Stop Mailing In Your Participation

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Have you ever been part of a project or organization in which a colleague is giving only a minimal effort? This behaviour, which some call “mailing it in”, may be killing your team’s success.

For several years in the 1990’s, I participated in a programme in which I was trained to teach 50-150 person seminars. The head trainer was the most effective instructor, consistently receiving the best scores, but new trainees like me had a tricky challenge trying to figure out exactly what made him outstanding.

One of his traits was an uncanny skill: he could lead each event as if it were his last, giving attendees a fresh experience each time. As a high performer who took each seminar to a different level, he found new ways to make things compelling even when they were, on the surface, mundane.

While I couldn’t replicate his ability, it was fascinating to observe someone who never once “mailed it in.” The phrase refers to the human tendency to do the minimum possible to get by, thereby providing only a weak substitute. According to Wiktionary, the term means “to fulfill a responsibility with a minimum, rather than appropriate, level of effort”, aka “phoning it in”.

In my column a month ago about governance and leadership, I mentioned that many organization’s board members are mailing it in. I wrote: “In some of our (client’s) strategic planning retreats, they either decline to attend, fail to show up, arrive late, leave early, or spend the entire caucus distracted by email.” Or Zoom. Or a live football match on YouTube…a real episode.

But what’s the big deal? Why should you care? After all, mailing it in has been a part of Jamaican history ever since Columbus met and tried to enslave the Tainos. Their response was probably typical of all oppressed people: to pretend to be doing as much as possible while actually doing the minimum.

Here are a few reasons to highlight this tendency that may help address it in your organization.

1. An Insidious Form of Corruption

We Jamaicans often treat corruption as if it’s a novel coronavirus – a once in a lifetime event that arrives out of the blue all of a sudden, shocking us all. Consider that, in your company, corruption starts with something tiny: when someone mails it in.

In other words, whenever staff members offer up “a minimum, rather than appropriate, level of effort” they are doing more than being lazy. In fact, they are undermining the very mission of the enterprise.

Strangely enough, they could be well-intentioned. The truth is, we are imperfect, which means that sometimes we miss the mark entirely. Some departments or boards do so for years at a time, eventually doing great damage to the very cause they are trying to uphold.

However, the important part that’s missing is a tool of accountability: consistent and transparent feedback, especially in those moments when you are mailing it in. In other words, when you don’t have someone who is willing to let you know when you are merely putting in a half-effort, you are likely to slide into a micro-corruption which masses into a mission-killing culture.

To illustrate: for every Usain Bolt there is another person with equal talent. The only difference is often a lack of accountability: continuous, corrective conversations between the performer and his/her coach. Without such direct help at unexpected times, it’s hard to achieve much.

In firms with such dysfunctional cultures, pointing fingers is a wasted effort. The sad fact is, whenever a group of individuals don’t practice holding each other to a high standard on a regular basis, mailing it in becomes the inescapable, mediocre norm.

2. Lack of Role Models

Unfortunately, when this corruption leaks in at the highest level it’s a different kettle of fish. Why? We Jamaicans tend to pay a lot of attention to hierarchies.

For example, a board that fails in its basic duties (i.e. to have AGM’s, regular meetings, challenging conversations, high performing members) sends a signal to the company: it tolerates corruption.

Over time, anyone who attempts to raise the bar in any part of the organization can be thwarted. They will learn or be told that they are being unfair, or unreasonable. And if they look for support at a higher level, they find the same corruption.

At that point, staff members quit. Either they start a job-hunt or worse: they remain in the job and lapse into mailing it in. They join the club.

Sometimes, a knowledge of these two costs is enough to spur a transformation. Use them to show your organization the places where it’s killing its own success by collectively mailing it in.

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Migrate, But Stay to Run Your Business

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If you own a company, should you encourage your children to one day take an ownership position? Or should they pursue a more lucrative career overseas? We Jamaicans need to challenge our habit of exporting the next generation.

“My son is a pediatrician in New York.”

There are few things that give a Jamaican parent more pride than the apparent success of their child in a foreign country. He may be miserable, divorced and barely making ends meet in a cold corner of the South Bronx, but these dull facts are disregarded in the telling of the tale.

