Sunday, December 26, 2004

After Christmas

As I sit underneath the big inflatable moosehead that my son received for Christmas yesterday, I wonder if the spirit of Christmas will come this year?

A friend sent me the following meditation. It feels right for the day after Christmas:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild nations
To bring peace among all
To make music in the heart

-- Howard Thurman

Monday, December 20, 2004

Crystal Clear

My grandfather, George T. Seamon, had a lot of flavorful expressions including "Clear as mud" to describe something that made no sense to him whatsoever.

I participate in several on-line discussion groups related to my field, workplace learning and organization development. Sometimes the discussions at these boards get quite heated. Recently there was a most interesting exchange about being clear in one's communication. One writer wrote: "Being absolutely crystal clear about the meaning of what we are saying, so that each person on the list attaches exactly the same meaning to what each of us is saying would lead to more powerful, intentional, authentic conversations."

Ah, if only we could be crystal clear in our communication with others. More often, our communication with others is "clear as mud."

Trouble is, meanings are not in words. Meanings are in people. This concept was developed by David Berlo.

If meanings were in words, all we would need is dictionaries. As we know, having dictionaries, while often very useful, is nevertheless insufficient.

Since meanings are in people, not in words, we need other tools for achieving greater clarity and understanding.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Group Interview

I had heard of group interviewing but had never experienced it personally . . . until the other night.

Without getting into specifics, the final fifteen candidates (who had all passed the phone screens) were all invited to a hotel in central New Jersey. When I arrived, I felt like I was at a conference as I signed in at a table in the hallway, wrote out my "Hello My Name Is..." sticker, and shook hands with the greeters. As all the other finalists arrived, there was a friendly hubbub as we socialized with one another.

At the appointed time, the facilitators invited us to take a seat and the program began. First, there was information about the Company and about the opening. Then each of us was invited to give a two minute talk about some accomplishment from our careers. After that, we had the opportunity to ask questions. Finally, the facilitators asked for feedback, thanked us for coming, told us what the next steps would be, and closed the session.

As a veteran job hunter, I was impressed with this group interview technique. For the Company, it was an incredibly efficient way to see the finalists and get to know them. The phone screens had already sorted out the applicants that did not have the right credentials or whose salary expectations were not in line with the Company's budgeted range.

By way of the two minute talks, the Company was able to

- test the preparedness of the applicants

- assess their ability to handle stress, to communicate, and to sell their capabilities

- gauge the "fit" between the candidates and the Company's culture.

For the finalists, it was a curiously enjoyable experience. It appeared that none of the others had ever been to a group interview either. Just about everyone who gave feedback at the end said that they found it to be a positive experience.

Personally, when I compare it to other traditional interviews I have had over the years, I think I favor the group interview. There was something galvanizing about seeing your competition!

Plus, I knew several of them from my "past travels." I actually found myself rooting for two of them!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

most God-awfullest mismanagement ever

In the Star-Ledger newspaper, an economist for the New Jersey BPU said, "This was the most God-awfullest mismanagement of a company that I think we've ever seen in this state."

He was talking about my company, which was sold last week to another company.

The old regime is no more, gone with the winds of change. Like a bad memory, though, it lingers on.

The new owners rode into town last week. They came in hard, terminating most of the remaining managers, and putting their own people into leadership positions.

From a change management standpoint, it was probably an effective strategy. Take out all vestiges of the old. Destabilize the folks who remained. Start fresh.

Many years ago, the great Kurt Lewin developed a model of change that said you must first "unfreeze" the status quo. A sure method of unfreezing is the application of heat.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Spiritual Change Management

This is Advent, the time of year when Christians get ready for the great feast of Christmas. The time to prepare the way of the Lord.

John the Baptist was the first to proclaim Advent, to proclaim "prepare ye the way of the Lord." It is the time, he said, to repent.

Repent. A word that is seldom used in the 21st century. What does it mean to repent?

Literally, to repent is to turn away from, to change one's self (the Greek term metanoeo means "to change your mind").

To convert.

Spiritually speaking, whether Christian or not, the Advent season is sorely needed in this violence-filled world of ours. Every day, in many parts of th world, people turn to bombs, guns, landmines, and other weapons of death to influence, to attack, to retaliate, to redress.

If we continue in this way, we are headed for destruction.

The world (all of us) needs to repent, to convert, to turn away from violence.

Repentance means changing the mind, waking up, seeing things as they really are, and recognizing the error of our ways, leading to change of behavior, change in action.

To repent means realizing what gods have defined you and shaking off the chains of addictions, habits, priorities, and idols.

But most important...

To repent means to forgive and to seek peace.

What will you do, this week, to repent?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Upward Feedback

In today's era of Sarbanes Oxley and corporate scandals, the performance of management in organizations is under the scrutiny of stakeholders like never before. And rightfully so. Management can really screw things up royally if we are not vigilant.

In that "we," there is a crucial but often unsung group: the workers in an organization. Seldom do the workers have a way to give voice to how management is doing. But in some progressive organizations, there is a mechanism called "upward feedback." Here's an experience of mine with the process.

By way of a brief background to set the context, I had joined a young telecommunications company, founded in 1984 when "Uncle Sam" broke up the phone company. This decision established the so-called "Baby Bells" which were regional local operating phone companies. In this new telecommunications landscape, new forms of local competition became possible. It was out of this opportunity that my employer was born.

