Objection, your Honour!

It’s not altogether surprising people get the words objection and objective confused. Sometimes you hear salespeople refer to overcoming objectives instead of overcoming objections (buyer resistance.) Freudian slip?

Most people find it dehumanising to be handed ‘down’ objectives by people ‘above’. The inherent social and emotional threat of someone in power turns the workplace into a game of gotcha and defensive evasion. Many experience a ‘boss’ as a judge, peering down from on high, examining the evidence to adjudicate a sentence. Neuroscience shows how this depletes resolve, inspiration and innovation.

People tell me how exhausting (even futile) the annual budgeting exercise seems. It makes me think there must be a better way for a collective group of smart people to work out their annual plan for collective success.

Many ‘people above’ try to overcome the inevitable battle of wills by throwing the hot potato to ‘people below’, asking them to set objectives. Almost as bad again, it can feel like a trap – somewhat like an organizational game of thrones.

I vividly recall an ‘aha’ moment when I saw two organizational culture flowcharts contrasting a Vicious Cycle from a Victorious Culture. Words to this effect:

External conditions demand higher performance….

  • people below (suppressed by a legacy of command & control) are stressed, suspicious and mistrustful
  • people above view people below as lacking initiative, drive and commitment
  • people below feel unable to reveal barriers
  • people above attempt to solve problems from above
  • people below feel trapped and overwhelmed
  • people above become impatient with people below
  • people above tighten controls
  • people below become more stressed and performance suffers
  • people above tighten controls………a vicious cycle.

Contrast that with:
External conditions demand higher performance……….

  • people are used to problem solving in collaboration with each other – there is no above and below
  • people open up and brainstorm, finding extra capacity to achieve more
  • people make necessary changes and see results
  • people feel excited at the progress, trust grows and information flows more freely
  • people contribute more and achieve more
  • confidence and capability grow and real gains are made in all areas of the business
  • people make more changes and see results
  • confidence and capability grow and real gains are made in all areas of the business…..a victorious culture.

Getting everyone on the same page begins with an appreciation of how smart people are. Just because you don’t see the genius in ‘people below’ doesn’t mean its not there. In any situation where some have more power than others, people are generally selective about where and how they contribute intelligence. The question is: under what circumstances do people empty the tank for collective success? Ask yourself: What does it take for me to get fully behind any venture, and you will most likely quickly identify what is true for most.

Remember: People own their brain. The ‘boss’ doesn’t own it. They alone are the autonomous director of super performance.
(Adapted from quote in Funky Business by Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell A. Nordström)

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View from the top (Altitude sickness)

For as long as organisations have been exceeding industry benchmarks without traditional hierarchy structures, others have lamented ‘siloed’ organisations, a blame culture and performance failures, while structuring, restructuring and re-restructuring clumsy reporting lines and vertical  hierarchies.

As I have observed the ill-effects of power hierarchies in organisations for decades now, I have regularly pondered this anomaly. As Albert Koopman’s Cashbuild and Ralph Stayer’s Johnsonville Sausage (partnership approaches) were formative in my view of enterprise early in my career, I have been intrigued by the formation of giant industries to research and explain disengagement and ‘presenteeism’.

Oxygen deprivation, I decided, was the explanation for why those ‘up there’ create a structure where typically:

  • Enthusiasm is snuffed out by ‘accidental diminishers’
  • Productivity is suppressed by micro management and incessant (even hourly) checks and reporting
  • Health is seriously (even fatally) compromised by stand over tactics and/or cynical manipulation by those in power
  • Sanity is tested daily
  • Those without ‘formal power’ know it’s most likely the same everywhere so why search for something that makes sense?

Then I came across this research, and it may explain the anomaly. Apparently, even a little bit of power allocated to one in a group leads to obnoxious, entitled and territorial behaviour, and grabbing what they can…….(adults not 3-year olds).

Ring any bells? Researcher Dr Dacher Keltner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HS9VHBlYklc
has found that people get power by being nice, but when they have power, something happens.

