Don’t be an Ostrich

OstrichHere’s something that I’ve noticed over the years: ‘Command and control’ managers really don’t like being referred to as….well…’command and control’ managers.

In fact, they don’t like this apparently grubby ‘command and control’ phrase being used to describe anything around them – it seems to irritate them….a lot!

So it got me pondering about why this might be:

  • Perhaps they see it as disrespectful, as in “how dare you, don’t you know who I am?!”
  • Perhaps they are somewhat embarrassed, as in “shhh – keep your voice down! I’m not very comfortable with you bandying that term about.”
  • Probably there’s an element of both.

If you are that ‘irritated manager’

…and this is the point of this very short post, putting your fingers in your ears and humming “lalalala” doesn’t make it go away.

Fingers in ears

If someone uses the dreaded ‘command and control’ phrase ‘at’ or about you (or your management team) then, rather than being an ostrich, how about asking for, and respectfully drilling into, their perspective as to why they feel this way?

You might learn quite a bit (but that would depend upon you).

…and even if you aren’t able to bring yourself to accept (some of) what they say, remember that perception is reality.

And before you are tempted by the “well that may be your opinion Bob, but you are the only one saying it!” riposte…stand back and have a think about that.

One of THE attributes of a ‘command and control’ environment is fear…and so there should be no surprise that there is only one foolish/ brave/ wise/ disengaged/ about to retire/ got another job* ‘Bob’ prepared to tell you. (* select as appropriate)

Perhaps you would have accepted Bob’s critique, say, last year but you have been doing your best to progress towards a better way. However, don’t be offended if the ‘command and control’ label doesn’t melt away overnight – it won’t because it can’t.

Turn Bob’s challenge on its head as a good thing – every time someone uses the ‘command and control’ label you have an opportunity to better, and more deeply, understand your current condition and its root cause and then further improve.

…though, if it’s not getting better after a while, you are probably doing it wrong!

…and finally

If you are the employee using the ‘command and control’ label to describe what you see and feel, then please carry on with using this label when it is appropriate to do so…but carefully look out for any ostrich discomfort from management (whether verbal or body language) and, rather than withdrawing or defusing your comment, how about asking them “so why the discomfort?”

–  You may create an opportunity to inform and educate 🙂

Note: My next post will use an Ackoff essay to explain why ‘command and control’ is the wrong model to apply.

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“So, tell me about yourself”

InterviewA good friend of mine got talking to me about interview questions the other day.

She was having a laugh at the ‘creative’ questions that many interviewers can dream up such as “tell me what makes you special!”

I replied that I think the worst interview question is the “what are your greatest weaknesses”…and then I got thinking about why this is so.

Now, an interviewer can dream up all sorts of weird and wonderful questions that will allow you the space to sell yourself (if you are willing and able to) but this ‘weakness question’ is different. I suspect that it makes us all squirm because it causes a huge moral dilemma:

  • you want to be yourself, to be genuine, to be open and honest….

BUT

  • you also want the job!

So you’ve been put in a rather tight spot!

I’ve read all sorts of ‘clever’ (cheesy) responses. There’s plenty of advice on the web to answer this tricky conundrum, but they all try to do the same thing: get around the question rather than being brutally honest.

So, why am I bringing up this dastardly interview ‘weakness’ question?

Well, because I realised that this is an excellent parallel to the (ir)regular performance management meeting.

How so?

If you are part of a ‘set personal objectives – rate performance against – provide contingent reward’ Performance Management system then you too are in a rather tight spot.

Let’s imagine that you are in your annual performance review meeting:

  • on the one hand, you have a manager before you who has the job of developing you and, to do this, needs to truly know about how things are for you. They need genuine, open and honest ‘warts and all’ feedback;
  • on the other hand, this same manager has to judge you, which requires an interrogation of the available evidence and the scoring of it, as compared to your peers. You need to sell yourself.

What’s wrong with this?

These two ‘management’ roles are diametrically opposed. A manager cannot be judge and counsellor/coach at the same time.

