Engagement surveys – hitting the reset button

I’m not an advocate for Engagement surveys – they have always struck me as somewhere demeaning: sit over there and communicate with leaders via a digital dashboard. Why not simply ask people what they think, how they feel and what we can collectively do to make the organisation succeed. I have never found people to hold back when I ask them those questions. If you think they won’t be honest, address that problem. Don’t create another.

I ‘get’ the value of benchmarking, trends and comparisons – with customers, markets, products, not work partners.

Are surveys inherently flawed? No, it is just that they may well take organisations away from their goal in this area, not towards it. Forcing human insight and goodwill into the narrow bandwidth of clicks and ticks seems odd. (As for those lacking goodwill, they shouldn’t be there in the first place so the results become meaningless.)

The way you can tell if people are really communicating freely is if you as leader are ‘comfortable’ with criticism from anyone.(I put comfortable in quotation marks as past programming may make feedback of any kind inherently uncomfortable.)

People are fully engaged when six factors are high. These have been consistent in organisations I have observed in 10 countries across a wide range of culture and enterprise. If any one area is low, performance is compromised.

  1. Valued
  2. Work environment
  3. Productivity
  4. Fit
  5. Aspiration
  6. Organisation (as both noun and verb)
  1. Valued – not ‘values’. This is the extent to which people feel valued – do they see the link between what they do and the positive effect on others both inside and outside the organisation? If not, they will find it hard to keep toiling away without the satisfaction of knowing they are making a difference. Valued includes what is noticed and acted upon. It includes mechanisms to respond to concerns and routine individual/team and organisation timeouts (to decompress if needed), review how things have gone and joint planning of next steps.
  2. Work environment includes atmosphere, how people treat each other and are welcomed when they first join. It has to do with how people feel working together and their mutual respect. It also includes tolerance of diversity and how a group celebrates difference and makes the most of it for high performance. It also includes capability to handle conflict and pressures including the ‘politics’ associated with strong personalities and the influence they are seen to have.
  3. Productivity includes how work is organised and allocated, the workflows and being able to get things done efficiently. (It includes induction and onboarding.)
  4. Fit includes who is put into what role and which tasks they are allocated; it includes regular review to account for scope creep.
  5. Aspiration includes systematic on-job learning (whereby managers process with employees their learning and how it relates to their role), delegation, group learning opportunities and a focus on continuous improvement/organisational learning. This factor encourages creative thinking and innovation whereby people can turn their minds to making things work better and have a sense of pride and fulfillment from directly and/or indirectly contributing to achievement.
  6. Organisation includes recruitment, induction/onboarding (this is also under 3. Productivity), structure/roles, management (who and how), communication channels, internal marketing (i.e. reminding staff systematically about their impact, the positives, reinforcing the value of working here), quality controls, feedback loops, H&S/wellbeing, risk management, planning and tracking against plans, reporting, celebrating, leadership, ethics and values alignment.

When these 6 elements are collectively managed by everyone, equally, the organisation (and the individual) performs to potential. Engagement is not about people with something added but when nothing has been taken away.

Posted in Managing for business success | 2 Comments

Digital fixation – before and after Christchurch

At a time when occupational therapists are alerting parents that their child may fall off their chair due to under-developed spatial awareness and balance from too much time on screens (down from 6 hours a day of outside play to an av. of 40 mins)  and democracies are questioning the power of digital campaigns to sway elections,  we have yet another consideration: to what extent is online media coverage causing violence?

For a long time, organisations and individuals have been obsessed with speed, functionality and convenience of the internet. Is it time, or well past time, to consider ethics in how we use the internet?

Disturbing research has come from the University of West Australia claiming a causal link between media coverage and violence. (I don’t like to use the ‘t’ word for fear of glamorising it since I heard about this research.)

An extract from one of Dr Michael Jetter’s discussion papers states “One minute of Al-Qaeda coverage in a 30-minute news segment causes approximately one attack in the upcoming week, equivalent to 4.9 casualties, on average. Further, the effect not only affects the timing of attacks, but rather increases the overall number of Al-Qaeda attacks. These results advise caution in the coverage of Al-Qaeda, as it may directly encourage terrorist attacks.”

