Sunday, September 20, 2009

Killing Employee Productivity

Killing employee productivity
Over the past 25 years, my laboratory has been companies in over 30 countries. I have been a witness to rapid change and no change at all.
I have met executives that were willing to change and change fast and I have met others that are simply, because of their psychological characteristics, unable to change.
We have to understand that what we call the work place, has changed. What we call employees has changed. There are different opinions on what has caused this change, one of the best ones I would say is the microchip or the internet.
We now understand that knowledge has replaced brute force, emotional intelligence has replaced, well, not replaced, but at least has become more important than intellectual intelligence.
Yet, when we go into companies, we find that the workplace has remained essentially an anachronism, a formal, highly regulated, highly controlled environment where the very few dominate the many. In some cases, one dominating everyone else, this one being the President of the Company.
Stated differently, the workplace culture has changed little in most companies, while there has been more technological change in these last three decades than in the previous 50,000 years.
I recently sat in a management meeting with the President of the company and his direct reports when he said to them that he didn’t have the answer to the problem they were facing and that he knew no one else in the room had it either. (Later he told me privately that he knew the capacity of each of his direct reports)
What he did at that precise moment is to tell everyone that he didn’t trust their judgment and that none of them were bright enough to at least try to come up with an answer.
This executive is indeed a very bright man, he is a visionary and we could say he has been relatively successful in his career but one thing he has not been able to do well is to develop his employees.
In many companies, most of the training offered is generic and it seldom challenges the employee to think differently or to improve their skills and performance. They leave the training and in one month they have forgotten 80% of what they supposedly learned.
This is why employees fall into a comfort zone, they become complacent and little by little become less productive.
I have come to the conclusion that most managers don’t know how to manage, motivate, or mobilize their work force. One important reason this is so is because they have not taken the time to understand, really understand, the workforce. What is worst, they have not taken the time to understand themselves.
In frustration, they attempt to impose anachronistic methods of managing, ineffective ways of persuading and lousy ways to motivate their employees.
This is the reason that we find many employees coming in late, leaving early, doing as little as possible to get by or what is worse, not doing as much as they are capable of doing.
This is also the reason many employees never do anything until they are told, then doing only that and then standing around waiting for further instructions before doing anything else or the very common practice of bringing the body to work while leaving the mind at home.
What about always having an excuse when something wasn’t done, with answers that I bet all of you that manage people have heard: “It is not my job, nobody told me, how was I supposed to know, I never was trained on how to do that, I didn’t get the memo, I don’t understand your handwriting, I wasn’t there when you gave the order, you must have told somebody else, thought it was me, and forgot” and one I love, “I can’t read your mind”.
I can mention a lot more phrases that I have heard as a consultant, but I think you get the idea.
What is important here is that if you manage people, you must understand your own personality and the personality of the people you manage. You need to do this so that they can work as a team and you can count on them to help you reach your goals.
In today’s world no one can do it alone, no one knows all the answers, no one is immune from rapid changing conditions.
You need people to help you and to do that, they need to be motivated to do so.
Don’t allow your company to develop a negative environment where motivation, productivity and initiative are squashed or eliminated altogether.

Private enterprises or government run industries? Which is better?

