Self sustainability, a beginning

Dec 06, 2014 (Indianapolis) – Self sustainability, a beginning

            What has to be the ultimate goal of any supervisor, manager, employer: helping the workforce become self-directing decision makers on behalf of the company goals. Imagine if most of your employees, maybe 75%, were self directing themselves toward goal level performance on the critical tasks they perform for the company. That should be easy to imagine since from my research most companies in fact have around 75% of the critical tasks being done by self directing employees. That is average though. No big deal. No distinction.

If that is in fact “average” or what I label as “mediocre” – half way up the stony mountain – then what is the distinction that moves some companies to great, further up the stony mountain, while others languish at mediocre? To be useful in this blog think about companies that are competitive pairs as did Collins in the seminal book “Good to Great.”

The model that I will reference is the Ken Blanchard Companies “Situational Leadership II” model. In the model I have found that average = good = development level 3 in the model. The model also has a higher level of performance, development level 4 which I have found as “distinctive” – great – head and shoulders above the “average” worker, manager, or company.

What allows, causes, provokes, drives, entices, or woos and employee, manager, or company to regularly do the critical actions at development level 4? Before I offer my best assessment of my question allow me to offer some data. In my research: about 15% of the critical tasks are being done at development level 4. That is not 15% of the employees but 15% of the tasks. My guess, but not researched is that the “hi-pos”, the designated high performers do more of their critical tasks at d4 than the average performer in the company.  I would even bet that the “hi-pos” have learned better than the average performer which tasks are currently critical and do those tasks much better than the average performer and much better than the average tasks that they are assigned. In short they do first things first and they do them better, faster, and different than the average “bear.”

To the question from above: seems there are two general answers:

  1. Of the 15% of the tasks that are being done in the d4 zone, 9% are being done at that level of performance by naturally high performers. People who would do a great job on a task because of who they are irrespective of any external factors. At times I have been that d4 performer or have seen others perform at that level “in spite” of the external factors. Remember, d4 performance is distinctly above the goal level, average, d3 level performance.
  2. The other 6%? Now that is a group worth pondering. They are in the zone because of extrinsic factors. In my next post I will begin to elaborate on those factors. It will be my Christmas present to all. It will also be a New Years gift as I am sure I will take more than one post.

Engaged workforce?

June 1, 2014 (San Diego) 

            There is a quotation sitting in front of me for today: “It is possible to be busy – very busy – without being very effective. This would be highly engaged employees expending their efforts on moderately effective projects or organizations.

My favorite book that reflects this very condition is “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt, North River Press, 1984. Yes, I know, what can we learn from a 30 year old book? In this case wisdom.

Mr. Goldratt wrote the book based on a consulting project. The focus company was working day and night, constantly in motion, with all kinds of overtime, yet never making deadlines. Over the course of 3 months this company was turned around to being totally profitable, ahead of schedule on all contracts, Diverse Team 2and no over time. Also, there was no additional workforce or expenditure on new machinery. Yes everyone was extremely busy without being effective.

When organizations need to “up their effectiveness” it takes an organization wide effort directed from the top, but with constant input from all levels of the organization.

Help the employees win, reward them appropriately, keep them in the loop and it will be amazingGo for the Gold what they can do.

Are we clear about expectations?

April 27, 2014 (San Diego)

            I wonder how clear organizations are being around expectations for each employee?

April 19th’s blog below: when managers mark employees on a forced distribution curve there would be incentives albeit covert to keep expectations a bit fuzzy. If the expectations and goals were totally clear and people exceeded them, the forced curve champions would be in a huge bind as more than 10% would be “top performers.” One would think that for an organization having more “high performers” would be good.

The May 5th‘s and April 14th’s blogs on helping employees stuck at a performance below goal level raises the possibility of marginally fuzzy expectations. For the most part company’s now-days hire proven professionals. Assuming a decent job of selection and interviews: very qualified people should be the outcome in the hiring process; why do so many, up to 25% languish below expectation, goal level, performance? They know how to do the work, after all they were hired because they were proven. So why cannot they get to at least goal level performance? The answer for the most part is employees are abandoned on the job unless problems or crisis happen. At the beginning there is a rudimentary explanation of expectation, but from there the employee is expected to learn the details of the expectations. In many cases that is more difficult than merely putting in time on the job and hoping to figure things out. The guidance from the manager or a mentor to refine expectations so that appropriate actions occur is totally missing.