His parents could even own a profitable business in a small town, the sole supplier of an essential good or service. Their life may be comfortable. They live well below their means as they navigate a world they understand. When the son complains about his life, they tell him to stay put – things are far worse back home.

But are they?

I lived on both sides of the equation: 21 years in the USA, returning 15 years ago. I met scores of overseas Jamaicans trapped in jobs or neighborhoods they hated. They longed to return to what they knew, but couldn’t. Few re-migrate from Canada, the UK or America even after the environment becomes hostile.

In the meantime, their parent-owners did no succession planning. Eventually, these founders passed away, forcing their children to come back to pick up the pieces. There are countless versions of the above scenario. It’s a sad accumulation of small, seemingly disconnected decisions that result in a huge loss of inter-generational wealth. Here are three new thoughts that might help.

1. Don’t under-estimate what you have here

In error, we Jamaicans often think we are “special” – facing problems that no-one in the rest of the world has. For example, someone who struggled to start their own business believes that if they had only been born in America, they would have had an easier path to success. As such, they encourage their children to migrate to a life with fewer obstacles.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize the advantage they already have. Their company has figured out how to succeed and is now a big and growing fish in a small pond. This advantage is hard to comprehend when viewed from home, but the global research is clear: most wealthy families pass on material advantages from one generation to the next. I know too many Jamaican families who ignore this fact, encouraging the next generation to abandon the massive lead their forefathers created. Sometimes it’s due to shame – a belief that what is Jamaican (or Black) cannot be good.

Fortunately, this opinion is changing but there are local families destroying value by reflexively pushing their children to study and live overseas, no matter what.

2. Don’t over-estimate the challenge of starting over

I have spoken to a few Jamaicans before they migrate, and the overwhelming impression I have is that they equate a move to another country with one to a place like Montego Bay.

In other words, they naively believe it won’t be that hard to transition. Part of the problem are the falsehoods returning Jamaicans tell. With newly acquired accents, clothes and pictures of cars, they defend their decision to migrate by exaggerating life in their new country. I did it too.

The false impression it leaves is that migrating from Jamaica is an accomplishment. In fact, it’s more a case of “swapping brown dog for monkey”. To whit: most of us know several dogs, but have never seen a single monkey. 

The truth? When I lived in the US, most Jamaicans I met wished they could return, a majority that Trump and COVID-19 have probably increased.

Why? While there are exceptions to the rule, most migrants who left family businesses behind struggle to achieve the quality of life their parents had back home. Living abroad is hard. And it’s new. Research shows that the combination delays business success and in the case of a family-owned enterprise, permanently disrupts the transfer of wealth.

3. Starting Too Late

If there is any truth to the two mistakes described above, the best time to start correcting them is as soon as you, a company owner, have children. While they shouldn’t be promised an easy ride, it’s a good idea to teach them to love and cherish the business they could inherit. One day, their appreciation may pay off if they choose to stay home to keep the chain alive. While you must not force them, their decision to continue what you began can do more than make you proud. It can build a solid foundation that serves generations to come.

The dilemma of the bored employee

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Why is it that your employees who start out excited about their jobs lose interest so quickly? Is it a problem with their age, a cultural phenomena

or just fate? Can their experience be enriched by savvy managers?

The dilemma begins with most leaders who compare employees to cars and their jobs to long-term parking spots. In other words, all they need to do is slot people into positions and leave them. From that point on, the person is expected to perform the role faithfully and occupy the position indefinitely.

Unfortunately, that‘s not how things work. As you may know, there are a startling number of staff who merely go through the motions: “It’s just a job.” Long gone are the challenges which kept them up at night. All that’s left is a routine they can now do without thinking.

Predictably, they turn their attention to other life demands. They raise children to pass exams with top grades. They sign up for marathons. They become deacons in their churches and volunteers in community organizations. While there’s a great deal of good they accomplish in all these other areas, their career remains stagnant: the same job from one day to the next. A few convince themselves that the steady salary is worth the deadening sacrifice. Others refuse. They walk away, quitting to find a different career or start their own company.

