Wear sunscreen

sunscreenI have an iPod with loads of 80s and 90s songs held within its memory and, through the magic of ‘shuffle’, they randomly make re-appearances in my world (or at least my ears).

There’s one song that I really like popping up when I’m ‘away with the fairies’ running on the hills (this is fertile ‘brain fart’ territory).

The song is ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’, released in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann. If you’ve never heard it before then I’d describe it as a man eloquently talking through a series of life lessons, where his spoken word ‘rap’ is matched to an agreeable background beat. Groovy.

It’s pretty corny stuff…but that’s because there’s some level of truism in every line!

Now, there’s one short verse that I often think about whilst at work. Here it is:

“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.”

Ok, I had better explain:

Why work?

I see a rather good analogy of:

  • working somewhere really great; and
  • working somewhere really not!
  • …and then, because you now ‘get it’, your work travels will become full of meaning.

If you’ve only ever worked somewhere really great: then you may not realise that it is great and, even if you do, you may not understand what makes it this way.

If you’ve only ever worked somewhere really terrible: then you may think that this is just what work is and, even if you wish for better things, you will likely be stuck as to what makes your work place terrible (I’m talking root causes)…and therefore whether it is changeable…and how to do so.

If you have worked at both ends of the spectrum: then you will likely have had some pretty important ‘aha’ moments and, even if you haven’t had these (yet), you are probably curious to explore the seemingly vast gulf between organisations.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with working for a figurative ‘Northern California’ all your life….but travel is a great thing – not for the destination, but for the journey 🙂

…and, whilst it might be great, I presume that even Northern California isn’t perfect.

How about me?

I realise that everything is relative, but yep, I reckon that I’ve spent years at both ends of the spectrum and I can confirm that I didn’t realise what good looked like whilst I was there! Looking back, I can say that it wasn’t perfect, but man it was GOOD!

Put at its simplest: it was about the people…and it was soooo about the customer…and it really was!

I can also confirm that, whilst I am a natural skeptic (where this is, I believe, a positive word), it was only on leaving my (unacknowledged) Paradise that my journey of discovery truly crystallised…and accelerated.

I might not work in Paradise now but, hey, I’m on an interesting journey.

Direction of travel?

Now, you’ll notice that the song lyric doesn’t give explicit advice on whether the order of habitation matters. Here’s my thinking on this:

  • if you prefer a smooth ride then I hope lady luck books you a ticket from New York to Northern California;
  • if you are a thrill seeker, and like a bumpy ride, then you should hope for the journey in reverse….you’ll probably learn a lot more.

…and for those of you struggling whilst on your travels, remember Charles Swindoll’s view that “…life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

 

Oh yeah, and to conclude – here’s my favourite, favourite line from the song:

“The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

That’s it – there’s nothing more to add to that.

 

Footnotes

Author of the song lyrics: One of the nice things about blogging is that, through checking things out before I publish, I find out a whole lot more in the process. I looked up the ‘Wear Sunscreen’ song and Wikipedia (and its source links) tells me that the lyrics come from an “essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech” by a columnist Mary Schmich in 1997. Baz Lurhmann then used it as the basis for the 1999 song.

Where you currently work: So there’s a small chance that your current boss happens to read this post, points it in your direction and then asks you whether you work in New York or Northern California.

If you honestly answer ‘New York’ and they respond badly to this…then they kinda prove the point. However, if they genuinely want to understand why this is so, then perhaps you’ve just moved a small step towards Northern California.

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Where’s the meat in your sandwich?!

sandwichI came across a LinkedIn ‘research’ report that had been shared on a social media platform the other day. It had a grand title:

The 2016 Workforce Purpose Index: ‘Purpose at work – the largest global study on the Role of Purpose in the Workforce.’