I have also seen that accountability becomes part of the lack of clarity around expectations. The most weighty impact happens when an employee makes a mistake either on purpose, by accident, or for lack of knowing the “right action to do.” What I see the most is that the manager / supervisors states the mistake and reiterates that it should not happen again. The part that is missing is exploring why the mistake happened in the first place. Gaining clarity here is not at all putting yourself “in agreement” with the reason, you are working to understand the reason for the current performance so that you can adjust, correct, prevent, stop the current performance and aim the employee towards the desired performance.

For us as managers always keep in mind that the employees are watching what we do. Our actions have huge impacts on how the employees will respond. If we show passive indifference to the details of what is expected, what can we expect from our employees? Remember: we get what we role model.

More problems with Employees?

March 28, 2014 (Washington, D.C.)

            Who is non-performing, the employee or the supervisor?  An employee appears to be sleeping during morning briefing. (Oh how many managers have I seen that will not call that behavior out on the spot!) After the meeting the supervisor calls the person aside for a “few words only to be met with, “I was not sleeping. Here are the main points discussed.” If a regurgitation of the main points was the point then perhaps the employee was not technically sleeping. Of course the supervisor and the company wants more than a conscious employee, everyone wants an engaged employee.

Though the employee has huge responsibilities to be engaged at all aspects of the job irrespective of the quality of the supervisor, maybe the supervisor can help the employee be more engaged.

Look at the “what to do” section of my March 21 post. Expanding a bit: address the core issue: engagement and what it looks like. Maybe the atmosphere of the morning briefs is slightly sleep inducing. Maybe the briefing is OK but this employee needs to be more in the delivery of the brief. Supervisor, you can do something.

Doing nothing is an option for the supervisor, but the other employees are already commenting to you. If you do nothing you appear to be endorsing the behavior. That may lead to discontentment and more disengaged behaviors

My coaching: do not let marginal behavior slide, it tends to hurt everyone.

Problem Employees

March 21, 2014 (Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia) Problem Employees

Non-performing whales = your problem employee. I would say that 100% of challengesthe organizations I get to work with when asked if there are any “problem employees” I either get: knowing smiles, head nods, or energetic hand raises. (Organization psychologist work with why those different types of responses occur, I deal with the troubling employee directly.) Funny, both the org psychologist and leadership consultant touch the root cause, I just approach it differently.

A definition: using the leadership model of The Ken Blanchard Companies: a problem employee is at development level 2 and staying there. They have quit and stayed at a performance level below goal level performance for the assigned tasks. Mind you, that is just below goal level performance. Any and all accountability for the gap between current performance and goal level performance is explained away with “excuses” and, or “blame.”

The real challenge here is most jobs require a degree of initiative in dealing with how the task “shows up.” The task arrives at their desk not in just one format thus requiring potentialadjustments to the usual way of approaching the task. The problem employee just will not take that initiative to adjust to the variations. They do know what to do and the adjustment is often simple enough, but for some reason they just will not use the mental energy on the task. That lack of initiative slows down the flow of the task, making it a requirement that someone else jump through a “hoop” to get the task back on track or someone needs to make a explanation or excuse to the customer why things are not the way they should be. The below goal level performance can be dealt with, but the excuses those employees make are maddening.

An example. A funny one. I used to do a lot of work in a country that had huge amounts of rain. A typical rain might be 2-3 inches in an hour which always caused April showersApril showersApril showerslocalized flooding somewhere.  The workshop was scheduled begin at 8.30 a.m. 90% of the participants were early or on time. 10% would arrive 30 to 40 minutes late and blame their tardiness on, you guessed it, the localized flooding. The truth of the matter was that they tried to get to the work shop with the timing and the initiative of a clear day and that just would not work on a day with localized flooding. There is enough information known about the rain and its impact that 90% figured how to deal with it and were on time. It is that 10%, the blessed 10%, that were not only late but wanted me to go over what they missed or at least slow down the entire workshop with questions relating to the material covered while they were stuck in the rain, a situation they could have avoided like everyone else. In answering their “tardy learning questions” everyone else gets slowed down. In the workshop I either need to not cover some material, cut some time given to some material, and or spend break time with the latecomer. (Oh yes, didn’t I mention it: they do not want to catch up during the break time, the definitely want the break.) Yes this would be funny if excuses were not so prevalent and almost a way of life for some.

