Are you warming or others or burning them?

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In The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks, the author writes:

State power is like fire—warming when contained, fatal when it grows too large. In his view, government should not run people’s lives. That only weakens the responsibility and virtue of the citizens. But government could influence the setting in which lives are lived. Government could, to some extent, nurture settings that serve as nurseries for fraternal relationships. It could influence the spirit of the citizenry.

Reread it with the words “government” replaced by “management” and “citizens” replaced by “employees”:

Managerial power is like fire—warming when contained, fatal when it grows too large. In his view, management should not run people’s lives. That only weakens the responsibility and virtue of the employees. But management could influence the setting in which lives are lived. Management could, to some extent, nurture settings that serve as nurseries for fraternal relationships. It could influence the spirit of the employees.

I couldn’t have put it better. No to micro-management. Yes to creating environments that support relationships, human connection and practical wisdom. No to rules that are only mechanisms of control. Yes to boundaries that enable safe exploration and supports people where complete freedom and autonomy fails.

Simple but not simplistic. Hard to put into practice. It is much easier to try to control everything. It usually doesn’t work in the long-run.

Elad

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Do you have a culture of perceptions or a culture of appreciation?

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Thomas J. DeLong writes in HBR.org on the Busyness Trap:

I frequently talk to MBA students about their careers and aspirations for life. Some of these students worked on Wall Street, and when we talk, a number of them admit that the key to their success was creating the illusion of hard work. One said that he and the other associates would leave their suit coats on their chairs at the end of the work day to make it seem that they hadn’t left for the night — that they were somewhere in the building doing work — when in fact they had gone home.

“We have these little tricks of the trade to create the impression that we are absolutely committed to the organization, even when we don’t have any work,” he told me. “It’s part of managing expectations and our images.”

The trap of busyness is so much a part of corporate culture that many times it clouds our vision of what’s really going on. We expect to be busy; we don’t know what to do when we’re not. The trap of busyness causes us to move with such mindless speed that we’re like the proverbial chicken running around with his head cut off. We plunge into our emails and meetings with a manic energy that forbids reflection, deeply honest conversations, and breaks from the routine.

When I read this part of the post it reminded me of a Seinfeld episode called “The Caddy” where George got his car keys locked in his car and ended up being promoted because of it:

George: Assistant to the General Manager!! You know what that means?!? He’d could be askin’ my advice on trades! Trades, Jerry, I’m a heartbeat away!
Jerry: That’s a hell of an organization they’re running up there. I can’t understand why they haven’t won a pennant in 15 years.
George: And, it is all because of that car. You see, Steinbrenner is like the first guy in, at the crack of dawn. He sees my car, he figures I’m the first guy in. Then, the last person to leave is Wilhelm. He see my car, he figures I’m burning the midnight oil. Between the two of  them, they think I’m working an 18 hour day!
Jerry: Locking your keys in your car is the best career move you ever made.

The myths that more is better; that being active equals being effective; that productivity comes out of constant action; are all conventional wisdoms that should be rooted out of our lives. Increased attention, reflection time and actual conversations are much more effective than all this busy-work. As the comments to DeLong’s post point out, the issue is not only the busyness by itself. It is the culture that supports it. It comes from distorted incentives, hazy norms and unclear management focus.

When I read about the “coat trick” in the post I felt sorry for those people. Think about the kind of culture that creates this kind of behavior. The managers at that place created a culture where it was necessary to cheat in order to give an appearance that you are “working properly”. Sad indeed. While this is a great overstatement, I am not surprised that kind of culture brought on the indifference that led to parts of the financial crisis. When a major part of your culture is based on deceit, it shouldn’t surprise you if it migrates to all parts of your organization.

As some of the comments suggest, the culture described is due, in part, to a lack of focus on outcomes. One commenter, David Kaiser, wrote:

Ultimately, smart bosses, and smart clients don’t care about input (how hard you work and how much you sweat), they care about output (what got done, results), and if you can create a lot of value without a lot of effort, so much the better. Aren’t these the people you want to work with and work for anyway, as opposed to those who want you to prove something through “face time” and the appearance of “hard work?”

I write a lot in this blog about the balance between outcomes and process. I think this is a great example of how a focus on process can go wrong. Yes, hard work, perseverance and commitment are important. However, when you create a culture of perceptions instead of a culture of appreciation don’t be surprised if you end up with George Constanta, Lord of the Idiots, as the Assistant to the General Manager.

Does your organization have a culture of perceptions?

