Category Archives: Leadership

Manage Yourself Before You Can Lead Others


executive-1668932_640I’ve been following the folks at Contented Cows for many years now. Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden call themselves employee engagement experts. The name of their business comes from their first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and Your Bottom Line. Although they say they are employee engagement experts, their website states, “We develop leaders, period.” They write about employee engagement, but mostly in the context of how leaders create the kinds of focused and enthusiastic employees who give the “better milk” that all businesses want.

Recently, Bill Catlette wrote a post entitled “Leadership . . . It’s Not a Position,” which really struck home with me. I’ve read a lot about what a new leader needs to do in his or her first 100 days in the job. But in this post, Mr. Catlette goes beyond the “whats” of a new leader’s role to get at the “hows.” He says:

1. First, you manage yourself.
2. You lead others.
3. You manage the system.

If leaders reflected on these three points, I think they’d get to the “whats” of any new role a lot more easily—and to the “whats” of their existing roles also.

Manage Yourself. We have only to look at President Trump to understand the importance of managing yourself. Now, none of us can know how much President Trump manages himself, but from the outside his tweets seem undisciplined and contrary to the message of control and focus that most Americans want from their President.

As Mr. Catlette states,

“No one is going to follow you for very long or very far if you don’t have your own act together. You summon appropriate doses of optimism and humility, and keep your ego very much in check.”

This is the behavior of a leader. If this first step is not done well, then steps two and three may not get the job done.

Lead Others. Most leadership articles focus on this aspect of leadership. We are instructed that leaders should communicate the mission of the organization and how each individual’s work fits into it. They should listen with empathy to those they manage, as well as to their external stakeholders. They should encourage and persuade their followers toward a shared goal.

We’re all taught to do these things. Some of us do them better than others. But none of it matters if we—as leaders—do not model the behavior and performance needed from others in the organization.

Manage the System. Again, as leaders we are taught to examine the technology, decision rights, workflows, and other tools and processes that make up the organization we lead. We’re told to find the weak points and figure out how to improve them. We’re expected to shape the culture to get the job done—to create engaged employees.

But once more, we must recognize that we cannot shape the culture to something different than what we display ourselves.

The primary reason many leaders fail is because of cultural fit. These leaders often do not fit because they do not shape their behavior to the requirements of their role. I’m not arguing for a cookie-cutter look to all senior executives in an organization. But I am suggesting that leaders be conscious of how their behavior is viewed by those they lead and that they adapt themselves to their environment before they expect others to adapt to them.

When have you observed leaders who failed because they didn’t manage themselves first?

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When Your CEO Dies


man-76202_640I’ve been interested in succession planning since my early years in Human Resources—and particularly in succession planning at the top of the house. Perhaps that’s why my novel, Playing the Game, begins with a CEO near death and the impact that has on the corporation. So I read with interest a recent article that dealt with how to cope with the death of a key executive. Of course, the most important point is to be prepared.

“What Would Happen If Your CEO Died?”, by Branigan Robertson and Sean Reis, published on February 2, 2017, on the always excellent TLNT.com, asks what HR should do to minimize the impact of the death of a key executive.

Here are the recommendations the authors make, along with my commentary:

1. Purchasing life insurance on high-ranking managerial employees

For most companies, this is a matter of balancing cost against risk. In my opinion, insurance will only make sense for some companies—typically larger companies, or those in which an executive’s passing could end the organization’s existence. For other companies, particularly where a successor is in place, insurance may not be necessary.

2. Knowing who is next in command for each critical position, including the CEO, to fill immediate leadership gaps

This is critical. Everyone should have a back-up, just as stage actors have stand-ins. In some cases, this will be a deputy or assistant to the executive. In other cases, power will devolve up the corporate ladder, and the deceased executive’s boss may need to act in an emergency. In still other situations, a former executive might be called back into the role. And in the case of the CEO, a Board of Directors member may need to fill in, if there is no executive the Board trusts.

The important point is that stakeholders need to know immediately who acts in place of the deceased (or incapacitated or otherwise unavailable) executive.

3. Having access to all critical information

Arranging for ongoing access to critical information is part of any good crisis management plan—and the loss of a key executive is certainly a crisis. Part of the issue is making sure someone has access to corporate information, such as server passwords, financial records, tax returns and payments, bank account and payroll information, debt instruments, shareholder and Board member information, key contracts and insurance policies, critical vendor and consultant contact information—the list goes on.