Meanwhile, executives in your firm probably remain clueless about the real depth of disengagement: the high percentage who give their work-life the bare minimum. Understanding why employees are more dissatisfied than ever can help you produce a breakthrough culture.

The New Employee

Today’s entering staff member is often surprised at the stale environment found inside most companies. The truth is, little has changed over the years. People at all levels are still stuck in the car-and-parking-spot frame of mind.

Why are they shocked? They have been raised in a world of high engagement in which social media, entertainment and games occupy a great deal of their personal energy. Each of these platforms is  engineered to grab hold of a user’s attention and keep it for extended periods of time.

Creators of highly engaged online environments realize they are in a competition with other experiences. With every bit and byte, they intend to keep users interested and use attention as a measure of success. The makers of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t want you to slip away.

By comparison, most jobs in the workplace seem to be designed to lose, disrupt or even destroy attention. It’s tempting to think this has something to do with technology: instead, it’s all about intention.

Unfortunately, there are probably few managers in your company who see their challenge in the same way. They fail to recognize that “experience design” is part of their job, instead pretending as if nothing has changed over the years.

The outcome? Employees who can hardly last 15 minutes alone or in a meeting without reflexively searching their smartphones for something better.

A New Challenge

Most of your fellow managers probably just shrug their shoulders, complaining. For them, the point of engaging staff is not to entertain them, but make them productive.

Perhaps they could adapt the mindset of game designers. One of their leading thought leaders, Amy Jo Kim, asks: “How can we create experiences that get better as employees become more skilled?”

In most companies, the focus has been on the opposite. HR has been trying to keep employees’ experience the same once they reach a certain level of skill: the old car-and-long-term-parking-lot model. The result is boredom.

Behind this unwanted outcome is a lack of responsibility. Most manager’s don’t believe that their job is to engineer an outstanding experience. In their minds, work is not a place for intrinsic fulfillment or purpose: it’s a crude exchange of money for labour.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to tackle this issue head-on. As a new employee at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1988, I joined a system which made room for technical employees who had no interest in becoming supervisors. A technical ladder allowed many to be promoted and recognized without having the burden of direct reporting relationships.

At a micro level, your company can train managers to develop detailed ladders of skills. Imagine if, at any moment in time, your employees could know exactly which rung they occupy. Furthermore, they would also be able to pinpoint which skills they are developing. This way, they know what their next personal improvement target happens to be and when it is due.

This form of career gamification can engage even long-term staff, blocking the default – boredom – which thwarts your company’s goals.

Why Effective Leaders Never Play It Safe

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The audio version of this article can be found here, plus an archive of past publications

What allows a few corporate leaders to take risks so effortlessly? And why are so many of the rest over-cautious, trapped in behaviors that leave staff uninspired and disengaged? These tough questions resist one-size-fits-all answers but much can be learned from the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Few realize that he died with a disapproval rating of 75%, higher than any leader in modern times. At the time, many believed that his approach was not only wrong, but unnecessary. As a result, according to those close to him, he became increasingly disillusioned inside, but to outsiders, he just kept moving. He continued to put himself at physical risk, and today Americans revere him with a 90%+ approval rating.

However, King’s example isn’t only for CEO’s and Managing Directors. In fact, anyone who wants to make a difference must face similar challenges, regardless of their level. Here are two ways to remain motivated as a change agent in your company.

Fleeing Familiarity and Safety

Anyone who is inspired with the ability to see a shiny new vision is cursed by their good fortune. Why? Inspirational feelings soon wear off, revealing an opposing force which feeds on fear and pulls them backwards. It represents the familiar parts of their lives, the routines to which they have become accustomed, the comforts they have embraced. These were all-important right up until the moment when that new vision disrupted everything.

King was no different. He was living a comfortable, middle-class life as a pastor of a church and a father of young children when he was recruited as a spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He was 26-years old.

Over the objections of others, he steadily abandoned the path other ministers in his circles had followed. This brought him into a sustained, dangerous confrontation with enemies intent on destroying his work and personhood.

