vast achievement or status shows genuine interest in the ideas of those around them, it makes those people feel valuable. It makes them feel like they are contributing. Command and control is not great leadership. It may be great management or delegation, but great leadership is not just about the ability to get things done, it’s the capacity to inspire others to take responsibility to get things done. When people in an organization believe in the greater cause and are made to feel a valuable part of it, they become vastly more conscientious about everything they do to contribute to that cause.

Poor leaders often reveal themselves very quickly when they point to their rank or accomplishments as reason they don’t need to listen to outside ideas. If you’ve ever genuinely wanted to contribute and been swiftly rebuffed with words like, “we’re a lot more successful than you, I think we know what I’m doing,” or “and what have you achieved that gives you the right to tell me what to do?” then congratulations, you’re talking to someone who may have achieved a lot, but they are not great.

The reason great leaders ask why is simple – they have an insatiable curiosity and they want to know what they don’t know. They understand that the more ideas, perspectives and things they can learn – inside AND outside their own disciplines – the more information it gives them to make better decisions. Great leaders are eternal students. Regardless of what they have learned, what they know or what they have achieved, they always want to know more. The value of their curiosity is more than a nicety, it has a biological benefit.

The rational and analytical part of our brains – the part of our brain that makes us sound like adults – can access the equivalent of about 2-feet of information around us. This is the conscious information we access when we think about a problem, when we weigh the pros and the cons, consider the facts and the figures before we make a decision. In contrast, our limbic brains – the part of our brains that actually control behavior and decision-making - can access subconscious information. Information that doesn’t come out on any list of pros and cons. Our limbic brain is filled with our entire life’s worth of experiences, lessons and information; the equivalent of 11-acres worth of information. This is the information that is being tapped when we make gut-decisions or when we act instinctively. No data is weighed in these decisions yet they are, very often, better quality decisions.

Those with an insatiable curiosity, those who constantly want to see more, do more understand why, are filling their subconscious brains with data that can be tapped at a later date. It will help influence and drive decisions and the decision maker won’t even know it’s happening when they’re doing it.

There something we can all do to fill our subconscious brains to make us better decision makers and, ultimately, make us better leaders. We can learn to act like children again.

Here are some ideas:

1. When we’re kids, we read all kinds of different stories, but as adults we focus on our industries. Take time to read more books and magazines that have nothing to do with your industry. Learn about how others are doing and how they solve problems (maybe even read fewer from your own).

2. When we’re kids, our parents and our teachers drag us to museums and performances of all kinds. Go wonder around the natural history museum or an art gallery. Go see a ballet performance. And don’t just complain the whole time that you want to go home. Try to find something you like about any of those things.

3. When we’re kids, we go on class trips, but as adults we don’t. Take class trips. Take a day or an afternoon off and take your team somewhere that has nothing to do with work for no other reason than to do or see something new or different.

4. Ask why. We so often ask questions to prove people wrong as opposed to understand what they mean. Really listen to the ideas of others. If someone approaches you with good intentions, ask lots of questions and try to really understand the meaning and value of the idea they are offering. Show genuine interest.

5. Encourage all the people who report to you to do all the above. Even encourage them to take an afternoon off simply to explore or subsidize a personal enrichment class they want to take outside of work.

Simon Sinek is a renowned leadership expert who teaches leaders and companies how to inspire people. The author of the book Start With Why, he works with the military, politicians, government, entrepreneurs and folks like you and me. For more, visit, follow him on twitter @simonsinek, or see his TED talk.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How to be Accountable and Hold Others Accountable

This is a story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybodyʹs job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldnʹt do it.
It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

- Unknown

Does this sound familiar? What kind of workplace situations does this remind you of?

The topic of accountability has been such a hot topic for the last decade, it’s almost turned into just another corporate buzzword. However, for some reason, the word still seems to be a lightning rod when it comes to leadership development.

It’s a word with a lot of arms and legs. It’s often used to describe:

- a personal value (someone who is accountable)

- something you do to others (hold them accountable)

- and something that an organizational entity should be or isn’t (e.g., there’s no accountability in government).

For leaders, accountability starts with looking in the mirror. Being accountable is our ticket to earning the right to hold others accountable.

When someone else screws up, we tend to blame it on their personal characteristics. However, when we screw up, we tend to blame it on external circumstances. It’s a cognitive bias social psychologists call “fundamental attribution”. Neither serve us or others well as leaders.

