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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.

Which Bus Are You Riding?

Mar. 20, 2017 7:39 pm

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A Better Road Map

Umm, The Bus is Moving!

I am going to go out on a limb and state that if you ask most people to name the ten best books on leadership that every emerging and current leader should read, Jim Collin’s Good to Great is going to be on that list.

One of the great lines that everybody can quote from that book is “getting the right people on the bus”.

Great thought, my issue with it is the bus is moving, not parked!

As I have mentioned previously both CEO’s and human resources executives have indicated that attracting, retaining, and optimizing the deployment of talent is a key priority for them.

There is a lot of discussion on hiring and selection these days as there should be.

Here is a news flash, really cool computerized recruiting platforms, employee engagement surveys, and compliance isn’t going to address these issues.

Neither are six sigma, lean, or any of the other process oriented systems that we want to believe are a panacea.

We still largely hire and recruit based on technical competencies, especially at the managerial levels. It isn’t working.

Hiring people who not only possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform tasks; but also whose values and goals are congruent with those of your organization is one of the most important things you can do to ensure success.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you hire great people and manage them poorly you waste the energy you spent in hiring and selection!

A great article I read a few years back pointed out some things that have really stuck with me about three critical factors that you have to consider when you are hiring and managing those right people; the team, the time, and the game.

The author made this point about the “team - the play of individual players is affected significantly by the team they are playing on. They can play up or down based on the synergy of the team.

I like to think of this as “fit” If they don’t fit their ability to excel is compromised or affected negatively. Conversely you see people’s contributions increase substantially when the fit is there. We see this in professional sports all the time and we see it in organizations if we are being truthful.

The “time” is also critical. He used the historical analogy of Winston Churchill during WWII. Churchill both prior to and after the war didn’t represent the right fit. Organizations evolve as well and the skills and how we deploy them need to evolve with what is happening in a particular time.

Last, but not least examining the game is also critical. We have a love affair especially in this country with the concept of “best practices”. We don’t always look at the applicability of best practices from one industry to another. In fact, we have well respected firms who enjoy a very lucrative business installing their “templates” in organizations across the world. If it doesn’t work, you aren’t doing it right.

My analogy for this is creating organizational culture. There is no one right culture; there is a right culture for a particular organization.

Most of our employment models are and have been based on an acquisition model. We create sets of rules or protocols for everyone; applicants, hiring managers, and human resources to follow. The model isn’t an invitation to join up, it is a transaction.

I think most corporate employers look at Employment at Will the same way Charlton Heston looked at the right to bear arms; you will pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

I think sometimes that makes us sloppy and indifferent. Sloppy and indifferent to the tune of $5 trillion dollars in turnover costs annually in the U.S. alone. Add in another $200 billion for “presenteeism” and you are talking about real money, aren’t you?

When I discuss poor practices and the costs and efforts associated with poor hiring I get the typical “Shit happens, people come and go. If someone doesn’t work out, we can always terminate them or lay them off.”

What if you couldn’t? What if you were “stuck” with the employees you have, what would you do then?

I think one of the things you would do is to have a way better process. You would be much more careful about who you hired and who was involved in the process. You might ask questions about things like “fit”, “potential”, alignment with “values”. I’ll bet the people involved with the process would be more senior and better trained. You wouldn’t rely on your “gut” or a computer program to make the decisions for you. Because these people will be with you forever, and forever is a very long time isn’t it?

What I suggest you do differently:

Hire Differently

There is simply no substitute for hiring appropriately.

Technology will not overcome bad hiring and frankly neither will training. If you start with an inferior “resource” either by poor selection techniques or poor orientation you will never end up with a superior result. The $5 trillion we lose to turnover annually isn’t an anomaly, it is a consequence.

I had an opportunity to complete a two- part radio interview a while back on a related topic. One of the panelists, a former C level executive asked me a series of questions on this very topic –

“What do you do if you have the wrong people who refuse to change?

My reply will probably make a lot of folks unhappy. I said two things:

• First, you need to fire your HR and/or staffing team for being incapable or unwilling to identify and fix the process that is allowing you to continue to make bad hires.

• Second, you need to fire the management team that doesn’t address the issue.

I sincerely believe that most employees at least start their jobs with the intention of doing a great job every day. When I say most I am talking in the high 90th percentile. When they don’t do what we want or excel it is typically a case of where we hired or placed the wrong person or we are doing a poor job of managing them!

• Choose carefully at the start. I call this Hire Hard- Manage Easy. If this is a relationship not a “date” you should think it through.