He said in an email “It does appear that the more you talk about the shooter, show their pictures and videos, focus on his (it’s usually a male) “intentions”, the more you give him what he wants. The more you sensationalize, the more you give him what he wants.”

This suggests that the coverage of violent acts causes violence. (Is it coincidence that Friday’s perpetrator was known to have spent a lot of time on his computer when growing up, according to his grandmother?)

A tech expert commented at the weekend that merely watching a video raises its prominence; not just reposting it, merely watching it. Shortly after that, a CNN reporter narrated in graphic detail the streamed attack video. (What on earth for?) Another tech expert said we shouldn’t kid ourselves that machines are driving algorithms; no, engineers – human beings – are making the choices.

The time has come to put the discussion of internet ethics before speed, functionality and convenience. If merely viewing online media coverage promulgates violence, are we not then all responsible for the loss of lives?

Immediate actions

  1. Leave viewing of graphic footage to security experts and authorities
  2. Call perpetrators of violence ‘criminals’ – “A crime has occurred and due to a shooter, 50 people have lost their lives.” No sensational terms such has horror, tragedy, terror, fear, gunned down, bloodbath. No extreme terms nor descriptions, no reference to horror nor tragedy.
  3. Sensationalize the response of community action and support. Simply focus coverage on the deluge of care, support, actions, community, togetherness, refuge, safety, prevention and recovery.
  4. Switch off the coverage when it sensationalises violence using ‘cheap thriller’ terminology. Don’t buy the paper that has extreme terms on the front page.

Vote with your feet as well as your fingers. Lives may depend on this choice. Or accept that you are increasing the violence. That is the ethical choice in front of every one of us.

Posted in Leadership | 1 Comment

The dark side of goal setting

Setting goals – specific, measurable, achievable, revealed (at least to one other person), time bound and WRITTEN – has been correlated with success. (Some even claim a causal link.)  Imagine a Tom Brady or Roger Federer with no goals.

The start of the calendar (or lunar) year is a great time to reflect on last year’s achievements and reset goals. Working in California recently, a long way from New Zealand, it was great to confirm the universal relevance of goals and goal setting. While culture or stage of life may determine the types of goals people set, the broad relevance of goal setting remains.

Personally, I have set three new goals for 2019 – different from my routine goals – and have told at least three people. Already, I can feel the giant clock in my mind ticking: ‘get going, get going, get going’.

I first appreciated the human nature of goal setting in the 1990s listening to Professor Luiz Machado at a conference in St Louis, Missouri.  He explained how the structure of the midbrain facilitates the achievement of an ideal through its orchestration of neural network development in the cortex. I was fascinated that a) we seem to be built for success and b) we come with the mechanisms for success already ‘engineered in’.

Fast forward 20 years from that conference and an article in a newspaper caught my eye: Secrets behind the success” of one of New Zealand’s billionaires. I must confess to being rather disappointed to read in the article: “timeout to think about strategy, seeking the counsel of others, setting a plan with milestones and monitoring against the plan.”  Is that all, I thought?

Still, there it is in a nutshell.  Success (in whatever way that is uniquely and personally defined) is associated with:

  • Setting clear goals
  • Translating those into planned actions to achieve the goals
  • Conferring with and consulting others
  • Tracking success and adjusting as you go

Dark side of goal setting

The Australian Royal Commission into the Banking Sector published a scathing report on 4th February 2019 – a sweeping condemnation of banks, their boards and executives.   Some have fallen on their swords and indictments are expected. Most shocking for the public however were the 68 days of hearings and the awful stories similar to what whistle-blower Jeff Morris directly heard day after day in his job at the bank. His hard-won battle at huge personal cost was to restore fairness to customers who lost millions, while he was repeatedly shunned by the financial services sector watchdog, ASIC.  His commitment led eventually to the Royal Commission which has resulted in 76 recommendations including that banks put customers first.