And each business will also have critical systems of its own, and all of these need a crisis management plan. What systems in your organization have only one key person with access to the data?

In addition to critical corporate information and documents, it is important to know how to access contact information for employees’ family members—at least one next-of-kin or emergency contact for every employee.

4. Dealing with emotions

The loss of a key employee will impact the morale of the entire organization—the more respected and liked the individual, the more the rest of the employees will grieve. And the more critical the person was to the organization, the more employees will worry about their future.

Other leaders need to recognize, validate, and overcome employees’ sense of loss—often when these leaders knew the deceased the best and are most devastated by the death. It is probably a good idea to bring in grief counselors (usually from the company’s Employee Assistance Program, if one is in place), to help the organization mourn the loss and move on.

5. Having a succession plan in place to speed filling the position on a long-term basis

Beyond the immediate need to deal with the crisis and keep the business running, it is important to get back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is if the position is filled or the duties of the deceased executive are otherwise distributed. The more planning done in advance, the easier this will be.

Is your organization prepared to lose a top executive?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Playing the Game, Workplace

Pay Transparency: Where Is Your Organization on the Spectrum?


In August 2015, I wrote a post that took a decidedly guarded position on the benefits of pay transparency. That post was written in the context of the SEC’s pay ratio disclosure rules, requiring the disclosure of executive pay as compared to the average worker’s pay. I’ve been mulling the topic of pay transparency ever since then, wondering if I was too conservative. I recently attended a webinar on pay transparency sponsored by PayScale and BambooHR which caused me to adjust my thinking. This post deals with the merits of pay transparency as a management philosophy, rather than as a response to a government mandate.

The thrust of the PayScale/BambooHR webinar was that pay transparency is really a continuum of pay strategies. Each organization must decide where on the continuum to place its pay philosophy, based on the organization’s goals and desired culture.

If an employer decides to migrate further along the pay transparency continuum, then management and Human Resources in that organization need to be more disciplined in setting pay and in discussing pay with employees. Making pay transparency work requires good market data and an understanding of what skills and performance the organization needs from its employees.

The PayScale Pay Transparency Spectrum

pay-transparency-spectrum

As depicted in the webinar, there are five stages on the “PayScale Pay Transparency Spectrum.” The remainder of this post describes the five steps as outlined by Payscale and Bamboo HR, but many of the attitudes expressed regarding the pros and cons of each step are my own, and not necessarily those of the presenters.

1. What — Employees understand what they get paid — how much, when pay day is, etc. This is a bare minimum, and certainly all employers should at least be willing to tell their employees this much.

Even conservatives like me would not object to this step on the spectrum. If this is part of pay transparency, then I can easily support any company getting to this first level.

2. How — Employees are told how the organization uses data to make pay decisions. If the employer uses market pay data, then employees are told how market studies are conducted, or at least which companies are considered comparable. If jobs are graded on a point factor system, then the factors are described.

Opening up pay calculations to this level on the spectrum can be a big step in helping employees accept the fairness of pay scales and understanding the value of their job versus working at another company. But employees will ask questions about how jobs are defined and whether the benchmark companies are good comparators, so managers and HR do need to be educated in how to respond to such questions.

Again, I can readily support this step on the continuum for most companies. Assuming that an employer does have a pay structure with job grades and salary benchmarking, then the employer should be able to explain to employees how that system works. Not all companies will choose to pay to market, but if they don’t, they should be able to explain why (“we choose to be an entry-level employer, and we understand turnover will be higher,” for example). By contrast, when a company wants to be an employer of choice and to pay at or above market, then they should be happy to explain that philosophy.

3. Where — The third step on the spectrum is explaining to individual employees where they fall in the pay range. This goes beyond explaining what the salary range for a position is (Step 2) and requires telling individuals how their individual pay was set and what their future salary expectations are.

For certain (typically non-exempt) positions, salary increases are based on seniority or time-in-grade or the achievement of specific skill sets. In those instances, where pay increases are based on objective factors, it only makes sense to tell employees about the factors. In addition, when a company wants to focus on employee development and career opportunities, reaching this step on the transparency continuum can enrich the career planning and performance discussions.

