Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bad Bosses Cost: Man in the Mirror

I've worked for the best of them, I've worked for the worst of them.  Whether it was in Chicago or in Dubai, they were there.  Whether it was someone I consulted for or someone who was portrayed in case studies, they were there in numbers.  I'm talking about bosses, and while the opening of The Real Cost of Bad Bosses may seem like a salvo for the worst of the lot, the infographic is all apropos and it gets right to the point:
Want to give your team's productivity a real boost?  Take a look at your managers - and a long look in the mirror while you're at it.
In this article, I take the perspective of you as an executive, that is, someone highly-ranked in the company.  We'll look at the managers whom you, and your fellow executives, have installed.  We'll also look at issues from the standpoint of these managers' staff members.  But we'll begin with the man or woman in the mirror:  yourself.

The Executive

In Why Good Bosses Tune in to their People, Robert Sutton emphasized that leaders matter a great deal.  For better or for worse, what they say and what they do, not only reverberate across the organization, but are also mimicked by their direct reports.

One boss I knew was a knowledgeable, experienced and courageous man.  He confronted tough issues, whether in group or one-to-one meetings, and he was particularly deft in developing business with clients; his credits were in the multimillion-dollar range.  He gained the respect of those higher up the ladder, was promoted to senior manager, and eventually became my boss.

The problem?  He was hostile at best and abusive at worst, and while he paid lip service to teamwork, he did most of the talking and was mostly absorbed in himself.  One incident typified his leadership in relation to us.  He, two colleagues, and I were headed for an overseas project.  Our client was gracious to book us on business class for the flight.  As it turned, my boss was inadvertently bumped to economy class.  He chatted with the three of us, before takeoff, and made tacit requests to switch with one of us.  None of us budged.  In fact, one colleague half-jokingly said, "Enjoy your seat."

To make matters worse for this boss, I believe, was his frank narcissism.  Such a personality isn't inclined to step back and self reflect.  I can only imagine what he saw in the mirror every time he looked, but I am sure he saw little or none of his flaws.  There wasn't much indication that he was aware of how he behaved or how he treated us, and little apparent effort to change things.  

So, then, even if you have to wrestle with yourself, psychologically, stepping back and self reflecting are crucial.  It may be helpful to ask yourself, as an executive, such general questions as 'How am I doing with my staff?  What can I do better?'  It may also be helpful to ask yourself about specific people or situations.  For instance, my former boss could've asked himself, once retired to his seat, 'What just happened with my staff?  How come no one bothered to offer a switch?  Is it something I've done or something about me?'    

It was even more unfortunate that his own boss was not wont to confront tough issues.  He, too, was a smart man and a deft consultant.  But I imagine that he reveled in having promoted his staff member, who became my boss, because it deflected attention to, maybe even masked, a weakness in his leadership.  There were many reasons why I eventually left the firm, but the two of them were primary ones.

The Manager

Still with the perspective of you as the executive:  How are your direct reports doing, in relation to their staff?  They are the managers, one level down from you, whom you have hired or whom you inherited from your predecessor.  Their Key Performance Indicators, if set up properly, ought to give you quite a good grasp about how they're doing.  

But beyond these KPIs, do you have a pulse on their impact on staff?  That is, on leadership intangibles, those often unspoken factors that galvanize or demoralize a team.  Have a look at the following:    

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Besides performance reviews, you may want to arrange formal assessments of their leadership competencies, personality and values, if you haven't done so, yet.  Just as you have to take an honest look at yourself in the mirror, you need to take a similarly unvarnished, deeper look at your managers.  Having regular conversations with them helps, not just about business matters, but also about managerial issues.  If you and your managers don't have such conversations, as of yet, then it'll feel awkward at first and your managers may not be very forthcoming about issues.  But keep at it.  Promote trust and comfort in conversations with you.  

