Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Encouraging power

Paul Herbert does a great job of mourning (celebrating) the death of the suggestion box.  He points out that a suggestion box creates an environment that tells people they are not powerful enough to impact their own work.  I had people requesting a suggestion box for several months, a request I resisted.  I was of the opinion that if we needed a suggestion box then the managers and I weren't doing our job of earning employees' trust or teaching them how to make a difference.  Eventually I relented and put one out.  I take great pleasure in the fact that no one ever submitted a suggestion in the box even though it was promoted and prominent.

I did have people come to me several times with ideas for how to make improvements.  Why did they come to me instead of dropping it in a box?  The allure of a suggestion box is that you can put in a card and feel like you've made a difference or at least done what anyone could expect of them.  That suggests to me then that the people that came to me, who I coached in taking advantage of the opportunities they saw, wanted the actual power to make a difference more than just the chance to establish a guilt free conscience.  The question then becomes, how can you encourage that mindset in more of your employees?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

5 powers to make change

Paul Herbert has a post up discussing how, like weight loss, many people (most?) are looking for an easy way to motivate and inspire their people.  He takes the position that recognizing and motivating people is simple, simple but hard.  That is, people simply need to make the effort day after day to thank people, connect with them, and help them along.  Paul runs a consulting firm around designing incentive and motivation systems and I'm guessing one reason he can dispense this advice so freely is he knows that people seldom make that kind of effort on their own.  He knows that most peoples internal motivation isn't enough to get them out of the situation they're already in.

This isn't surprising.  Rather it's a classic case of, "The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it."  Systems produce the results they are designed to produce, whether or not that design was intentional.  That includes the range of systems from large organizations to individuals.  Yes, individuals are systems too, a system of habits, experiences, beliefs, values and so on.  The interesting bit is that most people want at least some of the world around them to change but they themselves are at least part of the reason they're in the situation they are in.  So what can someone who wants to make a difference in the world do?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Manifesto of Power

I was doing my normal news scrawl and ran across an article that spoke almost perfectly to my purpose.  The article highlights how organizations needs to embrace heretics in order to grow, change and stay relevant in the market.  The author, Polly LaBarre, stays on that topic giving examples of how it's paid off for IBM and a Dutch Ministry.  However, she also has this gem:

But how much has really changed? Too many people who would rather spend their working life making a meaningful impact spend their days wading through bureaucratic sludge and toxic politics instead. Why is it that the same responsible grown-up who can make a decision to purchase a car or a house over the weekend cannot obtain a new desk chair without going through a convoluted permissions process? Why does so much innovation happen in spite of the system, rather than because of it?
Too many people still work in organizations that resemble the IBM of their grandfather's (or great-grandfather's) day -- organizations designed to exert tight control at the expense of autonomy, to maximize compliance over individual expression and discretion.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don't take 'Yes' for an answer

I like Mark Suster's thinking.  He works in VC and I work in HR and there are many perspectives that come from his world that are very useful in mine.  Recently he wrote about why he'd rather be frank with people in giving feedback.  What I love best about his comments is the open acknowledgement that he doesn't always do it as well as he'd like and that he knows some people are going to walk away with a bad impression but it's still worth it to him.  That is leadership and it is also service because he's right, it does take a lot more work.  One thing he didn't touch on was how to get those kinds of benefits from others who may not share his philosophy.

Mark calls out yes-men as a problem and, accurately, ascribes much of this to laziness.  So if you're a leader and you want real feedback, dig a deeper when people tell you things even when they approve.  If they say they think something's great ask them why, get them to explain themselves.  Don't go light on this either, if they don't have to pause a little and think you probably haven't pressed quite enough yet.  Much like giving real feedback, doing this will make people uncomfortable and they may well not like you as much.  Yet you will get two benefits, good feedback and an increased likelihood that that person will be a better adviser in the future.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Work-Life Harmony

The concept of work-life balance is simply the idea of giving each of your priorities time appropriate to its importance.  The way I think about this in my day-to-day life is to ask myself the question, "if someone looked at my daily schedule would their interpretation of my priorities match what I like to think my priorities are?"  That is, do the activities I spend the most time on reflect what I value the most?  Another interpretation is to have fairly equal portions of fun and work but I dislike the false dichotomy between the two that view creates.

Other people believe the work-life balance is a fantasy and that the reality should be accepted and adjusted to. Especially in the context of senior leadership there is a lot of truth in that view.  Part of the trouble (and one made in the article) is that with the fullness of many schedules, no time is given to the renewal that enables people to function at their peak.