Archive for the "Uncategorized" Category

Teamwork Lessons from the California Coastal Redwoods

Recognize This! – True team structure creates the support system to allow individuals to achieve their very best.

There are many amazing things in America, the coast redwood trees in Northern California are but one. I learned something fascinating about these trees, one of which is they are the tallest trees on earth growing to 350 feet high (or the equivalent of a 35 story building). Yet, considering their height, these giants have a very shallow root system, extending “over one hundred feet from the base, intertwining with the roots of other redwoods. This increases their stability during strong winds and floods.”

Why does this fascinate me? Think of the implications for each tree, which cannot survive alone. It must intermingle its roots with its neighbors to build a sustaining network for long-term survival, even in the harshest conditions. Yet each tree can still grow to impossible heights on its own.

Now think of the similarities in how true teamwork can strengthen a company as a whole and yet still allow individuals to grow. A solid team structure provides the root system needed for information sharing, learning, and support while enabling each person to achieve their own personal heights based on their unique talents and abilities.

What does the “root system” look like in your organization? Among your team?

Image credit: Save the Redwoods

Open the Floodgates of Employee Recognition

Recognize This! – Limiting employee appreciation only serves to undermine the goals of giving recognition in the first place.

I am deeply disturbed by an article by Lucy Kellaway in Financial Times. In it, based on research about sales people flattering customers, Kellaway concludes public recognition is bad and therefore, recognition of others should only be given in private. Clearly, this is a flawed use of irrelevant research to underpin conclusions drawn based on personal experience. Here’s the parallel drawn by Kellaway:

“The office parallel is obvious: if you overhear someone from another department being flattered you will be unmoved but if the person sitting next to you is praised by your boss, the effect is roughly like drinking acid.

“This means that most managers are getting it badly wrong. They have been taught that a vital part of their job is to stroll around the office dispensing praise here and there. They think they are justly celebrating the success of some and motivating others to try harder. What they are actually doing is creating resentment and making themselves deeply unpopular.

“Likewise, all those schemes loved by ‘good’ employers – like choosing an employee of the week, or writing glowing profiles in company newsletters – create more harm than good.”

Kellaway does have a point. When the types of recognition Kellaway describes (employee of the month, irregular newsletter articles, manager as the primary giver of recognition) are the only or primary types of recognition, then the benefits of public, positive praise can be skewed. The reason for this is simple – the winners’ circle is far too small.

Open the Floodgates of Recognition

Most of us work in deserts of recognition. In these situations, too much emphasis can be placed on the infrequent oasis of the recognition that does occur. Stop limiting recognition like it’s a scarce resource. Goodwill and appreciation should be free-flowing in any organization.

  1. Make recognition more timely and frequent – Stop limiting recognition to a monthly or quarterly reward for one person. Recognize people in the moment, often and in very specific ways for what they did deserving of praise.
  2. Empower everyone to “catch someone doing something good” – Let me be crystal clear – Recognition is not the job of the manager. It is the job of everyone. All employees should be engaged in looking for the good their colleagues are doing every day and praising them for it. Indeed, research shows people derive greater pleasure and engagement from giving recognition.

How does public praise affect you? Are you empowered to recognize others?

3 Consequences of Getting Team Recognition Wrong

Recognize This! – Old hierarchical org structures are often inappropriate for recognizing teams in today’s social web workforce.

The husband of a member of my team (we’ll call him Tom) works on very complex circuit board designs. The way the company is structured, Tom is pulled in as a resource to an engineering team as new projects are added. Based on the traditional organization chart, however, he is not a member of the engineering team.

A year ago, Tom worked with a particular engineering team headed by Jim on a project worth tens of millions of dollars to the organization. During the course of developing the circuit board, Tom found an error with design prior to the board going to manufacture. Tom’s discovery and fix saved the company several million dollars in erroneous production costs, increasing the profit margin on this particular project. Upon total project completion, the entire team was recognized for their exceptional accomplishments, receiving monetary bonuses based on overall profit margin of the contract. But, because Tom is not a hierarchal member of Jim’s team, Tom did not receive any percentage of the monetary bonus (though he was included in the party celebrating project completion and announcing the bonuses).

Skip ahead to two weeks ago. The company closes a multi-billion dollar contract. Jim walks down to Tom’s desk to talk about the project and how excited Tom should be to work with Jim and his team on it. Tom looks at Jim and says, “Why should I offload my current projects to work with you on this? I see no benefit to me.”