Common power perils (across a range of situations at work or elsewhere) include:

  • Obnoxious grandstanding
  • Flouting common courtesies (e.g. eating with mouth open, spilling everywhere)
  • Taking liberties with others
  • Acting ‘above the law’/in an entitled manner (e.g. charging through a pedestrian crossing when someone is trying to cross)
  • Selective listening, seeing, sensing

Power does corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it would seem. Whether it be a small dose of power given to a bureaucrat, a leading-hand on a bottling plant, a middle manager or a CEO……………all appear to be susceptible to this altitude sickness.

Dr Keltner points out that political despots move quickly to destroy systems of commentary and scrutiny. (But beware: simply sentencing managers to 360-degree feedback is not the answer.)

The question then becomes: what is the antidote to this condition?

History and industry are strewn with well-known leaders who use their power for good e.g. Abraham Lincoln of whom Thurlow Weed wrote: “He sees all who go there, hears all they have to say, talks freely with everybody, reads whatever is written to him.”

The research shows that 40% of the human brain is wired for helpfulness and that those who act collaboratively quickly establish this as a group norm. Kindness and working together are human nature, not territorialism nor in-fighting. This is born out more recently by an increasing number of organisations that function on collaboration, teamwork and partnership such as Spotify. Also check out Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_why_it_s_time_to_forget_the_pecking_order_at_work?language=en.

It appears the power hierarchy is not necessary, functional nor inexorably linked with success. (Quite the opposite it seems.)

Also significant is that those with power have higher cognitive intelligence while those without have superior social and emotional intelligence. Interesting that the majority of people in an organisation are essentially bonded with others in a similar position – a vast pool of discretionary effort and under-utilised cognitive capacity, apparently related to hyper-vigilance.

Powerlessness has been shown to trigger hyper-vigilance which in turn is linked with everything from a suppressed immune system to shortening of telomeres directly related to aging.

I once advised a CEO to get his people in regularly to give him negative feedback. I think he thought I was kidding. Trusting people that much is a start and you have to start somewhere to get people alongside you in defiance of this outmoded approach that places a manager ‘up there’. Without people ‘plugged in’ alongside you, any power given by title is an illusion.

(For a written summary of ‘The Power Paradox’ YouTube, email me at cherri@cherriholland.co.nz.)

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People power reminders

“A cause without committed people gets nowhere and committed people without a unifying cause go nowhere.” Robert Waterman

Some focus on the uniqueness of individuals but I prefer to remind myself about the truth of what all people have in common. Every (normal) human being is driven to make their mark – a significant, positive impact. Put in other ways, people have a need to create, to work autonomously, to problem solve and to make things work better. (Some even link this to evolution to demonstrate how fundamental and powerful this force is.)

Working in alignment with this, ‘people power’ peaks – both intellect and passion. Experts tell us that under these conditions, people even access latent brain reserves. The opposite is also true for people: If they do something only for someone else and/or because the have to, they often:

  • Lose momentum
  • Do the opposite when annoyed
  • Over time, resent unappreciated effort

At the very least, they do not put their heart and soul into it.

Those ‘in charge’ and their ‘charges’ all too frequently end up in a battle of wills. Too often, the resulting waste of people power and collective goodwill depletes what could otherwise be a driving force towards organisational goals. This inevitably occurs when those in power are perceived as:

In response to this people hold back. You may see workarounds, deliberately contrary behaviour, sniping, story telling, gossiping and other work distractions. Presenteeism: there, but not contributing 100% to the common cause.

Most know this about people but few manage in alignment with this and even fewer capitalise on it.

It is good news. It means that people are essentially driven to make something work extraordinarily well and don’t need ‘motivating’. If we don’t tie them up in meaningless procedures that make no sense anymore, breath down their necks, micro manage, find fault with small details and impose a single route to success, we allow the investment of their full brilliance and passion.

Leadership creates the environment in which people can express their unique individualism within the context of collective purpose. This has been expressed in the Lean principle as Freedom within Framework. When we all agree how the critical success factors inter-relate, how we measure success and who we need to impress to stay in business, people make the minute-by-minute calls that get the best possible outcome given each situation’s challenges, constraints and even people quirks. That is the agile intelligence and human connectedness that computers can never bring to any mission.

