Recognition as social lubricant

Photo by Shandi-Lee

The title of this post is taken from a post by Paul Hebert. Here is the gist:

… recognition is the lubricant for social interaction.  Making sure your employees have ways and methods of connecting and recognizing each other within and between organizational silos lubricates the interactions that must happen in order for innovation, engagement, and collaboration to occur.  It is very difficult to refuse a meeting or a conversation with someone who just recognized your work or highlighted how great you are in the company program or on the company intranet.  You can’t refuse a meeting if the person requesting it just gave you a big thumbs up in the Peer-2-Peer recognition program.

I have spending a major part of the last year reading, studying, thinking and writing about teamwork and collaboration. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize that long-term successful team facilitation (read: great teamwork) is a journey into the path of most resistance. Teamwork is about interaction and relationships. Interaction and relationship causes friction. We are social beings and putting us with other people affects us and causes us to react. Emotions. Feelings. Thoughts. Urges.

Some of these reactions are positive. Joy. Meaning. Sense of progress. Some of them are negative. Tensions. Discomfort. Fear. Facilitating an effective team is about dealing with all of these issues and putting them on the table. This sounds simple, but it is usually the opposite of what we tend do, which is ignore, tip-toe around and hold back.

When done properly, going against the resistance, facilitating teamwork enables negative reactions to be dealt with in a safe environment and for positive reactions to be magnified in order to improve and sustain future interaction. While the fact that issues are suppressed and unattended will be familiar to many of us (even though they might not agree on the consequences of this habit), like in many other facets of life, taking deliberate time to deal with the positive is even more scarce, even though it has the potential to transform entire systems.

And this is where the quote above comes in. One of the most effective ways to use the positive not only as a leverage to more positive habits and interactions but also as a way to discuss the negative in a safe constructive environment, is recognition. Adopting mutual recognition habits can do wonders to the level of actual interaction between team members. As Hebert says, it might prove difficult for anyone who has just been recognized by a team member not to open up and expose himself to a more intense and difficult interaction.

Of course, I am not talking about a onetime event. Recognition has to be part of the habits and culture of team for it to truly work. What will happen if we take time each day (or each week) to recognize others in our team that for their unique contributions? What will happen if we start every meeting by recognizing what and more importantly who allowed us to reach this phase? What will happen if we recognize any mutual learning that occurs in our team or a regular basis? I suggest you try this magical lubricant and see its social effects yourself.

Elad

Internal motivation, conversations, incentives and Equifinality

Photo by seanmcgrath

A few unconnected sources connected in my mind in the last few days and made me think about an issue I attempt tackling from time to time – incentives. First off, we have a post by Paul Hebert commenting on the description of a research done by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University Professor Denise Rousseau. On its face, Hebert says, the research suggests that providing rewards increases performance, even if they are unwarranted. However, Hebert doesn’t think so:

Providing “i-deals” – as they are referred to in the research – means the manager actually had to sit down and talk to the employee about what they valued and what they wanted.  In other words, they had a conversation, were interested in the output from the employee and considered their needs and desires in the process of defining work tasks.  The prime mover of performance isn’t the reward – it’s the conversation, the interest, the validation that what the employee does actually has impact on the company. Here’s the real test. Take the same amount of time spent figuring out the “i-deal” and spend it talking about the job, the impact, the way the employee does it, the roadblocks and the successes. In other words – talk about anything one-on-one with poorer performers and don’t offer any “i-deals.” I’m 100% certain you will get increased performance.

Take that idea connects wonderfully with what Ross Smith writes on the Management Exchange:

Does a paycheck, salary bonus, raise, or promotion put more work in to work? Well, it sure seems like lavish raises, exotic vacations, those coveted employee-of-the-month parking spots, and massive bonuses would make work more fun, doesn’t it? The research suggests otherwise: rewards, or worse, the threat of punishment actually make work less enjoyable and perhaps even reduce productivity. These extrinsic elements can make work feel like work.

