ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Friday, May 27, 2016

Ugly Duckling or Unicorn?

The Wall St. Journal published an article recently about the lack of non-politically liberal faculty in our colleges and universities. In the article some Professors were quoted as saying they felt like Unicorns - and others admitted to lying and hiding their political points of view in order to maintain their status.

I like the phrase Unicorn - it sounds so much better than Ugly Duckling. Yet, whatever you term it; it is exceedingly difficult to be the only one in the crowd that thinks the way you do.

I've been both. I grew up as the Ugly Duckling - a tall, skinny, Jewish redhead in a neighborhood where all the girls were shorter, dark haired and had darker complexions. I didn't look Jewish and as a young child experienced discrimination because I was different.

I've been different too in how I treated people as a teenage girl. Unlike my contemporaries who seemed to get great pleasure in ridiculing and humiliating those less popular than themselves, I never felt that need and it bothered me to witness the verbal brutality. I often lashed out against it - and so I looked and acted weird.

We all want to feel as though we belong, as though we are a welcome part of the group.  Yet, all too often some of us are the lonely voice in the crowd. We get punished for it.

Yet, to not speak out, to not be who you are and share your beliefs, does far more psychological damage to yourself than if you are the lone voice - the Ugly Duckling or the Unicorn.

So, I say be who you really are - and be proud to be a Unicorn. Also, remember, the Ugly Duckling turned into a beautiful swan.

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When CEO's are Blindsided

When a new CEO joins a huge bureaucracy or government agency determined to change the dysfunctional culture, she has to develop a team that will be honest with her.

Unfortunately, all too often people who had been with the company for many years, as many as 30 years have been promoted from junior to mid-level to senior management - way above their levels of competence. For them, keeping the status quo is the safest.

Silos, lack of cooperation between departments - even lack of communication between departments become the norm. Sometimes it is impossible for the new CEO to get rid of the people who are blindsiding him because they have seniority, tenure, or other means to be protected.

Thus they give their new CEO what one of my clients once termed "happy words". In other words, they give her what they think he wants to hear - not what would necessarily be helpful.

In cases like this, honesty is rare. Political correctness is the norm. People are afraid that they will be stabbed in the back by others and everyone is ultra-careful not to do or say anything that will rock the boat.

New department heads brought in to improve things are sabotaged by their direct reports as well as by peers from other departments. No one wants the good guy who is honorable and capable.

If the CEO is wise, he will bring in a Change Consultant to spend a year or two in the company working a day or two a week to bring people together in a manner conducive to building trust, teamwork, and cooperation. This cannot happen in a one-shot deal intervention, but must be worked over and over again with different combinations of people in different ways.

It takes a real commitment to make the necessary changes.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Strategic Planning - Wishing Won’t Make it So

I’m too busy.  I haven’t the time.  Can’t we do this in two hours?

When trying to plan for the future, or make major changes, transforming an organization, it takes time.

Years ago, one of our big semi-conductor companies had lost market share, products were no longer respected, and they had poor morale among employees and even a significant drug problem. A new CEO was hired and the first thing he did was insist his upper management team go away quarterly for three day retreats. You can only imagine the screams when he first suggested they take the time to go away. “BUT”, they screamed “we don’t have the time, we have work to do.”  He replied, “If we don’t take the time to think about what we need to do, nothing will change.”

Jack Welch did similar retreats when he took over and transformed G.E.

When planning to conduct a six hour strategic planning session for an association of women instead of the board members making the time, I heard excuse after excuse as to why they couldn’t attend for the entire six hours. Yet, the work they really needed was about a two or three day retreat. Since this was a volunteer organization, we needed to do the best we could in a very short period of time.

This group also needed Board of Directors training, job descriptions for the board members, policy and procedures and a host of other processes to enable them to grow the way their CEO wished to see them grow. All in good time.

Wishing Won’t Make It So

How often have you heard yourself sigh and say: “Wish I could increase my business” or “Wish I could improve my bottom line?” How about: “Wish my employees were more motivated, personable and customer service oriented.” Wishing won’t make it so.

Improvement requires change. They say the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So, if you want to change your results, you have to change what you are doing.