When people are invested, driven and resolute, it’s pretty hard to fail but you may be surprised at how many managers do things to people and at them instead of with them. Of course great leaders make it look easy while others have no idea of the negative wake they leave and the waste they unwittingly cause. I spend a lot of my time coaxing staff to be understanding when in fact I wonder if they should simply leave. What a waste.

You can influence but never control this power. “Your brain is your own.  Your boss doesn’t own it; nor can any government own it.  You alone are the director of this critical means of production.”  Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom

Leadership ensures people answer to the collective (not the boss) for how their unique contribution fuels the collective (pre-agreed) purpose. Once everyone is agreed, it is then up to each individual to continuously assess their ‘PNPS’ (personal net promoter score). This is how they ensure they add value to ‘the cause’ while staying true to themselves – a win-win.

This says it all: http://www.radiolive.co.nz/Dr-Tomas-Chamorro-Premuzic/tabid/506/articleID/44117/Default.aspx (From 19.50 minutes – approx 22.30 minutes)

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An article entitled: “The two magic words that motivate staff the most” (link below) implores organisations to solve the staff disengagement  issue by saying ‘Thank You’ (and using recognition schemes). This is, in my experience, addressing the wrong issue and could make things worse. Instead, those managers who stop parenting, molly-coddling and pandering to people, approach them as a partner (instead of a master) and say this immediately boosts engagement. This should come as no surprise; as far back as 1937, Napolean Hill wrote that “In the future, the relationship of employer and employee will be more like a partnership……” That has turned out to be wishful thinking. (Perhaps he meant it SHOULD be rather than will be.)

Yes, people when asked (even when not asked) complain that there’s never a thank you and there’s not enough recognition. In the absence of a manager who treats them as equal, values their input and regards them as critical to success, many people doubt their worth, question their value and regress into preoccupation and discontent with their manager’s behaviour and how they are being treated.

Say ‘thank you’, but it doesn’t address the real issue and worse: further embeds an outdated and inappropriate superior/inferior norm resulting in paternalistic benevolence at best and dictatorial arrogance at worst.

People’s need to feel valued is one of the most culturally-consistent phenomena, yet Gallup’s revelation that ‘a bad boss’ is the number 1 reason people leave a job suggests many managers don’t get this. Giving ‘superiors’ a title that reinforces their importance in the pecking order could be the single biggest mistake when it comes to full productivity and a sound return on payroll investment.

Many managers are specialists first and foremost; they have the title manager but do not ‘have staff’ (an unfortunate and demeaning phrase) – they are not in question here. Many more are primarily there to ensure ‘their staff’ (another unfortunate phrase) are productive. Most managers are somewhere in between. Consider the impact when these managers don’t get the people side of their role right and are instrumental in spreading discontent.

Until there is a complete overhaul of structures (Agile methodology in many tech teams has perhaps started this overhaul), managers will be essential to people’s productivity, esteem and connectedness with their ‘employer’. Until we replace ‘managing others’ with a more accurate term reflecting what a business actually needs a manager to do, let’s get real about what ACTUALLY engages people.

Simple: for people to invest their full capability in any role, holding nothing back, the ‘manager’s’ role is to (on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, whichever is appropriate):

  • check in with people – face to face – so each can see the whites of the others’ eyes
  • equip them for tomorrow’s ‘unknown’
  • inform them (only about what they can’t/shouldn’t find out for themselves)
  • challenge them to keep their capability expanding and so they remain value to the collective
  • prompt resourcefulness and teamwork across all functions
  • re-focus people when ‘cross currents’ distract
  • expect extraordinary accomplishments believing in their goodwill and human ingenuity (yet never so that they feel overwhelmed, abandoned and taken advantage of).

More simply put: treat people as adults and admire their inherent ability to make things work better with their commitment and keen thinking. Those managers who don’t ‘have the time’ nor inclination to do this are a significant liability in the workplace.


Posted in Managing for business success | 1 Comment

1,2,3 Transform

No one delights in things done ‘to them’ or thrown ‘at them’.

While at uni, I remember being horrified at an experiment where pigeons randomly received food pellets or electric shocks when pressing a lever. They ended up displaying behaviours that in human terms we call schizophrenia. (Many employees have a vaguely similar experience in the workplace.)