What does it mean to be accountable as a leader? Let’s just say I know it when I hear it. It sounds something like this:

- “I made a mistake”
- “I screwed up”
- “That’s on me, and no one else”
- “No excuses
- “I’ll do it – it’s mine”
- “I got it”
- “I’m already on it, it’ll get taken care of”
- “I’ll make sure everyone gets regular status reports”

I also know what it doesn’t sound like… it doesn’t sound like:

- Whining
- Finger pointing
- Blaming
- “I’ll try”, “maybe”, “I’ll do my best”
- Excuses, excuses, and more excuses
- A victim
Insincere, rehearsed, b.s. apologies 

Leaders can start creating a culture of accountability by being accountable. However, being a role model isn’t always enough to help someone else be accountable. As leaders, we often need to hold others accountable. In order to do this, we need to:

1. Establish expectations
Without expectations, managers and employees both end up frustrated and disappointed. It’s important to clearly describe what “good” performance looks like, and what it does not look like.

2. Gain Commitment
Without commitment, we get compliance – or even resistance. Don’t assume you have someone’s commitment just because you’ve discussed it with them. Watch out for those phases like “I’ll try”, or “I’ll do my best”. Ask for and listen to people’s concerns. Help them overcome their obstacles, explain the benefits, and help them figure out what they need to achieve the goal. Ask: “Do I have your commitment?”, and “What needs to happen in order for you to commit to this?”

3. Inspect what you expect
“Inspection” sounds like a dirty word, indicating a lack of trust or micromanaging. It’s really not – following up shows that it’s important, you care, and you’re there to help remove obstacles. Inspecting also provides an opportunity to give praise for progress towards a goal. In time, hopefully, your employees will learn how to proactively provide progress reports. Let’s face it, these days, we all have all kinds of competing priorities. Even with good intentions, it’s easy for things to slip. Inspection and follow-up make sure the really important things don’t fall through the cracks.

4. Provide feedback and consequences.
Feedback lets someone know how they’re doing. If expectations are not being met, then they need to know about it, as well as how to get back on track.
If expectations are being met or exceeded, then they need to hear about that as well.
If performance consistently is below expectations, then there needs to be consequences. Without consequences, there is no accountability.
If you follow this process consistently as a leader, and role model accountable behavior yourself, you’ll create a culture of accountability and “no excuses” within your team or organization.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It’s the Soft Stuff That’s Really the Hard Stuff

Excerpts from press release and article reprinted with permission from Right Management:

Job seekers who focus on selling their experience or technical skills may be missing out in today’s job market, according to new research by Right Management. Organizations are looking for people with a good motivational fit with the team and the organization’s culture.

A recent Right Management study of close to nearly 900 senior leaders and Human Resource professionals revealed surprising insights into just what factors lead most frequently to on-the-job success. Respondents overwhelmingly pointed not to employees’ technical skills, expertise or experience, but to other, very different qualities: organizational culture and motivational fit, as well as savvy, appropriate interpersonal skills. For example, the number of respondents who felt that “organizational culture/motivational fit” contributes most to accelerated performance was more than 2 ½ times greater than those who pointed to “technical skills” or “relevant experience” as the most significant factor.

These findings have implications for both job seekers and for leadership development.

Implications for job seekers:

“Immediate, on-the-job performance is so essential these days,” said Michael Haid, Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Right Management. “New hires need to get up to speed fast and make a smooth transition into the new environment.”

Haid advises job seekers to understand the culture of the prospective employer in advance of the interview. “There’s a lot you can learn about an organization by tapping your online and traditional network. Ask your contacts for advice on how they think you would fit in and what the obstacles may be.”

Job seekers should highlight in their resumes and during interviews how their interpersonal and work skills will align with the company’s culture, according to Haid. “Share examples of how your motivation or interpersonal skills helped you to overcome barriers or solve problems. And if appropriate, look for opportunities to share how your values are aligned with those of the organization.”

Haid notes that increasingly employers are using assessments to identify fit and alignment with cultures and values. “Assessments take the guess work out of what might otherwise be somewhat subjective evaluations.”

Implications for leadership development (from Right’s Michael Haid)

These insights have critical implications for an organization’s overall talent management strategy–most importantly for how to assess and develop high-potential leaders. While it’s possible to assess current and prospective employees for all factors cited in the Right Management survey, two factors– cultural and motivational fit–involve innate characteristics that can be difficult to coach or develop. How, then, should organizations proceed?