However, at the very beginning he may not have perceived the upcoming threat to his life. Like many of us, it was probably more about giving up everyday middle-class certainty for a vision of the unknown.

In fact, a week before he was caught unawares by a nomination to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association he turned down an opportunity to head up the local NAACP chapter. He was too busy, he explained, taking care of this church to serve in a community position.

Thankfully, he accepted the new role in spite of the time pressure.

As a corporate change agent, you may know what it’s like to fail when the moment to step up to lead arrives at your doorstep, dressed in unfamiliar garb. Like Lot’s wife, you glance wistfully back at the fruits of your hard work, afraid to lose them. It pays to look ahead. Here’s why.

Being Willing to Be in Harm’s Way

As a first-time manager you may have been shocked to discover that the easy life you imagined after being promoted doesn’t exist. Now, you find yourself in harm’s way: the subject of criticism from employees below and executives above.

But it’s just the beginning. With every promotion it only gets worse: the risk increases, takes on new forms and arises in ways you never thought possible.

Seasoned executives will tell you that their perks pale in comparison to sleepless nights, undeserved attacks and targeted gossip that comes from any move into the limelight. They also share that leadership is about accepting such uncertainty, while consciously putting oneself in harm’s way. In other words, it’s a bad idea for the employee who has learned how to avoid risks at all costs.

Even King admitted that if he had been given time to think about becoming the leader of the new organization, he would have declined. It was a decision made in response to the moment.

Yet, we only understand it as a historic turning point in hindsight. On that critical occasion, the choice before him was similar to the ones you face each day. Like every other chance to lead, it eventually passes and life goes on, but the difference that you could have made is lost; sometimes forever.

Take this example and multiply it a few hundred times to get an idea of why change in your firm takes so long to bring about. Many company cultures are built on staff members clinging to familiar gains while habitually avoiding risks. They have learned to avoid the key moments when they could step up to lead.

As an agent of change, don’t run: instead, look for these rare opportunities. Prepare yourself to be in harm’s way. It’s not about being reckless, just understand the risk and accept it as part of the cost of leadership. The history of icons like Dr. King shows us that your decisive action in these key moments makes all the difference.

 

 

 

 

Why Your Business Needs a Mature Relationship to Standards

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You can find the audio version of this article here.

We Jamaicans have a difficulty noticing high standards, even when they hit us right in the face. This habit ruins organizations when leaders are the worst culprits.

For example, even our savviest business leaders sometime fall for hucksters who promise miracle “opportunities” which provide instant, effortless riches.

Case in point: I recall intelligent friends trying to convince me that Olint and Cash Plus were legitimate ventures being made available to the common man “by God’s Grace”.  These weren‘t isolated con jobs. Apparently, we Jamaicans have a weakness for this kind of argument. We want to achieve success without giving in to the high standard which it demands.

In this context, I can think of two situations in which we are challenged.

1) The first occurs in the moment when we realize that we have just become part of a relationship which calls for higher standards than we have lived by. It’s often a shock. In one situation, a coach I hired threatened (in writing) to double her rates, then triple them, then fire me if I missed another appointment.

In another unrelated case, my late arrival at a meeting was met by a locked door.

As human beings, we don’t react well in these circumstances. “How dare they?” we exclaim, then indignantly try to beat down an “oppressive” standard. We look for weaknesses, loopholes and back doors. If there’s a bly or relationship we can find to free us from the obligation, we’ll use it. At the very least, we get everyone to agree: the upholders (like my coach) are Nazis, no better than Backra.

Paradoxically, we all love the end-result of high standards. Government and Rhodes Scholarships. Winners of Champs and Schools’ Challenge. The manicured lawns of the JCAA. Profits. The teacher we had in school who demanded greatness from us, and got it.

Perhaps we need to adopt a new personal maxim: “Whenever I am forced by a new environment to meet a higher standard, embrace the opportunity.”

2) But what should we do when the opposite situation occurs? Instead of being hit by a high external standard, we find ourselves in organizations where standards are eroding before our very eyes.

