Thursday, February 15, 2018

Unity Comes with Divisiveness

Authentic unity comes with a measure of divisiveness.

When we celebrate Malaysia Day on 16th Sept, we are reminded of our national pride of being a multi-cultural society. Slogans and depictions of different races living in harmony with each other represents the utopia of integration and cohesiveness. While these are all worthwhile images of how things could be, there is a lack of understanding of how to get there. Unity is a look like body building - we all aspire to have that "body" but unwilling to go through the process, effort and sacrifice of "building". Cohesiveness is the structure of what you see, however there is a more fundamental precursor which forms the foundation.

Does tolerance form the foundation of cohesiveness? I beg to humbly differ. In fact, tolerance by itself leads to an accumulated state of unresolved, unspoken grievances and misunderstanding which can be triggered some time in the future. Tolerance will only makes sense if there is something pre-existing which is deeper. What about love? Surely, love makes the world go round. Yes, love is important - however, love comes in many shapes an sizes - what is the basis and foundation by which you define love? What is loving to one person might not be loving to the other.

Foundation 1: The Courage to Face the Truth
Superficiality is the curse of our age - Richard Foster.

The can be no unity without first taking a real hard look at our current situation of disunity. The courage to face the truth can be summed up in one word - honesty. With so many policies being in place by government leaders around the world to rein in elements of disunity, there is the tendency to neglect the foundational truth about integrity - honesty is the best policy. In this age of open communication, the constituents of any nation cannot be easily fooled by superficial policies or slogans. There is a fundamental need to first come clean on the elements of disunity, then we can begin the task or rebuilding.   

The obstacle of "coming clean" often lies not with the mind-set of the followers - it usually resides in the thinking of the leaders. There is the blind spot of thinking that all is well when the grassroots are feeling otherwise. It is no wonder then that companies are now churning up their efforts to survey their employees for the state of engagement and connectedness. In Gallup's worldwide study of the state of engagement in 2013, it is revealed that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged. The state of cohesiveness (or the lack of it) is a serious issue which requires the first step of honest reflection. When leaders humbly reflect on the real state of the union, then there is hope.

The false sense of security - thinking that all is well when it is actually not - is produced when the leaders surround themselves with advisors who are more concerned with guarding their personal agenda rather than addressing the real needs of the followers. To put it figuratively, leaders who are disconnected from their followers seek advisors who tickle their ears with affirming feedback rather than truthful messages.

If you are committed to face the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Seek feedback from your followers – especially the influential ones. Look beyond personality differences and be open to receive honest comments (knowing that the truth often hurts but if dealt with objectively, it will have a healing effect).
2.       Sincerely apologize – people are inspired by authenticity. Although charisma gets your message across, it is sincerity that moves people towards cohesiveness. In other words, be humble.

Foundation 2: The Courage to Forge the Truth
Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.
-  Horace Greeley.

Nothing disperses cohesiveness as quickly as a hypocritical leader. Most organizations spend tremendous effort in crafting their vision and mission, hoping that correct copywriting would translate into passionate responses from their employees. Yet, this is not balanced with an equal emphasis on ensuring that leaders are constantly held accountable to demonstrate the mission. How can leaders expect the cohesiveness of walking in common direction if they themselves do not walk the talk?

In my many client engagements, the most common request I get is to provide teambuilding solutions. A factory manager once requested that I produce a two day teambuilding program to “fix” the morale and cohesiveness of the production team and yet when I inquired about the participation from the teams’ supervisors – the response was that the supervisors are too busy to attend, he wanted me as an external consultant to fix the problem on behalf of the supervisors. In other words, please babysit my people and “turn them around” in my absence. Leadership is more caught than taught. Please do not expect integration and cohesiveness from your team members if you don’t even regularly show up. In fact, research from Gallup indicates that as far as engagement is concern, a negative manager performs better than an absent manager.

If you are committed to forge the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Stand up for your team – it is common practice that we stand up for our clients and advocate their needs. Why not we demonstrate the same commitment to protect and advance the needs of our employees as well?
2.       Speak up against corruption – not just on issues of bribery or monetary malpractices but also on matters of injustice and deviations from agreed standards. Cohesiveness is determined not by  soliciting popularity but by standing on right principles.

Conclusion – The Divisiveness of Unity

The uncomfortable truth is this – in order to build unity, there must be a clear division between right and wrong. Unless leaders provides clarity about the current situation (facing the truth, acknowledging the deviations from right standards) and commitment to lead by example (forging the truth, demonstrating right behaviour and attitudes), then we only have an appearance of integration and cohesiveness because it is unity that is built on shaky grounds. John Maxwell is right – everything rises and falls on leadership.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How is your ESR (Employee Sustainability Rituals) score?

High performance is a simple equation – make sure that the expectations set are always increasing, never stagnant or decreasing. In all of my coaching and consulting assignments to date, I have yet to meet a leader who would welcome in the new year with lower expectation of performing indicators! On the contrary, the projected performance is almost always on the uptrend, moving further from the past and rallying everyone to up their game to the next level.

But do employees really want to or even feel that they are up to it?  

Setting the key performance indicators is the easy job for managers but firing up the motivational level of the troops to scale the wall of ever increasing expectations is quite another challenge. In fact, this is what distinguishes the good manager from the great manager – the good manager creates the measurement while the great manager creates the motivation. While the organization is busy thinking about CSR activities, it will be to its advantage to be considering ESR initiatives as well – Employee Sustainability Rituals.