Getting Team Recognition Wrong Has Serious Consequences:

  1. Demotivation and disengagement overall – Tom did great work. Because of his catch of an error, the entire team received additional award bonuses – except Tom. The lesson Tom learns is his work is not valued, so why should he try to find expensive errors in the future? Instead, Tom is encouraged to just do run-rate work.
  2. Refusal to participate (or reluctant participation) in future ad hoc teams – In this case, Tom can refuse to even participate on the new project, so Jim loses an exceptional, experienced resource. But if Tom could not refuse joining the team, his contribution and level of effort will not be to prior levels. Actively disengaged employees might go so far as to sabotage the project.
  3. Reinforcement of old-school, rigid reporting lines and hierarchies – Modern circles of influence are just that – broad circles of people who interact and work together in multiple different ways and not according to rigid hierarchical reporting structures.

A Better Approach to Team Recognition

  1. Look beyond the org structure to the social structure for true team recognition. Recognize all contributors to a project being recognized, not just hierarchical team members.
  2. Honor contribution, level of effort and behavior demonstrated, not just participation. Not all members of a team contribute equally and those variations should be honored.
  3. Publicize team accomplishment, featuring individuals as appropriate.

How have you seen team recognition go wrong?

3 Lessons from September 11th

Recognize This! – We must never forget, never fail to praise the heroes (known and unknown), and never lose sight our culture and goals.

Today is solemn day for my colleagues and friends in the U.S. – indeed, around the world. Though I was not in the U.S. the day of the September 11th tragedies, I’ll always stand with those who use the anniversary as a day of remembrance and honor for those who lost their lives and those who ran into the heart of terror to save others.

As I watch and read news coverage of the anniversary, I am most struck by the American spirit of focusing on the positive, remembering the good, and yet never forgetting the importance of the lesson learned that day – that we must stand tall when others would make us cower. This is the mark of resiliency in the American people.

And I see three lessons for us today:

1) Remember (and memorialize) the good. The best answer to terror is always to remember the positive and the good.

2) Praise the contributors to success. We all have heroes (known and unknown) in our midst we should commemorate. Remember the highly visible heroes like the firefighters and other first responders, as well as the unsung bonds trader or receptionist who put their own lives second to helping others also escape the towers and survive.

3) Never lose sight of your culture and the end goal. America, and the rest of the world, is now far more focused on preventing terroristic groups or acts than ever before. Yet, that is not the goal or the ethos of the country. The U.S. is still known as “the land of opportunity.” The base of the Statue of Liberty still reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

How has September 11th impacted you?

5 Steps for Creating a Proactive Safety Culture in Any Company

Recognize This! – Rewarding employees for no safety incidents encourages the wrong behavior. Instead, recognize employees for proactively eliminating safety hazards and creating a safe work environment for everyone.

Does your company have an employee safety program? Even in organizations with largely office-based staff, keeping employee safety front-of-mind not only benefits employees and leadership by reducing lost days to illness or injury, but also communicates to employees that the company does, indeed, care about their health and well-being.

Of course, in industries including manufacturing, construction, engineering, energy and the like, environment, health and safety (EHS) is often paramount to company success. In the U.S., regulatory agencies like OSHA can shut down work sites or impose fines that can cost a company future contracts. In these organizations with a commitment to safety, consulting on the importance of recognition takes on a new level of urgency.

Nearly every company with a strong EHS program also offers some kind of incentive or reward program to encourage desired results. More rare, however, are programs that, first and foremost, reinforce desired behaviors. Case in point – the very typical “no safety incidents” awards. These are structured quite simply such that if no incidents are incurred or reported, then employees are rewarded. But in many cases, these types of programs only serve to encourage employees to sweep incidents under the rug.

Another challenge is the often reactive stance towards safety challenges. Far better to promote proactively desired behaviors that create a safe work environment. For example:

  1. Determine 3-5 core values for safety in your workplace, e.g., innovation, courage, leadership and proactive risk elimination.
  2. Structure a strategic safety recognition program to encourage anyone to recognize others when they demonstrate critical behaviors in line with these values, leading to a safer work environment. For example, recognize a colleague for “courage” when he chose to shut down a work site until an unsafe situation could be resolved.
  3. Very strongly communicate to and train employees on the new approach to recognizing and rewarding key safety values and behaviors. Make sure the emphasis is put on recognizing and rewarding daily behaviors and actions that lead to a safer work environment (and not just avoidance of safety incidents).
  4. Use the data now available to you through the safety recognition program to feature those people who more often contribute to a safe work environment.
  5. Keep the momentum going by regularly sharing detailed stores of safety recognition around a particular value each month.