Mmmm, sounds interesting. And, wow, ‘largest global study’ – must be important – I’d better have a read…and so I did…and then I found myself doing a bit of frothing at the mouth. I do that when stuff winds me up…I’m okay, honest 🙂

Now I am absolutely NOT getting at the person who shared the ‘report’, or any persons liking or positively commenting on it. Just to clear up any potential confusion at the start: I totally agree that the premise of ‘purpose at work’ is to be ‘liked’….and in fact passionately argued for. An earlier post uses an Ackoff essay to explain why this so.

But here’s some other stuff that I thought as I read through the ‘report’:

Helpfulness?

The introductory pages deliver the usual ‘listen up people – purpose matters’ message. This is, for me, like the ‘Buy low, sell high’ advice – blindingly obvious…but not particularly useful.

Profit?

And so to the page on “Purpose brings profit”: Yes, I agree with this…but, at the risk of repeating my ‘blindingly obvious’ mantra, this shouldn’t really be surprising i.e. if you passionately understand and serve your customers with what they actually need (this is fundamentally different to ‘selling to them’), then you have a high chance of success. Simples.

What the report fails to tackle, let alone drive home, is that many organisations get their logic ‘in a twist’ i.e. their (subconscious?) thinking is that ‘If we craft, and then regularly, state a cool-sounding purpose, then we can focus on our real purpose of profit.’ This is NOT what ‘purpose brings profit’ means!

A focus on growth and profitability doesn’t unlock purpose – indeed it will likely do the exact opposite. This isn’t to say that you can’t grow and be profitable. Of course you can. It is to correctly state the cause-effect relationship between a fanatical focus on a meaningful purpose (cause) delivering sustainable and healthy growth and profitability (effect).

Again, I’ve written about the ‘what and why’ of this previously in a post titled ‘Oxygen isn’t what life is about’.

People?

To quote from the report:

Key Finding: Given the right role and environment, [people] are ready to tap into their purpose and reach a higher potential at work”.

Now, I absolutely agree with this statement but I get sick of, what I consider to be, the spectacularly obvious being dressed up as a ‘finding’. This is ‘McGregor 101’: How you treat me will determine a massive amount of how I behave.

And so to the next quote:

“this correlation of satisfaction at work and purpose orientation was consistent in virtually every country and industry studied.”

This is where I write “No sh1t Sherlock!” That would be because we are all humans – which is a nice segue to Dilbert, and the Theory of Evolution.

Capt obviousIt’s a bit like all those scientific research projects spending scarce grant money to confirm that ‘water quenches our thirst’ or ‘alcohol gets us drunk’ or [insert one from today’s supposed news].

The trouble, for me, with stating the obvious but missing out the important contextual piece is that organisations then run away shouting “oooh, quick, quick…we’ve got to find our purpose! Let’s gather round and play with some words.”

And they spectacularly miss the point.

Purpose driven?

So let’s get to the nub of my critique: The report implies that there are three different types of people*, these being those who are primarily:

  • Purpose-driven; or
  • Status-driven; or
  • Money-driven.

They then follow this line of reasoning with….have you guessed it?…the recommendation to search for and select purpose-oriented ‘talent’.  It even suggests adding the ‘what is your primary drive?’ dimension to an organisation’s talent selection criteria 😦

The hilarity of this is that they may recruit lots of (currently) purpose-driven people…and then kill it. It’s the same old talent message – don’t endlessly seek talent, recognise and tirelessly work to unleash the talent from within.

So, back to the ‘research report’: sure you can ask someone to respond to survey questions as to which category they currently associate themselves most with (i.e. purpose, status, money)…but where is the consideration as to WHY someone might answer as they did.

* are they ‘types’ of people….or are they outcomes that people have arrived at or been driven to?

Some examples:

  • how many of you started a new job with passion and purpose, but within 6 months – 1 year, had been beaten back to surviving on merely the money and seeking some status to get noticed?
  • how many of you started your ‘careers’ focused on getting on the ladder and earning enough money to gain a roof over your heads and have a family….and how many of you have reached a certain level of wealth and/or experience where your priorities have changed?1

To conclude:

Yep, purpose is important.