I am also a fan of profiling.

• I think you should recruit and hire people who share your values as an organization.

• I think you should talk about your values and build your brand in rather than bolt it on.

• I am a big fan of concepts like congruency, where employee’s view of key activities and practices is consistent with that of the organization; not only what we say, but what we actually do.

I think you can have organizational congruency and not illegally discriminate against anyone because of their color, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected arenas. I think when we commit rather than comply we perform better because we see our role as partners rather than master and servant.

Manage Differently

A recent study by HR consulting firm Ranstad reports that 8 out of 10 respondents indicating that having a good working relationship with their boss is very important to them. As a corollary the single most frequent reason cited by employees leaving organizations is a poor relationship with their supervisor.

When you see trouble, intervene early. Don’t watch someone struggle or fail to address an issue because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

• Stop waiting for them to quit. Studies show that actively disengaged employees are no more likely to quit than employees who are neutral or passively disengaged. They “quit” all right, they qui contributing!

Worse yet, they stick around and poison the well!

• Right person, wrong fit? Is it the employee or did we put them in the wrong job? How many times have we taken a good “technician” and turned them into an awful manager?

• Are they being managed properly? My experience has taught me a lot of “performance” issues stem from mismanagement. You can’t manage everybody the same way. Poor skills or application of skills at the front line manager level is one of the biggest contributors to turnover, litigation, unionization, etc. It doesn’t matter if you are a “servant leader” if your front line supervisors are tyrants.

If you have a poor performer who is still in your organization six months after you identify the problem the issue isn’t with them, the union, or HR, it is a management problem.

My experience is that most unions don’t protect poor performers; they just keep us honest and make us apply a consistent process.

I don’t believe that management is a genetically programmed capability. You can in fact train people to be competent at management. They might never be charismatic leaders, but charismatic leadership isn’t necessary in every managerial role.

Choose Leaders Carefully

There are some things that are essential-

• The ability and willingness to earn and give trust

• The ability to set clear expectations

• The ability to give and receive constructive feedback in a timely way

• The ability to diagnose performance issues and apply appropriate corrective action

If you have members of your management cadre who can’t or won’t deploy those skills you need to either train them, move to a different job, or make them available to your competition.

I have written, spoken, and even publically pleaded with organizations about the importance of employment branding and its direct and indirect connections to employee engagement, so I am not going to focus on it a great deal here, but instead discuss leadership brand.

Develop A Leadership Brand

A great post I read talked about a father’s conversation with his son who had just completed a summer internship. When his Dad asked him about the experience he replied that he enjoyed the work and his colleagues, but the “big boss” was a real jerk. The father was somewhat surprised that his son had an opportunity to meet the most senior executive of a large corporation as an intern, turns out he hadn’t.

The son’s perspective was framed entirely from correspondence and the perspectives shared with him by colleagues and coworkers. I think we can say this leader has a leadership brand issue…

I also read a series of books written about the evolution of King Arthur and Camelot. I found it more interesting than most series because it actually started two generations before Arthur was conceived and outlined a leadership development strategy and succession planning that modern organization could take a page from.

Leadership as described in the Camulod context included some concepts that Malcom Gladwell and Stephen MR Covey have discussed and I find intriguing.

They covered concepts, like trust, legitimacy, and engagement that given that engagement remains at around 30% and trust hovers at 50% says they are still very relevant today.

There are a zillion different leadership styles in the literature, I happen to be a big fan of Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® model which recognizes one size doesn’t fit all either with people or organizations.

I read the articles and posts that have taken the position that women are inherently more dispositioned to be leaders and genetically coded to have higher emotional and social intelligence and my reaction is bullshit.

Our issues aren’t gender based, but I believe more a matter of aptitude and training. Our leadership models were based on competency and deterrence for generations and ignored identity so we practiced a flawed model.

So my recommendations in cultivating your leadership brand include-

• Build on a base of identity based trust. You have to master the first two levels to achieve that.

• Ensure that your actions incorporate legitimacy both implicitly and explicitly

• Manage people, not human capital. People are individuals, respect that and treat them accordingly.

So in conclusion I leave you with the following thoughts:

• Hire hard, manage easy!

• Hire for attribute, train for skill!

• Hire smart people. You can teach smart people to do almost anything, but you can’t teach people to be smart!

• Hire whole people whose values are congruent with those of your organization and don’t rely exclusively on interviewing to test that congruence!

At the end of the day the team with the best players playing together wins! Just like my colleague said- the team, the time, and the game.

Because remember- the bus is always moving!

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