People who are offered rewards tend to “…choose easier tasks, are less efficient in using the information available to solve novel problems, and tend to be answer oriented and more illogical in their problem solving strategies. They seem to work harder and produce activity, but the activity is of a lower quality, contains more errors, and is more stereotyped and less creative than the work of comparable non-rewarded subjects working on the same problem.”

Finally, look at some of the wonderful insight Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe provide in Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing:

There are two problems with incentives. First, they are often too blunt an instrument to get us what we need. In situations that call for scalpels, incentives are sledgehammers. Second, when incentives are introduced into a situation, they can undermine other, better motives to do the right thing. Different kinds of motives can compete, and financial or other material incentives often win the competition. The result, as we’ll see, is that such financial incentives can lead to demoralization—in two senses. First, they take the moral dimension out of our practices; second, they risk demoralizing the practitioners themselves.

In many situations, for many activities, no incentives are smart enough. Teachers like Deborah Ball and Mrs. Dewey spend their day figuring out how much time to spend with each student and how to tailor what they teach to each student’s particular strengths and weaknesses. They are continually balancing conflicting aims—to treat all students equally, to give the struggling students more time, to energize and inspire the gifted students. Along comes the incentive to bring up the school’s test scores, and all the nuance and subtlety of Mrs. Dewey’s moment-by-moment decisions go out the window. And what “smarter” incentive is going to replace judgment in making sensitive choices in a complex and changing context like a classroom?

And all of this made me think about incentives. In a way, the idea of incentivizing employee behavior means, to a certain degree, that the creator of the incentives knows what is the right behavior. Management, if you will, has the rule book that says how one needs to behave in every situation and thus is able to “reward” for compliance. And for those of you that this reminds something it should. This arrogant “management knows all” approach is the foundation of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Scientific Management.

In western culture the search for one truth is as old as philosophy. This thinking has penetrated into our business culture. However, there isn’t one truth that can explain the complexity of this world and the diversity of the people. It is time to recognize that ideas like Equifinality, differences and redundancies are valid business tools that can be used to reach business goals, just as much as the “one truth” idea. And while one answer/one way/standardization/rule book/Scientific Management mentality has its upside in some environments, I think we are starting to find out that it has major flaws and that it might not work in our own world today.

Incentives are will and continue to be an important part in people’s behavior and decision-making. They will also continue to be an important tool for business and management. But their reign as “supreme all knowing leaders” of workplace motivation needs to change. Our goal as managers is not to find the right incentives. Our goal is to create an environment where we do not need incentives at all. As Hebert says, one way to start on that path is by having actual conversations with employees.

Elad

Being the best average or building a different scale

Photo by Kevin Dooley

I just finished reading Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce By Daniel M. Cable. While the book caught me by surprise, because it did not deal at all with what I thought it was going to, I found it to be an insightful book finally delivering a framework that connects “strategy” to “HR” or “OB”. This connection is something I was hoping all through my MBA to discuss but was disappointed again and again how our professor failed to make. Cable takes the idea of “people are our company’s most valuable asset” and connects it to actual concepts like strategy, measurement and execution, taking it out of the fluffy-pink wrapping-paper into actual deliverables and business concepts like marketing, competitive advantage, measurement and costs.

What I loved most about this book is its approach that emphasizes two main concepts that I have repeatedly emphasized in this blog as well. Averages and best practices on one hand and priorities on the other hand.

First, Cable really emphasizes that trying to be the best in same way like everybody else is insane. This is the gist of this idea:

Nowadays, most organizations claim that their people are their competitive advantage. But most organizations build workforces that really are not very different from their competitors’. Most organizations, it turns out, treat their people just about the same as most other organizations. In fact, companies deliberately benchmark their people practices to the industry average. Not surprisingly, there is nothing particularly distinctive about most organizations’ workforces and nothing the organization produces is particularly noteworthy from a customer standpoint—nothing very strange. Put these together, and what situation do you have? You have organizations hoping to achieve extraordinary results with a solidly ordinary, normal workforce.