BUT, change takes time. It takes effort, training, looking at things differently, and figuring out what will and will not work. Change takes management of the change process.

I recall, a restaurant owner told me that her business was in a slump. She asked some of her favorite customers what they thought she should change. They replied they liked things just the way they are. Based on this very limited research she made no changes. Yet, it is not her existing customers she needed to research – it is her potential customers and her lost customers. She knows she needs to make changes to increase her business, but the comfortable excuse that her current customers like the restaurant just the way it is allowed her to “do it this way because this is the way we’ve always done it” and thus not take the time to change.

A Professional therapist I know sits in her office wishing new clients would come to her. So afraid is she of missing a phone call she won’t take the time to join local organizations such as her Chamber of Commerce and so she doesn’t attend any of the available networking events that would potentially lead to more business. She just sits and wishes.

Take the Time to Make it Happen

When I work with my clients to improve employee morale and customer service, increase business, and reduce unnecessary processes that cut into the bottom line, they learn fairly rapidly that the most important element of effectively growing their business is to take the time to work with me – and with their staff – creating and implementing change.

Wishing won’t make it so – but taking the time to strategically plan, to train, and to institute new processes and techniques certainly will get you what you wish for….. So, stop wishing, take the time to make it happen.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Rewards and Recognitions

Typically, it is the responsibility of the professionals in Human Resources (HR) to recommend and often control compensation, bonuses and other rewards and recognitions available to management.

It is management’s responsibility to determine what they wish to reward, how often, and whether or not the decisions they’ve made regarding these extra monetary compensations and/or perquisites are achieving the goals they wish to achieve.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:
  1. Recognize the extraordinary and unusual.
  2. Do not offer recognitions to those not deserving just to be "fair" or to avoid hurting feelings.
  3. Reward and reinforce those behaviors that actually matter to you. For example, if you reward quantity of calls handled by call center agents, you are forcing them to give up quality (defined as actually satisfying the caller-customer) so that they can make their numbers.
  4. Create small measurable successes - don't wait until the whole new design is built - people need to be calibrated frequently.
  5. Set the right goals and show how they fit into the overall company goals.
  6. Treat people as individuals - learn what motivates them and reward accordingly.
  7. Remember:  ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL.

Rewards and recognitions are the responsibility of all involved in the management and development of employees. Explore this subject further with my online course provided through Proformative or contact me for a personal consultation.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Broken Windows Theory - Applied to the Workplace

When Rudy Giuliani was Mayor of New York City he applied this criminal law theory to the neighborhoods in New York City and cleaned up graffiti, garbage thrown around, broken windows and anything that would in any way diminish the neighborhoods. He cleaned up the neighborhoods on the theory that by paying attention to the small details, there would be a change in attitude - and crime would be reduced as pride was restored.

The theory was first introduced in 1982 in an article in the Atlantic Monthly by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The Wikipedia article quotes the Atlantic Monthly article as follows:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates.  Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

Why, you might be asking is she talking about criminal theory in a business and professional newsletter?  How does this apply to the workplace?

So, my answer is that small things add up to big things. When I go into a company I often notice how small things are causing big - unnecessary expenses.
Let me offer you a few examples:

When asked to come in and investigate an allegation of sexual harassment in one of our biggest local High Tech companies, the contract was for $5,000.00. Yet, the contract department of this organization submitted a ten page contract for me to show to my attorney and get his authorization before I signed and returned it. Most of what was in the contract was completely unrelated to the work I was hired to complete.

Another similar example - I recently signed a contract with a government agency to do some Executive Coaching. The original contract they sent me was the same as one they would have used for contractors building a building, or a freeway overpass. It took three iterations back and forth over close to a month before we finalized a contract that made sense for the type of work I was being asked to do.

An example I've used before was when I helped a major transportation agency create a simple refund system for when people complained that the ticket machine wasn't working properly. Prior to my intervention, when someone was asking for a refund of $5.00 or less the process was to investigate to make sure the machine was really malfunctioning, plus putting an accounts payable chit into the major Oracle Relational Database system - which meant about three or four people handled it before the check was cut. It probably cost them about $1,000.00 to process a $5.00 check.  