Private enterprises or government run industries? Which is better?
I have just arrived in Panama and my article was going to be about some subject related to Panama.
Since I picked up a copy of the New York Times in the airport and the health care debate is going on, I decided to make a comment or two about this very important subject.
Even though it has more relevance for those in the United States, we should keep an eye on it, here in Puerto Rico. Let’s face it, what Uncle Sam does, affects all of us one way or another.
As many of you know, I am a free enterprise type of guy; I trust the private sector more so than government agencies. Not always, but most of the time, the private sector does it better.
For example, the U.S. Post Service started in 1775 if I am not mistaken. They have had 234 years to get it right and yet, even though it is heavily subsidized, it is still broke. It can’t compete effectively with Federal Express or UPS, both of them corporations competing in the free enterprise arena and profitable most of the time.
Many of you are already enjoying the benefits of social security. Lots of you are counting on social security as part of your retirement. How sure are you that they will be around when you do retire? They have already increased the age at which you qualify and they will probably increase it again or cut benefits. And what is very sad is that you paid it religiously for your whole life and now you have to face the possibility that it will not be there when you retire. Social Security was established in 1935, so 74 years have gone by and they haven’t gotten it right. It is for all intents and purposes, broke. Chile, on the other hand, has a very good social security system and it might be worth taking a look at it. Something has to be done and I trust, hope is a better word, that it won’t go down the drain.
Fannie Mae was started in 1938, so they have had 71 years to get it right and lo and behold, it is broke. Little brother Freddie Mac came around much later, in 1970 but still, 39 years have passed and guess what? It is also broke. Together dear Fannie and Freddie helped sink the US and the rest of the world into the worst economic collapse in 80 years.
A friend of mine was telling me that the war on poverty officially started in 1964; they have had 45 years to get it right. He says that even though one trillion dollars of hard earned money by taxpayers in the US is transferred each year to the “poor” and yet we don’t see the results.
Medicare and Medicaid are very interesting. Lots of people swear by them and say that they have been well served by them. I have always relied on private insurance and I am not old enough to qualify for Medicare or not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, so I don’t know if it works well. However, realistically, since 1965 when they started, they have lost massive amounts of money. They are in the red big time. Are they the right model of US health care? How long can they go own running those big deficits and not having the ability to stop corruption and throw the guilty ones in jail?
AMTRAK began in 1970 and last year, they get bailed out because they run at a loss, a big loss.
This year, we all know that a trillion dollars was committed in the so called Stimulus Bill of 2009. Is it working? I honestly can’t tell although I confess that I am not an economist. I don’t see many signs that it has worked like it should. The size of governments across the US has increased in many areas and there have been reports that government salaries have also gone up. Read the Miami Herald and you will see that people are up in arms because many local government employees were given huge raises as political favors.
My question is: How many private sector jobs has the bill created? I don’t think it has created many if any at all. The US national debt is increasing at a very dangerous rate. It might reach 10 trillion if it hasn’t reached it yet.
I have to mention the “cash for clunkers” program that started a few months ago and ended just recently. It ran out of money rather quickly. Most of the cars sold were foreign cars and lots of dealers and now buried under the bureaucracy, trying to fill in all kinds of paperwork and many of them have not even gotten paid yet.
Looking at these examples, seeing a record of failure that is rather clear, how can we trust the government to run a massive health care system? We are talking about 17% of the economy!
Maybe they can. I don’t have any evidence that they can do so, but who knows if they can do it or not? I wouldn’t place a bet on it, though. Let’s face it, even a broken clock can give you the right time twice a day.
I am a big fan of Thomas Jefferson. It is such a shame that he is not around anymore.
He said “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretence of taking care of them”.
I believe in private enterprise, I believe in people that open a business and work hard to make it successful. They are not looking for handouts. They are simply asking for the government not to interfere and let them serve the public like they know how to do.

Leaders must understand that feedback is now more important than ever

Leaders must understand that feedback is now more important than ever.

“Happy are they who can hear their detractions and put them to mending”
William Shakespeare

If Shakespeare is right then no one can perform optimally without feedback. Yet
according to the revered American psychologist Abraham Maslow most of us are torn
about giving and receiving critical feedback. He referred to this as “the need to know and
the fear of knowing.” Managers especially have a hard time obtaining useful feedback.

In power relationships such as between the boss and the subordinate, people will not speak
“their truth” if they believe it will come back to bite them.

Right now, I am involved in a very big project with a company and everyone is afraid of
speaking their minds. There is this fear that if they cross some of the sacred cows in the company, they will be out the door. Since we are in a difficult employment market people are playing it very safe and that means that they can see the boat sinking and they will simply not speak up.

When there is a lack of trust in a company, everything slows down and costs more. When there is trust in a company, things are done faster and more economically. Lack of trust can destroy a company.

One way we are getting some good feedback is soliciting confidential feedback. For employees to believe this, there must be a third party involved doing the surveying. Here is where we come in.

Beyond confidential feedback, managers, if they are to improve, need what my colleague
Jorge Fernandez calls Strategic Self-Awareness. Allow me to explain; things that are
known to us and known to others is public knowledge. What is known to us and
unknown to others is private knowledge. The fascinating knowledge is the information
that is known to others but unknown to us, commonly referred to as blind spots. When
that information is revealed to us, those are illuminating moments that facilitate dramatic
change. These blindside moments are sometimes hurtful but always instructive. What is
unknown to us is usually well-known to others. To see ourselves as others see us is
strategic self-awareness.

Through the use of assessment tools (personality tests, 360 evaluations) managers can
systematically enhance learning and gain self-awareness. However, not all assessment
instruments are equally effective in building strategic self-awareness. Firstly, the
assessment should be designed for the workplace. This means that managers are profiled
and compared to other managers along dimensions that are relevant to job performance.

