Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Zombie Performance Reviews

You know why zombies are so popular in contemporary culture? You can't stop 'em.
There's something weirdly fascinating about the idea of the dead suddenly and inexplicably re-animating...and coming after you for its next meal.
But we can turn off the TV and leave the theater after a zombie show and comfort ourselves with the thought that there is no such thing as a zombie in real life. Right?
Wrong. We apparently have a bona fide zombie apocalypse happening in parts of corporate America: the once dead-as-a-doornail performance review process has sprung back to life.
Just the other day I came across some updates on LinkedIn about a new resurgence around performance reviews. Apparently, if HR and business leaders reframe their thinking, and alter their culture, then performance reviews can deliver on their promise.
As an OD Guy, I try to look at performance evaluation processes as objectively as I can, while recognizing that I do have a personal bias about them.
To adopt a more objective view, I like to put on W. Edwards Deming's cap and ask, "Does this performance evaluation scheme promote or erode the values of Quality" e.g.
- customer focus
- systems thinking
- teamwork
- process improvement
- fact-based decision making using measurement
- how employees are treated, motivated and developed
If the performance management process supports these values, it's a good thing. For instance, if it enhances how employees serve the customer, that is clearly a benefit to the organization as well as to customers and other stakeholders.
If it detracts from these values, it is a danger. For example, if it diverts employees from a focus on the customer to some other organizational value such as jobs-per-day, then productivity may increase while customer satisfaction (not to mention employee morale) may fall.
From my standpoint, the Deming position is a great way to get into a discussion of management's responsibility for stewardship of people.
Just as management is responsible for the utilization of the organization's financial resources, so also is management responsible for the utilization, and development, of the organization's human resources.
What makes this stewardship of people unique is the development aspect. This stewardship of development is operationalized through such processes as orientation, communication, mentoring, delegation, training, coaching, disciplining, giving feedback on performance, and team building.
Who is in the best position in the organization, to observe, and judge, the execution of this stewardship? The employees who receive (or do not receive) it.
That's where upward feedback comes in. Upward feedback is the process whereby workers give their boss feedback on how the boss is doing. For this feedback to be most useful, it needs to be structured. That way, the boss gets actionable input.
Far too much emphasis is placed on downward feedback (aka traditional "performance appraisal") in most organizations, with relatively little attention paid to how the boss is doing. Yet recent employee engagement research (see Gallup as an example) points to the tremendous impact that Managers have on the workplace.
So, to wrap up, the great W. Edwards Deming wrote that evaluation of performance, merit ratings, and annual reviews of employee performance comprise the third of his "Seven Deadly Diseases" of management. Why? Because there is often a conflict between these practices and the values of Quality.
Among the values of Quality that Deming cared so much about was how employees are treated. For Deming, the motivation and development of employees was tremendously important, yet very difficult, requiring a high degree of focus and skill on the part of supervisors and managers.
To the extent that an organization's performance management process supports the development of people through training, mentoring and coaching, it's a good thing. To the extent that it drains and demotivates people, it is a danger and should be considered a candidate for the corporate scrap heap.
How do you kill a zombie? Shoot it in the head.
Addendum
If you have been following the movement, these past several years, to dethrone the annual performance review process, you know that Performance Review is not likely to go away unless there is a viable alternative, so here goes a suggestion.
Instead of the Performance Management and Review process, how about the Organizational Results Alignment (ORA) process?
The key elements would include...
Alignment = The ORA process starts (and never ends) with linking and aligning employees to where the organization is heading and how it is doing. Information about the organization's strategy, goals, and performance is the life blood of ORA.
Goals = Every employee is linked to the strategy via goals and objectives.
Communication = Daily and weekly communication between team members and those in leadership roles is a must to keep everyone on the same page in today's constant change environments.
Strengths = The 21st century management theory is Theory S which says that we are at our best (and do our best) when we are using our strengths.   
Coaching = Managers are trained to be Coaches who develop their players. Like coaches of sports teams, they focus on each player's strengths. Coaches then play to the strengths of each employee in order to benefit the entire team.
Results & Recognition = Timely acknowledgement of progress and achievements, throughout the year, as well as at year's end, with a versatile arsenal of forms of reward.
Featuring a focus on strengths, coaching and recognition, ORA assumes competence, promotes performance, and expects achievements.What do you think?

Terrence Seamon helps his clients developing their coaching cultures. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Two Ways to Measure Employee Engagement

Recently, in several client sessions on the topic of employee engagement, I was asked, How should you measure engagement?

