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Posts tagged ‘Management’

Creating New Leaders from Within

While the predicted tsunami of Baby Boomer retirements has not yet materialized, the fact remains that 42% of the workforce will become able to retire by 2017 and 70% within the next 10 years.1 The question for all organizations is how to best prepare for this significant change in leadership and management?

Many organizations look externally for candidates. But with intentional planning and preparation, new leaders and managers can be built through internal processes. The following outline of questions provides a foundation for creating such a process.

What are we trying to achieve?
Every organization has a mission. It has linchpin positions or capacities that keep momentum moving toward fulfilling that mission. A linchpin is a special pin that is used to keep axles on vehicles. In organizations, a linchpin keeps the team functioning smoothly, delivering what is needed – with a great attitude. A linchpin manages operations efficiently. A linchpin looks to the future, translating plans into actions while remembering the lessons of the past. A linchpin knows that it is about relationships throughout the system. Can you state the mission; and, list the linchpin positions and what they achieve for your organization?

What does it mean to be an effective linchpin?
Take your linchpin list and apply the “know-do-be” algorithm. Create a one-sentence statement of what makes someone effective in each linchpin position. For example:

  • Know skills that allow the person to manage people, processes, and technology.
  • Do behave in ways consistent with achieving results in building positive relationships, thinking strategically, and communicating well.
  • Be a person who is an athlete in self-awareness, practices trustworthy and authentic leadership, and has a calling to serve others.

What are the essential linchpin competencies?
Now add a column to your list that gets specific about capacities and competencies that are necessary for success in each linchpin position. These should include knowledge and expertise, behavioral competencies, and critical success factors. Again, the examples are general; your list should be as specific as possible, limited by the needs of the linchpin.

Knowledge and expertise might include:

  • Possesses technical skills
  • Understands how to cultivate productive relationships
  • Communicates skills and values
  • Develops resources
  • Understands organization finances
  • Asks the right questions
  • Works across complex organization systems

Behavioral Competencies might include:

  • Self-managing
  • Exemplifies integrity
  • Resilient in uncertainty
  • Adapts to new environments
  • Builds trust
  • Manages strategic relationships
  • Influences others
  • Communicates confidently
  • Handles conflict resourcefully
  • Mentors and coaches others

Critical Success Factors might include

  • Committed to the organization’s values
  • Innovative and creative
  • Understands the financial impact of decisions

What actions need to be taken?
Add a fourth column that lists names of persons in your organization who have high potential for leading and managing each linchpin position. For each person identified, create an action plan. Their plan should include opportunities to expand knowledge, grow behavioral competencies, and be given opportunities to act. Here are concrete ideas to use in systematically developing leaders and managers:

  • Job rotation
  • Special project assignments
  • Action learning: study and make recommendation on a significant issue
  • Individual coaching and feedback
  • Targeted training – online or in person – in operations and leadership
  • Opportunities for role transition – allowing them to serve temporarily in a linchpin capacity while someone is on vacation or leave.

What other actions will support this process?
How will you communicate this information throughout your organization? Would a profile and checklist for each linchpin capacity allow everyone in the organization to understand the requirements and development path? How might you build this into your performance reviews? When and how will you start building your leadership pipeline?

There are many compelling reasons to begin building an actionable plan for developing future leaders. What first steps will you take to begin planning today?

1Government Accounting Office

Other reading:
Godin, S. (2011). “Linchpin: Are you indispensable?” Penguin Group, New York, NY.
Charam, R. (2012). “The Leadership Pipeline.” Wiley, San Francisco, CA.

Insanely Simple

Obsession with simplicity is front and center in Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, the man who put the famous “i” in Apple’s product names. Even if you’re not an Apple fan, this book offers insight into the ways our organizations function. Segall looks at ten behaviors and values that support Apple’s value: simplicity.

He tells sticky stories about Apple and other companies. Sticky because they stick in my mind. I’ve been telling these stories to family and friends as I read, not waiting to finish the chapter before I’m saying, “Jon, listen to this one.”

The titles are based on Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign. The ideas focus on managing and leading effectively:

  1. Think Brutal. Openness and honesty mean no guessing at what managers are thinking and expecting.
  2. Think Small. Small groups of smart people who include the final decision maker will succeed quickly.
  3. Think Minimal. Communicate and focus on one theme that people will remember.
  4. Think Motion. Create project timelines that include the right timeframe and the right people.
  5. Think Iconic. Find and use an image that symbolizes your theme.
  6. Think Phrasal. Use simple sentences. Use simple words. “Simplicity is its own form of cleverness (p. 202).”
  7. Think Casual. Informal conversations connection, inspire, and create.
  8. Think Human. Intangibles are often more important than metrics.
  9. Think Skeptic. Don’t let a “no” or extra work stand in the way of acting with Common Sense.
  10. Think War. Use your bullets wisely. Remember the passion you have for your idea.

Keep your highlighter handy for the pithy quotes. Keep family and friends handy for the sticky stories. Choose the idea you’ll work with first. This book is light enough to be a summertime read and compelling enough to share with others in your organization.

