How your business can sell a transformation


It’s obvious in hindsight. Our very best customer service memories happened when something special left us different than we were before. As a result, when we approached the seller again, we were not the same person: we had been transformed.

Lest you think this is an impossible task for your business, take another look. This transformation can happen anywhere. For example, my local pan-chicken man offers more than food in each interaction. It helps that his product is superb, but to really understand what he’s doing that’s special, let’s contrast transactional versus transformational products and services.

Transactional products and services only involve an exchange of value. You pay your money and receive an item or action.

However, those which are transformational leave you in a difference place once the transaction is complete. It could be that the experience consistently improves your mood. Or you learn so much that you become informed. Perhaps you may be motivated differently.

The reality is that you enter the next transaction transformed. You have been changed on the inside.
By contrast, buying chicken from KFC, Popeye’s or Island Grill doesn’t have this effect. It’s an anonymous activity in which I only expect to be treated humanely, fairly and consistently. The seller is satisfied if they receive the funds, and I walk away with my meal.

However, when I buy from my pan-chicken man in Sterling Castle Square, he (perhaps unintentionally) offers more than barbecued meat. He knows my wife and I by name and I expect to hear about him, his friends and the community. He’ll tell me some of the inside scoop on the latest happenings, such as recent efforts to develop a football field for local youth. I’ll ask him for extra sauce and give him specific feedback on the last purchase.

When I get home, I sit with a bottle of wine and eat slowly to prolong the experience. Sometimes, it even gets cold because I take too long. My wife and I have a recurring conversation about the finer points of the food, such as its spiciness, or sweetness. Plus, whenever we see him in the neighborhood we stop for a few minutes and have a chat.

It’s tempting to believe that a big business can’t be transformational. However, I worked for a world-leading training company that delivered transformation in 200-person workshops in dozens of countries, making me think it can happen for your firm. Here are some strategies to adapt, regardless of size.

1. Define “The Transformed Customer”

This particular end-result is far beyond that of a satisfied or happy customer. It also does not occur simply because the buyer has received the product or service.

Instead, stand in the world of a customer and ask yourself what they would really want to have. Do they need to use your product in a unique way? Are they trying to improve the value-price equation? Are they hoping to get the service for free in the future on their own?

Make a list of these experiences, place them in rank order and brainstorm different ways to provide them.

To complete this exercise effectively, you must consider as many angles as possible without restraint. To feed your ideas, I recommend examining your personal, first-hand experiences for clues. Find those moments where you have received transformational value.

Then, study brands which are able to stack one transformation on top of another. Use them as inspiration to stretch beyond the edges of your thinking.

2. Look for Limits

Another way to define a transformation for your customer is to look past your limits. For example, start by stretching the time boundaries of each interaction.

Some who have done so, like Disney, offer “Backstage” tours of their operations. They help customers learn what happens before a product or service is delivered. (Some firms provide such experiences virtually, via Instagram.)

The mindset needed to create such a transformation sees value in educating customers so that they become better people, and therefore more loyal. It’s a low-cost way to offer a powerful kind of “Brawta.”

3. Plan for the Long-Term

If your company is currently transactional, don’t expect this shift to happen immediately. Instead, pick a number of smaller changes and spread them across several years.

Too many Jamaican companies are at war with their customers, giving as little as possible while keeping all they can. The few transformational firms are seen as aberrations, impossible to replicate.

This excuse just keeps brands stuck at low standards of customer delivery, turning their product or service into a commodity. This leaves their company ripe for disruption or displacement by customers who won’t hesitate to adopt a better solution (like Uber) when it becomes available.

Save your brand an awful fate: find a way to use transformation to gain a competitive advantage.


How to Gamify Employee Engagement


For most companies, staff engagement is just like a religious belief: Someone either has it or doesn’t. This separation between those who are blessed or cursed is familiar to any church-goer, but does it have a place in corporate Jamaica? There may a better way starting with a key assumption.

Many managers assume that high performance is an innate characteristic. “Is so dem stay!” is a retort that ends arguments. In their mind, it’s due to personality, culture, upbringing, ethnicity, or some other intangible factor which can’t be changed. They pass a final judgement that throws an employee, with all his potential, into a box…which is then locked from the outside.

Following this logic, the only resolution is to hire engaged staff-members from the start. However, that not only takes a long time, it hardly lasts. Why? The vast majority of new hires are honestly engaged for their first three to six months after which they slip into the same disaffection that afflicts their colleagues. After a while, they are as ordinary as everyone else.