Elad

The little things – again!

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Bob Sutton quotes in his blog 10 of the best comments one of his most prominent commenters, Wally Bock , have written on his blog during the years. Many of them are worth a minute to read and an hour to think about, but I especially liked number 6:

When I studied top performing supervisors, we found that there were a few behaviors that they did differently from their less-effective peers. They showed up more and had more informal conversations with their team members, including conversations about changing behavior or performance. That enabled them to catch problems early, when they’re easier to solve. Thus, they had fewer cases where they needed to do documentation and formal conversations. Their team members had a good idea of how they were doing because they got frequent and usable feedback.

Notice that this quote does not talk about the job itself. It does not talk about being analytical or critical or any other “left side” abilities. What differentiate the top performing from all others are little things, like focus on relationships, feedback and help.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the little things that make the difference:

If you believe, like I do, that great managers work through relationships, helping and partnerships, then there is no better focus than conversations. And adopting an attitude according to which every conversation can change people’s lives is a sure proof way to make every little conversation count. This kind of focus helps guide you through all the things you can do and allows you to concentrate on a few actionable items.

And then, about the last ten percent:

The part of the work that is the hardest to do but makes all the difference. The change from standard to excellent. The change from ordinary to extraordinary

And earlier about consistent feedback:

Feedback should be given all the time. Not at a predetermined time once a quarter. But all along the year. This is where I disagree with Bratz. The question is not whether you had one meaningful conversation with your manager once a quarter. The question is how often during the quarter did you have meaningful conversations with your manager. Conversations that create value for you and are not done just to fill some kind of form or requirement from HR. If constructive feedback is given consistently, the answer will be all the time. And if it is done all the time, there is a high probability that we are dealing with a good boss.

A few interrelated things to think about. Are you focusing your attention on the things that will make you a top performer?

Elad

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Helping as an overreaching concept

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I am reading Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help, by Edgar H. Schein (a book I wrote about in the past). An interesting quote:

… helping is intrinsic to all forms of organizations and work, because, by definition, we organize because we cannot do the whole job ourselves. Hired help truly refers not only to servants and caretakers, but applies equally to all organizational employees hired to do specific job that we cannot do ourselves. Fulfilling one’s duties in a job is, therefore, also a routine way in which we help.

I find this perspective brilliant.

When you go to work every day, do you ask yourselves – who am I helping today? When you explain to an employee what do you expect of him, do you phrase it in a way that makes him understand who and how is he helping? When you are trying to convey to your team a sense of purpose, do you focus on the help the team is giving to someone else – customers, employees, management?

More than everything, looking at our work as a continuum of helping means that we approach work with an attitude of partnership where everybody is focused on the relationships.

Is my writing helpful? How are you going to use it to help others?

Elad

Helping as an overreaching concept

Photo by D3 San Francisco

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I am reading Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help, by Edgar H. Schein (which I wrote about in the past once). An interesting quote:

… helping is intrinsic to all forms of organizations and work, because, by definition, we organize because we cannot do the whole job ourselves. Hired help truly refers not only to servants and caretakers, but applies equally to all organizational employees hired to do specific job that we cannot do ourselves. Fulfilling one’s duties in a job is, therefore, also a routine way in which we help

I find this perspective brilliant.

When you go to work every day, do you ask yourselves – who am I helping today? When you explain to an employee what do you except of him, do you phrase it in a way that makes him understand who is he helping? When you are trying to convey to your team a sense of purpose, do you focus on the help you are giving to someone else – customers, employees, management?

More than everything, looking at our work as a continuum of helping means that we approach work with an attitude of partnership where everybody is focused on the relationships.

Is my writing helpful? How are you going to use it to help others?

Elad

Edgar Schein, help, partnership, relationship, purpose

Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help<img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thecompaadvan-20&l=as2&o=1&a=157675863X&#8221; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

Play time!

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Another great quote from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (see the first one here):

Penelope assumed that somewhere out there was someone who was already perfect. Relationship expert Daniel Wile says that choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems. There are no problem-free candidates. The trick is to acknowledge each other’s limitations, and build from there.

Are there any perfect teammates? Perfect workers? Perfect bosses?

Probably not.

The question is: what are you going to do about it? Wish they were perfect or put an effort and start actually working on using the strengths of the individuals to overcome their “limitations”.

We have a choice every day.

As I mention in my e-book, In Randy Pausch ‘s last lecture he said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand“.

When are you going to stop complaining and start playing?

Elad