When I joined the company, it had grown steadily and was hitting its rapid growth spike, expanding throughout the country. Top management realized that a new way of operating was needed if we were to be successful against much bigger competitors on a national stage. A vision, mission, and values were written and communicated. Quality and Training departments were established. Survey processes to gauge Customer Satisfaction and Employee Satisfaction were started. Upward Feedback followed.

Some of the success factors in our Upward Feedback process were:

Alignment - The Upward Feedback instrument was aligned with our Values and Operating Principles. So the items were familiar to our people.

Top Level Support - The CEO provided visible support for the process, communicating its importance to Managers and Associates. All levels of management participated, right up to the executive level.

Consultant - We hired a consultant to assist us in this transformation. Based locally, he was able to devote a lot of time to us and worked closely with us on Upward Feedback, helping us design it, communicate it, and support managers on the back end.

Purpose - The aim of Upward Feedback was to improve managerial effectiveness. Our conviction was that, if employee satisfaction determines customer satisfaction, then the biggest influence on employee's performance and attitudes --namely what their bosses do and how they do it-- had to be managed. The primary consumer of a manager's behavior, his or her direct reports, must be heard. And heeded.

Development - Upward feedback was not directly tied to compensation, though there were consequences for managers whose Upward Feedback signaled trouble. Typically, the VP of HR would step in to provide coaching resources for these managers.

Training - Upward Feedback was embedded in a management development program. Some of the critical management development topics were the culture (i.e., the operating principles and behaviors) itself, basic supervisory skills, HR policies, and communication skills training, especially listening and how to receive feedback.

Communications - We were careful to over-communicate around a high-risk process like Upward Feedback. By high-risk I mean that it's scary for Associates to give feedback to a boss, and it's scary for Managers to get feedback from subordinates. Associates worry about anonymity and reprisals. Managers worry about the impact on their work relationships with Associates, as well as worries about their careers and
their paychecks.

Structure - We were careful to lay out how the Upward Feedback process works. There were a number of groundrules; for instance, the rule of 3. A manager would only get a feedback report if there are at least three Upward Feedback surveys sent in. Any less than three and anonymity could be compromised.

Support - Once managers got their feedback report, we made sure that there was follow-up support offered. We helped interpret the report and identify where action plans were needed. Further we helped craft development plans to build skills in targeted areas. We also helped facilitate meetings that managers were encouraged to have with their teams to share the plans that grew from the feedback.

Was this process perfect? No. Sometimes the execution was clumsy and confusing.
However, it was supported. It was home-grown. It was well-integrated. And we learned and improved as we went along.

Burning Down Libraries

A co-worker of mine calls it "burning down libraries" when highly knowledgeable and experienced workers are terminated.

The fires are burning at my company as we are being taken over by another company . . . and the terminations are underway.

Wednesday was Day One, a hard day for many. Seeing the firing of co-workers ---trusted colleagues, admired experts, and, in some cases, old friends--- is shocking, confusing, stressful, and depressing.

Hopefully, those who were terminated will use the outplacement service to develop plans, move ahead, identify opportunities, and land on their feet.

But what about those who are left to pick up the pieces and carry on? As a veteran of many organizational upheavals, I can say with confidence that there is Life after terminations. While it's hard to see the positive side, given the many emotions that swamp you at a time like this, it's there.

The main thing, as always, is Attitude.

Friday, December 03, 2004

On Management

In management, the ultimate measure of management's performance is the metric of management effectiveness, which includes:

Execution: how well management's plans were carried out by members of the organization

Leadership: how effectively management communicated and translated the vision and strategy of the organization to the members

Delegation: how well management gave assignments and communicated instructions to members of the organization

Return on investment: how well management utilized the resources (financial, physical, and human) of the organization to bring an acceptable return to shareholders

Given the importance of management roles within an organization, when the incumbents in such roles lack certain key competencies, havoc can be the result. Here are some common and potentially damaging shortfalls:

Poor communicator - The manager that has difficulty expressing himself can leave his subordinates confused.

Aloof - The manager that keeps to herself may seem cold and uncaring to her subordinates.

Inconsistent - Says one thing, then does another.

Cowardice - Has a poor performer but won't confront him/her for fear of conflict.

Dereliction of Duty - Has a poor performer but gives him/her a good performance review as a way of facilitating the employee's movement to another department.

Self-centered - The manager whose self-interest comes first will appear selfish to his subordinates. A variation on this is the manager whose chief drive is to curry favor with senior managers at levels above him in the organization. His subordinates are likely to view this as brown-nosing.

Secretive - While some information cannot be released at certain times, the manager who is habitually secretive keeps her people in the dark. This will not engender trust.

Focused on minutiae - Although the details are important, some managers fall into trap of micro-management which can drive subordinates crazy.

Focused on appearances - When a manager places undue emphasis on sprucing up the office, more important priorities can slip.

Focused on short-term - The manager who is not strategic in his focus can fall victim to the demands of the moment. This fire-fighting style might be appropriate at a crunch time but can be demoralizing when it becomes the manager's norm.

Inflexible - While, as a general rule, policies and procedures should be followed, the manager who refuses to be flexible may be viewed as insensitive to the needs of others.

As bad as these bosses can be, perhaps two of the worst cases are:

Harassment - The manager who crosses the line into illegal harassment, whether sexual or not, has created a hostile work environment.

Malice - This is the manager who, for some reason, sets out to make his subordinate's life miserable. This may, in some cases, be the run-up to a planned termination.