Unlike CSR projects, employee sustainability is more of a ritual rather than just a set of loosely crafted activities. The saying is true – if you take care for your employees, they will then take care of the customers. Your investment into your clients and even into the community begin by first investing in your employees. There are two principles all managers need to keep in mind to ensure a respectable “ESR score”.

ESR Principle 1: Fit Before Performance
According to Gallup, workers who believe they're a poor fit for their jobs are unlikely to agree that they have opportunities to do what they do best every day. Hence, the matter of employee sustainability, whether if they are have that extra reserve to go the second mile and to remain loyal despite challenging circumstances really depends on the health of their job fit.   

Job fit is a function of how an employee respond to this question – “In my job, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” Last year, Gallup released the latest result of their worldwide employee engagement survey which stated that only 15% of employees are engaged. Think about it – 85% of employees come to work, just to work. When these employees are asked to meet rising expectations, will they come to work not only with their hands and feet but with their hearts and minds intact as well? When it comes to sustainability, you need more than just the job description to keep the employee engaged – think about it – when was the last time you heard of someone being tremendously motivated just by reading his or her job description?

 Great organizations look beyond job descriptions to consider the matter of job fit. Fit is a more delicate and personal ingredient of employee sustainability because it deals not with what the employee does but who the employee is. In other words, what motivates you as a person (not as an employee)? Gallup reports that an employee who is giving the opportunity to focus on what he or she does best every day is six times more engaged (Source: Gallup Worldwide Engagement Survey, 2012). In other words, leaders and managers today need to create a work environment whereby there is flexibility in adjusting the job description around a person’s personal talent and strength. Employees become a mis-fit when they are forced to squeeze their personal strengths into a job function that they cannot own and resonate with. In other words, the job is laden with measurements that not integrated with personal motivation.

Here are the two diagnostic questions to ascertain job fit in your company:
1.       Do I have a method to identity my employees’ talents?
2.       Do I have a team of managers who can coach and develop others according to personal strengths?

ESR Principle 2: Consistency After Commitment
It is easy to commit. It is easy to produce a rah-rah speech and cajole everyone to sign up for a certain level of commitment. But what will maintain the momentum of that commitment? Just because the commitment is visible does not mean that it will be valued.

Here is where the practice of consistency comes in. Consistency has to do with the fundamental response to two basic scenarios that will send a clear message as to whether we are serious about the commitments which were made. The two scenarios are:

1.       When people do what is right, are they recognized?
2.       When people do what is wrong, are they reprimanded?

According to Gallup, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they will leave their company in the next year (Source: 12 Elements of Great Managing, Gallup). The matter of recognition is such a basic human need that it has become a major blind-spot for managers as the fast-paced and gruelling work environment create a tunnel-vision where meeting the bottom line supercede the human factor of being attentive to the emotional need for recognition.

One of the most effective ways of improving recognition of employees is to discover how they would like to receive feedback. Here is where an individualized approach is key to a manager’s role is ensuring sustainability. Not everyone is excited about receiving a certificate of achievement. A shopping voucher given in an insincere manner might not motivate consistent performance. Hence, before a manager becomes too quick to hand out the rewards, he or she need to spend some time to study the personality and preferences of every individual employee. The great manager is someone who would first study his team members well before studying the scope of the performance required. We all have a fundamental desire to be known and appreciated as unique individuals. When employees do what is right and they meet expectations of performance or go the extra mile, take effort to recognize them consistently in a way that matters to them.

While recognition sends out a clear, motivating message, we also need the other aspect of consistency as well – that is the practice of reprimanding when things go wrong. Human nature is such that people need to see a sense of fairness and justice in the way that leadership actions are taken in the organization. If an organization consistently closes a blind eye to wrong doing and ignores warnings of standards not met, then it is headed towards being a corrupted culture. History affirms that a corrupted culture is not a sustainable culture. The right thing to do then is to create a culture of accountability. Herein lies the challenge – accountability cannot be created in the absence of justified reprimanding of those who do wrong. When actions are not taken against those who defy the commitment the team, then it sends a de-motivating message to those who do.

Effective leadership requires that we be comfortable not only in dishing out the rewards but also in demanding accountability and compliance to what is agreed upon. Your ability to convey the truth with a genuine attitude of care and concern is key. Having accountability conversations is never easy but it is more manageable if we take the following practices into consideration:
·         Deal with the wrong doing as soon as it arises. The longer you wait, the offender will interpret your silence as leniency and acceptance of his or her misbehaviour.
·         Obtain the testimony of witnesses. Do not take any rash or harsh actions on your own. Talk to others and get verification and supporting evidences because you cannot be perceived as being partial or vindictive in your approach.

Conclusion: Energy and Expectations

Employee Sustainability Rituals (ESR) is about ensuring that the energy level of every employee rises in tandem with the expectations of high performance. If there are no rituals within your organization that looks into the issue of job fit and consistent recognition and reprimanding, then you might be unconsciously moving in the direction of having a disengaged culture. As you implement measurements to keep track of performance, you would do well to consider the matter of employee sustainability by integrating practices and habits of motivation as well because first and foremost, we are in the people business.