WFH (Working from Home) – manager’s nightmare?

Is this your question: Now that people are working from home, how do we make sure they are productive?  The Covid-19 lockdown is revealing what managers truly believe about people.

If Participative Management has been a ‘thing’ for decades, where everyone in an enterprise explores optimum productivity as a mutual goal, why is it that in today’s digital era (when employees are far more educated, on average), there are STILL layers of draconian supervision. It is still more common than you may realise.

The challenge
Even in the digital era, some still see the management role as a prize, not an obligation to facilitate a collective pursuit of peak performance – a state in which everyone wins or no one wins.

The opportunity
Could this pandemic ‘shut down’ be the chance to hit the re-set button – to recalibrate how you work using those leadership skills that keep people connected and effective because they willingly choose to empty their tank for the collective good?

This is a checklist of drivers of productivity that I have found to be common to high performance anywhere, whether people are together in a physical workplace or working remotely:

  1. Use a Performance ‘stock take’ ritual:  Plan,  Monitor,  Review, Improve – repeat
    The remote work version applies as well whether you are using Skype for Business, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or any other tools. Not: Have you done XYZ? But rather: What’s up with XYZ? Or better: What’s working well with your plan? What isn’t working well? What are your thoughts about that? What do you need help with? Who is best to help? What are your next focus areas?

    Anyone can run these performance catch ups in a small group e.g. by rotation. The ritualistic, repetitive element is crucial as is making them short and relevant. As people self-manage and report back to their work group (not ‘up’ to ‘the boss’), they calibrate within the social pressure of equitable contribution, this being the real manager of productivity. (See next point.) The team can challenge and guide each other so that everyone performs to their potential for everyone’s benefit.

  2. Negotiate social contracts
    Everyone carrying an even load is important or some will disengage. A team agreement (the collective obligations for the team to fulfil its purpose) is an example of a ‘social contract’ that effectively manages collective effort. Where people report to the team on their contribution, they are quickly exposed if they are not pulling their weight
  3. Reveal purpose
    Keep people connected with why the organisation/team exists; this ignites internal drive which in turn fuels focused performance.
  4. Highlight impact
    Remind people of their impact. There is a story about a group of engineers who designed early-cancer detection equipment, who were taken to meet those whose lives had been saved by early detection. You don’t have to have people physically in front of you to make these links. In fact, through your questions, you can ask people how what they are doing is helping others, and in what way. They can create and share their own stories. The feelings of positive contribution are a great antidote to stress which is so prevalent right now.
  5. Value Autonomy (within a performance partnership) Fundamental to productivity is that people can express themselves in their daily work – put their own individual mark on it. When people are working remotely, this is more important than ever as there are so many distractions.
  6. Encourage problem solving
    People are problem solving machines – brains thrive on problems. Managers need to ensure people know what problems need solving – some are hidden – and how the problems impact the wider context. Now more than ever, a collective effort is needed to solve existential business problems. Involve people.

    This pandemic is an opportunity to make the most of the human capability at your disposal.  Seize the moment to permanently reset the team for ‘performance to true potential’. Their health and sanity may depend on it at the current time (and yours may too.)
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Self-fulfilling prophecy?

There’s a reason the self-fulfilling prophecy concept is so well known – it is so prevalent in a crisis. People panic. Business owners are people. Business owners panic and make rash decisions. Everyone gets scared and productivity suffers. The business can’t perform so people have been architects of their own demise.

I saw first-hand during the GFC that those who stepped forward and did more of what leads to success, not less, made very large gains. I was never busier which proved the point (to me at least.)

Those who succeeded during the GFC focused on what the GFC didn’t change:

  1. Remember that business purpose guides direction – True North
    Your purpose doesn’t change. You may have to focus on new markets and new products but your core purpose – the reason you exist and the people you positively impact in the ways you impact them – usually doesn’t change.
  2. Stay close to customers
    Who needs you, in what way, to achieve what? They are still out there. Get closer to them than ever. Or someone else will.
  3. Stay close to employees
    A virus pandemic changes a lot of things in a unique way yet in a digital world, you are even more equipped for the unique impact of this event. How can your business run productively where your team is virtual and geographically separated? This challenge is not new to many teams – many are already experts at this.
  4. Create new sales to new markets
    If your sales team aren’t used to finding new business, they will be even less likely to do it in crisis. During the GFC, when the tide went out, business owners realised their business hadn’t been selling to new customers for some time. The good news is, this can be learnt.
  5. Market
    Be more visible not less to both customers and employees but remember: optics count. Be sensitive to what people need to hear at this time. Keep people connected, informed, positive and supported.
  6. Adapt your business model
    The GFC challenged people to re-think their business model and today, you have so many more digital options. Flatten outmoded structures and involve people more.
  7. Harness creativity
    Human beings in a state of confidence, optimism and enthusiasm are creative geniuses. (When scared, uncertain and fearing the worst, not so much.) Develop your collective creativity as a business – involve everyone in new and creative solutions.
  8. Connect with others in a similar situation
    Form groups, network and connect digitally. Share ideas and you will be amazed at how resourceful people are. Ideas are always better in multiples.