I believe it is often best to take reality as it is and to view things as they are.  But a positive reframe of a negative attribute or situation is often helpful.  So let's do so for the above five flaws.  You can reflect on these reframed questions when you are privately reviewing your managers' impact, and you can weave them into your conversations with them:
  1. How well do they inspire their staff?  What kind of mood do they engender in the team?  Do their facial expressions and body language indicate inspiration (or something else)?  
  2. How much do they emphasize excellence in performance?  Are their staff going above and beyond the call of duty, or simply fulfilling the basics of expectations?  
  3. Do they understand the vision and direction you have set?  How clearly do they convey these to their staff?
  4. What collaborative spirit do they show, and how much do they involved their staff in major projects or critical presentations?  
  5. How well do their actions match their words?  How well do they follow through on commitments they voice to their staff?  
If you're not inclined to weigh these intangibles or have such conversations with your managers, consider the hard figures about bad bosses that directly impact your business.

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In his article for McKinsey Quarterly, Sutton offered pointed, practical advice on how managers can bolster their staff performance (with my comments).  The following are areas that you can coach your managers to do for their staff.  

Provide psychological safety  

In the aftermath of some failure by your managers and their teams, for example, you must genuinely accept responsibility, especially when acknowledging this outcome in the organization.  You may have to confront, criticize and reprimand particular managers, of course, but do so privately, constructively and collaboratively.  They must get the message loudly and clearly from you, that they, too, must accept responsibility for failure vis-a-vis their staff and handle the matter forthrightly and respectfully.

Shield people

There is enough stress or pressure on people in the course of running a business.  A good amount of this is part of doing their jobs, so Sutton is not recommending coddling them.  But it does mean defending them, 'protecting their back, and buffering them from undue lines of fire in the organization.

Make small gestures  

A thank you or good job may be the least utilized, most underrated tool in the managerial toolkit.  If you aren't using such tools in a more frequent, timely enough manner, then do so.  Coach your managers do take make these small gestures, too.  They may have other, even better ideas, in relation to their staff, so be sure to solicit these as well.

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It goes without saying, of course, that for you to have credibility and impact with your managers, when you coach them on the above areas, you must do the same for them.  

The Staff

The impact of bad bosses on staff isn't just psychological or occupational.  It is also physical in a very real way.

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Sutton reported the same thing:
Lousy bosses can kill you—literally. A 2009 Swedish study tracking 3,122 men for ten years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 percent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.
As the executive, you have privileged access to staff information that HR houses.  What does the absenteeism picture look like?  What are the figures for payouts from staff medical coverage?  What trends do you see, from period to period, and do these trends synchronize, positively or negatively, with the hiring or assigning of particular managers?  

Again, beyond the quantitative data, what is your pulse on how the staff are actually doing?  The best of staff may weather the psychological storm of a bad boss, but they are only human.  What kind of medical visits, treatment or stays are they having?  If you're not sure, find out.  Ask your managers.  Ask their staff directly.

The impact of bad bosses, and the ensuing disengagement from their staff, is nothing short of colossal:  Over $300 billion in lost productivity, within the US workforce, according to Gallup estimates.   

Staff engagement offers one of the most compelling efforts an organization can initiate and sustain.  Engaged staff are those who are visibly and genuinely keen to do their job.  They understand what is most important to the organization, and they do their utmost to support it.  They 'go the extra mile,' when it comes to tough assignments or deadlines.

Moreover, they serve as a positive contagion in the team.  As the recession collapsed the world economy, in late 2008 and going into 2009, I encouraged my colleagues regularly via e-mail and conversation that we ought to count our blessings.  We may not always be happy with what the CEO is doing or not doing and we  may harbor frank displeasure about the direction of the company.  But we had the responsibility, to a person,  to our jobs well and to keep at it.  

The model for great managing (below) comes from Gallup's ongoing research over several years.  The I, me and my refer to the staff member.  It is no accident, I believe, that great managers are defined, not by academicians, consultants or researchers, but by their own staff.  The very lives for which they have stewardship in the workplace and for which they have the responsibility to engage meaningfully.

I have absolutely no promotion arrangement with Gallup, so I can tell you this in all honesty:  In a previous company, key managers, colleagues and I brought this firm on board to help us raise our staff engagement.  Their model, research and professionalism were superb.  So you may want to consider them as well for your organization.