At Wolmers, I saw first-hand what happens when incompetent leadership suddenly replaces its opposite. Imagine a student being caned in the middle of prayers, interrupting a scripture reading. Eventually, teachers began to give up their role as disciplinarians. By the time I reached 6th form, prefects were giving twice as many detentions as teachers.

When standards deteriorate, most of us complain loudly. However, we may be disingenuous. Case in point: We desperately  want to have an effective JCF, but also want to be able to safely “let off a smalls.” (Arguably, the only reason the JDF remains relatively unsullied is because it has fewer contact hours with our citizens.)

In daily corporate life, it’s just as easy to abandon high principles. For example, when a CEO or MD displays low standards, few are willing to confront him/her.  Unlike our best police, soldiers or firemen, employees are unwilling to put themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, the propensity to play it safe is seen by many as a necessary skill for corporate survival. Sticking out your neck for an abstract ideal is judged as unrealistic.

If you find yourself in either of these two situations, resist the urge to walk away. Instead, follow these steps.

  1. Gain a deep understanding

Create a clear picture of the behaviors that comprise the standard. Break it down into small actions anyone can learn so that you can act accordingly to fix the problem.

  1. Look for colleagues who agree to the standard

While not everyone will see the situation the same, some may. Find others of like mind and strengthen each other’s resolve to take a stand and face the attendant risks.

  1. Campaign

This is no short skirmish. The battle to change a culture involves much introspection as protagonists struggle to either attain a high standard or keep one from disappearing. To succeed, they must find ways to speak truths on ever larger, more public stages. Do it well and you can create an internal change movement.

But that is only the start. The daily battle is to take risks in the face of disagreement and ridicule. It requires courage to live out of higher standards in both situations.

While we Jamaicans are usually not social cowards, our workplaces are staffed with people in play-it-safe cultures. They sincerely believe there is no alternative. They are wrong: there is. We just need to step up and accept the cost of high achievement. It’s no more than an inner resolve to take brave actions in service of higher standards.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Why Boards Need Their Own HR

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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

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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.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180923/how-your-company-should-address-staff-engagement-questions 

Easy First Steps to Become an Enlightened Leader

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Do the skills required to be a great leader spring from an inborn set of traits? Or can they be developed over time? Here’s a surprising answer – not only can they be grown, but they all come down to a single, rarely talked about ability that isn’t taught but certainly can be learned.

There are lots of articles with “Top-Ten-Skills-for-Leaders” floating around. They promise to answer a simple question – “How are leaders made?” – with a simple answer.

You may already reject the notion that there are one-size-fits-all solutions. No leader is complete, or perfect. They are all works-in-progress, even if they appear to already know everything and have the ability to accomplish anything.

Yet, few of us are deceived by such shows of bravado. Instead, most understand that professionals who manage, lead, captain or champion others can always improve their skills. If leadership is defined as “the production of desired results through the efforts of groups of people”, then it’s easy to see gaps. Everyone who steps up to this higher level of accountability is imperfect.

However, there is a way to be almost perfect.

In my book Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I quote Winston Churchill who said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” If he is to be believed, then we could say that the best leaders see themselves in an ongoing process of growth. They consciously put themselves in situations where they must “change often” using the following three techniques.

  1. Repeated Discomfort

The few professionals who decide to lead and grow at the same time eventually realize that their next stretch goal is more than an obligation – it’s an opportunity to expand their skills. Consequently, they willingly sign up for the next plateau to conquer.

You may find them picking up optional challenges like marathons or part-time graduate degrees. While the rest of us struggle to keep up with everyday life, they invite added complications by committing to new, harder, more demanding goals.

They are restless: unable to sit on their laurels.

For example, a colleague of mine left his local degree program in mid-stream to go abroad to study. He switched majors, losing a year in the process. Why? He yearned for a new challenge, one that he found at MIT, where he was surrounded by others who were even more hungry. His switch worked, as they tend to, even when there were significant setbacks along the way.

  1. Finding a Coach

However, setting bigger goals isn’t the only method.

Few professionals see the value in paying someone else (a coach) to point out their weaknesses and push them out of their comfort zone. They have no problem seeing the benefit of sports coaching. But few have colleagues in the professional world who would do the same. Most are caught up in old thinking: “Anyone who needs such help is weak.”