Yesterday, I read Paul Hebert great post asking people to call BS on normal distribution:

But… what if your organization doesn’t follow a normal distribution?  Then everything following that assumption is just wrong. I’m thinking that the “normal” distribution is the wrong thing to look at when designing influence, reward and recognition programs.  I’m thinking we’ve been looking at this all wrong for 100 years.

And what he wrote in reply to a comment of mine on this post:

Averages and standard deviations are the tools of six sigma and minimizing variability. I’ve preached that those types of tools don’t apply in the human world – we are infinitely variable – and that is where our value is. It’s not in getting everyone to be the same, act the same and perform the same – it’s getting people to act, perform differently – and the power law curve is the perfect idea in that instance.

Hebert’s post connects the idea of best practices and averages. People are unique and special. Trying to make them all fit into some “average person” company plan is insane. This is why many of the most successful companies out there actually don’t take on people who already work in the industry (one great example, is southwest airlines). If you want to be different, you have to act different. And this has to happen deliberately. The same goes for companies as wholes. You have to plan to be deliberately different. Again, from Cable:

If your workforce systems are just like everyone else’s, it would be silly to expect any unique value or special sauce from your workforce. Serviceable, standard, normal systems that do not make employees say, “Wow!” result in a serviceable, standard, normal workforce that does not make customers say, “Wow!” Your methods for dealing with your workforce should be definitely out of the ordinary and unexpected; unusual or striking; slightly odd or even a bit weird. Your people systems need to be as strange as the workforce you hope to create.

This is the myth of best practices: You will probably not be able to imitate your way to greatness. Your own strange systems have to be created around the obsessions and unique abilities you need from your workforce.

It’s really unlikely that you can build a strange workforce if your organization deals with the workforce the same way as other organizations do. It is delusional to expect your employees to be extraordinary and differentiate your organization if your employee systems are basically the same as other organizations.

Second, business in general and strategy in particular is about making priorities. Your true ability as a manager, a leader, an innovator, as a winner, is best shown when you have to make difficult choices that have tough consequences. Here, again, a few quotes:

When the going gets tough and you get busy, it will be hard to be strange without discipline because strange demands a lot more energy than just being like everyone else.

All jobs are not created equal. Nothing personal, but some jobs are more important to executing your strategy than other jobs. You already know this in your heart, of course. But it is currently not in vogue to say it out loud or do anything about it. Most companies want to treat all employees as if they are somehow equally important, all unique flowers to be cultivated equally… The heretical take-away here is that leaders should prioritize jobs and invest the most time, energy, and money into the positions where a strange workforce has the most leverage to make their strategies go

Getting a competitive advantage needs to be hard, or it wouldn’t be a sustained competitive advantage. The fact that it is hard to create a distinctive system that brings together the right group of people who are strangely focused on what customers care about means that organizations succeeding in this domain will gain a competitive advantage. These organizations will rise to greatness because this is the foundation of value creation, it is hard to do, and it is hard to imitate…

And I ask you. What are the tough choices you made in the last day, week, month or year to become special? What did you give up in order to be different? What did it cost you? Are you just trying to be the best average or are you trying to create a whole new scale? These questions are equally important on the personal and professional levels. I know I am trying to answer them every day. What about you?

Elad

BUT…

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Last week I was thinking a lot about feedback as I was preparing to give a class about it as part of my reserve duty in the Israeli Air-force. One of the issues with feedback and communication in general is that because people’s perceptions are selective and interpretive (meaning: we only hear what we want to hear), words create reality. As I wrote just a few days back, the way you say something is just as important, if not more, than the content.

As I was dealing with feedback sessions aimed at creating a positive conversation that will enable the person to see things from different perspective so he can achieve self-growth to match his skills with the right challenges (the core definitions of flow), the issue of what words to choose in such a conversation became very important. One word in particular became very important: “But”.