How has this happened? When I was growing up, the local bank manager was one of the most trusted members of the community.  Recent investigations in New Zealand revealed that a mentally-vulnerable insurance customer, living on a state benefit, was sold unemployment insurance by someone with a sales target to meet. For decades now, questions have been asked about sales targets of pharmaceutical companies. People have died who have exposed the dark side of goal setting.

Light side of goal setting

“Sunlight is a great disinfectant.”

How can you harness the power of goal setting without the risk of harm to you and/or others? Here are some tips:

  1. Open up about your goals. Publish them – literally or metaphorically
  2. “Seek the counsel of others”- people you trust to be honest with you
  3. Have counter goals. It is all too common to set quantity goals that drive quality down or vice versa. A singular view is rarely the answer
  4. Count the real costs. What price are you prepared to pay to achieve the goals? Factor in the real impact of success on both you and others

Brains are at their best, and human beings are at their healthiest, when adding value for self and others.  The human brain will never be at its best when achievement of goals causes harm.

Posted in Self-management | 4 Comments

The Human Race in an AI era

When John Bell was challenged to transform Fletcher Building’s group technology function so the business could grow and differentiate in the market, he put the human element front and centre, with a ‘transform from within’ approach. (See Reference)

“You just can’t move faster than what people can absorb…
Ultimately work gets done through people.” John Bell

After consulting with staff across New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia, the three strategic themes were defined as:

  1. Transform the IT function
  2. Rationalize the underlying platforms
  3. Drive digital enablement

This meant a complete reconfiguration of the technology function and centralization of 20 IT teams across the globe, to achieve two goals: Delight customers and Make Group Technology a great place to work. Both are essentially human, as were:

  • ‘involving everyone’ – ‘heart and mind’ – beforehand
  • employees bringing their ‘best selves’ to work every day.

“We had to address the cultural changes required in moving to a function that is focused on supporting the whole business with a ‘customer first’ ethos. This has been the single biggest area of focus and change.” John Bell

Has it worked? The provider of Fletcher Buildings’ Engagement survey points to the unprecedented 100% response rate by the team at a time when long-term staff said they’d experienced more change in the last two years than the previous 20. In addition, the unit’s culture change put it in the organization’s top 25%, with significant improvements in all key metrics since 2016.

I read this article at the same time similar themes were being reported in diverse situations across the globe – commentary about leaders like Gareth Southgate, manager of England’s soccer team, and those involved in the heroic rescue of 13 youngsters in harrowing circumstances in Thailand.

When John Bell says: “It’s not about individual heroics but working together to get things done,”  he may well have been talking about the incredible rescue conducted by an international crack team that had to work seamlessly and selflessly for a cause greater than any one individual.

Bell compares ongoing personal development in the technology team to physical fitness: “It’s like focusing on one’s health, if you don’t take a disciplined approach, you get out of shape. It’s the same in your career.”

He says “We live in a world of change, and the only way we can both cope individually, and help lead our businesses through technology changes, is to embrace a growth mindset, to ensure we’re committed to a programme of continuous learning.”  With this, he echoes Southgate’s view of the England team as a ‘work in progress’, committed to ongoing learning and improvement.

Pundits refer to Southgate’s calm, considered approach and his insistence on players having decision-making power. Mark Bosnich, who played with Southgate in the early days, commented on Southgate’s emphasis on relationships, building trust and simply doing the right thing.

When John Bell says “Never lose sight of the true north, particularly when the going gets tough. We’ve tested on this a few times; it is so easy to compromise and violate for expediency”  he may well be giving advice to the frantic families gathered at the mouth of the cave in Thailand, who simply wanted the boys out as quickly as possible.

Talking of testing, many leaders will identify with long nights and dark days when you feel you are reaching for the impossible and you wonder how much more people have to give. While business leaders may not literally lose a life (like that of the 38-year old rescue diver in Thailand), there can surely be no doubt about the physical health toll organizations place on people – at significant personal cost.