Short of that, you can use the above model in these ways:  (a) as a rough-and-ready barometer for the experiences and perceptions of the staff, and even those of their managers (i.e., your direct reports); and (b) as general guidelines for what their managers, and perhaps you yourself, may need to do to shore up shortfalls or concerns in staff engagement.

This model is in effect (c) a roadmap for becoming not just a good boss, but rather a great boss.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!  Also, if you'd like a PDF of this article, please e-mail me at Ron.Villejo@ronvillejoconsulting.com.

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Leadership Imperative of Social Media

I presented at a conference, and joked that while a friend had over 500 friends on Facebook, I had just eight to speak of.  One friend invited me to join, several months before, and I might have sketched a profile at the time, but otherwise paid little attention to it.  That was in September 2008, and it was a year later before I took serious note, found it intriguing, and worked at building my friends list.       

So four years running now, on social media, and it's been a slowly evolving effort, not just to befriend and connect, but also to grasp it and get into a rhythm with it.  I resolved early on that I would be an active participant as well as a thoughtful learner.  I wanted to socialize inside the house, so to speak, and also step outside, peer inside the windows, and gaze at the entirety of the house.

My personal story is the backdrop from which I discuss a must-read article from McKinsey:  Six social-media skills every leader needs.  The title may sound like a lightweight how-to guidepost for the casual individual, but this is a duly-weighed piece that speaks directly to executives and managers.  Authors Roland Deiser and Sylvian Newton offer this graphic to summarize their social media framework, and I comment on each of those six skills, plus offer suggestions for acquiring them.

To thrive in the world of social media, leaders need to acquire a mind-set of openness and imperfection, and they must have the courage to appear “raw” and unpolished—traits that may be as challenging for them as developing the creative and technical-production skills.
Deiser and Newton make it sound more daunting than it actually is, especially when they allude to auteur filmmaking skills, but creating a video is relatively easy.  Available smartphones and tablets have user-friendly capabilities, and there are editing tools that are quite manageable.

Instead, the more challenging effort for CEOs may be reconciling the polish of a corporate video with the imperfection of a self-made video.  Somewhere in between lies the comfort zone for each of them.  On the one hand, a professionally-created video is apropos for formal presentations and ad campaigns, but it may impress some audiences as disingenuous.  On the other hand, an obviously crude creation leaves the CEO dissatisfied, if not disgusted.  Yet, a naturally-delivered, honestly-presented video, for example, with the occasional stumbles in speech, may just be what your audience gravitates to.

So, besides finding your comfort zone, clarifying your purpose and determining the likes of your target audience are crucial.  Practice makes perfect, indeed.  Giving it a try, if you haven't yet, by first experimenting on videos that you keep private, to start with, is a way to build up skill and comfort.  If you have children who are savvy with media and technology, requesting "reverse mentoring" from them is another way to go.  A channel on YouTube like Filmmaker IQ is chock-full of video ideas, tutorials and examples, so be sure to have a look and to study up.  Finally, keep in mind that videos is just one type of content:  articles, slides and conversations are other examples as well.

Distribution competence—the ability to influence the way messages move through complex organizations—becomes as important as the ability to create compelling content.
There is a dialectic between the content you create and the means with which you distribute that content.  Deiser and Newton are right to point out that the distribution methods at our disposal can help us decide what content to create.  For example, I know that YouTube has thousands of soundtracks to choose from, when I upload any video.  The fact that I can make my content more compelling via this social media, for example, has given me a wider stretch of ideas on videos I can create.

But the truth is, we have such a wide variety of distribution methods to choose from, that I concern myself less with how I will present my content and more with what I will create.  So while it is an imperative to gain distribution competence, I suggest that you think first about what you want to accomplish and consider the content you ought to create vis-a-vis that aim.  More than likely, the optimal methods to disseminate this content is available to you.