A more fruitful approach throws out the old concept of engagement as a belief, replacing it with a higher standard. Let’s narrow it down to a collection of observable behaviors which can be captured on a video camera, thereby passing what I call “The Video Tape Test.”

Using this standard we can focus on the precise habits, practices and actions people take when they are engaged, or not. However, we must be careful – my work in the region shows that engaged behaviors vary widely between companies, and sometimes even between working groups. There are no cookie-cutter, universal answers.

This challenge means that you, as a manager, need to do some legwork in order to help your staff succeed. Follow these steps.

Step 1 – Group your employees’ jobs
Examine the positions which report to you and group them by the behaviors demonstrated to be engaged. In some rare cases, you may find that someone’s formal job description may be too narrowly defined. For example, their role in building positive relationships around them using engaged behaviours may be diminished. In these cases, redraft the job description to be more realistic and holistic.
Step 2 – Distinguish Low Engagement
Set aside hostile behaviors which are clearly antagonistic or simply a demonstration of “Bad Mind.” Then, define the level of low performance which is just enough to prevent someone from being fired but not enough for them to contribute more than a minimum. Start to detail the behaviors of this person.
What practices does she engage in each day? Which ones is she unlikely to initiate?
Break down complex behaviors into small, practical atoms which are easy to observe. For example. “Being a standoff” is not a detailed behavior. However, “skipping the Christmas Party”, “refusing lunch meetings” and “leaving at 4:30 on the dot every afternoon” might be.
Step 3 – Clarify High Engagement
Perform a similar tear-down of high engagement.
Step 4 – Identify interim behaviors
Between the two extremes, distinguish additional levels an employee would climb on her way to high engagement. Think of it as a ladder. Then, turn these steps into an assessment for people to apply for themselves.
Step 5 – Teach Employees to Self-Assess
As staff-members evaluate themselves, show them the benefit of conservative grading which allows for room to improve. Serious employees will be glad for the opportunity to improve, now that they have a clear yard-stick and direction.
Step 6 – Offer Coaching
Ask employees to take the initiative to improve performance. Most should be able to put together long-term improvement plans, but they will need your help to craft a strategy which isn‘t too aggressive – these skills always appear easier to implement than they are.
In fact, employees require a great deal of support to achieve their goals. You may not be the one to provide it, but you should help assemble a framework that makes it easy to make stepwise improvements.

If you suspect that this sounds a bit like self-gamification, you are correct. As the manager, you are actually providing a clear-cut game people can play to become more engaged, one step at a time.
In summary, it provides a huge win for both parties. Employees’ attention will be diverted towards the task of giving themselves the gift of focused energy – a life engaged in purposeful activity even at their workplace.

The problem your company faces is that employees who are bored and disengaged are comparing their work-life with other parts of their lives. The only way for it to measure up is for you, the manager, to play your part in helping them adopt a game they can win.

Moving Towards a Productive and Positive Employee Experience – CTO 2018 HR Conference


December 3, 2018

On November 29, 2018 I spoke at the CTO HR Conference in Cayman. This recording of my interactive session is accompanied by the slides which were presented at the conference. They are available at the following link:

P.S. I just read an interesting article written by a hotel manager on the topic of employee engagement and Millennials:

To listen to this podcast, visit Source

Change your business model


There’s a certain false comfort which comes from believing that your organization’s profitability will always occur in the same way, year after year. That is, until the magic stops. When a disruption takes place, you must face the facts: your products are stale, your people disengaged and your loyal customers are doing business with someone else altogether.

Now, it’s time to transform your business, except that you are too late. The perfect moment was several years ago while you were enjoying the fruits of your success. Back then, you suspected that you would eventually have to make a shift, but never expected it to come so quickly… so suddenly. You thought you had more time. In retrospect, you should have paid more attention to the disruptions already taking place in other geographies.

If your business is able to survive today’s onslaught, how can you ensure it never happens again?

One way is to plan the kind of strategy that assumes a future combination of new technology, external competition, poor economic performance and government regulations. Put them all together and you imagine a perfect storm in which you are forced to react to monstrous changes.

But is there a way to be proactive?

Start by using the Jobs to Be Done framework introduced by Clay Christiansen. It asks the question “What are my customers trying to do when they purchase my product or service?”