“It is not about you, it’s about your team….. The job gets done when people work together……..the most important people are the ones on the front line, engaging every day with our customers…….I also have a role to play but stand in awe every day as I witness the dedication and commitment of our staff.  I’m committed to helping make their job easy and better,” says Bell.

The approach John Bell took to ensure success with a transformation programme contains global success principles applying across all types of human endeavor: whatever the situation, true success is from and for people.

No matter how sophisticated technology gets, it is essentially HUMAN to:

  • exceed all expectations of what is possible ‘on paper’ to come fourth in one of the most exacting global sporting competitions – the Football World Cup
  • keep going back, day after each oxygen-deprived day, into dark, murky, rapidly flowing water to save 13 youngsters, all the while knowing that a fit, 38 year-old fellow diver had died days earlier doing just that
  • have wisdom to seek and then follow advice, slowing the rescue down to tap into collective global intelligence – gathering a crack team and pacing the planning to ensure success for everyone involved

At a time of AI and robotics, many may question the future role of humans.  In a big data world, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

For success, in human terms, keep referring back to True North – what really matters – whether in a dark, damp, dangerous cave or during the turbulence of digital transformation. For the human race, do the right thing.

“A Kiwi global CIO’s framework for building a change-ready, growth-minded ICT team” by Divina Paredes (CIO New Zealand) 23 April, 2018 06:30


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The Productivity Budget

Budget commentary over the last few days has included the fact that NZers work some of the longest hours in the OECD and are among the lowest in productivity. Some explain this in terms of infrastructure investment (or lack thereof), yet, so many think tanks, commissions and reviews have been set up over the years to examine this anomaly that if we’d invested the money instead, we may have actually solved the issue by now. Or not.

They say true discovery is not seeking new landscapes but having new eyes. (Old landscapes – new eyes.) Why is it that the average organisation purchases 100 Billion brain cells per employee, pays their full entitlement each pay day and then effectively stops the average employee from using their brainpower to get stuff done. All too often, they are told what to do, how to do it, when to do it by, or actually stopped from doing what said employee knows will fix a problem (and that is currently driving productivity through the floor) because of some seemingly valid reason (or a range of invalid ones).

A key question is: given the complexity of work these days, you are bound to encounter numerous problems that stand between you and organisational goal achievement on any given day, in any given moment. Why is it that employees are given solutions to implement that all too often they know will only make things worse, instead of asking people what is getting in the way of productivity, giving them the time and space to fix the problems, agreeing the parameters of a successful solution, and letting them do what the brain does naturally – solve problems.

People are born problem solvers. It is the ultimate brain-high to sort things out and make things work better. Instead, we have created organisations that stifle contribution and suck people’s spirit out of them.

Back in the 90s, we had things called self-managed teams. Some organisations still operate that way, successfully, after decades, and wonder why they do not represent the majority.

Back in the 90s there was also this management-speak called “Empowerment” which I always disliked as it ignored the fact that not only do employees have more power than those ‘in power’ – exhibit A: low productivity – but the word implies I am bestowing some of my power on others. This is a sad case of self-delusion.

It is also sad because employees who really want to make things work for the best are eventually turned off by the waste of effort and energy they see around them. Eventually, they just show up to exchange hours at work for a paycheck, rather than keep trying to make things better. What a waste. (Then the manager complains that people lack initiative.)

Some leaders successfully operate according to a different paradigm and they and their employees have no idea this is not the norm. To name just two, David Marquette  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiwUqnvY1l0 and a local leader http://www.institutefordigitaltransformation.org/digital-engagement/

To hear about a way of managing that optimises productivity, check out a talk to a Meet up group this Wednesday evening (23 May 2018) at AUT in central Auckland.

Posted in Organisation success | 2 Comments

Negativity an issue in your business?

Do you have staff who:

  • hold you/your operation hostage?
  • suck the life out of everyone, including you?
  • drain your energy and leave you feeling exhausted?
  • complain about everything (and nothing)?
  • are simply ‘high maintenance’?