Yep, I can’t really disagree with the blindingly obvious littered throughout the ‘report’.

…but if the report were a sandwich, it is bland, limp and empty – where’s the important and insightful stuff that needed to be said?

In short, where’s the meat in the sandwich?!

Does this matter? Well, yes, it does. The problem with such reports is that they allow the top management of traditional (‘command and control’) organisations to gleefully wave them about, shouting “nothing to see here – we know all of this and, even better, we’ve got it totally covered!”

Total codswallop.  As I wrote in an earlier ‘Blackadder’ post, a report is only valuable if it covers what needs to be said, not what they want to hear.

The report spectacularly misses the huge point that:

“People’s behaviour is a product of their system. It is only by changing [the system] that we can expect a change in behaviour.” (John Seddon)

What sort of system environmental things am I talking about? If you read Deming’s 14 points for management you will get a good idea. At a high level, let’s compare two environments and then you tell me which would enable you to focus on your purpose and which would see you struggling to survive through status and money:

Traditional A better way!
Hierarchical (authority…superiority) ‘Social’ (responsibility, equality)
Fear/ blame Trust/ ‘safe to fail’
Rules and consequences Guidance and support
Growth and Profitability Customer, customer, customer
Budgets, financial measures, cost cutting ‘Purpose’ operational measures, variation
Implement ‘best practise’ on the people (plans) Problem solving by the people (experiments)
Cascaded personal (or team) targets Value stream capability measures
Judgement, through rating and ranking Coaching, through non-judgemental feedback
Carrot and stick compliance Intrinsically motivated
Incentives Profit sharing
Competitions, and hero (people) awards Collaboration, and achievement focus

 Whether a person can (will) be purpose-oriented is hugely down to the environment in which they work. Simples.

Footnotes

1. This is rather obvious: take your pick from ‘Herzberg’s Motivators & Hygiene factors’ or ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.

2. I ‘get’ that LinkedIn are merely trying to drum up business by suggesting we all need to find ‘talent’ but….grrrrrr.

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

turkeySo your leaders want to ‘improve’ your organisation! (or is that reduce its cost base – “aren’t these the same thing?!”).

Put yourself in the shoes of those leaders:

You have two choices:

a) You think you know ‘the answers’ and so can quickly move to ‘obvious solutions’: a dollop of specialisation here, a heap of centralisation there, perhaps with the ‘synergies’ word thrown in for good measure…and then, hey presto, let’s standardise and ‘automate it‘ whilst also doing that ‘customer-centric’ thing in parallel!; or

b) You understand that you don’t perform the daily processes at the front line and so you are necessarily reliant on the value-creating workers (with their middle and lower management) to:

  • Identify and work through where improvements might actually lie; and then
  • partner with you in successfully (and continually) changing the current system.

You can see (from the hyperlinks) that I have written a number posts that relate to option a) and I hope you agree that one of THE foundations of real and sustainable improvement is to meaningfully involve the process performers….so let’s take a look at option b).

Involving the workers

Okay, sounds great. Nice idea…so let’s start by asking the workers what they’d change.

Mmm, they don’t seem to be coming up with much, and what they are contributing seems rather insignificant and poorly thought through, dare we say feeble. They aren’t very competent are they! Perhaps our problem is with our workers – do we need to get rid of them and get a better bunch? After all, isn’t it one big ‘war for talent’ out there!

But, whoa, stop, back up the horse: What if your process performers aren’t (meaningfully) engaging in your much hyped ‘improvement programme’? …and why might that be? What might they be thinking about? How about the following:

“Do I have the time (and motivation) to properly engage in improvement thinking for fear of this counting against me elsewhere? (such as my business-as-usual workload, targets and incentives)

“Do I trust them to properly listen to what I am saying, in full and not jump to overly simplistic and seemingly easy ‘quick wins’?”