Organizations should consider these three steps to ensure high performance:

Analyze the basic elements of their organizational culture. Before determining whether individuals have the appropriate cultural and motivational fit, compa¬nies must first determine the key attributes of their own values, such as whether the organization prizes innovation or has a rigid chain of command. They also need to pinpoint the types of opportunities available throughout the organiza¬tion. For example, a company in a highly regulated industry that requires strict procedures to be followed wouldn’t be a good fit for an individual who thrives in an atmosphere of ambiguity.

Assess employees for organizational culture/motivational fit and interpersonal behavioral skills. Organizations should identify a pool of high-potential leaders, both at a junior and senior level, using past performance as a starting point. Then they can assess these individuals to determine, for example, those whose values are aligned with the corporate culture and who would be most likely to enjoy high levels of job satisfaction working in leadership roles within the organization.

In some cases, companies need to assess existing leaders for how they align with the organization’s current culture. If, however, the business is contemplating a change in strategy, the organization might assess individuals for their compat¬ibility with a future environment. In these cases, it’s likely the company also will need to assess talent from outside the organization.

Create a program to develop those leaders who make the cut. Once the most promising leaders have been identified, companies can take the next step: using assessment results to help individuals improve their interpersonal skills. That can include learning how to do everything from planning and delegating to building trust. Probably the best way to address gaps in interpersonal savvy is through coaching sessions during which people focus on appropriate behavior in specific business situations. In addition, leaders can be given job assignments aimed at addressing a broader range of interpersonal behaviors, or attend workshops to learn a discrete set of skills.

About Right Management and Michael Haid:
Right Management is the talent and career management expert within Manpower, the global leader in employment services. Right Management helps clients win in the changing world of work by designing and executing workforce solutions that align talent strategy with business strategy.

Michael Haid, Senior Vice President for Global Solutions, oversees Right’s Talent Assessment solutions portfolio, responsible for designing global, scalable individual, team and organiza¬tional assessment solutions delivered to meet critical and emerging business needs. Michael has more than 15 years of extensive consulting and leadership experience in the areas of selection, assessment and leadership development.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The May 2010 Leadership Development Carnival

Welcome to the May 2, 2010 edition of leadership development carnival!

This month’s edition reminds me of being in an ice cream shop with 42 flavors to choose from.

Go ahead, indulge yourself – have them all. It’s even good for you.

Chris Young, the host of next month's Carnival presents Team 360 Performance Feedback posted at Maximize Possibility Blog.

Mary Jo Asmus presents Stuck? Admit It and Ask For Help posted at Mary Jo Asmus.

Nick McCormick presents Thriving in the Midst of Accelerated Change posted at Joe and Wanda - on Management, saying, "In this 10 minute podcast David Utts, CEO of Executive Skillworks, talks about how managers need to get on the developmental journey of leadership in order to thrive in these times of accelerated change."

Bret L. Simmons presents C.K. Prahalad: The Responsible Manager posted at Bret L. Simmons.

Alice Snell presents Performance and Fair Pay posted at Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions.

Becky Robinson presents Early Lessons About Teamwork posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk.

Miki Saxon presesnts Ducks in a Row: How to Reduce Office Politics posted at Mapping Company Success, saying "Office politics is debilitating; it damages organizations and individuals and can sink the best laid plans. Here is what you can do to reduce and eventually eliminate politics in your organization, whether the whole company or a small team."

Nagesh Belludi presents Learn from the Top Performers in Every Field [Skills for Success] posted at Right Attitudes » Ideas for Impact, saying, "The best way to educate yourself is by observing the top performers in every field and by identifying and applying their effectiveness techniques to your circumstances."

Michael D. Haberman, SPHR presents Performance Evaluations: "The GREAT EVIL"? posted at HR Observations.

Rob Tucker presents Getting your team to take Ownership posted at Reading About Leading, saying, "Explores the real substance behind rapid leadership development."

Janna Rust presents Time Management 101: Start with Reality posted at Purposeful Leadership.

Kathy C presents How Can Leadership Help with Work Life Balance? posted at The Thriving Small Business, saying, "For those of us who are in this for the long haul, understanding our role in setting the example for work life balance is an important aspect of leadership."

Elyse Nielsen presents Designing The Will and the Skill to Change posted at Anticlue, saying, "As we look to adopt a new way of working we have to get people to commit on an emotional level and on an intellectual level."

Laura Schroeder presents I'm a Hi-Po, He's a Hi-Po, She's a Hi-Po... posted at Compensation Cafe.