My intervention was to give the accountant in charge a dedicated checking account, a QuickBooks system and got permission that allowed him to refund anything up to and including $10.00 without investigation. He had the full accountability - actually easier and quicker - because he could sort by name, by address (where the check was to be sent) and/or by machine. So, it now cost a few pennies to make these small refunds and created a great deal more goodwill.

There are so many examples of people of goodwill - working hard - doing far too much than they need to do to effectively and efficiently solve a problem or complete the necessary task. 

So, when I say, "if I were that piece of paper - where would I go" or "what would I need to do" I am trying to work with my client to look at things from a new angle so that they can simplify their processes - save themselves time - and save their company lots of money.

Broken Window Theory!

Here’s another way of looking at it:

"Happy Employees Make Happy Customers." We've all heard that or similar phrases many times. The opposite is also true: If you are rude, condescending, or disrespectful to your employees they will not give their jobs their all. They will do just enough to get by.

If you assume they can figure out the best way to do a job - you might be right, but you might also be abrogating responsibility and asking too much of someone who isn't trained to create the most parsimonious system - and you will get something far less effective than if you helped in the process.

If as union supervisor, you set the example of quitting work fifteen minutes before quitting time you are telling others it is OK to fudge and to give your employer less time than s/he deserves. I saw that happening repeatedly when I was conducting a weekly workshop from 3- 5 PM in a government agency. At 4:45 PM each week of the workshop, the union supervisor, would close her workbook, take out her compact and lipstick and re-apply her lipstick, put them in her purse, and sit with her purse on the table and her hands folded above it, waiting for the clock to turn to 5 PM.

Any one of these examples is just an example of something small and seemingly insignificant - but just like the broken windows - they set a pattern - they develop an attitude - and a corporate culture of doing things less than excellently.

The Tipping Point - in the right direction - is when time is given to real process improvement using a consultant (plug) who works collaboratively with workplace teams to see what could be improved. 

Symbolically, fixing the broken windows, removing the graffiti, making things work easier and better, setting good examples - all tip the scale and create employees that are highly motivated and feel good about what they do - and the company in which they work.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Feedback or Criticism

I attended a meeting of an HR group the other night and the speaker, who was delightful and well informed, talked about giving feedback. She felt the word feedback was less onerous than using the word criticism. She also believed it is important to "sandwich" the negative feedback (criticism) with a positive before it and a positive after it.

While I agree that doing that softens the blow - I believe it is not always appropriate to soften it. Sometimes you lose the message in the kindness - because you are actually giving mixed-messages. You can be direct, clear, articulate AND kind at the same time without having to cloud your message by sandwiching it in-between two other items.

What I believe is that there is no one way. It depends on the people, the behavior, and the context. If, for example it is the first time you are correcting someone about the way they are performing a task, you would probably use the sandwich method. On the other hand, if someone was doing something against policy that was clearly inappropriate, you would not want to soften the message. You would want to firmly state that the behavior was inappropriate and needs to stop.

We give feedback about minor things that are changeable. We offer criticism when we want something changed right now.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Parents as Manager

I recently had lunch with one of my favorite CEOs. I don't recall how it came about, but we started talking about his 14 year old daughter and her allowance of a measly $5.00 a week. I told him that was way too low and explained in part why I thought an allowance should be large enough to actually give the teen some freedom to make her own choices. (I will share my e-mail explanation to him with you in a minute.)

The reason I am writing about it is because parents are managers - and in this case - the parent was a micro-manager by not allowing his teen some freedom of how she spent her money. (My CEO friend blamed it on his wife - which is another example of him abrogating responsibility.)

So here we have a couple - co-CEOs if you will - one abrogating responsibility and the other micro-managing. Poor teen - she doesn't learn how to make her own decisions, and she has no economic freedom.

Here's what I sent him in an e-mail after our lunch:

What is the purpose of an allowance for kids?

I believe an allowance is a very important tool for teaching children a variety of things.

Making choices: Rather than believing one can get whatever he wants if he asks in the right way, having a fixed income (an allowance) that is dedicated to allowing the child to buy whatever he or she wants within clear limits teaches that if you want one thing, it means you probably can't have something else. Consequently, the amount of the allowance must be carefully calculated - based on the current cost of goods and services, the child's age, and how much freedom you wish to give your child.  