You know this one very well. Everybody knows they need to start the feedback with something positive and get to the improvement part (I personally stopped believing in this conventional wisdom a while back). The word “But” is somewhere in the middle. And this is what some smarter people wrote about it:

“But” is a very dangerous word.

It puts people on the defensive.

It makes them think there’s a catch.

It negates everything you said before.

It reduces the positivity of your argument.

Thenametag guy, author of the preceding quote, goes on to describe 21 alternatives enabling the speaker to avoid the word “But”. Just an example:

6. “That’s a good idea. Have you ever thought about…?”

7. “That’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to be careful of:”

Paul Hebert similarly claims that when you use the word “But” in the middle of the sentence:

…the focus shifted from the positive to the negative.  The word “but” has that effect – demoting what comes before it and promoting what comes after.

As I was starting to catch-up on my reading after almost a week with no internet I found myself wanting to comment on some posts people wrote. And I automatically caught myself writing something like this:

You make a very interesting point. BUT, I disagree because…

I stopped and stared at the screen. I hit backspace and rewrote:

You make a very interesting point. I want to add my own perspective…

See the difference?

Very hard to do. My instincts cry out whenever I make myself do such a thing. The effects are, however, powerful.

Language matters.  How are you stopping your “But”s from coming out?

Elad

 

BUT…

Photo by lionheartphotography

Last week I was thinking a lot about feedback as I was preparing to give a class about it as part of my reserve duty in the Israeli Air-force. One of the issues with feedback and communication in general is that because people’s perceptions are selective and interpretive (meaning: we only hear what we want to hear), words create reality. As I wrote just a few days back, the way you say something is just as important, if not more, than the content.

As I was dealing with feedback sessions aimed at creating a positive conversation that will enable the person to see things from different perspective so he can achieve self-growth to match his skills with the right challenges (the core definitions of flow), the issue of what words to choose in such a conversation became very important. One word in particular became very important: “But”.

You know this one very well. Everybody knows they need to start the feedback with something positive and get to the improvement part (I personally stopped believing in this conventional wisdom a while back). The word “But” is somewhere in the middle. And this is what some smarter people wrote about it:

“But” is a very dangerous word.

It puts people on the defensive.

It makes them think there’s a catch.

It negates everything you said before.

It reduces the positivity of your argument.

Thenametag guy, author of the preceding quote, goes on to describe 21 alternatives enabling the speaker to avoid the word “But”. Just an example:

6. “That’s a good idea. Have you ever thought about…?”

7. “That’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to be careful of:”

Paul Hebert similarly claims that when you use the word “But” in the middle of the sentence:

…the focus shifted from the positive to the negative.  The word “but” has that effect – demoting what comes before it and promoting what comes after.

As I was starting to catch-up on my reading after almost a week with no internet I found myself wanting to comment on some posts people wrote. And I automatically caught myself writing something like this:

You make a very interesting point. BUT, I disagree because…

I stopped and stared at the screen. I hit backspace and rewrote:

You make a very interesting point. I want to add my own perspective…

See the difference.

Very hard to do. My instincts cry out whenever I make myself do such a thing. The effects are, however, powerful.

Language matters.  How are you stopping your “But”s from coming out?

Elad

Paul Hebert, Thenametag guy, and, but, communication, language, feedback, flow

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Converting people to your style of management

Photo James Bowe

Paul Hebert just did a three post series on Zappos (1, 2, 3), its culture and invectives & recognition practices. It is insightful and interesting and his insights on the issues (as usual) are worth reading. However, I was deeply impressed with what he wrote in the first part of the series:

Most companies create a mission and values statement on what they “want” to be known for and then hire for positions and hope they can convert the new hires to the values prominently displayed in the visitor’s waiting area of the company. Zappos, on the other hand, created a mission/values statement based on what they “are” – and hired people to that standard.