Deiser and Newton emphasize that people populate social media and altogether make for a storehouse  of knowledge, support and influence.  How you engage them, and enlist their involvement in your content creation and distribution, matters a great deal.  Many among us may speak to a before-internet era when command-and-control was in vogue in organizations.  But I question how much command-and-control leaders actually had, back then.  Effective leadership is fundamentally about respect, care and persuasion.  So whether it's a bygone faux control era, or a social media landscape, it is these people provisions that define our leadership.      

“You have to see the entire communication universe, the interplay of traditional and social media,” says Bill Ruh, head of GE’s Software and Analytics Center. Just as leaders suffer from overflow, so do their people. “As a leader,” says Ruh, “you have to develop empathy for the various channels and the way people consume information.”
If you're a CEO, or one of the top-most executives, then your horizons are already wide.  You have a big-picture view of information and communications in your company, but at any given moment you can drink just a glass of water at a time but are given the volume of an ocean, it seems.  For me, there is a zen to this.  What do I mean?

Consider that Facebook has one billion members, and LinkedIn 200 million colleagues.  There is a Timeline and Newsfeed of updates, articles and events within each of these universes.  As phenomenal of a technology as these platforms are, they are grossly limited in how much information it can present to us at any given time.  This limitation is of course mirrored by our own, that is, our very finite capacity to consume such information.  We can spend every single waking moment in front of the computer or on the smartphone and tablet, and we will come across, never mind process, only a small fraction of that ocean volume.

Zen means realizing and accepting our elemental limitation.  It means not stressing over it, and relaxing and centering ourselves, instead, on this very reality.  The information flow is not uniformly rapid or overwhelming.  In fact that flow varies from one site to the other.  In my experience, for example, my LinkedIn Newsfeed "moves" slower than my Twitter Timeline (which is more like a stock ticker-tape).  So I can reflect more on LinkedIn content, and I can spend more time deciding what to respond to and what to post on.  On Twitter, I've learned to be quicker in this decision-making.

It's difficult, indeed, to get a grip on this information overflow, if we aren't fundamentally at zen.  So I propose the first steps have much less to do with information or communication, ironically, but much more with our state of mind, our purpose and preferences.  Once at zen, then, you have plenty of advice, support and tools are your disposal to help you.  In time, the ocean becomes a refreshing swim, as opposed to an overwhelming drink that drowns you.

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“The type of leadership we need finds its full expression in the DNA of collaborative technology, and I am determined to leverage this DNA as much as I can.”
To achieve this goal, leaders must become tutors and strategic orchestrators of all social-media activities within their control, including the establishment of new roles that support the logic of networked communication.
Needless to say, for CEOs to become an adviser and tutor in social media, they must be duly schooled and verse in it.  They don't have to experts in this field, of course, but they have to be so knowledgeable as to be credible in a role that Deiser and Newton emphasize.  Having personal, active experience on any one or more of the primary sites - Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, for example - is crucial, I'd say.  Even if the CEO is new to the game, he or she must commit to a steady learning and experience process for the long haul.

On the issue of collaborative technology, let me share an experience.  I was the project manager for our major clients in the Middle East, when I worked for an international consulting firm.  As an extravert, I found pleasure in meeting new colleagues across the world, from Minneapolis and Washington, DC, to London and Stockholm, to Shanghai and Melbourne.  In between client projects, we needed to prepare ourselves in unison; review our priorities, process and plans; resolve any pending issues; and keep our eyes on kaizen (continuous improvement).  Our technology?  Teleconference via phone.  By the time I left, the firm had begun to roll out videoconferencing equipment across offices, and I used it a handful of times.

Nowadays, the tools are more sophisticated and accessible.  Think free video-conferencing on Skype, on a one-to-one basis.  Think group video-conferencing on Google+ Hangouts, also at no cost.  Strong bandwidth for all parties is required, otherwise these tools can be a major aggravation.

But below the surface of org charts and process manuals we find an implicit, less manageable “informal organization,” which has always been important and now gets amplified through social media. The leader’s task is to marry vertical accountability with networked horizontal collaboration in a way that is not mutually destructive.
It's easier said than done, but getting it done vis-a-vis social media is a necessity.  Rules and responsibilities are integral to a properly-operating, meaningful and secure organization.  In a general sense, this has been an unchanging precept over time.  So setting expectations and drawing the line about the 'what,' the 'where,' and the 'who' help to minimize uncertainty or confusion on what staff can do online.