For most industries, a rough answer might be: “To achieve a decent balance between price and value.”

For example, look at the value-price equation for a highly competitive niche like internet access. Over the years, the consumer has been able to enjoy the best of both worlds, as both sides of the equation have improved dramatically. How can you provide such a benefit to your customers that would endear you to them?

  1. Change Your Mindset

If your company views customers as scoundrels to be defeated, or as disloyal partners to be scorned, it might be time to shift your mindset. Instead, think Win-Win, in which each transaction is an opportunity to build goodwill on both sides.

Consider that the average transaction delivers a dose of goodwill which “satisfies” both parties. However, that might simply be ordinary.

What if you were to commit to a mindset of providing extraordinary goodwill? What difference would a systematic approach to increasing value and decreasing cost make to your company?

  1. How to Increase Value

Imagine if you were to keep your prices constant. Ask yourself, “How can we deliver even more value to customers, while continuing to achieve a Win-Win relationship?”

As tricky as this may sound, it’s a principle embedded in Jamaican history. “Brawta” – the little extra offered by a supplier to sweeten a transaction – has been a part of our island‘s commerce for as long as most remember. The idea is simple: a supplier can improve the buyer’s experience in ways that are asymmetrical.

For example, imagine visiting the local butcher. She offers some raw dog meat as Brawta – a gift of scraps that were headed to the garbage bin. To her, the cost is nothing. To you, the benefit is substantial.

As a supplier of value, you probably have lots of ways to make your customer’s life easier. You just need to look for them with the right level of creativity. Once found, can they be packaged up and delivered so they add significant value yet cost you relatively little?

  1. Cut Prices

Here’s the more difficult part. How could your company deliver the same value, enjoy the same margins while lower prices at the same time?

This is no theoretical exercise. Instead, you are anticipating a time when you won’t have a choice – a future in which you may be forced to cut prices in order to remain competitive. The difference is that if you do so now, you will have higher margins, and retain some powerful flexibility for later.

In effect, you are building a buffer against disruptions.

Plus, you’ll be able to provide customers the kind of price cuts that make them fall (and stay) in love with your business. As foreign as this may sound, look around at companies who consistently offer you the lowest prices. If they are smart, they are being aggressive to find ways to continually cut the amount you must pay.

What you may not know is that there’s a secret benefit to this effort. If your company commits to reducing prices, it will discover the technologies necessary to keep competitive advantage. In other words, you’ll never be surprised by a disruptive technology because you already use them.

Together, these three strategies can launch you into a different world from your competitors: one they’ll find hard to replicate.




Key Strategic Skills Managers Must Master to Become Executives


Why do managers sometimes flounder when they become executives? One reason: their new role requires them to create a corporate strategy. It’s a task for which they have never been trained.

I have often told the tale of the just-promoted manager who, everyone soon discovers, was elevated based only on his technical skills.  As the rubber hits the road, it becomes clear that he is ill-prepared.

Another similar problem occurs when a manager is appointed to the executive ranks. All of a sudden, she finds herself sitting in a strategic planning retreat, failing to contribute. In the moment, she realizes that her well-honed ability to produce short-term results are of little value.

Now, she’s on her own as she struggles to uncover what’s lacking. If your firm recently promoted you to the highest level of leadership, here are three areas you must develop to be effective in creating strategy.

  1. Understanding the current environment

Whereas managers are encouraged to stay in their lane, put their heads down and ignore parts of the company that don’t apply to them, that advice won’t work for you. In this new position, you need to comprehend the entire company’s operations all at once.

This means far more than being able to fill out the names in an organization chart. Now, you must see the enterprise as a complex system in which only some of the cause-and-effect relationships are

explicitly defined. To gain this level of knowledge, you should study the functions you know little or nothing about, mastering jargon that’s unfamiliar along the way. Also, you should be able to explain how the company works in layman’s language to anyone who cares to listen.

At the start of a planning retreat, you’ll use this skill to bring your team to a joint understanding of the current state of the business. This includes all external trends which may impact the organization, ranging from disruptive technology, competitive threats, to changes in the economy. Your far-reaching, expert contribution is required to complete the exercise.

  1. Creating a Long-Term Target Year

Most companies promote managers based on their ability to produce short-term results through teams of direct reports. However, when they are faced with the challenge to create a corporate plan that’s 20-30 years out, they flounder.