Leadership during a crisis is the leadership that counts.  Predictable and steady times don’t call for character, strength and skill. When the tide goes out, leaders are revealed.

 

Posted in Managing for business success | 2 Comments

2020 – What’s your highest priority?

These quotes got me thinking:
“The bad news is, time flies. The good news is, you’re the pilot.” Michael Altshuler
“Priority management is the answer to maximising the time you have.” John Maxwell

All very well, but are we talking short or long term? I remember reading a book over 30 years ago that changed my thinking about organization priorities – permanently. I can remember neither the title nor the author, simply the message: If you solely prioritize profit (tangible), you can very quickly strip (intangible) wealth that you’ve spent years creating, and rapidly compromise profit.

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything  that can be counted counts.”
Albert Einstein (early 1900s)

Factors interfering with profit are pretty pervasive in the average organization, but if all you focus on is the tangible result, those insidious issues will go unaddressed and you will never know how much profit was intrinsically possible.   No matter how technology has changed things, people are essentially the same and business is about people.

This is the classic thought divide between Milton Friedman (your priority is profit – circa 1970s) and Adam Smith (and others of his generation, 1700s – 1900s: your priority is consumers.)

Being somewhat risk-averse, I sit firmly on the fence:

  1. You have to satisfy both investors and customers or you won’t have a business. If you swing too far in one direction, you risk losing funding and/or future revenues
  2. You have to take a longer term view as there is a lag between investing in resource and having that resource produce value (‘realised benefits’)
  3. Not everything of value shows up in your reporting – you may be fooled to think it is not there (while it is materially affecting your numbers)

Simon Sinek’s ‘The Infinite Game’ (2019) puts forth the view that there is more to the game of business than tangible – ‘finite’– bottom lines. Buckminster Fuller back in the last century challenged finite concepts of value and predicted a time when information would be delivered in a non-physical, connected world. He saw as inevitable a shift from the tangible (finite) to the intangible (infinite). “You have to decide whether you want to make money or make sense, because the two are mutually exclusive.”

In a reputation economy, other metrics challenge Friedman’s assertion. E.g.“Your reputation (is part of) your intangible value, which, by the way, makes up 81% of market value.”1 The counter argument to Friedman’s is: focus on profit and other things, that materially impact profit, suffer.

I recall being surprised (shortly after I read that book 30 years ago) when a sports coach said: “We focus on performance, not results.” I did a double take. But it is essentially the same argument. The score board is history – make your adjustments while the ball is still alive and you get to control what ends up on the scoreboard. (He also made the point that you can get a great result against a sub-standard team that is misleading, setting you up for catastrophic failure later in the season.)

In my experience, leaders are separated along these lines:

  • those who focus on short term, tangible, easy-to-measure results
  • those who focus on longer term, intangible value – those factors that are not as easy to measure, but that count more when it comes to achieving potential profit and profit that is more resilient

Organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development, Gallup finds, report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.”2

While research is now prolific into non-profit drivers of profit, the alternative view still seems to be main stream. Was it because Friedman simplified matters? Just one thing to focus on does seem alluring. If only it were that simple.

“A singular focus on profit at the expense of customer and/or staff engagement will not optimize performance. There is enough evidence now to show that companies with high customer advocacy and staff engagement outperform those with a singular focus on profit.3 Owen McCall (who specializes in the delivery of value from technology.)

 The question is: what will you prioritise in 2020 – profit or people? They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  1. “What is the reputation economy?” Sven Klingemann, PhD, Director of Research Reputation Institute https://insights.reputationinstitute.com/blog-ri/what-is-the-reputation-economy
  2. “What High Performance workplaces do differently” by Rob Desimone. Gallup Workplace. December 12, 2019  https://www.gallup.com/workplace/269405/high-performance-workplaces-differently.aspx
  3. “Clarity amidst chaos” by Cherri Holland. May 22, 2018
    https://www.institutefordigitaltransformation.org/clarity-amidst-chaos/
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reference:
“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

https://www.cio.co.nz/article/640333/kiwi-global-cio-framework-building-change-ready-growth-minded-ict-team/

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