I often answer by sharing that for over a decade, I benefited from the services of paid, trained coaches. On a weekly basis, they pointed out my flaws as a business-person.

As you may imagine, I gained the most when I set aside my ego, ignored defensive feelings and followed the expert advice. Being “coachable” was a proficiency in its own right I was pushed to improve in each conversation.

  1. The Best Skill of All

While setting challenging goals and having a coach are powerful methods, they are limited in their value if a third, overarching skill is missing.

If you can’t assess your performance ruthlessly, using insights into your blind spots gained from the initial two steps, you won’t get very far.

When I was lucky to do my first, structured self-assessment as a teenager, the tools were crude and paper-based. Today, they are better designed and available free online, but only the rare local professional does them on their own.

The one I did as a teen (the DiSC) gave me great initial insight into my preferred personality selected from four archetypes. Later on, in my early twenties, I did the more elaborate Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This assessment consists of 16 styles and offers more depth.

Consider both of these tests to be a first step in becoming a student of yourself. But not in the narcissistic sense. Instead, it’s possible to systematically look for faults, gaps in skill and flaws in character that get in the way of accomplishing what you want in life.

There’s even a second step; ask everyone you know to do these assessments also.  As you share and compare your preferences, your insights will deepen dramatically.

Together, these skills enhance your ability to drive your own growth via self-learning. It’s a powerful combination that can’t fail to improve your performance, no matter what your aspirations might be.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180909/francis-wade-easy-first-steps-become-enlightened-leader

On Making Workers Matter

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In my line of work, I meet lots of employees who aren’t sure they matter. Logically, they say they should be valuable due to their role, background, responsibilities, pay, etc. Yet, in terms of their emotional experience, they draw a disturbing blank.

It’s no surprise.

For the most part, our society reserves overt acknowledgement for funerals. However, before then, we try to be careful not to “spoil” people with too much praise. “After all”, we argue, “we don’t want it to go their heads.”

While we are busy protecting them from this imaginary affliction, we rob staff of essential facts. They never know whether or not they matter: their presence, performance, attitude, body language, dress, etc. And in the void, they assume the absolute worst.

The Default – “I Don’t Matter”

Slavery relied on the forced acceptance of a lie.  Workers were sub-human, and owners acted to “de-matter” them daily.

Arguably, Jamaica’s history is driven by challenges to this rank, outrageous falsehood. Consider the labor strikes led by protagonists ranging from Sam Sharpe in 1831 to Alexander Bustamante a century later. These protests to overturn the de-mattering of people’s work were powerful enough to catalyse self-rule and independence.

Today, de-mattering continues, according to Dr. Kenneth Carter, author of “Why Workers Won’t Work – A Case Study of Jamaica”. Some 65% of employees consider their jobs to be unimportant in relation to the objectives of their organization. Also, 80% of workers report that they are rarely consulted about changes that affect their work.

Most leaders severely underestimate the depth of this sentiment. As a result, they treat subordinates just as they would their management colleagues, arguing “Those people know they matter.” Why does this mistake happen, based on Carter’s research?

The Challenge – New Supervisory Amnesia

Studies show that employees and managers alike give the same high priority to human morale factors: recognition, appreciation, feeling involved, promotion and growth. However, a switch occurs when someone is promoted to become a first-time supervisor.

Now, suddenly, the individual reports a change: workers (i.e. their former colleagues) only want tangible wages, fringe benefits and job security.

How and why this shift happens may be debated, but this new mindset is a definite downgrade. As it occurs, workers are de-humanized and de-mattered. Instead of friendly peers, comrades-in-arms or fellow strugglers, they become the opposition, merely assets or resources.

Furthermore, if you are a new manager, there is a benefit: de-mattering lets you off the hook, relieving you of the obligation to motivate employees.  After all, if there’s no money to give “dem people” what they really want, then you are powerless to make a difference.

Unfortunately, as pervasive as this mindset appears to be, I’m unaware of any training that makes use of this finding. De-mattering is never distinguished as the blight it is on the mindsets of new managers, so it continues to shape behavior, albeit in the background.