Secondly, the assessment should be able to detect two types of performance problems:

deficiencies when managers display too little of an important leadership behavior and
excesses when managers apply a particular behavior too much. Deficiencies normally
fall in the category of public knowledge. However, excesses which ironically are
strengths overused constitute blind spots. Feedback delivered in terms of too
little/under doing and too much/overdoing makes it instantly clear what you (the manager)
needs to do to improve. Regrettably, most leadership assessments operate on the
assumption that more is better.

We must understand that a great deal of a company’s value is entrenched between the ears of the employees and this means that we must know what they are thinking and they must know how they are doing. To increase employee loyalty, they need to know what is expected of them. They need to have the tools to be able to do the job right and they must have the opportunity to apply their strengths in the job they are currently performing.

First Seek Feedback, then Feed Forward

We all require feedback to determine where we stand, to establish the direction we are
headed and to measure our progress along the chosen developmental path. Feed forward,
the brainchild of renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith comes in the form of
ideas you can put into practice in the future. Simply put feedback is about yesterday and
feed forward is about tomorrow. The procedure is easy to implement: Describe your
developmental goal in a one to one dialogue with anyone you know, ask for two
suggestions and end by saying thank you. No evaluation or discussion around the ideas
put forth are permitted by the solicitor of ideas. The beauty of feed forward is that it does
not arouse defensiveness. In fact, it is energizing and forces us to follow-up: by asking,
listening and enlisting others in our initiative for personal change.
So remember first seek feedback then feed forward.

Looking out my window here in the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, I can see hundreds of companies. How many of those companies have talented people working for them and yet a few are not going to make it. Getting feedback and feeding forward is a good way to improve the chances of making it.

Turnover: A very costly problem in most organizations

Turnover: A very costly problem in most organizations

If you own a business or work for a company and you are asked, “What is your fastest moving item”? Would you answer “Personnel”?

Turnover is a major problem in many companies, here, in Puerto Rico and in many other places. In many instances, it doesn’t have to be. A little more interest, more attention on the part of management toward employees helps keep people working happily and productively.

People don’t like to think of themselves as commodities or jobholders whose sole reason for existence is to perform a certain activity day in and day out. They don’t like other people to think of them that way either. In their own mind they are, each of them, VIPs’, very important people. If you want to influence them or persuade them to do anything, it would be very wise to recognize this fact.

We live in a hectic world. We are constantly exposed to change and to outside pressures day in and day out. We tend to concentrate on the job that has to be done and little by little we start forgetting about the human factor, we start ignoring people or not paying attention to their wants, needs, feelings and opinions. This is not good for them or for you.

Yes, we have to concentrate in getting things done but it is smarter to concentrate a little bit more on the people side so as to keep them in a mood to really accomplish great things.
In the long run, it simply doesn’t pay to be so busy that you lose touch with your people.

A good leader, a good manager or supervisor, always finds time, one way or another, to make the rounds. I think Tom Peters called it a while back, “Managing by wondering around”. He sure had the right idea.

I am right now working with a client and I have asked the CEO to visit each department at least once a month, to talk to employees, thank them for doing a good job and asking questions about the business. He is already doing it with great results.

Chatting with people, showing a genuine interest in them and their problems, listening to their ideas is not just a nice thing to do, it is vital to the results you hope to achieve.

Mostly everyone, I would suspect, likes having a close relationship with their boss. It is a big help to be able to talk to him or her once in a while to get things off your mind, get some feedback, ask a few questions, get a few ideas and simply ask how you are doing.

When people have problems, it is important that they find their boss’s door and mind open, really open, regardless of whether it is a business problem or a personal matter.

Either one can impair a person’s ability to function at full capability. People feel better, work better, function better if they have an opportunity to be heard, to get their problems off their chests. Make yourself available. Look and be interested. Keep in constant touch.
Many years ago, Seneca wrote:
“No man can live happily who regards himself alone, who turns everything to his own advantage. You must live for others, if you wish to live for yourself.”

In my seminars, I ask the audience, in many occasions managers, “Have you heard the saying, “Are your employees your most important asset?” I always get a resounding “YES”. I then say, “Well, they are not”. When I do this, people are stunned. I can see their surprised faces as if a life long truth they have understood has been challenged. I then say: “The employees are not your most important asset, the RIGHT employees are.
So, smart, world class companies do this:
Get the right employees on the plane
Get the wrong employees off the plane
Sit the right employees on the right seats.
Decide where to go.

So if you have already gone through the process of downsizing, laying off, retiring many employees and you feel you have the right team working with you, now is the time to treat them well, empower them to make decisions, recognize their achievements, make them feel that what they do is important and that they are part of your team.

If you do this, you will have more productive employees; your clients will feel the difference and your competitors will tremble.