The more subjective the criteria for offering pay increases, however, the more managers and HR need to be trained in how to discuss pay with employees. I think this was my hesitancy when I addressed the topic before. I’ve seen too many instances when managers handled these conversations poorly.

4. Why — The fourth step on the spectrum is explaining to employees why the organization pays the way it does. This requires a good understanding of the desired workplace culture and how pay fits with that culture. At this step, employers not only tell employees how they can increase their individual pay within the pay grades and ranges, but the organization also explains what is important for the future success of the organization.

At this level, management training is even more important than at Step 3. The questions about paying to market or not must be answered to deal with pay transparency at this level. Not all managers are able to talk effectively about workplace culture and employee engagement and retention. Particularly when managers themselves are not satisfied with their pay—or don’t understand how their own pay is set—they will not be effective communicators.

The webinar presenters stated that this level might be a good goal to reach on pay transparency, although they did not advocate it for all employers. They did emphasize the need for management training. I am not sure that many employers are ready for this level. Certainly many that I have worked with would need significant improvement in their management ranks before reaching full transparency about the links between pay philosophy and culture. But organizations with professional employees and highly skilled managers might well have this level as a goal.

5. Whoa! — Yes, this was the fifth level on the pay transparency continuum. This is the level that is often discussed in the media—where there are open discussions about which employee makes what salary, and everyone knows what everyone else gets paid.

The presenters indicated that this level might not be desirable for many organizations. And this is certainly where I balked when I wrote about pay transparency before. I’ve worked in departments where everyone had access to what everyone else made, and it was a difficult environment in which to manage. That may be in part because we were not as data-driven as we purported to be—subjective factors such as performance and prior job history played a role on where employees ended up within their salary ranges.

I’m still of the opinion that most organizations are not ready for this level of pay transparency. Some might be, but they had better be ready for a lot of difficult discussions with employees.

How to Reach the Desired Level

The last aspect of the webinar I’ll mention was the emphasis by the presenters on the need for the organization’s leaders to determine their pay philosophy and set a target for where on the pay transparency spectrum they want to be to suit their culture.

It’s likely that the organization will have to evolve a step at a time. An organization that currently does not even discuss pay ranges with employees is not going to get even to Step 4 without a few years of transition.

And the more transparent a system company leaders want to have, the more they need to invest in management training. Not all managers, and not all employees, will make the transition easily. Some turnover of those whose philosophy does not align with the desired culture will happen.

The webinar was a huge help to me in defining my personal perspective. I’m somewhere between Step 3 and Step 4 in what I would personally recommend. But I can now better articulate to clients what their options are and how they could develop from where they are at present on the continuum and why they might want to change.

Where is your organization currently on the pay transparency continuum?

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The Gartner Hype Cycle


I recently learned of a concept called the Gartner Hype Cycle. I probably never ran into it before because it started as a technology concept, related to the impact of new technologies on an organization. The Hype Cycle is intended to explain the maturity, adoption and social application of new technology.

But it seems to be to be broadly applicable beyond technological issues. To me, it explains why a lot of new management programs and other ideas crash and burn. Or at least, why they do not result in as much success as originally envisioned.

559px-gartner_hype_cycle

There are five stages to the Hype Cycle. It starts with a “trigger” — a new idea or technology comes on the scene and moves the organization out of stasis. Immediately, the technology is perceived as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the solution to all woes. This is the “inflated expectations” stage.

Expectations rise to a peak, and then the “trough of disillusionment” sets in. The organization realizes that the new technology does not solve all problems, and, in fact, creates issues of its own. Reactions to the technology plummet to depths lower than the stasis before the technology came on the scene.

Finally, the organization is able to sift through the benefits and detriments of the new technology as it moves up the “slope of enlightenment.” Only then does the organization reach a “plateau of productivity,” a new stasis, which is hopefully higher than the original stasis. Thus, there is benefit to the new idea, but not as much as originally anticipated.

How many times have we been through this cycle in our own organizations?

It might not be a new technology or product or service. In my own case, I think of countless business redesigns. Each one was intended to increase productivity. Each one would be the most effective way to bring creative new products to market. Each one would minimize inefficiencies and increase profitability.

And each time, the results of the corporate redesign were less than staggering.

I won’t say the redesigns were failures, but they were not panaceas. They did not magically transform the organization into a model of productivity.

And yet every few years, we tried it again. With the same results.