Who knows………it is possible that due to some early childhood experience they never learned to self soothe! Or delay gratification. Or stand on their own two feet. Or all of these. But that is not your concern. You are not their parent nor their minder. In my view, you are there to ensure they are the most sought after in their field and hereby secure continued employment. Yet they choose to stay where they are because they get a kick from adding so much value and this is what keeps them pushing through the daily (inevitable) challenges that would overwhelm those with less commitment.

It is a truism that the human condition is to see ourselves differently from the inside to what is seen from the outside. Without a constant reality check, delusion is only a thought away. Look at yourself in a video or listen to a phone call recording and you will see what I mean. (“Who is that person?!”)

Everyone is guilty of this ‘split’ in realities due to a strong mental defense mechanism to stabilise self-perception so that it is not disturbing and unsettling. (Also, sensing rejection by the social group is very threatening and so the brain has an endless number of ways to delude the person that they are the ‘MVP’.)

For everyone to be the best version of themselves, they need continuous ‘grounding’ – access to how they are seen by others. I encourage people to canvass their ‘constituents’( i.e. host group) to ensure they are seen as adding value.

Unfortunately, most workplaces are what may be called sensory deprivation tanks. People simply do not know how and in what way they are having an impact – either positive or negative. Individuals are simply unaware when they are negative and depressing in their demeanour, facial expression, posture, word choice, chatter and casual remark. Like a virus, negativity can spread throughout a group and before you know it, everyone has lost their will to live.

These individuals displayed none of this during the recruitment interview (except possibly incessant chatter, which you thought was charming and bubbly but which then became a constant source of annoyance to people around them.)

But let’s not kid ourselves: the costs to you and your business can be huge when they:

  • mislead others with their own version of reality
  • complain incessantly
  • blame everyone and everything for non-performance
  • frown, sigh, tut-tut and roll their eyes
  • waste time while acting ‘busy’
  • get sick at the most inconvenient time
  • expect everyone else to do the heavy lifting

What message does it send when everyone is told it is critical that we achieve results and be at our best at all times and then they witness the exact opposite day in day out, and no trap door opens through which this person rapidly and permanently disappears? On the contrary, these individuals seem to outlive endless restructures, staff turnover, people coming and going, new managers, old managers, new policies and constant change. They seem to be immune (in their own little bubble) to the world moving on.

When I question this strange anomaly, people either mumble that you can’t get rid of anyone these days or the person is related to someone in high places (or said person appointed them and won’t face facts.)  Suddenly costs don’t seem to matter and that’s because no one puts a dollar value on the intangible costs of distractions, stress, wasted time and the sheer frustration of those working with this person.

High performing teams have a high degree of group honesty and personal integrity. The team always comes first and the individual with their heart and head in the right place will step aside if they are a threat to the team playing its best game. Without such a ‘team first’ commitment, no team can perform to its potential.

These teams are so committed to achieving success and fulfilling their obligations to fans, sponsors and team mates, that they will simply not have it if someone compromises their performance.

360° reviews do not bring the insights that a simple conversation will. Ongoing ‘nudges’ are what we all need to jiggle us into position so that we best serve the collective needs of the group.

Better still, make it a requirement that every member of the team canvass their ‘constituents’ – those they work with throughout an organisation – to find out what is of value to others and what may be costing others (their sanity, if nothing else.)

Without this continuous feedback, self-insight and self-correction, people can become self-referencing and feed off a constant stream of fake news, none the wiser that there is another reality out there. That serves no one well, least of all them.

Posted in Managing for business success | Leave a comment

Customer as King or pawn?

Before my father went into marketing, he was in sales management and took sales training seriously. This was the era of John Cleese training videos and my brothers and I always had the first viewing of the latest comedic masterpiece.

The age-old customer service messages weaved into the entertaining and memorable format were tenets of sound business:

  • The customer is king
  • Don’t make the customer a pawn in your organizational chess game
  • The customer isn’t there for your gratification or to make your life easier
  • Neglect your customer at your peril – the competition is ready to make a move

Fast forward about half a century and those messages are as relevant today; or are they? In a connected world, where customer experience, touch points and reputation are all the rage, how come positive customer experiences remain in the minority (at least in my experience)?