Without saying so directly, I facilitated them toward the answer to another question: Why would you measure it?

Here's how we did it.

After setting the stage with information (drawn in part from the work done by the Gallup organization) about What employee engagement is and Why it's so important, I asked this polling question:

What can a Manager do to promote employee engagement?

As each person answered, we kept a running tally of the answers on a flipchart or white board.
The answers included such ideas as...

  • Keep an open mind
  • Solicit input
  • Communicate often
  • Listen
  • Be available
  • Provide coaching
  • Give feedback
  • Recognize each person for the contribution they make to the team
  • Be flexible
  • Empower the team


And more. You can imagine what other answers were given.

What comes next, though, is the important part.

These answers can be turned into two types of measurement tools for employee engagement.

The first is a self-assessment for leaders. Borrowing an idea from the great coach Marshall Goldsmith, you can take each of the ideas listed and plug it into the frame "Am I doing my best to..." For example,

  • Am I doing my best to empower my team?
  • Am I doing my best to communicate often?
  • Am I doing my best to give feedback?
  • Am I doing my best to listen to my team members?


The second is an upward feedback instrument for team members to give input to leaders. You can turn each of the items into a short statement that the team members would answer. For example:

  • I feel empowered in my role to get things done.
  • I get frequent communication about what's going on.
  • I get timely feedback that helps me improve my performance.
  • I feel heard when I give my opinion.


Such measurement tools will ground the concept of employee engagement in practical terms that can lead to learning, action, and real change.

Terrence Seamon helps his clients to tap into the power of an engaged organization. Follow him on twitter @tseamon and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Leading is a verb

I write about leadership quite a bit. It's a big part of the work I do with my corporate clients when they bring me in to help them with things like change, engagement, and culture.

The other day, a colleague of mine shared a reaction to the word "leadership," saying:

When I see the word leadership, I think of the quote from the author John LeCarre: "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world." What ever happened to MBWA?

Good point.  Leading is a verb. A leader is known by the actions he or she takes.

Here are three actions of real leaders.

1. They ask for input - Leaders know that power is not in position. Rather, power is in posture. And the most powerful posture is humility. An open and receptive posture that invites and welcomes many voices and perspectives. "What are your thoughts?" is a positive power play with real potential. So, leaders actively seek the ideas of their team members. "What do you guys think we should do?" is not a sign of weakness on the part of the leader. Quite the contrary. It's brilliance. Leaders ask for help. Leaders listen. And, in so doing, they engage and empower others.

2. They seek wisdom before they take action - Leaders take action based on what they believe is wise, that is, the right course for the right reasons. Where do they find this wisdom? While leaders often have good ideas, even the smartest know that they don't have all the ideas. There may be even better ideas out there among their constituents. The leader that seeks the wisdom of the people in the system is indeed a wise one.

3. They learn and change - Leaders are agents of change. And all change starts with the man or woman in the mirror. The Self. A wise leader would take a long and honest look in the mirror. And resolve to make the necessary changes in himself.

So, if you are thinking about being a more effective leader at work or outside of work, remember:  


Leading is a verb.  

Terrence Seamon helps individuals and companies in their struggle with change. His company is Facilitation Solutions. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and connect with him on LinkedIn.



Friday, September 23, 2016

Change: A Moving Experience

My wife and I moved recently, after living in our prior place for 30 years. Trust me when I say, it was truly a moving experience.

Change guru William Bridges was right about the phases that one goes through during a major life change such as moving.

After 30 years, in a home where we raised our two sons, the Ending phase of change was swift but the Letting Go was hard. Even though we chose this path, the sense of loss was deeply felt. My wife really went through the famous cycle of emotions first described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her classic work "On Death and Dying."

After we sold our house, we entered the Neutral Zone, a period of transition that lasted for months, as we waited for the owners of our home-to-be to move out and go on with their next chapter in life.

We moved in with one of our sons, in a small rental property, and disturbed his equilibrium in every way.

Being in-between put us in internet limbo for quite some time. My smart phone became my internet device. Writing a blog post on my phone proved to be a much more arduous task than I usually face.

Finally, we reached the New Beginning. We moved to our new home on September 6th. In that time, I have made dinner more times than I can count. 

Don't get me wrong. I love to cook. It's one of my passions. So many menus...Salmon. Putanesca.  Pork loin. Sweet Jersey corn.

Not having moved in 30 years, I didn't realize that so many people would be stopping by and that I'd be serving dinner so frequently.

But this new start is not a bed of roses. We really miss our old place. We could walk everywhere : downtown, to the park, to the bank, to Rutgers campus.