If you were to lie down in a psychiatrist’s chair, you can expect that he/she will go to great lengths to put you at your ease, make clear that everything spoken is private and that no judgement of you will take place….and even then I suspect that it would take multiple visits before you truly opened yourself up….and in so doing, you provide the knowledge and insights required for you to develop.

Now, I know you won’t lie on a reclining chair in a performance review meeting (at least I don’t) but a similar environment of trust is required for a manager to truly help you (and, by extension, the organisation).

“When the person to whom you report decides how much money you will make (or what other goodies will be awarded to you) you have a temptation to conceal any problems you might be having. Rather than asking for help, which is a pre-requisite for optimal performance, you will be apt to spend your energies trying to flatter that person and convince him [or her] that you have everything under control. Moreover…you will be less likely to challenge poor decisions and engage in the kind of conflict that is beneficial for the organisation if you are concerned about losing out on a reward. Very few things are as dangerous as a bunch of incentive-driven individuals trying to play it safe.” (Alfie Kohn)

If you know that you are being judged (with a carrot or stick at the end of this) then you are going to be extremely careful (and selective) about what you do and say. You will likely:

  • seek, sift through and provide only positive evidence (choosing feedback wisely and carefully omitting what doesn’t fit your wishes);
  • talk up what has occurred, and you role within (it was all ‘because of me’!);
  • defend your position when it is challenged (presenting a strong case as to why something or someone else was to blame);
  • keep quiet about areas you have struggled with;
  • …[and so on – no doubt you can expand]

None of this is to call you a ‘bad person’…you would be merely playing your part in the game of survival that has been put before you.

You might get your carrot, but your organisation will miss out on what it really needed to know…and the game will continue on to its next round.

A better way

Wouldn’t it be just fantastic if you were willing to ‘share it all’ with your manager, and to do so without any salesperson’s spin. How about: where you got it wrong; where you didn’t understand; where you don’t agree, where you feel weak and exposed, where you’d really like some help… where it was actually a joint team effort (not just ‘me’)…basically what is really going on!

Even better, how about being willing to have these conversations as and when the need arises (and not, say, 6 months later in some staged meeting).

This is possible….but only with a different way of thinking.

Here’s where I repeat Alfie Kohn’s 3-step approach that I have already shared in an earlier post (The Chasm):

  1. abolish incentives: remove extrinsic motivators (incentives, competitive awards….);

“pay people well and fairly…then put money out of their minds.” (Kohn)

  1. then re-evaluate ‘evaluations’: move from formal time-batched judgement events to continual 2-way conversations divorced from the issue of compensation;
  1. then create the conditions for authentic motivation:
    • Collaboration: across the horizontal value stream
    • Work content: make it interesting
    • Choice: allow people to experiment and learn

There’s a reason for the order of these steps: True organisational success is unleashed by point 3…but, most importantly, is held back (even quashed) without first attending to point’s 1 and 2.

Irony

There are some people who are willing and able to say exactly what they think in a performance management review*, which they do because they have a desire to make their organisation a better place to work (for them, and everyone else)….and then risk the consequences of low(er) ratings and a poor ‘reputation’ with their manager (as in “s/he’s a trouble maker that one!”)…which may even then go on to be ‘shared’ with others in the hierarchy.

This is ironic madness. I favour any management system that encourages and supports open-ness and honesty that is devoid of personal agendas.

* I’m not suggesting that there is anything particularly great about such people. Such willingness and ability may come down to personality and economic circumstance allowing…which is not so for most.

 

“We have an ‘open door’ policy here!”

Translation:

  • You are quite welcome to come up to me, and try to get my attention….otherwise you will be completely ignored;
  • If you do ‘risk it’ and open your mouth, just make sure that you say something I want to hear;
    • Every problem you have is your fault by default…so already know what you are going to do about it – you should merely be asking for my permission (as in begging);
    • …which I won’t give (at least not clearly or straight away or in any timescale that is of use to you)…but I will still hold you accountable.
  • Conversely, if I want you, I will summon you through my ‘open door’ and into my domain as and when I wish (I won’t pick up the phone or come to you).