What to do?

  1. You can ignore it and hope it will take care of itself on its own. Google, “Non-performing whales” and see how that works. Hope is a poor strategy. One only needs to look at how ex-Mayor of San Diego Bob Filner’s sexual proclivities were “not handled” to see the ongoing cost of ignoring the problem.
  2. You can try some sort of direct discipline. That tends to work about as well as economic sanctions on Putin for annexing the Crimea.
  3. You could fire them if the wrongful separation lawyers were not so prevalent.
  4. Documentation is good if it was not so cumbersome and time consuming, time that you are using to catch up with the nonperformance in the first place.

What to do? What I am about to say has worked with 95% of the situations. You may have the “5%” but from a statistical viewpoint you do not.

  1. Review the required performance goal with the employee. It better have some performance metrics
  2. State the gap in performance.
  3. Now the painful part: explore why the gap exists. This will take the patience of “Job” but it works. You are going to hear all the whining and excuses. “Tell me more.” More whining and excuses. “Tell me more” ….. “Is there anything else I need to know.” Once you have exhausted their deep reservoir of reasons go to the next step.
  4. Restate the situation to insure you “understand” it from the employee’s perspective.asking questions
  5. Keep cycling on station with number 3 and 4 until you get: “that’s it.”
  6. Now propose one right next step to move out of this slough of despair.
  7. Get agreement with the employee that they understand the step and that the step will start to move things forward. “Hope is not a good business strategy.”
  8. Have a next performance review soon to reinforce that the step is working or that it needs to be revisited.

Dave, you say, but I do not have time for this. Consider the time it takes to do strategies clock1-4. Pay now or pay later one way or another you will pay. The best way to deal with all this is to follow my March 8th blog and handle the employee correctly from the start.

Bringing a new employee into the fold

March 8, 2014 (San Diego)

Tender loving care (TLC) will go a long way with orienting a new player whether they are a high performing transfer, an apprentice, or an intern. They all come wanting to do a Strongergood job, highly motivated, and ready to go. What do they need?

Some job and politics orientation will be useful. How work gets done, what a good job looks like, time lines, who are the “go to people” etc. Though this may seem mundane in many organizations, orientation is anything but mundane. I get to do a lot of consulting work for an international tech company that does a lot of reorganizations. The technology experts are located all over the globe and with the regular reorgs, the “go to” tech person changes often. A new player working to figure out potentialthe “intelligence matrix” on his/her own can waste huge amounts of time and can become quite frustrated. Plus the current tech expert has no idea who the new person is nor the immediacy of their need. The tech experts responsiveness can be quite delayed.

I think some organizations or at least some managers treat this pursuit of the answer a “rite of passage.” “If they cannot handle this challenge how can they handle the ‘day job’”? Just maybe the nature of how the task 408px-Pompeii_Garden_of_the_Fugitives_02shows is different enough for some people. The job of working on systems to find problems can be quite different than working in systems to find people and have those once found be usefully responsive. Some new people have moved into the “quit and stay” mode of work. They do not seemed to be able to find the solution to the “intelligence matrix”, no one seems to be willing to help, and they cannot afford to quit.

The other part of the orientation needs to be the politics of the organization. There is the formal structure and then there is how things really get done structure. There are the people who provide answers and people who provide solutions. There are power brokers who do nothing without personal gain and there are those who will nearly drop everything to help another particularly someone new.

breatheAs we help “nuggets” (new guys) learn the ropes we speed up their adsorption into the man upman uporganization and minimize the time needed for the organization to be blessed by their gifts and talents they bring to the table.

Steps toward higher performing organizations

Feb 23, 2014 (San Diego)

Over the last 15 days I have had the privilege of presenting leadership principles in 9 of those days to groups of military, other government functions, and private sector companies. Seems the challenge-of-the-day is people who position themselves just the opposite of the principle of “Invictus” (see Feb 02 blog). They are good at presenting problems and seeking others to solve them: both personal and professional problems. They take no responsibility for the occurrence of the problem, nor the solution: those are both the domain of someone else. They have essentially detached themselves from the organization except for…. salary and benefits. How sustainable is that?