As a manager, you knew how to set and accomplish goals you could control. By contrast, executives marshal forces they don’t control in order to hit long-term objectives. The longer the timeframe, the more skill required.

The benefits of such plans are well-established in management practice and theory. It’s not hard to realize that such efforts are the only way to safeguard your firm’s future.

But that’s of little help when you must complete such a task for the first time. Some newcomers to this process even rebel, complaining: “I can’t think that far ahead!”

Don’t be like them. Long before your promotion is finalized, look for (and create) practical learning opportunities to develop long-term plans. This will prepare you for the moment when your role as an executive requires you to craft visionary strategies.

  1. Envisioning Details

Most lower-level employees are satisfied by overarching vision statements which use vague language. They assume that leaders are effectively managing the next steps.

In your new position, you should go much further.

Now, you must describe a detailed, numbers-based vision of what will happen in the long-term target year. In other words, your team develops a picture of the future painted in concrete metrics such as revenue, EBITDA, headcount and market share.

Furthermore, to ensure that these figures are not just being made up, they need to be “back-casted” to connect with today’s results. While many are familiar with the idea from their days studying for an MBA, doing the task in a real group setting is quite a challenge. Once again, it’s best to practice this ability in advance.

Developing these three skills in concert prevents leaders from running off in different directions, investing time and effort in solo plans. The fact is, your organization is at risk if it doesn’t create a collective strategy which includes all the relevant points of view. If your team is poorly trained, expect it to conduct planning which is weak, leaving your company vulnerable.

Another trap is to dress up “More of the Same Stuff, But Just a Little Different” as a strategic plan. This is a cop-out—a way to avoid making hard choices based on the most recent information.

Don’t make this mistake. These skills are trainable even though they may be rare. Invest in them early in a manager’s career so they can be practiced long before their promotion occurs. It will save your company from producing weak strategies that ultimately endanger its future.


The High Cost of Low Turnover – Discussion


November 4, 2018

How to Avoid the Exorbitant Cost of Low Turnover

In most Jamaican companies, there’s an unquestioned assumption that long staff tenure is an indicator of strong company loyalty. Maybe it’s not. I suggest that as the economy grows it may reveal a deeper truth: these benefits occur with a high price tag.

Tune in as I discuss my column in the Jamaica Gleaner dated November 3, 2018. It’s one which flies in the face of many popular assumptions.

Want to leave me a comment? Use Twitter for public comments and this link for private feedback.

Show Notes

 exorbitant cost of high turnover

To listen to this podcast, visit Source

The High Cost of Low Turnover


Note – in this column, I have also prepared some audio notes to expand on some of the ideas that would not fit within the limits of text. Click here to listen in.

In most Jamaican companies, there’s an unquestioned assumption that long staff tenure is an indicator of strong company loyalty. Maybe it’s not. I suggest that as the economy grows it may reveal a deeper truth: these benefits occur with a high price tag.

As you sit at your company’s long service awards function, are you right to wonder if you will ever earn such recognition? Is it disloyal to reconsider the idea of sticking around the same company for decades? After all, your parents advised you to find a good job in a decent organization and cling to it for as long as possible. This was their metric of success.

Were they right? Or could company loyalty and its alter-ego, low turnover, actually be signs that something is wrong? Here are three underlying causes which confound the popular assumption.

  1. A Tight Job Market

The general perception has always been that a steady job is a ticket to a car, mortgage, family and stability. Without it, these accomplishments are said to be impossible.

However, the Help Wanted section of the Gleaner’s Classifieds has been anemic for decades. This sad fact has led employees to develop the skills of a barnacle – they have learned how to cling to their current employment for dear life. Their practices? Building alliances among colleagues while playing internal political games so that they can move around the company, finding one safe haven after another.

For most, this represents a standard operating procedure. When the odd individual acts differently, striking out for a better opportunity in the form of a different job or (God forbid) some kind of risky startup, they are seen as crazy. Once gone, they are forgotten – dismissed as aberrations. Managers simply search for new barnacles to replace the few who exit.

However, this may be about to change. As the economy improves, workers may begin to act on the fresh opportunities it affords.

I once stood in line at Trinidad’s Piarco Airport and watched as a customer service agent, announcing that “I can’t take any more of this,” simply picked up her handbag and walked off the job. At that point, Trinidad was at full employment. Her behavior was typical of a new attitude: anyone could leave a position, rely on the social safety net to handle their basic needs, and re-enter the workforce later.