This is not something new. I have written about hiring the right people and even about Zappos before. But when I read this, maybe because of the fact that lately I have been reading so much about how to create teams that innovate (for a research project I am working on), suddenly something in my mind lighted up.

I write a lot about best practices (even though I don’t like this term). How to manage and lead. How to facilitate teamwork. How to create purpose and help people reach flow. All well and good. But it all depends on having the right people. I am the first to admit that not every method, great as it will be, will work with every person. But it is more than that.

I am willing to admit that a lot of what I write about and think about will probably work with some kinds of people. With the right people, these approaches will lead to excellence and to outstanding performance on every conceivable aspect. Performance levels you will never be able to reach otherwise. But, and here is the point. If you try to use these approaches on the wrong people, it can go bad. Really bad.

Maybe the best management, as Hebert points out, is one that is able to find people who do not need to be “converted” but are already receptive to open, demanding and purpose driven management style.

Not all of us have a say on who works in our team, even as managers. I guess if you are a manager with a given team this could be very frustrating. And while I still believe that the way you will manage those people will make a lot of difference, you should always remember to find out who is standing in front of you and what his fit to your management style is. Conversions can happen, but they are rare.

Elad

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Preconceived ideas about management

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As very often happens, Paul Hebert, the Managing Director for i2i and writer of Incentive Intelligence, writes something that resonates deeply with my held beliefs. In two related posts, one on his blog and one in Fistful of Talent, he touches upon the issue of the meaning of the word “management” and how it is perceived, especially in comparison to the word “supervisor”. Here is the gist:

… I checked the online dictionary to compare the definition of supervise and the definition of manage. The interesting thing? The root of supervise is all about “vision” – overseeing, watching. The root of manage is about controlling, training … After viewing these definitions, I believe we’ve got too much management and not enough supervision.

Managing = External Locus of Control

When “managing” projects to you “tell” people what to do, when to do it by and how to do it?  Most would say sure because  – “I’m the manager and my butt is on the line if we don’t deliver.”

Supervising = Internal Locus of Control

Supervising however means watching – overseeing and correcting when something goes awry.  In this case the real locus of control is with the individual with the supervisor allowing them to do their work, their way (obviously with some constraints such as time/cost.)

I have written before about the fact that I believe that language matters, especially in the world of management.  I have puzzled about the different definitions of the word manger. I tried to explain why I think management and leadership are different things and that opposite to what some think, it is not true that you manage resources and lead people. I am also part (although humble) of an attempt to reinvent management as management 2.0.  God knows, I am an advocate of losing control and stopping with management by rules.

But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we don’t only have a problem with our habits, our ingrained assumptions and our language and usage of words. The words themselves – leader, manager, and supervisor – have lost their original meaning and are full of the preconceived ideas that stand behind them. I think Hans Rosling opening statements (which I shortened) for his amazing TED talk, are appropriate:

About 10 years ago, I took on the task to teach global development to Swedish undergraduate students … And I started in our medical university, Karolinska Institute, an undergraduate course called Global Health … I thought, these students coming to us actually have the highest grade you can get in Swedish college systems — so maybe they know everything I’m going to teach them about. So I did a pre-test when they came. And one of the questions from which I learnt a lot was this one: “Which country has the highest child mortality of these five pairs?”

And I put them together, so that in each pair of country, one has twice the child mortality of the other. And this means that it’s much bigger a difference than the uncertainty of the data. I won’t put you at a test here, but it’s Turkey, which is highest there, Poland, Russia, Pakistan and South Africa. And these were the results of the Swedish students. I did it so I got the confidence interval, which is pretty narrow, and I got happy, of course: a 1.8 right answer out of five possible. That means that there was a place for a professor of international health and for my course.

But one late night, when I was compiling the report I really realized my discovery. I have shown that Swedish top students know statistically significantly less about the world than the chimpanzees. (Laughter) Because the chimpanzee would score half right if I gave them two bananas with Sri Lanka and Turkey. They would be right half of the cases.