What examples of the hype cycle have you experienced?

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Breaking Impasse: In Congress, in Mediation, and in Life


handshake-1830764_1280A few days ago I met with a small group of professional women I know. All of us had had successful corporate careers, though our lives are taking different turns at the moment. As in many group meetings these days, at some point the conversation turned to a discussion of politics. I am probably the most conservative member of this group. Others are moderate, and a couple are quite liberal, though we all are within what I would call the “mainstream,” or center, of our political spectrum today.

We started discussing when our political system got off track—when the Republican and Democrat parties quit compromising to get things done. Some blamed Republicans for their “never say yes” attitude during the Obama Administration. These women argued, “Well, of course, the Democrats have to behave the same way now.”

Others blamed past Democratic actions, going all the way back to Senator Ted Kennedy’s scorched-earth approach to stop the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court—a legal scholar who was clearly as qualified as any candidate since for the Supreme Court. “Well, of course, the Republicans have to retaliate.”

And there are many other events we could point to that might have started—or escalated—the current impasse in our political system.

Impasse, I thought to myself. We are at impasse. What has my mediation training taught me about breaking impasse?

I’ve mentioned before a mediation training presentation I attended with Ken Cloke, of the Center for Dispute Resolution. One point Mr. Cloke made during the program was that when we are in conflict with others, we have choices to make. Some of the choices we must make are

  • Whether to engage in the conflict and behave badly, or calm down and try to discuss it.
  • Whether to acknowledge the other person’s truth or deny it, remain rooted in one’s own story, and slip into biased or delusional thinking.
  • Whether to experience intense negative emotions and feelings, or to repress and sublimate them.
  • Whether to experience one’s opponent as an equal human being entitled to respect, or to demonize him or her and victimize oneself.
  • Whether to aggressively assert and hold tight to one’s position, or to search for solutions that satisfy both sets of interests.
  • Whether to forgive, reconcile and re-integrate with one’s opponent, or remain isolated and wounded deep inside.

Now, I can hear most of us saying, “Yeah, but . . . “

Yeah, but she started it.

Yeah, but he is engaging in alternative facts; there is no truth on his side.

Yeah, but I cannot repress how I feel on this issue.

Yeah, but there is no way to reconcile our two positions.

Yeah, but . . . .

Yeah, but . . . What if you did?

What if you did calm down? What if you did at least ask why the other side feels the way they do? What if you did search for solutions with an open mind? What if you did try to reconcile or compromise?

What’s the worst that could happen if you did seek compromise? It’s unlikely to be worse than the status quo.

While I started this post describing the political differences we face in our nation today, I hope readers see that the questions I’ve asked apply to most situations where we need to negotiate with others. In the corporate world. In consumer and family situations. Wherever we are obliged to work with others, we should ask

What if we tried to understand the other party’s position?

What if we tried to compromise?

Would we be any worse off than if we did nothing?

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Strategic Trolling: In the White House and in Business


donald-trump-2005343_1280We wondered whether Donald Trump would stop tweeting after the November 8 election. The answer was no. We wondered whether he would stop tweeting after the Inauguration. The answer is still no. And much of the nation does not know how to deal with a President who tweets and says anything and everything that enters his head.

We need to figure it out.

A few editorial pieces recently have begun talking about how to respond to the “alternative facts” and exaggerations and outright untruths that President Trump and his advisers have spoken or written. The partisans are trying to label everything as outrageous and respond to it all. The more thoughtful commentators are talking about the need to pick their battles.

On January 23, Russ Douthat wrote in an editorial titled “The Tempting of the Media,” in The Kansas City Star,

“. . . the press may be tempted toward—and richly rewarded for—a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.”

The danger for the media, he wrote,

“is the same danger facing other institutions in our republic: that while believing themselves to be nobly resisting Trump, they end up imitating him.”

Only if the media, our politicians, and others who must deal with the new Administration keep our responses rational will we be able to influence the results effectively.

Also on January 23, Barton Swaim wrote for The Wall Street Journal, in “Trump, the Press and the Dictatorship of the Trolletariat,”

“few journalists have appreciated the degree to which Mr. Trump’s entire political and governing strategy depends on trolling them. They’ve mostly assumed his penchant for exaggeration and invention was the result of psychosis, or just ego. By now, though, it ought to be apparent that he’s doing it intentionally, and strategically.”