Local companies should expect the same practice to emerge. It will reveal “loyalty” as a reflection of lack of opportunity, not true affinity.

  1. What Lef’ Mediocrity

But there’s a deeper problem. Today, a firm which is able to attract a Millenial hotshot can fool itself into thinking that a job offer is enough. Managers unconsciously believe that, once hired, she’ll behave just like her barnacled colleagues. In other words, she will cling around “waiting for her time to come”.

In reality, it eventually dawns on her that those who lead the organization, and seal her fate, are clueless. They have failed to keep abreast of developments in technology, their industry, and profession. As a result, they make a series of poor decisions which no-one in their immediate bubble is brave enough to challenge.

That is, until the young talent shows up and, like an Old Testament prophet, starts calling a spade, a spade…to no avail. As she’s ignored and excluded, she becomes frustrated and eventually quits. But it’s not her departure that’s the most dangerous act. After all, a replacement can be found.

Instead, look at what she leaves behind: an organization which systematically repels people like her, while simultaneously encouraging the barnacles to remain. It’s a recipe for perpetual mediocrity.

Survey your company to see if the talents who leave are the ones who challenge the status quo the most. If so, are they leaving behind a stale core of mediocre performers? Under these circumstances, rewarding the “What Lef’” for their “loyalty” is a terrible mistake.

  1. No External Value

Finally, if the new, growing economy doesn’t put your company under fresh pressure to retain employees, consider that it’s not because they are loyal. They just might not be valuable.

Most companies have too many insular people. They don’t keep their Linkedin profiles up to date…if they even have one. They have never crafted a resume. Their only email address was given by the company.

They may be the only ones who can run the firm’s obsolete XYZ machine in the entire world, but these skills are of no external value. Once again, this isn’t true loyalty.

Instead of being lulled into false accomplishments, push your people hard to become the best, while allowing them to pursue whatever career path makes sense. Putting performance over loyalty may probably increase turnover, but it’s a strategy which will pay off in better results.

P.S. Here’s that link to the audio once again.


The Missing Ingredient that Makes Meetings Drag


What can be done in your company to conduct fewer meetings of shorter length but higher quality? The fact is, bad ones take up precious collective time, diverting attention away from other activities.  Most complain that they represent a significant source of corporate waste.

A few years ago, I assisted in conducting an assessment centre for a client. This activity involved stress-testing the skills of a group of managers-in-training. We, the judges, observed them closely as they undertook difficult simulations, ranking their development needs in order to provide precise, individual feedback.

One of the exercises was intended to rate their ability to take charge, and structure a meeting. We seated the cohort of about twenty around a table and provided a written description of an issue. Their brief deliberately excluded even a hint of an intention.

For half an hour, they talked, unsure what the panel of observers expected. Perhaps they imagined we were looking at their interpersonal skills. No problem there – they quickly established a friendly, open tone.

However, never once did anyone question or suggest a purpose, intent or meaning for the discussion. Instead, they were happy to talk in circles, sharing a meaningless chat on company time.

Perhaps this never happens in your organization, but I suspect that you can relate. Have you ever walked out of a marathon meeting wondering what just happened? You saw a lot of words passing back and forth, but felt like something was missing: No new tasks? No accountability? No real promises? No due dates?

Somewhere, we have come to settle for a mediocre result: it’s enough to feel good at the end of an expensive gathering of busy people without having anything tangible to show for it. The cost in managerial and professional time? An abomination.

While some may say it all reflects a lack of discipline, I prefer Occam’s Razor: the most likely answer to a hard question is the most obvious. The simplest explanation is that when essential steps are skipped at the very start of a meeting, there’s no quick way to recover.

Is your company on a campaign to cut this ubiquitous form of waste? One basic approach is to implement the three steps of P.A.L.

  1. P – “Purpose”

The clearer the definition of success, the shorter the meeting. Skip it all together, and watch the time investment bloat, then slip down the drain.

In the stress-test I mentioned earlier, many participants shared that they wondered about the purpose but decided not to say anything. This left each person free to pursue his/her individual agenda, which was a guaranteed way to add more time and effort.

I advocate writing the objective on a wall for medium to large groups so that every conversant can point to it whenever needed. But often, that’s not enough. If you end up pointing to it frequently, consider it a sign that you may have skipped a step.