Change……….transformation…..evolution is in our bones – literally. Why the aversion and resistance to change in our organisations? There is none. The real and profound aversion is to discomfort, threat and being treated dismissively – not to change. (If people were averse to change, no one would buy a lotto ticket!)

It was proven decades ago (Eds Deming’s Total Quality approach) that people thrive when they set iterative change goals – they consistently outperform targets imposed on them.

In my experience, people are naturally enthusiastic about:

  • Contributing their best to make an enterprise succeed
  • Focusing on efficiencies and zero waste
  • Achieving extraordinary results
  • Identifying/implementing iterative improvements (that add up to significant gains)
  • Working up to expectations
  • Learning how things fit together in all aspects of the business/market so they can contribute more meaningfully – “freedom within framework”

All these are deeply embedded in the healthy human being – your insurance for turbulent times.

Embed transformation into your organisation in these ways:

  • Adopt continuous improvement as a modus operandi driven by external indicators and internal self-scrutiny
  • Anticipate (as a collective) what/how you need to change to keep future-fit
  • Run your unit/department/organisation WITH your people – co-lead. They see way more than you do about what could work better, faster, more efficiently, more cheaply with better quality
  • Educate, inform and excite people about your challenges, your constraints and who needs to be impressed to keep them investing or buying
  • Embed rituals of Plan/Act/Review in cycles* that make sense for your operation. At least monthly, take stock of what’s gone well, what hasn’t and why, and what we’ll change from what we’ve learnt (who/how/when) and repeat
    * See article link below – “Secrets behind Graeme Hart’s Success”
  • Pair people up so they’re always cross-referencing how they’re working and what they could be doing from another’s perspective. After an agreed period, swap for cross- fertilisation. (As coach, review with each their notes from their chats – not to ‘check’ but to learn and understand what is actually happening – a reality check.)
  • If people have allocated seats, do what one client does: everyone moves seat six monthly (no “squatters”)

A true story: a coach met with a building company that took 120 days on average to build a house. He asked how they could do it in 10 days. After a few hours (during which they suspended the obvious: ‘It can’t be done’) they had dozens of ideas. He said: ‘Go and do those things.’ They ended up with a 42-day average build. Imagine the impact. (From Rob Nixon’s “Accounting Practices Don’t Add Up”)

Anything’s possible WITH people.

* http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11402478

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100% in 2016

During 2015, ‘not a hundy’ was the phrase used for the below-par condition of an All Black (i.e. a Steve Hansen-ism along with the phrase: ‘inconvenient fact’.) ‘Not a hundy’ invariably referred to a physical injury. (It is unlikely an All Black would not be a hundred percent for any other reason.)

While rugby union may be far from the average mind in the blistering heat of February, peak performance is not, as we saw with the New Zealand Sevens’ win at the weekend and with the 2016 work year in full swing.

If you are one of the 97% of NZ businesses that employs fewer than 20 people (with nearly 70% having no employees – MBIE Small Business Sector Report 2014) then chances are you can tell when your business is ‘not a hundy’. In the large majority of businesses employing up to 5 people, there is nowhere to hide. For those with 30, 50 or over a 100 people, below-par performance is not as immediately visible.

World class coaches select players either at their performance peak or who demonstrate peak potential. They are astutely aware when someone is not at their peak or not what the team needs. When it comes to sport, seniority, authority or organisational ‘level’ (title) comes second to performance level. In that setting, what you contribute is permanently on show if not to the public, then to your own team and the high performance coaches and management. Action is usually taken BEFORE under-performance shows up on the scoreboard whether it is by selection, substitution or a change in game strategy.

In larger organisations, where performance level or type does not serve the team well, the drag effect can be masked and/or delayed. Sooner or later, it shows up as one or more of:

  • disruption to performance
  • inefficiency
  • conflict and/or disharmony
  • increased cost
  • delays
  • wastage
  • health & safety (and other) risks
  • lost opportunities
  • results less than potential
  • tied up funds that could be more profitably invested elsewhere

Each time there is a pay run, an organisation purchases a capability – the critical question is: how much of this purchased capability converts to organisational results and the opposite of everything on the above list?

There are three main reasons organisations do not perform to their current potential.