Now we live in a suburb. Far from the student madness that drove us out of New Brunswick.

It is quieter here.  We have deer that come by to eat our yard.

Now we have new decisions to make:  Put up a fence? Build a shed? 

These can wait. Summer has drawn to a close and the weather will be changing soon.

Now the important decisions are of a different sort. We feel weird here.  Like we don't belong.

Who are we now?

Terrence Seamon helps his clients to change for the better. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills?

Does the expression "soft skills" irk you or work for you?

Here is a little diagnostic:

In your business, does it matter how your reps treat your customers?

In your business, does it matter how your supervisors and managers treat their subordinates?

In your business, does it matter if your teams get along well?

Let me cut to the chase. Soft skills ARE hard skills.

They  are hard to master.

They are hard to beat when you have them.

And it will go hard for you when you don't.

This is true because your hard results such as production and profits, depend on them.

Terrence Seamon teaches soft skills to help his clients achieve success.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Know Thyself

In ancient times, the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece admonished "Know thyself."

In more recent times, two psychologists, Joe Luft and Harry Ingham, created the JOHARI window to help us do just that, develop greater self insight.
Image result for johari window

Having more self understanding is vital to anyone in a helping profession such as OD work.

Minneapolis area consultant John Persico published an essay on what it takes for an organization to really be effective. In essence, Persico says, organizations must become more self-aware. Especially about their own built-in blind spots. He says:

"...most organizations are blind to the intrinsic problems that underlie their failures."

What is an organization to do? Persico offers some good ideas, including listen to your dissenters and "embrace your difficult people."

Here are five more tips that I would add:

Get feedback from others - The Scottish poet Robert Burns once pointed to the value of finding out how others perceive us when he wrote "O, wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us!/It wad frae monie a blunder free us,/An' foolish notion." The gift he refers to we now call feedback. Honest, clear feedback from a trusted source can help free us "from blunders and foolish notions" of our own creation.

Ponder JOHARI - Persico uses the JOHARI window in his article to help explain the different domains of information that exist about ourselves. One of the great things about the JOHARI concept is how it opens our minds to the awareness that others know things about us that we do not know (the "blind spot") and that there is information about us that neither we nor others know (the "unknown" area). The process of increasing self-awareness includes pondering what lies in these panes.

Take a trip to another country - Have you ever experienced the thrilling discomfort that comes from taking a trip to another country? Especially one where you don't speak the language. Somehow or other, you have to confront the challenge to get by and survive. In the process of overcoming this adversity, you realize a great deal about Who You Are, and what you are capable of when pushed way out of your comfort zone. Travel is a great teacher of humility.

Increasing mindfulness - The Zen practice of mindfulness cultivates a tranquil attentiveness to the constant traffic flow of thoughts going on within us. The more we practice this , the more we can step back a bit and establish a degree of objectivity toward ourselves. We can start to notice, for example, the triggers that set us off in some of our relationships. Or the value judgments we make about others. Or about ourselves.

Listening more deeply - Seems to me that we really have to learn to listen much more deeply than we usually do.

Listening to others, for the signals they send about us. The quote from the Scottish poet Burns is apt here.  What a gift it is indeed to see ourselves as others see us.

Listening to one's coaches and mentors who can provide us with incisive feedback. 

Listening to one's customers, especially their complaints, which can lead to improvements.

We also really have to learn how to listen to ourselves. This has many dimensions. Listening to our bodies, for example. 

Listening (as Marshall Goldsmith suggests) to our 90 year old self.  

Listening to our inner child. 

Listening to our better angel.

Terrence Seamon helps others to reach their goals. Follow him on twitter @tseamon and facebook Facilitation Solutions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Feeling Fatigue? Reload Your Accumulator

Are you running on empty?
It is probably time to reload your accumulator.
Our good friend from Germany, Wolfgang, once recommended that we take a vacation. He wrote: "...you need some time to relax and to reload your accumulator, and I know from my own experience that it is far the best to do it away from home."
Never having heard the phrase "reload your accumulator" before, I plugged it into an online translator and converted it to German: deinen Akkumulator neu laden.
Question to my German readers: Does that phrase make sense to you?
As the Summer passed, Wolfgang's recommendation went with us. At each place we visited, we would recall his admonition to "reload your accumulator" and we would do our best to live up to it.
Did we reload our accumulator successfully? Yes, I think we did. We got away from home. We went to new places. We enjoyed nature. And we relaxed with friends.
For you who are tired, stressed out, and experiencing change fatigue, perhaps it is time for a getaway to refresh and recharge.
Travel brings power and love back to your life. - Rumi
Terrence Seamon helps his clients to reload their accumulators. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Planning to Change? Simply BEGIN

Thinking about making a change of some sort...perhaps a personal change? Or maybe an organizational change?