The Answer – New Skills

However, there are the exceptions.

The most effective leaders in all spheres of life go out of their way to interact with their people in ways that produce a feeling of “mattering”.

Some hug and kiss their employees or followers. They spend quality time with them, sharing personal details while asking about their families. A handful excels at remembering faces, names, and personal anecdotes. This rare skill gives others the impression of being connected, even after only a brief introduction. (Some use social media to cement this technique.)

Others apply honorifics: “Mr. Plumber”, “Boss-Lady”, “Run Tings”, “Super” or “Captain.” This Jamaican habit is a way of letting ordinary people know they matter. It broadcasts their importance publicly.

Finally, a few give “Brawta” –  inexpensive, thoughtful extras which build relationships beyond transactions. For example, I make a point to encourage clients to be bold in making additional requests of me. I explain that we don’t charge them by the half-hour like lawyers, so added time (within reason) doesn’t create a fresh bill.

Although these are individual tactics which don’t work for everyone, they all have the same effect: they leave other people with a feeling of mattering. The answer for you, a manager, isn’t to copy them blindly but to ask the following questions.

What can I do to grant the experience of mattering to others in my company? What experiments could I try to produce this effect? What personal habits do I need to eliminate which frequently de-matter others?

Don’t be like the majority who under-estimate their power. Compared to other cultures I have worked in, Jamaica is a highly leader-centric society. (It’s a feature expatriates notice quickly.)

The fact that you are being scrutinized grants you an opportunity to alter the way people see themselves. Use it wisely to empower and engage staff by using your daily actions to show people they matter.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180812/francis-wade-making-workers-matter-leadership-guide

 

Why employees need the power to say no

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This week, I created a video summary of the column.

 

 

 

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager’s request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience or its opposite: independent choice? While there are no easy answers, the times are changing and so must leaders in your company.

 

Fortunately, managers who believe that their job is to do all the thinking while employees solely follow instructions are becoming rare. Yet, when the pressure is on, many managers become bossy. In the heat of the moment they give orders, and expect them to be followed without question. Resorting to anger they issue threats, stirring up fear in the hearts of others.

The worst rely on this tactic exclusively. Better managers initially start off being nice then turn into monsters later, arguing that people take advantage of the softer approach and therefore deserve this treatment.

They point to their personal experience as proof, which science supports. However, studies also show that this dominating technique has severe limits. While it gets action started, should it be a manager’s preferred tactic?

 

New research demonstrates otherwise.

 

A recent study led by Rom Schrift at the University of Pennsylvania shows that experimental subjects persisted longer in a task when they had the option to say “No.” It revealed that when they were granted a degree of autonomy, they performed better than others who weren’t given the same choice.

If you are a manager, it’s not hard to see why. In general, intrinsic motivation is a far better tool than its counterpart. In other words, you must give employees the option of saying “No” if you want them to perform at their best, especially if the task at hand involves more than a quick, physical action.

Let’s consider the extreme: what about the person at the bottom of your pyramid who is a simple laborer? I invite you to question your assumptions around this example from three angles.

  1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?

A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today, and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor quality work, indiscipline, random departures and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring “mere” workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different one: even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a “simple” laborer.

  1. Should employees be calendar-trained?

Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee’s calendar. In other words, they don’t trust staff to prioritize their work without being directed.

The solution isn’t to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time management skills so that their calendar actually reflects the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people’s appointments. All other tasks are left to memory – a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realize they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their “No” is a reflection of a tough call, rather than a whim.

  1. Should managers be retrained?

As a manager, it’s tempting to jump in, give orders and negate your employee’s choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities, than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important?

Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive: highly reactive to small slights which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single, harsh interaction to demote a newly hired eager-beaver. In the quint of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions. This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won’t change soon means that managers must un-learn the habit of routinely negating an employee’s “No.”

These three recommendations have a magical benefit: they grant employees the opportunity to say “No” in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180422/francis-wade-why-employees-need-power-say-noWHy Employees ne