How do you “Think Different”?

Review: Great by Choice
Ken Segall’s Blog

Sobering thoughts on happiness

I continue to ponder my experience at the Osa and Martin Johnson Museum. They found happiness and connection with people around the world through their years of exploration. Their passion shows in their research work, continuous learning, and the relationships they built over the years. But, they were self-employed. What about people who work for others?

This Labor Day, I almost passed over an article on employee engagement. “Employee engagement” seemed like a worn out buzz phrase. But a quick glance reminded me of the research showing that low job satisfaction shows up in lower productivity, quality, and – ultimately – profits. Estimates are that low employee satisfaction costs the U.S. economy $300 billion per year.

The good news is that managers can make a difference. What are the catalysts?

  • Support progress in meaningful work by providing resources and giving autonomy.
  • Honor small wins each day way with genuine, positive feedback.
  • Build mutual respect and trust among team members.
  • Learn from problems without blaming others.

The article concludes, “Working adults spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else. … If those who lead organizations … believe their mission is, in part, to support workers’ everyday progress, we could end the disengagement crisis and, in the process, lift our work force’s well-being and our economy’s productivity.”

The courage to end management as we know it
How to Stay Engaged (and Employed?) in a Downturn

Waiting for feedback?

Over the last 2 or 3 months, I’ve written about the importance of leaders and managers giving feedback and the ongoing need to reinvent management as we know it.

So, it’s time to turn the tables and ask all employees to look in the mirror: Am I waiting for feedback? Why am I waiting for someone else to approve my work, to make a suggestion for improvement, or to give permission for a next step?

While no one wants to step over boundaries, the boundary line is more elastic than most of us think it is. And, I would argue that most bosses don’t want to spend all of their time supervising, let alone micromanaging. What many of them want is for people to be self-motivated and self-starting – to be self-employed at work:

Here are some of the unwritten attributes that define the self-employed at work phenomenon, which I’ve written about before from the boss’ perspective:

  • Be creative and inventive – see your work as owned by yourself, not by your employer or supervisor.
  • Be self-initiating and self-evaluating – identify problems and issues and evaluate what is working and what isn’t, suggest and initiate potential solutions. Don’t wait for others to do it for you.
  • Take responsibility – see yourself as an actor that participates in creating the internal and external work environment, you are as responsible for what happens in the organization as the next person, including your supervisor.
  • Be professional – master and author your work role and career. Don’t be an apprentice forever, continually imitate others, or only mimic the company line.
  • See the system as a whole – look beyond your own role and part to see the whole, your relationship to the whole, and how the parts work together.

In the end, each of us has to value and find meaning in what we do each day. So, let’s stop waiting for the person in the next cubicle, across the hall, or in the corner office to provide feedback, give approval, or check the “completed” box. It’s up to each of us to try out new ideas, move existing balls down the field, and be responsible for just getting it done. And, yes, we are capable of doing it – without waiting for feedback.

Generative and Positive

I’ve been hearing people saying that organization development and processes that focus on the positive – on building on what works well – are just a fad. While I don’t believe, think, or feel that this is a fad, I do encounter consultants and managers running “appreciative inquiry” events that are just plain boring or even completely wrong for the organization. In these scenarios, everyone behaves (or wants to behave) like the person in the recent commercial who is calling the airline to get an early flight out to escape the meeting – or perhaps they feel energized and good – but no lasting transformation occurs. What are the key components that distinguish a generative, transformative process from just another fun meeting?

It begins with good planning. If you’re bringing  in an outside advisor or consultant, they need to be a skilled facilitator and someone who has the ability to facilitate a generative process. Then, instead of starting by telling everyone where you want to end up and how to get there, leaders should look for where innovation and creativity are already happening in your organization. Recognize it and get everyone involved in building an agreement about what needs will be met and what you are trying to accomplish.

Be committed to acting. Once the agreement is established, leaders step aside and affirm their permission to act. Ask everyone to create a commitment to act. This can be done by identifying one initial step that will lead forward. Leaders can then continue to bring the focus to what they want more of and fan the fire through focus, recognition, encouragement, and resources. Leaders create accountability and motivation by enabling people to grow and change, allowing autonomy while overseeing the process, and by creating meaning.

None of this alone will allow the process to be generative and transformative. The best predictor of success is the quality of leadership. Trust and transparency, legitimacy and commitment, communication and passion from leaders all increase the potential for success. Engaging people in the organization who are not directly involved, managing the informal networks as well as the formal structure all increase the potential for success.

Creating agreement about what can be accomplished together, building a commitment to action, giving structure to the process, and generating positive energy can mobilize action to meet the needs and reach the goals. Perhaps we’ll discover the courage to end management as we know it.

Why we’re happier on Saturday

I was intrigued to see research stating that we are happier on the weekends. This seems intuitive to me. But the research is instructive. We’re happier because we spend our time doing things that we are internally motivated to do, setting our own schedules, and relating with people we feel connected to.