But because social media, in and of itself, is evolving phenomena, those rules and responsibilities warrant timely reviews, especially when unexpected issues or dilemmas arise.  They may warrant revisions, after careful review.  "It's an evolving thing" referred to the video that Andrew Way and his team created every quarter and shared with customers.  It could've referred perfectly to social media as a whole.

Years ago, I came up with the concept of meta-skills.  It is the skills of acquiring skills, and this is apropos now.  CEOs must truly have the meta-ability to step back, even just in their mind; examine what they're doing and how others and situations impact them; and determine what it is they need to learn, develop or figure out.  This is akin to emotional intelligence, which in part is an open-ended mindfulness and in another part a more thoughtful, analytic consideration about what's going on.

Sure, it makes sense to consult with colleagues and advisers, but CEOs must recognize that none of them can predict with full certainty how things are going to turn out:  how, for example, a new ad campaign may (or may not) get taken-up on YouTube.  We are simply limited and imperfect in our thinking, and accordingly prone to mistakes.  Hovering mindfulness and due thoughtfulness help to avoid those mistakes and to minimize and correct them when mistakes occur.  At the end of the day, each CEO must judge for himself or herself what needs to be done vis-a-vis social media.

Part of the program there involves “reverse mentoring,” which connects media-savvy millennials with senior GE leaders to discuss the latest tech buzz and practice. Many participants continue to exchange insights long after the formal session is over. Exposing seasoned leaders to the millennial mind-set encourages them to experiment with new technologies—which, in turn, helps them better engage with up and comers.
The zen of learning, understanding and staying ahead of the curve means, once again, appreciating the innate complexity of things and the limitations we face.  It means staying in the moment, fully mindful and thoughtful.  Reading articles, watching videos, and overall committing time and effort are crucial.

But here are two example of how being zen can work out practically.  All of us need our meals and breaks in the course of a business day.  So the CEO may invite a handful of their IT and millennial staff for an informal, brown-bag lunch, and talk about trends and developments in social media, device technology, and useful apps.  Also, at friends or family gathering, the CEO may amble to a small gathering of young people, and ask them something along the lines of:  What's the coolest site, device or app that they use, which hardly anyone has heard of?  This sixth social media skill is about getting a pulse on what's going on and where things are headed.

What I call an algorithm is this:  Clarify what you're trying to accomplish, even if it's something informal or small, in a social gathering.  Gather ideas about what will help accomplish that, and reformulate these accordingly, so these ideas become your own.  Determine what will work best, in light of your interests, preferences, and capabilities.

At the end of the day
No question, social media is a pivotal, even tectonic phenomenon in our lifetime.  Nonetheless, Chief Executive speaks to the paltry, unfortunate uptake among Fortune 500 CEOs:
But at the same time, that meant only 4 percent of these CEOs were on Twitter, versus 34 percent of the U.S. population that has registered on the service. And only 8 percent were on Facebook, compared with more than half of Americans. 
Those on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+ are probably the colleagues, employees, partners and clientele of said CEOs.  So to dismiss or avoid social media is to be out-of-the-loop with large sectors of those circles that matter most to them.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!  Also, if you'd like a PDF of this article, please e-mail me at Ron.Villejo@ronvillejoconsulting.com.

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The ThinkBox of Innovation

If leaders are truly to think outside the box, then they must be open as well to rethinking this very notion itself: that is, to think outside the box about thinking outside the box. This is one essence of the algorithm for innovation that I'm working on, and the book I'm writing: Meta-Innovation and the ThinkBox.