But the students are not there. The problem for me was not ignorance: it was preconceived ideas.

Our problem today is not ignorance as much as the fact that the words, loaded with preconceived ideas, represent ideologies. In his book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, author Dan Ariely Writes:

“Once we take ownership of an Idea – Whether it’s about politics or sports – what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology – rigid and unyielding”.

And as we know so well from politics, once the discussion is about ideology, everybody tends to forget the original question. And in our struggle with words like management, supervision and leadership, loaded with preconceived ideas as they are, we forget what we are trying to achieve. As someone wrote in a Linkedin discussion I am taking part of:

To convince managers to change from obsolete 1.0 to 2.0 is like to convince Luis XIV to change to republic – I’m afraid a revolution is necessary!

I debated with myself how to finish this post, because I try to keep the blog focused on practical suggestions and specific issues to consider. And I have no bottom line for this post. I guess, just raising the issue is part of the solution! Any thoughts/ideas?

Elad

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Did we fire anybody?

Photo by Mykl Roventine

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I never bought anything from Zappos. I actually haven’t heard about it until last year. I came to learn more about it when it was bought by Amazon a while ago and we had an interesting debate among my classmates at AGSM MBA 2010 class about whether it was a smart move or not. But the more I hear about the company (and I wrote about it before: 1, 2) the more I come to appreciate it.

It turns out that a few days ago, Zappos had a little problem with pricing in one of their sister websites. The pricing issue meant that many products were sold for a small percentage of their original price for about six hours. This meant a loss of … wait for it… $1.6 million (gasp!).

Now, mistakes happen. Even big ones. The question is as managers and leaders, how do we cope with mistakes and prevent them in the future. Look what Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, writes about the incident:

To those of you asking if anybody was fired, the answer is no, nobody was fired – this was a learning experience for all of us. Even though our terms and conditions state that we do not need to fulfill orders that are placed due to pricing mistakes, and even though this mistake cost us over $1.6 million, we felt that the right thing to do for our customers was to eat the loss and fulfill all the orders that had been placed before we discovered the problem.

I see two amazing things here. First, a company that understands that values and a belief in something means difficult tradeoffs. Zappos is built around customer service and customer satisfaction. It is not always about going with the letter of the law or the contract. It is about acting right according to the principles that the company is built upon. They decided to fulfill the orders basically saying to the customers – “good for you!”

Second, they decided not to play the blaming game. Yes, there was a mistake. Somebody made it. Maybe even a number of people were responsible. But, that is in the past. The question is what do we do in the future. Susan Scott writes in Fierce Leadership that people should Model accountability and hold people able:

… Accountability begins (and in this case, ends) with you. You being accountable in front of everybody else. Not talking about it, not bragging about it, just modeling it. Doing what you said you’d do. Taking responsibility for disappointing results. Focusing on taking action. Asking, given this result what will I do about it? And if things go wrong with others, asking the same question. Given this result what are you going to do? And you must give up blaming.

Zappos decided to look at this as a learning opportunity. I am sure this kind of mistake will never happen again. Will we never see other mistakes? Not likely. And I ask you, what does that do to the confidence of employees? To their willingness and ability to take risks? And their willingness to make sure nothing like this ever happens. To go the extra mile to make share it will never happened. I think it will be a lot bigger than if heads would have rolled. Not only because it is the right and human thing to do. But also because it fits so well with the entire culture of Zappos.

Employee engagement does not start over night. It is about being consistent with every action and decision. Especially the hard ones. I agree with every word Paul Hebert writes about this:

The company decided that the process was the problem – not the people. From what I can read into this they started by deciding the people were competent, the people didn’t do this because they were stupid, lazy, disengaged, or malicious. They started with a positive view of the people.

I’ll ask you this… in your organization would this happen?  Would a $1.6 million error be handled the same way? That my dear readers is a quality organization.  If you want to know what a role model looks like – this is a role model.

Elad

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