  1. Wrong strategy – both externally and internally, the chosen strategy must match what both environments require for success at this moment in time, and given the particular sector or industry
  2. Wrong people – you have to have the right people thinking and acting in the right way, in the right place at the right time, for success
  3. Wrong approach – the way strategy is implemented and the way people are interacted with has to get the best possible outcome from strategies, people and situations or opportunities.

Personally, I have found that more heads are better than one, so favour a collective approach to strategy and decision making, but whatever approach you use, any one of these areas can be an organisation’s undoing. These three areas are the main culprits of human and financial capital waste. Get them right, and it is hard to fail.

Given that New Zealand is about the size of Sydney – just one city in Australia (yet with the obligations of a sovereign nation) – we cannot afford waste. When you have the right strategy, right people and the right approach in each situation, you have an organisation that hums to potential – a hundy.

We have the scale and track record as a nation to box way above our weight and given the scale of Business New Zealand, anything less than 100% should be quickly visible. As Steve Hansen says,  success is only possible when you pay attention to the ‘inconvenient facts’. Taking the right approach in these areas can rewrite what’s possible.


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A numbers game

If the All Blacks were a regular business that you and I directed, we’d surely prefer the All Blacks’ performance record over any other rugby team. Yet, going into last weekend’s semi-final against South Africa, the stats were 2/3 in their favour – exactly the same odds apply for the Aussies this weekend.

Yet, if this were any other kind of business, we’d far rather have a business with the All Blacks’ performance record than the other two teams.

But it is not a regular business; rather it is sport. What do they say……? “Not a matter of life and death – more important than that.”

Talk about PTSD…

  • “Four more years, boys” deeply etched into our national psyche – forever neural- networked with the name George Gregan
  • Still smarting from losing the ‘best of 9 races’ America’s Cup regatta, from an 8-1 leading position last year
  • Memories of hopes dashed at the Cricket World Cup this year
  • Thinking ‘not again!’ when the Silver Ferns fell to the Aussies at the Netball World Cup

All four of the above heart breaks were at the hands of Australians (Sydney-born Jimmy Spithall skippered Oracle to victory.)

We surely can’t expect to be calm, controlled and measured going in to this weekend when considering this is:

  • Richie’s last game captaining the All Blacks
  • Daniel Carter’s first and last World Cup final after three former World Cup disappointments
  • The last All Blacks game for legendary ABs Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.

But fear and trepidation are not healthy emotions. Research has proven that positive emotions are better for health and longevity! And hope is one such emotion.

This team has come a long way since 2007. It was clear they were underdone in pressure-cooker World Cup knock-out footie. Now, they are not only physically fine-tuned, they have the well-carved character that comes from many a battle, wisely contemplated and reflected upon.

Not only do they have a winning formula in their high-performance culture and proven ‘sweet spot’ leadership approach (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/73310064/ab-coach-steve-hansen-reveals-sweet-spot-management-structure-key-to-success), they have been drilled in mental strength. This is evident from their calm assertion that they welcome pressure. Pressure is the enemy of peak performance – unless you have turned the enemy into a friend. (Well-proven NLP high-performance technology.)

In a classic act of brilliant leadership, this All Black team has been bred for pressure and prepared for when the going gets tough. Theirs is a leadership team that cares about employees’ futures. This leadership wants them to have a strong, positive future, whether in this ‘company’ or any other. It has done its most important task: make these people valuable, in every sense of the word. Equipping them to excel when the coast is clear and the opposition is weak is no service to them at all – sheltered employment is hard to find but all too common.

On the contrary, this team has been painstakingly prepared to carry the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on its back. They have been drilled to relish public scrutiny and intrusion. They have been led to believe that the expectations of the New Zealand public is to their advantage as it keeps them forever striving to improve, which in turn equips them for the next big hit.

Knowing this gives me hope and one more emotion that I know is a plus during a crazy rollercoaster week of different emotions: Pride. Pride in being represented by a team that is full of character and humility, yet fierce determination and professionalism in how they go about their work. Imagine if every one of our businesses, and every person in that business, went about their work with that much dedication and precision.

A win or no win this weekend………….no number will change that pride. But a win would be good for our economy, quite apart from the sheer joy it would bring to so many! Simply imaging that win is healthy – go ahead and bask in anticipated glory!

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