The secret is...to simply BEGIN.

Break it down - Many say that "change is hard." It is. But change is also huge. Or at least it seems so before you start. Change often seems overwhelming. That's why we often fail even before we get going.

So the B in BEGIN stands for "Break it down." Chop it into chunks. Lay out the steps in the roadmap that will get you to the goal.

Energize yourself and others - Another reason we often fail at change is inertia. "An object at rest will remain so unless acted upon." So the E in BEGIN is Energy! You've got to energize yourself and others.

What can help you energize? Perhaps a sense of urgency. Perhaps a sense of competition nipping at your heels.

What about your vision? What is the change about? Why are you making the change? What will the result of the change be? 

Get going - Southwest Airlines' founder Herb Kelleher was once asked what the strategy was. He answered:  "We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things."

Kelleher's wisdom says Get Going. Do stuff that matters.

Empower everyone to take action. That's what Tony Robbins means by "massive" action.

Invite and Involve others - Get everyone fired up by inviting them into the conversation, asking them for their share of the wisdom, and enlisting them in the various chunks of the change that need to get done.

Never stop - Change is never ending. Don't fall into the illusion that it's over. Once you have reached one milestone or one goal, the question always is, "What is Next?" The N in BEGIN can also mean Now, as in "What can you do Now?"

Here are some added words of wisdom:

To begin, begin. - Wordsworth
Begin with the end in mind - Covey
Every new beginning, starts with an ending. - Bridges
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - Disney


Terrence Seamon helps his clients to "get going" on changes they desire to make. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Does This Make Any Sense to You?

A frazzled cowboy once said,
"I'm so busy, I don't know if I found a rope or lost my horse."
Clearly that dazed and confused cowboy is trying to make sense out his situation.
How often, in your life, can you relate to that?
Organizational psychologist Karl Weick wrote some very interesting stuff about human behavior and organization. In one piece, he wrote about a team of smoke-jumpers who were dropped by parachute into a major forest fire. Though highly trained, some things happened that they were unprepared for. As a result, they became disorganized and sadly most of them died.
What happened? Weick wondered if there was a failure of sensemaking.
Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to what they are experiencing.
Weick's concept of  "sensemaking" refers to the mental process of interpreting and constructing the reality we find ourselves in. So defined, we are sensemaking pretty much all the time as we go about our daily lives. Most of the time, stuff makes sense to us. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging circumstances where we may not understand what is going on so we have to actively try to make sense of what is happening.
In my field of organization development, this is a frequent challenge. Especially when dealing with change in organizations.
Change is disliked by so many of us so much of the time because it throws us a curve and we end up like the cowboy who doesn't know whether he has found a rope or lost his horse.
Change is destabilizing. It rocks the boat.
For example, consider a company in the throes of post-acquisition integration. The buyer has come in "guns blazing," cutting heads in a bloodbath, taking hold of everything and changing a great deal of how the acquired company used to do business.
Imagine being a "survivor" in such a scenario. Faced with a constant stream of new faces, new expectations, new demands, questions, and uncertainty. All the while, still trying to do your job.
Sensemaking becomes acute. It comes into it at every juncture as we attempt to adjust our mental models from the old to the new. The old model worked reliably. Hopefully the new model will jell. It will take time.
The smoke-jumpers got disorganized, at least in part, due to a failure in sensemaking. Some things happened in the incident that did not make sense to the highly trained fire fighters. Because of this, panic and distrust mounted. Their structure and judgement collapsed. And doom fell.
When I was an undergrad at Rutgers, studying Organization Communication & Development, one of my professors, Dave Davidson, had a theory of human nature:
"Never assume that the next guy knows what he is doing...much less why."
This is because we are always making it up as we go along. Sensemaking is the norm.
People spend a great deal of their waking life (and maybe also some of their dreaming life) in sensemaking. That is, endeavoring to put two and two together. Sometimes we get four. Sometimes we don't.
Sensemaking goes on at home, in a marriage, at a store, in a courtroom, in a lab, at a traffic intersection, even in a boardroom. Any place in life where we encounter the challenges, problems, dilemmas, decisions, and confusion of everyday living.
Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in very challenging circumstances --often in changing circumstances-- where we have to actively make sense of what is going on.
A great example of this kind of challenging situation would be a VUCA environment where things are so fluid that it feels volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Like a battle zone. Or a forest fire. Or a company undergoing a restructuring due to merger/acquisition.
The writer E.M. Forster once said, "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" Though years before Weick came along, this goes to the gist of sensemaking.
To make sense of stuff, we have to develop ways of seeing things more clearly.
One way is to get feedback of some kind. Writers get feedback from the page in front of them. Sometimes we get feedback from others. Sometimes it's just from ourselves, taking time to reflect on what we are going through.
Another way is to use visualization. I have often said that my favorite consulting tools are a flipchart and a set of color markers. With these simple tools, a facilitator can help a team to make sense out of a problem by writing their thinking on the chart and taping it to the wall.
Effective OD practitioners are aware of and attuned to sensemaking. Especially in organizations undergoing change.
Furthermore, the successful OD practitioner herself is a sensemaker. Not in the sense of "having all the answers." But one who recognizes that her clients are trying to make sense of things, and who is ready to help facilitate this sensemaking process.
In today's turbulent business world, sensemaking can mean survival.
Terrence Seamon is a facilitator of sensemaking. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Come to the TABLE for Culture Change

