Friday, April 22, 2005

Organizations Are Their Own Worst Enemies

One of my cyber-colleagues, author and consultant Karl Albrecht, wrote recently: "My experience is that organizations are typically their own worst enemies; most of them don't need competitors to help them fail."

Alas this is so true. In my travels, I have seen this several times.

Once I saw arrogance and fear destroy a company. It was a family-run business, where the son was the CEO and his elderly father was the COB.

The young CEO was a brilliant hot-shot, highly educated and visionary. The executives under this CEO were smart and accomplished people, but they were intimidated. No one among them was able to stand up to the CEO and say that the "emperor had no clothes on." As a result, the company was financially destroyed by the reckless son and the "absent" father. Many employees were hurt by this debacle.

What can OD (organization development) practitioners do about this? When the CEO promotes a culture where dissent is punished, fear and self-preservation become the driving motivators. Expressing disagreement with the strategy will bring the speaker into conflict with the CEO. Such conflict can have a severely limiting effect on a career. So, rather than run such a risk, disagreement is held back. (The Abilene Paradox comes to mind.)

If the senior level team under the CEO lacks the courage to speak up, take a stand, and push back, what can the OD or HR folks do?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What Makes A Christian?

As the papal election process goes on in Rome, many people are discussing the accomplishments of John Paul II and what sort of pope we may get next. Last night, we were discussing with a friend, a non-practicing Protestant, the recent survey that found that a clear majority of American Catholics disagreed with the Pope and the Church on a number of issues including contraception, birth control, celibacy, and the ordination of women.

Our friend added that many Christians pick and choose the tenets of the faith. For example, he said, who really believes nowadays in the virgin birth or the resurrection? He asked my wife and me, "With so many Christians deciding what they will and will not believe in, what makes a Christian?"

If you sweep away all the trappings that have encrusted the faith over the centuries, and try to get back to the original intent of the founder, what do you get?

As we argued, several elements emerged that we agreed were the irreducible touchstones of the Christian faith.

1.Baptism - Repent and be baptized. Wash and cleanse yourself of sin.

2.Shepherd - Take care of others. Look out for the needs and welfare of others.

3.Evangelize - Spread the good news.

4.Eucharist - Break bread together.

5.Community - Come together, pray together, celebrate together. Work together to make the world a better place.

6.Forgive - Let go of whatever hatred or debt is blocking your heart.

And last, but by no means least...


Monday, April 18, 2005

Ireland Was Atlantis?

When I travelled to Ireland for the first time last August, I was entranced by the place. Here's something to put a whole new light on the Emerald Isle.

I just read a small book (you can read it in one sitting) called "Atlantis From a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land," by Swedish geographer Ulf Erlingsson. In this provocative essay, Erlingsson presents and supports the theory that the Atlantis legend in Plato refers to ancient Ireland!

While some critics of the book have called it "far-fetched," I found it fascinating.

I can't wait to travel to Ireland again to visit some of the sites Erlingsson writes about such as Turoe, Newgrange, Knowth and Tara.

Friday, April 15, 2005

What is Your Expertise?

In the reorganization shuffle since the acquisition, I have ended up in a new and unfamiliar role, that being safety guy, attached to operations. Great place to be, right?

If you are a safety engineer, yes. If you are an OD guy, maybe.

While I am bringing my internal consulting skill-set to the role, especially managing client relationships, critical thinking, team building, process improvement, coaching, communicating, workplace learning, and managing change, there is more that the client organization needs that I do not have. Namely, a deep knowledge of a broad range of industry-specific technical and regulatory topics.

A colleague of mine kiddingly poked fun at me the other day, "So, what is your expertise anyway?"

I said, "When you figure it out, let me know, okay?"

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"I'm Still Here"

This morning, as I arrived to work, the guy that delivers the inter-office mail said, "I'm still here!"

That's what people say here these days, as the terminations continue in the aftermath of being acquired. I'm still here.

I use that saying myself from time to time. Is that what soldiers say to one another on a battlefield after a fierce firefight?