“What would any changes mean to me and my environment?”

“Will I be better or worse off?”

“Will they look after me (or those colleagues that my ideas would affect)?”

In short, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. (Nice Roast dinner picture though eh – looks very tasty)

If leaders haven’t established (and don’t continue to nurture) an environment of trust then they should expect very little in return.

Trust

A critical part of achieving (what is often termed) ‘Operational Excellence’ is trust. (The opposite of fear)

“To drive the kind of no-holds-barred commitment to operational excellence that is required, everyone in [the organisation] has to believe in the process and that she won’t be ‘rewarded’ for driving progress towards [improvement] by having her job cut!

Without trust, [improvement] projects quickly devolve from finding and fixing critical problems to battles to shift blame and accountability to others….” (Liker)

Put simply, we need to treat people as assets, not as costs to be slashed. Deming went further:

“I used to say that people are assets, not commodities. But they are not just assets: they are jewels.”

Now, leaders might respond with “we don’t do that here!”…and, yes, maybe not blatantly…but what about how it looks; how a leader’s words are translated and what actually eventuates?

  • do you require business cases with ROI’s and financial benefits to be calculated and ‘realised’? Are these benefits often about head-count (perhaps masked with that 3 letter ‘FTE’ acronym)?
  • do you have structures in place* that make it very hard for someone in the system to suggest horizontal changes from their vertical silo’d world? (*such as cascaded personal objectives linked by judgement and rewards)
  • do you hold competitions between teams that should be collaborating? Do you often talk/write in such competing language?
  • do you preach empowerment of the people but then provide little time and support for their ideas?
  • do you continually re-organise such that people are continually finding their feet (and voice) within yet another management structure?
  • do you employ lots of change managers and external resources, distorting and hindering natural team dynamics?

To establish trust, improvement must not get confused with head-count reduction.

Management need to provide an environment whereby people are comfortable ‘changing their jobs’ because they know that they will go on to even more interesting work (preferably inside, but also outside, the organisation).

And here’s the wonderful chain reaction:

  • If you gain people’s trust (which will be hard at first and will take real leadership)
  • …by providing a safe, secure and stimulating environment for your people
  • …then they will develop themselves (some will amaze you!)
  • …and look for opportunities to continue on this journey
  • …which will mean that your organisation becomes self-sufficient in the ‘brains department’
  • …with a very healthy side effect that you can save an awful lot of money (and often pain) by avoiding the ‘bring in the outside consultants’ option
  • …meaning that you will align organisational purpose with those of your people
  • ….causing exceptional, and sustainable, results
  • …allowing the organisation to organically grow (rather than by constant acquisition)
  • …which enables you to invest in your people and we are off, full circle, around the chain reaction 🙂
  • BUT this chain is unstable and can be ever so easily broken by the words and deeds of leaders.

“Trust takes time to build, seconds to lose and twice as long to regain as it did to build in the first place.” (Unknown)

The answer always seems to be…

images…empowerment! But what does that even mean?

As usual, I thought I’d better get myself on firm ground by looking the word up in the dictionary. Here’s what I get:

Empower: Give (someone) the authority or power to do something.” (Oxford Dictionary)

And why aren’t ‘they’ (or, depending on your viewpoint, ‘we’) empowered in the first place? Here’s an eye-opening quote from John Seddon:

“Empowerment is a pre-occupation of command-and-control managers, who:

  • design systems that dis-empower people…;
  • …notice the problem and send people on ’empowerment’ programmes;
  • …and then put them back in a system that…”

i.e. it is a merry-go-round in which people’s hopes are raised (often offsite by a cool and groovy external training company) about the wonders of empowerment…and then they get plugged back into their old reality!