When deciding, think about the things it is OK for your child, based on his or her age, to purchase. Ice-cream from the truck? Hot dog and coke at the mall? A movie once a week? Birthday, anniversary and special day gifts for parents and siblings?

Do you also want your child to learn the importance of savings? If so, the allowance has to be large enough to accommodate the ability to spend as well as the necessity to save.

Freedom of choice:  Independence or dependency? What are you teaching? 

Which do you prefer?  

If a child has to ask the parent each and every time he or she wants something, the child is not making that decision, the parents are. 

Let me tell you a true story. When my nieces were small (they are now very successful business women) they and my sister (their mother) came out to visit. We were planning our visit to Disneyland when I asked my sister how much she was planning to give each child for spending money. She said, "nothing, all they have to do is ask me." I disagreed and explained my thinking and sweetened the pot saying I'd give them the exact same amount as she would. So, each girl received $20.00 to spend exactly as she wished. Of course, we the adults paid for entry, tickets and food.

Amelia, my eldest niece happily spent her money during the course of the day, on soda, snacks, arcade games, etc. Gabrielle, the younger, saw a stuffed animal in the store as we were just starting our adventure. It cost $20.00. I suggested she have the saleswoman put it aside and if she still had her money at the end of the day, we'd go back and she could purchase it. She held on to her money all day and at the end, happily purchased her stuffed animal (I secretly paid the tax.)

So, different choices - neither of which was better or worse than the other. The girls decided, not the adults.

The value of money: Only by having money and having to budget and make decisions do you ever learn the value of money - and from it the value of earning money. If parents make all money decisions, it is as though money grows on trees - or gets printed in much the same way many people believe the government prints money whenever it needs it.

If the money is in MY pocket, I have to decide whether an item is worth its price - to me. If I am earning money (which should be in addition to an allowance) I can equate the price with the amount of time it takes me to earn that sum of money.

I can remember the first time I bought an outfit that cost me more than a week's pay. I never regretted spending that money - it was an outfit I wore to opening night of the Opera (The Met) one year - and wore it many times after that with oodles of compliments. It was worth it - to me.

So, if I am a teenager and my allowance is large enough for me to occasionally decide to buy a cute top at the mall, I will learn the value of money.

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Charismatic Leadership

When you ask people what the most important qualities are for leadership, almost all will list charisma at the top of their list. What is charisma and why is it important?

Max Weber (quoted in Wikipedia) offers that it is the "exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person." I read this and think of Hitler, Jim Jones, and others who lead for evil. So, I don't buy the description as being the whole story.

To me, charismatic leadership is the quality to appear bigger, better wiser, and more compassionate than others - with the drive and energy that compels people to follow.

Whether in politics, war, or corporate governance, the qualities of leadership become important to motive others to get on your team and do what you need and want them to do. Without this quality, one needs to bribe, beg, bully, or pay heavily in order to get the tasks completed.

The Los Angeles Times (March 27, 2016) posted an article called "A dark side of charismatic leaders" (Joyce E.A. Russell) in it they mention that some leaders lead people down a path of self-destruction. And, of course that leads us back to memories of Hitler and Jim Jones among others. So, there is difference between ethical and unethical leaders.

I'd go so far as to suggest that the evil leaders are megalomaniacs and think so highly of themselves, they rarely if ever listen to the advice of others. The better leaders - the good guys if you will - have positive goals and a willingness to communicate with others and listen and learn from others.

Let's apply this to the workplace - and of course make some generalizations.

Evil leaders have personal goals that lead to their own aggrandizement - and often end up destroying the organizations they build. The people they lead ultimately become their victims. Positive charismatic leaders set goals that are for the betterment of the organization as a whole. They encourage ideas from others (no yes men for them) and are delighted at the growth and success of those around them.

Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Andy Grove, John Chambers, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others can be described as charismatic leaders - some more self-serving than others. It is the power of their leadership that led their respective companies to the level of greatness we admire.

But, in some of these organizations (and I'm not going to mention which ones) the preferred style of management is by status and intimidation. People are forced to work exceptionally long hours (even for Silicon Valley) and since they all work at will, if they aren't available 24/7 they run the risk of being fired. It is high salaries and status that keeps them in line.