For those of us who are interested in improving organizations, this relates back to my post about ending management as we know it. Research continues to challenge us to create workplaces that support autonomy and control over what, where, when, and how we do our tasks. When people are motivated to work because they want to contribute and increase their mastery of the task, effectiveness and efficiency increase.

Some would argue that their workplace can’t permit autonomy and allow people choice over what, when, how, and with whom they work. I will concede this point. But I will continue to argue that even if a given workplace requires stringent quality controls, opportunity remains.

In those cases (hospitals and air traffic control come to mind), the opportunity for management is to support employees in gaining mastery – to get better and better at what they do. The other opportunity is to clearly and regularly communicate why what employees are doing matters – that the purpose is in service of the larger common good.

As our organizations continue to wrestle with constructive ways of changing management practices toward evidence-based practices, let us all enjoy the weekends ahead!

The courage to end management as we know it

Jon and I have long put forward the idea that leadership and management are two different things. We’ve defined management as the action of organizing the details of day-to-day operations. But often the word organizing becomes controlling. Yet years of research in human and organizational behavior show that controlling won’t get organizations the results they want.

Daniel Pink has a new book coming out in a few weeks. Here’s an excerpt:

Management is great if you want people to comply – to do specific things a certain way. But it stinks if you want people to engage – to think big or give the world something it didn’t know it was missing. For creative, complex, conceptual challenges – i.e, what most of us now do for a living—40 years of research in behavioral science and human motivation says that self-direction works better.

And that requires autonomy. Lots of it.

If we want engagement, and the mediocrity busting results it produces, we have to make sure people have autonomy over the four most important aspects of their work:

Task – What they do
Time – When they do it
Technique – How they do it
Team – Whom they do it with.

After a decade of truly spectacular underachievement, what we need now is less management and more freedom – fewer individual automatons and more autonomous individuals.

 . . . something worth thinking about. The challenge is to have the courage to go beyond thinking to gathering the courage to make the shift to a new way of engaging individuals in the workplace. If you want more to think about today, check out Justin Anderson’s take on shifting organizational culture.

The reality management never sees

A recent diary entry from an employee in a research study was titled, “The Reality Management Never Sees.” While managers may have an unspoken agenda in the workplace, what they can’t see is how employees process life at work. In order to learn what happens inside of employees’ minds, for three years, researchers studied 238 professionals – persons who use their knowledge collaboratively to solve problems. The question for reflection in this post is, “What is the reality managers can’t see and how does understanding that reality change how they manage?”

The research shows that every person is affected by emotions created by reactions to events at work and by how they perceive and make sense of these events. This interplay of emotions and perceptions drive employees’ process of choosing what tasks to perform, how to do a task, and where to do it or in other words: their  motivation to perform. While this may not be surprising to a manager who has reflected on the question of how employees experience the workplace, the argument among managers is how performance is influenced by employees’ subjective experience.

The debate between managers is whether employees perform better when they’re self-directed, happier, and love what they’re doing or when supervisors pressure them to meet objectives and design competition among peer groups. The evidence showed three elements impacting performance:

  • Positive emotions such as happiness, pride, warmth, and love directly affect people’s ability to solve problems creatively and successfully. And not only are they more likely to be 50% more productive on a day with positive emotions, the surprise finding was that the succeeding day was more productive as well. The reverse was true with fear, anger, frustration, confusion, and sadness decreasing employees’ ability to make progress not only on a given day, but on succeeding days with productivity falling between 65% and 80%.
  • Individual perceptions of organizations and leaders as collaborative and cooperative, willing to consider new ideas, providing a meaningful vision, and willing to reward excellent work led to higher performance. Perceptions of political game playing and lack of trust and confidence in leadership led to an unwillingness to take risks and share ideas.
  • Motivation to perform at their best comes when persons are interested in the work they are doing, finding enjoyment and challenge in the work itself. Motivation dips when external pressures rise and rewards are based not on doing meaningful work, but on meeting external expectations.

High performance was described as increases in productivity, a commitment to the work at hand, and respect for and contribution to the work of team members. The inner reality of employees clearly impacts effectiveness, productivity, and team participation. So what can managers do that will have the biggest impact on employees’ inner experience – emotions, perceptions, and motivation?

Surprising to me was what did not make the list of good management behavior: daily thanking an employee, working side-by-side with an employee as a peer, injecting lighthearted jokes, or buying a pizza for lunch. While these do have an impact, the most important and fundamental management activities were:

  • Enabling progress by setting clear goals, communicating where the work is headed and why it matters and makes a difference; giving assistance when needed; providing resources and time to get the job done, and managing success and failure as learning opportunities. A few opposite examples include frequent changing of goals and objectives, placing obstacles in the way of progress, focusing on trivial issues, evaluating without explanation or learning, offering inadequate resources to reach the goal, forcing unnecessary time pressure, and engaging in political infighting.
  • Treating employees as human beings, with dignity and respect.

As employees are connected to their work 24/7 ripple effects from organizations spread through employees’ lives. This knowledge emphasizes the importance of understanding the inner life of employees, It is good for our organizations and reaffirms life and our value as human beings.

Read more about Inner Work Life at

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