‘Customer Experience’ is visceral before it is digital. Speaking for myself, service and product purchases impact every part of my life – almost all are experiences I would rather not have:

  • I live in an apartment block which over the last 20 years has increased service charges way in excess of inflation while consistently deteriorating the level and type of service and overall experience
  • I attend a gym that has, likewise, over the past 20 years consistently and determinedly destroyed the fitness experience
  • I purchase fresh juices from a well-reputed hygienic chain but got violently ill straight after I consumed the last purchase a few days ago
  • I buy food from a local reputable chain that I suspect is not as fresh and healthy as they claim. (What do you do if you can’t eat the food you buy?!)
  • I use an airline for international travel (the most direct route) that continues to frustrate and annoy
  • I set up an account with a CNN-featured financial transactions company purely on the assurance by the CEO that customers are his number one priority. All went smoothly for 4 months until the transfer fee jumped suddenly from $2.94 to $23.76 for the same amount to the same account.  (I joke not.) A quick cessation to my use of the service ensued, but what about the time I spent setting up the account in the first place…….? How do I recover that lost value?
  • Finally, I’m sure I am not alone in experiencing a spike in blood pressure when purchasing services online….and don’t get me started on Microsoft Office online ‘support’.

And, is it just me, or is there anyone else out there who resents having your computer controlled by an outside entity, stealing your time?

Customer service – all but a dream?

I do wonder: Am I particularly fussy or is it reasonable to assume that I won’t be annoyed, frustrated, poisoned, harmed, over-charged and/or denied the service I was led to believe I purchased? Has life become more complicated and is great customer service simply a thing of a nostalgic past?

Were the previously-described business tenets simply not true and they died a natural and irrelevant death? Or, are they still true, but simply too hard to achieve and therefore conveniently ignored?

There are exceptions which are a pure delight, including:

  • The local Automobile Association, who not only provide a superbly easy online experience but are also a phone call away from personalised – yes, human! – help
  • A local bank (BNZ) whose Digital leader ensures his team regularly spends time talking to people on the street (literally). He was surprised that I was surprised.
  • A local television programme called Fair Go that is celebrating 40 years of broadcast, in an era of rapidly shrinking traditional media. Customers’ rights continue to be publicly defended each week as examples of unfair treatment are investigated and broadcast. Companies respond to this in a number of ways, but for all, it a chance for resolution.
  • A small restaurant in South Africa (called Pasha’s) sells pumpkin-base pizza – a healthy slice of heaven. www.pashas.co.za

It can be done. Every organisation starts out with the best of intentions; no business I have heard of (possibly other than Fawlty Towers) prides itself on poor service.

One-to-one marketing in the digital era?

The digital era is surely one in which one-to-one marketing – what we were told was the competitive edge during the 90s– can at last be actualized. At a time of AI and stretchy sensors, brain implants to control prostheses and driver-less cars, has the time at last arrived for the Customer to ascend the throne?

It seems not. Recently my 90-year old mother was told her phone simply could not support an App she had lost access to. The millennials in the local telecom shop (where she purchases her service) did their best – they phoned colleagues in other branches, tapped into their knowledge database, tried this, that and the other, all to no avail.  Fortunately, mum doesn’t believe that things can’t be done and with her younger (80-year old) friend, simply downloaded it from the App store and her life continues in the manner to which she has become accustomed.(I suggested she offer her tech support services at said shop. I can vouch for her pleasant manner and good old-fashioned common sense.)

Pawn to Bishop

Is it a matter of voting with our feet? If being treated like royalty is a move too far, should we simply refuse to move in directions that suppliers insist we move.

I find myself longing for a time when the business I paid for a service simply did what it claimed, and what I paid for.

Considering markets like India and China, and emerging demographics, I do realise I am a mere speck of dust on the global market chess board and maybe the customer experiences that companies design simply aren’t targeted at me. But I still dream that I am important; that as a customer, I count. (I blame John Cleese for this delusion.)

Posted in Organisation success | 1 Comment