I once learned, from consultant Kenny Moore, that the meaning of the word company is from Latin:  com (with) + pane (bread). 
He wrote: "At its core, company is about meaning, purpose and mutual support. Many of today’s businesses had their origins around like-minded individuals coming together to support and nurture each other in starting a labor of love."
That gave me one of those "Whoa!" moments. How many companies have an awareness of this? How many have lost this sense of company...and lost their way as a result?
So people who work together in a company can be thought of as people breaking bread together, sharing a common meal.
Pretty strange thought, eh? Maybe even striking?
Moore points out a connection to employee engagement: "It is when people feel a sense of belonging and purpose that they more willingly contribute not only their hands but also their heads and hearts to bring about business success."
What are the implications for leaders?
Moore suggests that long-term organizational success is "less about the bottom line and more about establishing a sense of shared community and passion for the effort."
Imagine then basing the culture of your company on this notion. Imagine that going to work is like coming to the table:
Trust - Everything depends on relationships. And everyone values reliability and dependability, doing what they said they would do consistently. Integrity gives rise to trust.
Accountability - Everyone thinks and acts like an owner. Everyone can be counted on to do their part and more.
Belonging - The company feels like a shared community. Everyone matters. Everyone looks out for the others around them. Mutual support is strong.
Learning - Everyone wants to improve themselves. Every opportunity to learn is seized upon, especially after-action reviews.
Engagement - Commitment runs deep. Participation is high. Everyone has their head in the game and their eye on the prize. 
A pipe dream?
Or a design template for your better culture?
Terrence Seamon helps his clients to strengthen their cultures. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Your Culture Is the Key to Your Success

Experts in mergers and acquisitions see this all the time:  Culture makes all the difference. Get the culture right, they say, and you have the key to success.
But what is it exactly that they are pointing to when they say "culture?"
Simply put, culture is the way we do things around here.
Some experts in corporate culture dislike that simplistic definition, but it works for me. Sometimes simple is the best.
There is nothing quite so practical as a good theory.
So let's look at the "way we do things around here." It could be your biggest blind spot. Do you even know?
And what things make the difference?
In looking at your corporate culture, some of the things that make the most difference include...
How do we treat each other?  Do we treat one another with kindness and respect? Do we look out for one another? Do we intentionally try to bring out the best in each other? Are we always looking for better ways to unleash people so they can use their talents? Are we recognizing and celebrating our people? Are we developing our people? Do we cooperate and collaborate for the good of the whole? Do we push ourselves to continually improve to be the best?
How do we treat our customers?  Do we do everything with the customer in mind? Do we remember that the old saying "customers make paydays possible" is literally true? Do we believe that we only exist to serve the customer? Do we listen to our customers? Do we strive to make it easy to business with us? Do we take their complaints to heart and make real improvements based on the experiences of customers?
How do we treat our place?  Are we good stewards of the resources we have? Resources include financial resources to be sure. Additionally everything from the office or lab or shop that we work in, to the impact our presence has on the surrounding community and environment. Do we operate safely? Are we mindful of our place and the impact we are having? Are we a good corporate neighbor?
In asking such questions, your exploration of your culture will surface many things that lie beneath the surface. 
My Canadian OD colleague Jan Yuill shared this motto with me some years ago and I think it provides a good starting point for looking at your corporate culture:
"Take care of yourself, take care of each other, take care of this place."
Terrence Seamon helps his clients strengthen their culture. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.