The instruments of a ‘command and control’ system dis-empower people. Leaders can ‘happy talk’* about empowerment and even provide training, tools and (worse) incentives to encourage empowerment….but, if the underlying management system remains the same, they are mostly wasting their time. (* if you’ve not heard this ‘happy talk’ phrase before I provide an explanation at the bottom of this post).

Saying ‘you are empowered’ and meaning it are two very different things:

Here’s a lovely quote I came across recently on a Lean Thinking blog that I follow:

Leader:     “I want my employees to feel empowered.”

Counsel:     “You realise empowerment means your employees start making decisions, right?”

Leader:     “Oh… I want them to feel empowered. I didn’t say I wanted them to be empowered.”

(Mardig Sheridan)

The main reason why people aren’t empowered is because of the environment they work within, not because they don’t want to be!

You can’t simply move to an empowered culture:

It’s easy (and usual) to want the result…but simply wanting it (as in ‘Stating the obvious’) doesn’t magically deliver it.

There are two risks for ‘leaders’ who have always told ‘their’ people what to do (via the likes of transformation programmes, change projects and cascaded personal objectives) when they tell everyone that they should feel empowered:

  • The leader stands back completely: this will create a void in which people won’t know what to do…which will end up with those same ‘leaders’ saying “well that didn’t work, I’d better take control again.”

OR

  • The leader continues to tell them what to do: creating a battle between leader and worker and much resentment and disbelief. And just to spell it out, you are telling them what to do by default if you simply say ‘no’ to everything they suggest or request permission to experiment with.

You can’t just say ‘you are empowered’ – you have to create the environment to make it happen! So how do we go about truly creating an environment in which people are genuinely empowered?

There’s a great book by David Marquet on this called ‘Turn your ship around’. It relates to his time as Captain of a US Navy Nuclear submarine. There’s also a really nice 10 min. animated version enabling you to quickly watch and get the gist. I recommend you watch it right now.

…so, what is needed is:

  • clarity of purpose (of the system in which the people operate), which
    • must be from the customers point of view; and
    • is NOT anything like ‘to implement xyz’ – that’s a dictated solution;
  • the building of your people’s competence;
    • which means far more than just knowing their basic job…it includes them understanding the system in which they operate and the likely effects of their decisions towards it purpose
  • the definition of capability measures (against purpose), and the ongoing transparency of this critical information to those operating the system; and
  • the removal of the barriers that define ‘the old way’ (most of my other posts explain what these are so I won’t repeat myself)

Leadership and empowerment

A reminder of three types of leaders:

“There are three kinds of leaders. Those that tell you what to do. Those that allow you to do what you want. And ‘Lean’ [Systems Thinking] leaders that come down to the work and help you figure it out.” (John Shook)

I hope you can see the cause and effect relationship between leadership and empowerment…it is only the 3rd style of leadership that is meaningful. This is true coaching through an ongoing back-and-forth dialogue between mentor and mentee.

It is only through true leadership (which includes trust, support and humility) that an organisation’s people can become empowered.

But isn’t it simply about hiring the right people?

A quote to finish on:

“Don’t bother trying to hire positive people only to give them crappy jobs and a line of bullshit about empowerment. If you are serious about reaping the benefits of an empowered workforce, make sure you are committed to providing good jobs, fair policies, and remarkable leadership, then go hire good folks and invite them to partner with you to continuously improve your workplace. (Bret L Simmons)

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‘Happy Talk’ (Pascal Dennis):

“I remember the first time I attended a leadership conference at [my organisation] about three years ago. I walked away from the event really frustrated with leadership because the messages they shared seemed so disconnected from the reality of the work I was doing each day.

You know the type of event: leaders standing up confidently in front of their peers throwing around buzz words and all the ‘right answers’. What Pascal Dennis refers to as ‘the happy talk’.

Basically we got told what we wanted to hear as opposed to what we really needed to hear. It’s a lot harder to talk about problems and deliver disturbing news than to talk about everything that is going great.” (DailyKaizen.org)