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Its Central Precepts
  • Innovation is not a product, service or process per se. It is a mindset. The practical approach and the actual focus follow from this mindset. An able, willing and ready mind can then be trained on anything that requires innovating. 
  • Innovation is not an end in itself, rather just one means to an end. Our leadership efforts are purpose-driven and goal-directed, and to the extent that we surmise innovation as necessary vis-à-vis such purpose and goal, then innovation has a crucial role to play. 
  • Conventionality may be a fine complement to innovation, and depending on the situation and the purpose, it may have just as crucial of a role to play as well.  In other words, let's not dismiss the box categorically, and let's not disminish the potential value of thinking inside the box.  
  • Even innovative products, services or processes get stale. So, just as Capital One aspired to do, it is important to innovate on innovation. Rethink innovation. Be creative about the very mindset and process of creativity. It is what I call meta­-innovation.
  • The ThinkBox is a meta-innovation. Again, it aims to think outside the box about thinking outside the box. In so doing, it revisits the totality of what thinking vis-à-vis the box is all about. It also leverages social media, and takes advantage of creativity in the arts and technology. 

The ThinkBox

As a key concept in my algorithm for innovation, The ThinkBox draws gratefully on the visual arts talent of others. Their illustrations and photos prompt me to think meta-creatively.  Thinking outside the box is all the buzz, so much so that it's become positively trite and unimaginative. These four videos are my effort to challenge and rethink such notion.

There is the Box

The box doesn't seem to get much respect, does it.  When we say "Think outside the box," we imply a pejorative meaning to box.  It can represent those undue limits that we self-impose and-or others impose.  These are limits that prevent us from solving problems more effectively and advancing our efforts more successfully.  So we wish to break out of the them.  

But are all limits necessarily bad?  If we were think openly and broadly about the box, we might see it as the  crucial rules and regulations, codes of conduct, and ethical precepts we must abide by.  Also, if we were to re-imagine the box, that is, as a physical container, then it can serve a host of uses for organizing, safe-keeping, and hiding things.    

There is the Space Inside

If we suppose that using the open mode of our Right Brain is thinking outside the box, then using the closed mode of the our Left Brain is thinking inside the box.  While one is about brain-storming, when ideas are freely offered and put on the table, the other is about working with focus, purpose and logic.  For innovation to occur, both are crucial modes (rf. Iain McGilchrist - The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World).  

Forget brainstorming: People are at their most innovative when they work within the constraints of what they already know.
I believe that they overstate their points, and swing the pendulum way too far inside the box.  Nevertheless, their point is well taken.  Steve Jobs may represent the quintessential outside-the-box thinker in our generation, but making those sleek products that originated from his imagination must have taken a lot of very tedious and conventional, but no doubt crucial, efforts.  So one way to consider innovation is a series of iterations between outside and inside the box thinking.  

There is the Space Outside

When we promote thinking outside the box, I wonder how much we truly grasp and appreciate what we're saying.  Whether a figurative or a literal thing, that box contains a finite space.  But outside of it is a vast universe.  I daresay that that humble box lies at the foothills of infinity.  It's fascinated physicists and mathematicians, along with philosophers and theologians, and me as well.

There is a quite a lot to discuss.  But for now, suffice it to say that without the rigors of mathematical principles, insight and formulas (i.e., the box), and the opportunity to apply them to solve problems (i.e., thinking inside the box), then we have little or nothing with which to grasp the infinite universe.  Said differently, we can master outside-the-box thinking, mainly, and perhaps only, when we've mastered thinking inside the box.       

There are the People

We mustn't forget the people, of course, although we seem to have an unassailable knack of overlooking people.  Innovation is a mindset, as I posited earlier, but given a task, aim or purpose - as we are, in any organization - we must have the requisite ability, motivation and energy (AME) to actually innovate.  If we don't have these assets, then we must acquire them, such as through learning and development, or engage others to fill our gaps, such as through team selection and specific consulting.  

Keeping in mind the intricate threads between Right Brain and Left Brain, I propose in this last video that we must (a) think imaginatively, creatively, widely, boldly, openly and flexibly as well as (b) focus, analyze, solve, strategize, plan and leap.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!  Also, if you'd like a PDF of this article, please e-mail me at Ron.Villejo@ronvillejoconsulting.com.

Ron Villejo, PhD