For example, you could be tempted to skimp on this activity because “everyone knows what the purpose is.” Instead of being impatient, take a deep breath. This is not a solo effort. Don’t dare move on to the next point before being satisfied that attendees are on the same page.

Tip: If the purpose is “the exact same as last time” then call a complete stop; either cancel or redesign the activity.

  1. A – “Agenda”

If the first step addresses the “Why” the second (and third) address the “How”.

What are the topics of discussion that will enable the meeting to accomplish the objective? Given the fact that every well-designed meeting has a time constraint, a decision must be made about what will, and will not, be discussed. Allow a consensus to form around the duration required for each topic.

  1. L – “Logistics”

Beyond the agenda there are often other requirements. There should be ground rules of engagement, as well as other practical matters such as ensuring the smallest attendance possible.

This is also a good moment to announce what’s being done differently in this meeting to improve quality. Keeping participants on the edge is important so that no-one is allowed to cruise to an unremarkable, mediocre finish.

Consider the cumulative cost of all meetings which end in this way. Unfortunately, most companies would rather cut payroll than address these issues. Why? Executives find it easier to cut heads than lead a collective behavior change which requires them to act differently.

In summary, PAL is by no means a complete list of all the points needed for a meeting’s success. However, I suggest these are core, mandatory elements which are most likely to destroy quality if excluded. Attend to them on a wide scale and your company can boost every single employee’s productivity.



Why Boards Need Their Own HR


Recent headlines are rife with reports of board members in trouble. Via poor actions or inaction, they have made deadly mistakes with awful consequences to themselves, sponsors and stakeholders. With their reputations in tatters, they resign, hoping to survive a scandal they helped to create. But are they always guilty of wrongdoing?

In fact, most organizations put board members in a precarious position. While the average staff member benefits from the nearby presence of human resource expertise, the same can’t be said of boards. Unfortunately, most people believe HR is only needed at lower levels. The implicit premise? “You shouldn’t be on a board if you don’t have the requisite skills.”

Perhaps, at some point in the past this was a safe assumption. Today, boards which are made up of (mostly) men in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who have known each other for years are anachronisms. The fact is, research shows that they are more likely to make bad decisions.

Recently, California passed a law requiring all public corporate boards to include women. This is no idle requirement as numerous studies show that diversity at this level improves performance.

In like manner, boards picked from the Old Boys Network will probably bring obsolete knowledge and stale skills. They just haven’t kept up with the times, exemplified by the 2018 guidelines for selecting boards issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. The document enumerates best practices that would, if ever implemented, produce an unforeseen high quality of governance.

This solves one problem but leaves another begging. What should Jamaican private sector companies do about dysfunctional boards?  The odds are high that the kind of trouble they face isn‘t technical, but human. What can be done?

  1. Get a critical mass to agree an issue exists

The initial challenge may be the hardest. Many board members have had little or no recent soft-skills training and it shows in the way they go about tackling issues. For example, most prefer to jump immediately into problem-solving activities, even when that approach has failed them in the past.

If a single member points out this fact and suggests that a new process be used, she is often ignored in the heat of the moment. “Navel-gazing – we don’t have time for that!” Yet, with the right perspective, it’s easy to see such an intervention for what it is: an appeal to enter a “meta-conversation”.

Aware individuals use this tactic to step outside the “What” (or content) of a discussion to examine the “How”: the way the conversation is being undertaken. As a tool for improvement, this soft skill is a critical one for boards to learn. It should be triggered whenever there‘s an impasse.

Unfortunately, being able to see the value of this particular suggestion is just a tiny step. In real-life meetings, people who try to intervene in this manner are rarely successful because they are acting alone. Furthermore, board members often use the same words to mean different things. When the discrepancy isn‘t clarified with a timely meta-conversation, conversations go in circles. Participants get tired and frustrated, eventually believing that the board’s failure is enduring.

It‘s not. A day of sound training would give them the keys to shorter meetings and quicker problem-solving.

  1. Getting help

Even after clarifying the problem at this level, some boards resist the idea of recruiting a trained, neutral party. They are embarrassed, thinking that a group of “Big Men” should be able to solve its own problems.

Once they get over their egos, an invited outsider can perform a transparent diagnosis that raises everyone’s understanding. This helps boards define additional skill and knowledge gaps the future is guaranteed to exacerbate. With gaps identified, board members can consciously place themselves in states of discomfort to learn these missing skills.