As I am writing this, I am thinking about the Prison guards and some of the inmates in the series Orange is the New Black.  If you've been watching it - and I've become addicted - you'll remember that the Assistant Warden got so caught up in her own power that she embezzled and denied the prisoners some basic comfort and health care needs. Some of the guards became vicious, controlling bullies because they had the power - and ruled by fear. A few of the inmates fell into this category as well - ruling by intimidation and violence.

In today's workplace, we rarely see this same level of managers who rule by threats of physical violence - although in years past they still existed. Instead, the bully boss controls by performance appraisals, promises of promotions, the better (or worse) projects and of course salary increases and the ultimate threat - firing.

So unfortunately, as much as I wish I could, I can't say that only positive charismatic leaders lead to success. Some of the bad guys do too. Too bad.

Participatory Management
We think of charismatic leadership to be authoritarian in style - but that's not necessarily true. Some of our great charismatic leaders led by what is called Participatory Management. One, if not more of our American Presidents was known for this style of leadership.

In Participatory Management, the leader takes ultimate responsibility for the decisions - it is not a democracy - but the leader encourages all executives, team players, stakeholders, etc., to offer their ideas - to openly disagree with each other - and this type of leader listens and learns and ultimately makes the decision him/herself.

The person of self-esteem is never afraid to learn from others - indeed, delights in having others from whom to learn. This is what ultimately creates an extraordinary leader.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To Cube Or Not To Cube

The workplace is changing.  Many people are working from home. Fewer people are actually traveling but are using technology to interact with others. Some CEOs are making a statement by being “one of the boys” and working from a small office or a cubicle instead of the corner suite.

Companies are confronted with decisions about how to configure new spaces and how to assign areas to make everyone happy. I recently learned of a company that had miscounted how many executive offices they needed, and thus had people who think they deserved offices, working in cubes.

Who needs – deserves – wants a private office? What are the criteria you use to make this decision? 

What about cubicles themselves? Does every employee need her or his own space or can spaces be shared?

What about moveable spaces? What about open spaces and common spaces which allow for interaction – and thus (in my opinion) more creativity?

Have you thought of “hoteling” – which is a concept that asks employees to reserve space at the office for those times when they really need to be present?

What are the pros and cons of each of these different arrangements?  Do we need all our employees to come to the actual workplace all the time?  Some of the time? None of the time? What’s the criteria?

Personally, I love working from home – but, thrive on interaction with others in face-to-face contact. I think people can be more creative when they have some alone time and some interaction time. How do you find the right balance for your people and your company needs?

Let me help you think these things through – and let me help you have some problem-solving groups with your people when decisions such as these need to be made.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Leaders and Followers

The flying geese have the right idea. Apparently they select a leader based on the task at hand. The goose that knows the route best will be selected to lead them home, and the best nester will teach the others how to build their nests.

Do we do the same? Do we defer to experts? Or, does the need to look good get in the way of deferring to others.

Have we become so “politically correct” that we look for the feet of clay in our great people? Do we demean our heroes instead of worshiping them?

I ask all these questions because of an article I read by New York Times columnist, David Brooks.

Mr. Brooks notes that contemporary monuments of great people, reduce them to ordinariness as opposed to elevating them. He compares the FDR memorial to that of Lincoln and Washington. We look up to the statue of President Abe Lincoln and President George Washington. FDR is seen according to Mr. Brooks as “a kindly grandpa.”  David Brooks goes on to state, “The proposed Eisenhower memorial shifts attention from his moments of power to his moments of innocent boyhood.”

Why? Are we afraid of greatness?

Quoting the same article:

In his memoir, “At Ease,” Eisenhower delivered the following advice: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”

To have good leaders you have to have good followers – able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it. Those skills are required for good monument building too.

This is a pet issue of mine because it personally bothers me when I hear people tear down and gossip negatively about great leaders who are no longer with us.  Although it may be true – or not – I don’t really want to know that someone I admired actually had warts. Sure, none of us are perfect, but let’s look up to people, not down at them.

Looking down may make you think it makes you look better, but it doesn’t.  Only people with self-esteem – true self-esteem – are comfortable looking up.