In Robert Greenleaf’s seminal book, “Servant Leadership” Paulist Press, 1977, he wrote that there is an implicit and often explicit “social contract” between organizations and leadreship servantworkers. The worker applies his/her gifts and talents for the good of the organization at goal level and the organization will give the promised salary, benefits, and suitable working conditions. If one is “detached” from the organization and not fulfilling their portion of the social contract, Greenleaf wrote there must be means to restore the contract or remove the employee. Everyone can imagine the impact of a non-whaleperforming whale on the performing whales. In case the metaphor is illusive go to your local SeaWorld and ask them. They will tell you that the nonperforming whale adversely impacts the performance of the performing whales. Not cool!

Unlike whales, on the job you get to do interviews and stress we need youtesting for suitability before hiring. There are resumes and referrals where a company can research past performance.

In my next blog I will first address how to preserve the initial motivation a person brings to the job, thus heading off the potential of developing a non-performing whale. The ensuing blog I will address what I see as a means of working with the non-performing whale.

Dec 29, 2013 (San Diego) The Enemy “Debt”

           Updating from my July 16, 2011 blog

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 30 Dec 2013 at 03:47:44 AM GMT is:

$17, 234,417,328,613 and some change

The estimated population of the United States is 317,339,269
so each citizen’s share of this debt is $54,309.12.

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of
$2.57 billion per day since September 30, 2012!
Concerned? Then tell Congress and the White House!

Would you lend money to someone who had no intension of every paying their debts?

Would you lend money to someone who pays the current I.O.U.’s with newly borrowed money and continually makes the pile of I.O.U.’s larger?

When Bernard L. Madoff had such an arrangement it was labeled a “ponzi scheme by the federal government and he was thrown in jail for the rest to his life.

We must realize that “balancing the budget” is a minimal acceptable beginning that does nothing about the existing debt save it stops the addition to the pile. We must also realize that this scheme only prevails until confidence in the scheme is lost. Once confidence is gone or even diminishes then the scheme begins to unravel either slowly and barely perceptible as it was for the “frog in the pan of cool water” or quickly and catastrophically like Pompeii


Too much of the conversation in Washington has been wasted on diminishing others rather than rally the “others” to a workable position. In my April 4th blog I wrote: “I must truly value myself and who I am. I have found when I am crushing others it comes at times when I am feeling bad about myself and I need another carcass to stand on so I can be a bit taller and self assured. Whaa, so sad.”

Patrick Henry wrote brilliantly of how to state one’s position without diminishing others. I have modified Patrick Henry’s quotation to fit the debt situation.

…..” But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

The enemy labeled “debt” is at our door. If our leaders in Washington do not take the political risk to significantly abate the pending financial catastrophe, we all suffer the consequences of our own inaction. Our Congress will not be able to blame anyone but themselves. As Shakespeare most aptly wrote: “To be or not to be that is the question”, to take the necessary risk as leaders and decision makers to combat the debt drivers of Medicare and Social Security or not, that is the question, the only question. All other dithering in Washington is blinding the eye to the most urgent needs of the day.

“Retaining the “best” part 4 – They are high performers, now what?

Dec 08, 2013 (San Diego)

            As a supervisor or manager you now have a person working with you that consistently performs above goal level on many assigned tasks. Wow, what a blessing. What should I do to help maintain that awesome performance: get out of their way, take them to lunch, give them all the important tasks that are not getting done by others, say a prayer of thanksgiving…..what?

            My suggestions from a “few days” working with high performers:

  1. From time to time let them know you appreciate their contribution
  2. From time to time that appreciation needs to be tangible or we can appear to be all talk
  3. Learn enough about their aspirations so that as opportunity comes along they can be offered interesting and relevant new challenges. So many high performers “leave” because they become bored.
  4. Do what can be done to demonstrate that you genuinely trust them and their judgment. Go out of your way to do this. On a routine basis you do it all the time and it can appear to be “no big deal.”
  5. Offer them opportunity to mentor or sponsor new learners.

High performers are very important players in your organizations. Devote key amounts of time to insure that their “needs” are being met.

Proclamation of Thanksgiving by Abraham Lincoln 1863

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863        

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving.      thanksgiving 2

By the President of the United States of America. – A Proclamation.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.  Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.”

By the President: Abraham Lincoln