Identity Verified Thinker in Business / Human Resources / Employee Relations
Mark Herbert
Mark Herbert
Mark is a Principal in the management consulting firm, New Paradigms LLC. His background includes over thirty years of combined C level executive and management consulting experience in high technology, financial services, custom publishing, and not for profits among other industries.
Posted in Business / Human Resources

Building A Foundation

Feb. 14, 2011 6:20 pm
Keywords: None

Connecting the Dots- Part 2

I began this “series” of posts last week with a discussion of engagement and how there are essentially two ways of creating it- you build it in to the fabric of your organization or you “retrofit it”. We talked a bit about both, but my focus was primarily on the “retrofit “dimension” and when I thought about it there are some things that need to be addressed in both models so I thought I might go back and start there.

I erroneously made the assumption that organizations who were building a “Greenfield” had their road-map, and I shouldn’t have done that. In reality there are dimensions of Greenfield and Brownfield that are shared.

One of the key themes that is essential in either building a culture or changing one is defining it. When I talk about defining your culture I am not just talking about your “value proposition” or mission statement, I think it is important to discuss and define clearly and articulately what your values are.

A colleague told me that one of the things that resonated for him in my first piece is that there is no one culture. We live in a reality today where everybody talks about “best practices” and key metrics and systems with almost a religious fervor. Those things are all great, if they are “yours”. He also said he liked my perspective that your “culture” or brand really lives where it touches your customers- not on a conference room wall.

So in creating that foundation either for the “build” or the “retrofit” here are some elements I recommend you include:

  • Define and hire the right people.
  • Hire hard and manage easy.
  • Create a leadership model.
  • Implement a commitment versus a compliance model.
  • Maintain an reinforcing environment

To me the “right” people share some common attributes: they are committed to the team or the “mission”, they have an ability and desire to understand the “big” picture”, they have the ability to learn and share new skills and they have the ability to listen for and hear key information.

Some of these are “attributes”, some are skills, but I want everyone on my team to have them.

When I talk about the process of “hiring hard and managing easy” as you might suspect I have a recipe for that as well; hire for attributes, then skills. Look for people who are willing to embrace a commitment based environment, and only hire people who embrace personal competency.

The reason I talk about hiring for attributes is that most turnover is for “fit”, not skill. A conversation I had with an organization late last week demonstrated why we spend $5 trillion on turnover annually. She shared that one of the focused of her organization in working with their “client” is workforce development- hiring, selection, training, etc. She shared that those areas aren’t a priority right now because of the economy…the classic “boiling frog”. Less than 30% of employees describe themselves as engaged, we are spending billions on “presenteeism”, and the supply of experienced talent is expected to diminish over the next ten years while supplies diminish, but it isn’t a problem “right now.” Right.

The “leadership” piece comes into play because I believe the most important part of leadership is aligning performance- creating contribution. The biggest impediments to alignment are trust, unclear expectations, lack of constructive feedback and a clear line of sight between individual and organizational goals. Is it just me or does anyone else miss the link between six sigma, lean and other “systems” and what I just mentioned?

I am not going to beat the commitment/engagement drum any further here. People contribute significantly higher when they share your values. Enough said.

You gain commitment through five key elements; respect, responsibility, information, rewards, and loyalty. I am hoping you see a pattern here establishing and reinforcing personal competence- a relationship between equals. A person’s salary represents the “rent” we pay for the loan of their skills and energies- not their value as a person. When I respect you I give you the tools, direction, and latitude to do your job- and I hold you accountable to deliver.

Creating a reinforcing environment has multiple dimensions as well; delegate decisions to the lowest level possible (Frederick Taylor is rolling in his grave), create opportunities for ownership of complete tasks and responsibility for their completion, set clear boundaries and provide context and clear linkage to the “big picture”, and finally we share “ownership” of the results.

I am not talking about ESOPs here or even necessarily profit sharing. I am talking about true “pay for performance”; employees at all levels have a clear understanding about how their contributions link to the organizations performance, and to other organizations in the business. I see frequently where employees have little understanding about the impediments they create for other departments or groups “downstream”. That is a management failure.

You need this foundation for both green and brownfields. For the Greenfield it creates you “template” for the brownfield it gives you both a template for new hires and a road-map for desired changes. We have defined or redefined our culture moving forward.

To go back to my example of the “not now” situation I was reminded of the difference between “Rice” and “wheat” cultures.

In rice cultures the rice must be cultivated constantly. “Downtime” is spent repairing systems, planning for the next cultivation or related activities. There is no “fallow” period.

“Wheat” cultures on the other hand evolved where the wheat was in the ground untended for periods of time, it was seasonal and there were extensive periods of minimal or inactivity.

I guess my point would be as we look at the impending issues facing our economy and our relationships with our employees and organizations we should think more “rice” and less wheat. Wouldn’t it be better to begin to address some of the flaws in our hiring, selection, alignment, and succession planning systems before the next “crisis” occurs…..?

I wonder where we would be today if we had attended to our cultural “wheat” fields” like education, health care and others in a more proactive fashion…..?

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