For example, most boards rely on voting. They see the technique as a time-saving way to make decisions, compared to trying for total agreement.

However, there is another alternative which can be used: “alignment”. It’s defined as a willingness to support a proposal even with doubts and misgivings. Some characterize it as a decision to move forward with an option which generates the fewest objections.

Picking up this practice isn‘t easy, although it’s shown to produce better outcomes. Expect an immediate struggle to ensue if your board decides to invest in this technique for its own good.

These simple examples point to a state of continuous and aggressive learning board members must assume if they hope to stay relevant. Unfortunately, when they lapse into prolonged periods of comfort around soft skills they invite the worst: the failure of companies and a major loss to stakeholders.





How Your Company Should Address Staff Engagement Questions


With regards to employee engagement, what do you do if your executive team can‘t agree?  Some see symptoms of deep disengagement, while others don’t. Suggestions for how to intervene go nowhere, stuff that used to work in the past no longer succeeds and other companies’ case studies seem not to apply.

As Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

My experience supports the notion that each company experiencing disengaged, disempowered employees is different from its counterparts. Here’s a way to find a unique approach for your firm.

  1. A Custom Definition

Unfortunately, most people explain disengagement using soft, psychological objects such as “motivation,” “mindset” or “vibes”. While these constructs are better than nothing, they aren’t quantifiable by the average business.

Instead, it’s much easier to focus on behavior which passes the Video Tape Test. That is, it can be captured by a movie camera.

With this new definition, bring your executives together to agree that a core set of behaviors (such as arriving late or being absent) should be taken as components of disengagement. This helps separate agreed-upon-fact from interpretation.

However, even after this definition has been created for your company, pause to explore an extra question: “Has a critical mass of employees always been disengaged?”

  1. Custom Interventions

If you can find the precise moment when engagement fell, immediately search for broken promises. As I have shared in prior columns, they pollute your company’s culture, causing even new employees to become disengaged in a matter of weeks.

While this task may be painful to undertake, the only remedy is to take responsibility for all violations of trust. Owning them publicly on behalf of executive teams past and present is the best way to make amends.

But it’s just the beginning. Construct a cause-and-effect diagram to list all the possible causes of disengagement. Once they are enumerated, conduct tests to see which ones are at play.

Use anecdotal, non-quantifiable data if you must. While your analysis may not reach an academic standard, it will work for business purposes.

Based on these analytic results, custom-design interventions to change behavior. But don’t be surprised if most of them fail. That’s just your way of weeding out false causes in your hunt for the few that yield the best results.

Don‘t stop there. Now, look for ways to embed new habits and practices in employees’ lives at scale.

  1. Custom Communities

Back in the 1970’s, Tea Parties and Fashion Shows were accepted ways of building communities around specific interests. Today, these anachronisms are stale.

By the same token, there are new channels and technologies being used to connect staff today, but many companies see these changes as one-time shifts, rather than permanent trends.

For example, the technologies most of us use every day to message others (i.e. email, Facebook and Whatsapp) didn’t exist in 1995, 2005 and 2010 respectively. They have changed the way we join with each other at scale, allowing us to reach far more people than we ever imagined possible.

However, most companies struggle and never catch up. Why? First, there’s an age gap. Most executives are in their fifties and sixties while their employees are in their twenties. They only have a superficial experience of the latest technologies, because the communities to which they belong don’t use them.

As a result, they don’t know how to build the kind of communities required to engage employees. Their ignorance is costly.

A few years ago, I worked in Trinidad and noticed every professional using Whatsapp. When I returned to Jamaica two years later, our professionals had caught up.

During that time, my year-group at Wolmers started a Whatsapp group. Prior to its existence, there was little individual contact and no communal activity.

Momentum built quickly and today the Class of 82 group includes over 50% of our colleagues from around the world. More importantly, this month we had our first reunion and donated a million dollars to the school. In summary, a community which was recently formed is now making a tangible contribution where none was expected.

Without the appropriate channels none of this would have happened. Does the same apply to your company? Unfortunately, if you aren’t using technology to bring together employee communities in just the right way, it’s unlikely that your custom interventions will amount to much.

Furthermore, building communities in the modern age is a moving target. You must be prepared to keep adapting the latest tools, thereby empowering people to maintain behavior changes. It’s the only way to get ahead of a disengagement problem which isn’t likely to fade away. If you use the right approach, you may be able to stay ahead, applying fresh custom solutions that produce sustainable results.