The new corporate parent has very emphatically stated values, including ones about people. They sound good. But in my part of the company, the lurking fear is that another round of firing could occur any second.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Safety Culture Change

At my company, we are engaged in a safety culture change. It's early in the game, but I'm happy to say that we already have some success factors going for us including:

- support of the CEO and the management team

- safety improvement goals, driven down through the organization

- a safety policy that says that safety is every individual's responsibility

- a proactive safety improvement process that not only looks at actual incidents (i.e., injuries and MVAs), but also examines "near misses" and encourages identification of hazardous conditions before accidents occur

- a comprehensive safety program that includes a heavy emphasis on training

- employee involvement through local safety committees where union and management work together to improve safety

- a nascent safety website where safety policy and procedure manuals and other resources will be a click away
How Leaders Create Value

I attended a breakfast briefing yesterday morning, featuring author and consultant Rick Lepsinger. His topic was how leaders create value by balancing multiple challenges and choices. (He was also promoting his new book, The Flexible Leader, co-authored by Gary Yukl, published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.)

The briefing was co-sponsored by the NJ Human Resources Planning Group and Right Management Consultants.

Sometimes these sorts of briefings are just marketing events for consultants and you walk away feeling empty. While Lepsinger is indeed a consultant, his presentation was like a compelling mini-seminar.

In a nutshell, his research suggests that to develop effective leaders, one must move beyond old theories of leadership traits. Instead, organizations must build leadership models in the context of organizational performance. An organization's performance is the result of the interplay among the following three integrated factors:

1. Efficiency - The process reliability, quality, and cost reduction essential to the organization

2. Adaptation - The adaptation (i.e., continuous growth and change) to forces in the external environment impacting the organization

3. Human Resources - Having people with the skills and motivation to carry out the mission of the organization

These are the three challenges of leadership. In context, effective leaders make strategic choices while striving for the right balance of these three factors to achieve organizational goals. These factors, Lepsinger points out, are often in conflict.

So, in my company, for example, a senior level leader is concerned with:

1.) reducing cost while delivering high quality yet efficient service;
2.) adapting to regulatory currents, as well as to best-in-class models; and
3.) having people in place with the right skills and attitudes to get us where we need to be.

Essentially, Lepsinger is offering a unified theory of leadership, saying that leaders need to be flexible. Leadership development needs to be grounded in the context of the three imperatives that drive organizational performance.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Well-Being in the Workplace

The Gallup organization recently published a study of well-being in the workplace and its effect on business outcomes.

"Well-being" is an interesting concept. What does it mean? One dictionary says: well-being is a contented state of being happy and healthy and prosperous. A thesaurus says that one sense of well-being is peace of mind: contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, serenity.

At many workplaces, there is a palable atmosphere of fear and evaluation, with a gnawing edge of threat. No one is safe and secure. Even if you are good, smart, get results, and have a lot of experience, you can still be fired.

So where do we find our sense of well-being? When I think about my well-being, I think of my home. When I'm at home with my family, I feel accepted, loved, secure, protected, supported, cared for, encouraged, promoted. I can be who I am. I can express myself, free from fear.

Contentment is an inner state. Unless a person has it inside, and brings it with him or her to work, it won't be found there.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Time for a New Pope to Push for Change?

I just read a news item at Yahoo that an AP poll found that 60% of Catholic Americans want the next pope to push for change in two areas: permit priests to marry and permit women to become priests.

As much as I agree with the need for both of those changes, the next pope has to push for change in even more important areas, two of which are peace and hunger.

In the area of peace, the world needs to stop the bloodshed. The new pope can help by carrying on the work of Pope John Paul II. Seek justice and build bridges between warring parties.

In the area of hunger, the wealthiest countries of the world must meet in a global summit on ending hunger. We can do it, if only we can find the will. The new pope can be a voice for the poor, speaking prophetically about our collective accountability in this matter.

As Gandhi once said, We must be the change we wish to see in the world.