Open door policy.gif

Meanwhile, in another Universe: Managers Leaders ‘go to the Gemba’.

Outstanding!

Hello-My-Name-is-SlackerWhen I discuss my posts on performance appraisal and contingent rewards with people I get a lot of great understanding and support…but there’s always one question that pops up: “but then how will you deal with the slackers?”

Putting to one side whether our management instruments actually ‘deal with the slackers’ at the present, I find this an understandable response from within a command-and-control management system.

I usually find myself responding with:

“…and why do you think they are ‘slacking’*…do you think they want to perform an unfulfilling job all day long? Do you think this is how they started out when they got the job?”

(* if indeed they are ‘slacking’…our activity measures may present a different story than reality)

I then usually get: “yeah, but there will always be some people who take the p1ss!”

This uncovers a pretty hollow view of people. I’m not criticising people for thinking this …it’s more a recognition of the likely environments that people have had to endure through our working lives.

I would respond with a Deming quote to ponder:

“Anyone that enjoys his work is a pleasure to work with.”

  • You and I want to enjoy our work…and the environment that we work within will have a monumental influence on this;
  • I absolutely ‘get’ that there will almost always be a small % of people that sit outside the normal bell curve…but should we be designing our management system for the 5% or the 95%?
    • Do we tar everyone with the 5% brush?
    • Do we effectively yet compassionately deal with this 5% now?
    • Does it make sense that people ‘decay’ to being seen in this 5% bracket?

Regarding dead wood: “Why do we hire live wood and kill it?”

Kohn puts a deliberate order to his suggested actions (see the bottom of the ‘Exercise in Futility‘ post) and he most certainly doesn’t stop at removing contingent rewards and stopping performance appraisals…this is actually the point at which the real (and interesting) work can start to be done, with the process performers on collaboration, content and choice.

Okay, so you still think you’ve got a slacker:

If we are to consider the ‘slacker’ accusation, we also need to consider the other side of this coin, the supposed ‘talent’. Together, we can call these ‘outstanding performers’ where, as Scholtes explains:

We need to “use ‘outstanding’ in the statistical sense, not in the psychological sense.

Statistically*, ‘outstanding’ refers to something occurring outside the current capabilities of the system.”and therefore it makes it worth investigating as to what is happening and why.

* Note: There is variety in everything. We should not be tampering when there is nothing special about this variety. So ‘John’ achieved more than ‘Bob’ this week…big deal, we would expect differences…but is it significant, and is it consistently so?

Scholtes provides the following guidelines for our response to outstanding performance:

First: Determine for certain if they are truly outstanding:

  • Does (quality) data (properly) substantiate this ‘outstanding’ performance?
  • Does this data cover a sufficient timescale to indicate consistent performance at this lower or higher level?
  • Is there consensus among the outstanding performers’ peers (from observation, not gut reaction or rumours)

If the answer is ‘No’, it’s not actually outstanding!

If the answers to the above are all ‘Yes’ then:

Second: Investigate to discover what is behind this occurrence (using data!):

If the person is ‘positive’ outstanding, do they (for example):

  • use better methods which can be taught to others?
  • put in more hours?
  • have a wider range of skills?
  • have more experience?
  • have more native talent?

If the person is ‘negative’ outstanding, do they (for example):

  • need to learn a better method?
  • need to pick up speed?
  • need coaching or mentoring for a while?
  • lack the basic requisites for the job?
  • are they going through a difficult period?

And, depending on the explanation:

Third: Formulate an appropriate response:

For ‘positive’ outstanding:

  • teach methods to others;
  • provide higher pay* to recognise their change in market value (* but NOT contingent!)
  • provide more latitude in job definition

For ‘negative’ outstanding:

  • coaching, mentoring, training
  • provide greater structure for a while
  • get counselling and support
  • find a more appropriate position
  • Finally, sensitive and fair dismissal

If you take the last response, you still have a systems problem – you need to deal with how you ended up with this scenario.