Jennifer Miller presents 4ways to Gain Team Input posted at The People Equation, saying " Don’t let the “crickets” take over at your next team meeting. 4 ways to gain input during team meetings."

David Burkus presents The Maxwell Fallacy posted at LeaderLab.

Utpal Vaishnav presents A Path-Goal Based Approach That May Take Your Project Leadership Repertoire To The Next Level posted at Utpal Vaishnav.

Anne Perschel presents Harvard Asked Why So Few Women CEOs? - Then published my answer posted at Germane Insights, saying, "Harvard Business published a list of best CEOs. As they wonder why there is only one woman who qualifies perhaps they should examine their criteria."

Mike Henry Sr. presents Instigating a Leadership Revolution posted at Lead Change Group Blog, saying, "Members of the Lead Change Group published an ebook about the unique value of the group and their first un-conference, LeaderPalooza"

LisaRosendahl presents One Smart Cookie posted at Lisa Rosendahl.

Tanmay Vora presents Nine I’s and Great Leadership posted at QAspire - Quality, Management, Leadership & Life!, saying, "In a discussion with a budding manager, we touched upon some of the most important traits of a leader and amazingly all started with an "I". This post touches upon nine things leaders do to deliver exceptional business results."

William Matthies presents Progress: Getting To There posted at Business Wisdom: Words to Manage By, saying, "Leading includes establishing how much risk is expected/will be tolerated by the organization."

Sharlyn Lauby presents Trust Is Not Blind Faith posted at hr bartender, saying, "Trust is an essential component of working relationships."

Scott Eblin has been talking with high potential leaders who have spent a day shadowing senior executives. In this post, he recaps what the hi-po's say are the five traits of their most admired leaders. Scott Eblin presents Five Traits of the Most Admired Leaders posted at Next Level Blog.

Eric Pennington presents Processed Leadership vs. Organic Leadership posted at Epic Living - Leadership Development Career Management Training Executive Life Coaching Author, saying, "The examination of two styles of leadership and how they impact leaders, and their organizations."

Kevin Eikenberry presents Are Failure and Mistakes the Same Thing? posted at Leadership and Learning with Kevin Eikenberry.

Wally Bock presents The Myth of Perfect Productivity posted at Three Star Leadership Blog, saying, "For more than forty years I've read "research" about how much time people waste at work. Surely the researchers would be more productive studying something else."

Jane Perdue presents Connecting and Caring posted at Life, Love & Leadership.

Art Petty presents Leadership Caffeine: For a Change, Look At What’s Working posted at Management Excellence.

Tom Glover presents Are You Deeply Read or Widely Read? posted at Reflection Leadership.

Meg Bear presents Are you using your org goals to channel innovation? posted at TalentedApps, saying, "Make sure you are providing useful organizational goals to help guide where innovation could be most useful."

Tom Magness presents A Salute to a Striver posted at Leader Business, saying, "Just when we start feeling sorry for ourselves, when we think the deck is stacked against us, along comes someone like Tyki Nelworth, who inspires us to keep striving for excellence."

Joshua Noerr presents Management Should Always Play Favorites posted at - Blog, saying, "Why everything you have ever been taught about treating people fairly is wrong."

Jason Reid presents How to manage people when you are sick posted at Sick With Success .com.

Stephen Warrilow presents How To Manage Change - Putting It All Together posted at Change Management - Practical Strategies For Success.

Aaron Dinsdale presents Steps On How To Welcome Your New Employees posted at Small Business Advice | Small Business Tips and Articles | Small Business Success Stories.

Thomas Lopez presents 50 Best Blogs for HR Wisdom posted at Career Overview.

Working girl presents Managers I Have Known - Part I posted at Working Girl.

David Zinger presents 14 Employee Engagement Lessons From 2 Boys and a Sewer posted at Employee Engagement Zingers, saying, "Lessons can be learned anywhere and at any age for management, leadership, and employee engagement."

Nissim Ziv presents How to Retain Employees – Ways for Retaining Good Employees posted at Job Interview Guide, saying, "It has become important for companies to think about how to retain employees. Retention of employees is quite important today, because good employees are getting poached almost every day today."

Jason Seiden presents Compete vs. Support posted at Next Generation Talent Development, saying, "Not all team members are the same. Treat them as if they are and you're all but guaranteed to mess at least one of them up."

Erik Samdahl presents The Most Critical Succession Planning Practices posted at Productivity Blog.

That concludes this edition. Next month's edition will be hosted by Chris Young, at Maximize Possiblity, on June 6.