(“Trolling” he defined as “[deliberately kindling] acrimony by making outrageous, offensive or confusing remarks.”)

On the PBS NewsHour on January 27, David Brooks commented that President Trump’s style was unnerving business leaders, the political class, and mainstream Republicans. He said that there could be two explanations for the President’s behavior—either he is “an authoritarian figure who is twisting words in an Orwellian manner,” or “he a 5-year-old who has an ego that needs to be fed.” So Mr. Brooks uses labels similar to Mr. Swaim’s psychosis and ego.

Mr. Swaim suggested that we focus on what matters and ignore what does not.

How many people filled the National Mall during the Inauguration doesn’t matter. Calling the press dishonest human beings may rankle, but it doesn’t matter. Whether the CIA employees gave our new President a lengthy standing ovation doesn’t matter.

By contrast, the cost in dollars and international goodwill of building a wall along the Mexican border matters. How to revise and improve our health care system matters. How best to engage with the rest of the world on trade, on terrorism, and on many other topics, matters.

Mr. Brooks mentioned the civil servants in government and Congress as possible checks on the Administration’s proposals. As he said (in the most humorous line of the January 27 NewsHour broadcast), “civil servants have many ways to not do something.”

All this reminds me of a couple of high-level corporate executives I worked with, who also used “trolling” strategically, though we didn’t call it that then. Both of these individuals were masters at taking a meeting off on a tangent when they didn’t want to make a decision. They used offensive commentary about other employees, raised unimportant issues, and demanded answers on picayune points to derail the meeting.

But because they were usually the highest ranking employee in the room, calling them out on these tactics was difficult. Forcing a decision was practically impossible unless their boss was in the room, and even then could only be done by putting them on the spot, which usually wasn’t worth the later ramifications. The only way to deal with the situation was in another one-on-one meeting, where they didn’t feel put on the spot to decide and could debate the pros and cons without revealing ignorance or uncertainty.

Those around President Trump and those who need to confront him need to develop similar ways of responding to his trolling. He has a strategy that is working for him so far, and his opposition—as well as his friends—need to respond strategically also.

When have you had to deal with trolling executives?

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Lessons from My Best Boss


The best manager I ever had passed away recently. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times in earlier posts—he was the man who told me that “time is your friend” (to which I added the codicil, “except when it isn’t”).

Among the other wise things he taught me were:

1. You can never have an hour long conversation with someone in less than an hour.

hourglass-1703330_640That statement of his taught me that you can never rush through listening to someone with a problem or a complaint. People need the time to tell their stories, and no matter how efficient you can be in the rest of what you do, listening takes time.

He had prior experience in Human Resources and a long history as a manager of large groups. He’d spent many hours listening to people’s grievances.

2. The way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it.

My manager did this many times—he took the best people he had in his division and put them on projects or in roles where important changes were needed. The projects where he set up task forces of strong contributors included productivity challenges, quality improvement teams, and staffing and reorganization issues.

In every situation, the good people he assigned found solutions, most of which worked. And even when success wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he—and we—knew we’d given it our best shot.

3. Even if you can do something better or faster than your staff, you need to delegate.

The only way that people grow is by giving them work that enables them to learn. In my prior roles, I had been an individual contributor, even when I had project management responsibility. My manager taught me that in my new position with direct and indirect supervisory authority, I needed to give my staff the opportunity to do things their own way, even if I was faster, even if it took me time to delegate and supervise, even if I could do it better.

Just as he had given me the opportunity to expand my role, and then patiently coached me, I had to do the same for my staff.

Besides, no one can do everything, and we all need to choose priorities. So for the development of my staff, for my own sake, and for the good of the organization, delegation was important.

4. You’re not a risk.

One time this manager told me that when he named me to my new position, he’d been cautioned that he was taking a risk on an unknown quantity. He told me he’d never believed that. “You weren’t a risk,” he said. “You’d done a good job in your prior role, and I had every expectation you’d succeed again.” Perhaps this is a corollary to his advice that the best way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it. He was telling me I was one of the “good people.”

That was the best compliment any manager ever gave me. I have tried to give similar compliments to people who work for me over the years.

And I will carry all these lessons with me for the rest of my life. I am only sorry this manager will no longer be coaching others in this world. He will be missed.

What’s the best lesson you ever learned from one of your managers?

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