Seddon deals with the issue of an individual’s supposed poor performance (and it being considered a ‘people problem’) in a similar vein to Scholtes. Put simply, there’s a whole host of questions that need to be asked about the system in which the individual operates before you can fairly arrive at the conclusion that the problem is with the individual.

The categories of questions, in order, are:

  • Is it an information problem? (do they know purpose, capability, flow?)
  • Is it a method problem? (waste? system conditions such as structures, policies, measurement, IT?)
  • Are extrinsic motivators the problem? (i.e. distractions from intrinsic motivation)
  • Is it a knowledge problem? (necessary knowledge to do the job?)
  • Is it a selection problem? (necessary attributes to do the job?)

All of the above are the responsibility of management to resolve.

  • Finally, is it a willingness problem?

Then, and only then can you conclude that you probably have the wrong person for the job.

“95% of the reasons for failure to meet customer expectations are related to deficiencies in the system…rather than the employee…

…the role of management is to change the system rather than badgering individuals to do better.” (Deming)

It’s very easy for a manager to blame a person. It’s a lot harder for them to work out what the systemic cause is. One of these approaches can improve the system, the other cannot.

A final Deming quote to ponder:

Question from ‘Management’: [what you are saying] “implies the abolition of the annual merit rating system [performance appraisals] and of management by [cascaded] objectives….but what will we do instead?”

Deming’s response: “Try leadership.”

The Emperors Clothes

emperors_new_clothes_550There are some funny conversations going on around me at work at the moment. I can hear sentences starting with:

“Now, I don’t agree with it either BUT…; or

“Let’s just muddle through and see what we can come up with…; or

“Let’s try and make this a painless as possible…; or even

“Let’s just pretend to play the game…

What’s this all about? Well, it’s ‘end of year’ time at work and the performance review show is just ramping up. I can feel it all around me. The words quoted above are what I can hear from managers (appraisers) when talking with their teams (appraisees).

These bizarre yet established conversations aren’t new to this year. I hear them every year.

The children’s story ‘The Emperors Clothes’ springs to mind. Everybody knows something important but can’t bring themselves to tell the Emperor….so they carry on with the charade.

I feel like the little boy in the story who dared to say something….and here it is: An Exercise in Futility.

 

Of note: All these managers do want to talk to their teams but not through an annual judgement exercise.

Confusion over two words

element-of-confusion-teeThere are two words that are bandied about organisations, often interchangeably…but I think we need to take great care over their use.

These two words are ‘Manager’ and ‘Leader’.

Using the example of a sports team to explain:

  • the person installed as Captain may not be a leader i.e. if the Coach has got the wrong (wo)man for the job; however
  • many players may lead, despite not being bestowed with the role of Captain.

One is a hierarchical/ formal role granted from above, the other is natural.

You can be given the title of ‘Manager’ and this be a fact, whether people like it or not.

Conversely, you can’t give yourself the moniker of ‘Leader’ (or have this formally bestowed on you) if this is not so! You either lead or you don’t. People follow or they don’t.

You can become a leader by your words and deed. Equally, you can lose your leadership mojo. You aren’t really someone’s leader, just because you say so. Conversely, you may be leading (influencing) people without this being obvious to ‘Management’.

I am not suggesting that there isn’t a relationship between ‘Manager’ and ‘Leader’:

  • the formal position you are given (and, with this, the likely resources at your disposal) will impact the degree of influence that you can have; and
  • obvious leaders may very well be given formal management positions…but this doesn’t secure them as a leader going forwards.

All the more reason to understand the distinction between Management and Leadership.

Finally: It’s worth noting that being good at leading shouldn’t be mistaken for being a leader for good: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc. were clearly leaders! They inspired many people to dream, learn, do and become more….but not as we would consider towards a purpose that we would agree with.