What other recommendations do you have creating a strong culture of safety?

If Your CEO Doesn’t Care about Strategy, Should You?

Recognize This! – Lack of commitment to vision and mission affects engagement at every level, but doesn’t remove individual responsibility for mission achievement.

Do you believe in the strategy of your organization? Indeed, do you know the strategy of the organization as espoused by leadership? More importantly, should you even care if your executives don’t?

A recent blog post on Switch & Shift revealed these disturbing statistics:

  • 54% of executives “didn’t fully believe in the strategy of their organization” (Booz & Company)
  • 52% of employees don’t believe their senior execs are committed to organization’s overall vision and mission (Root, Inc., and Kelton Group)

If your executive leadership doesn’t fully believe in the strategy of the organization, how can they possibly inspire others to care about achieving that strategic mission, too? Think about the stated strategic goals of your organization. Now think about the senior leader of your group. Does that person make achieving that strategy possible through the daily efforts of your team? If not, it’s important to understand why not. Do they not believe in the strategy itself or do they just do a poor job of communicating the strategy and how each employee can contribute to achieving it?

This is an important distinction. A senior executive who doesn’t believe in the strategy of the organization needs to be dealt with, but that’s not within the control of those who work for him or her. If the executive simply cannot communicate well how others’ work contributes to achieving the strategy, then there are ways to bridge the gap – primarily through others on the team (at every level) looking for ways to positively reinforce and recognize others when they contribute to achieving the strategic objectives.

Should employees be accountable for achieving the overall vision and mission if their senior leaders are not? As unfair as it may sound, yes. Each individual is employed with the implicit contract of working to achieve the company’s goals. Being fully engaged in contributing to this success does become harder without senior executive buy-in, but it’s certainly possible, especially if peers and colleagues take on the role of encouraging and appreciating others in their efforts to do so.

Does your senior leader believe in the strategic mission of your organization? Do you?

What Does “Meaningful Work” Really Mean?

Recognize This! – Only the employee can define what is meaningful work to them. Leaders, however, are critical for helping them catch the vision.

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of engaging in meaningful work for employees. But what, exactly, does “meaningful work” mean? As I was catching up on my (admittedly large) backlog of news and blogs in my reader, I found this nugget from the Switch & Shift blog (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite daily reads):

“Managers cannot make work meaningful for employees. Managers, however, can shape the workplace environment to let meaningful work become possible for employees. With a context set to let meaning be experienced, employees can leverage the environment to derive meaning from their work.

“Meaningful work is vague. What exactly is it? Assuredly it begins quite selfishly. But this is out of necessity. For work to be meaningful, it is the employee who must label it so. This requires a belief that meaningful work is a desired outcome from managements’ actions. And employees believe managements’ intentions and see actions aimed to let meaning emerge.”

This reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story of the senior military leader touring NASA Space Center during the early days of the space race. The leader noticed a janitor cleaning an area of mission control and asked, “What are you doing?” The janitor didn’t reply with the obvious, “I’m sweeping the floor.” No, he said, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

In this story, the employee knew and understood the greater purpose of his efforts. Keeping a neat and clean work environment would help to eliminate distractions for the scientists and engineers in mission control, thereby helping to contribute to the greater space mission. This employee knew the meaning of his work.

Personally, I don’t lead a group of strategy consultants. I help companies change their cultures to ones of appreciation and recognition.

What do you do for work? What’s the real meaning of your work?

Thank You, Boston, for Courage in the Face of Fear

Recognize This! – The true mark of courage is to rush in where fear dwells.

Yesterday was a tragic day in Boston. We have offices near the city and my heart was with my colleagues there throughout the day.

Today, I am dedicating this space to the people of Boston. To show such courage and fearlessness in the face of a cowardly act of terror is inspiring to us all.

When the bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, people rushed in immediately to help. Others who lived along the route or nearby took in dazed runners or people with no place to go while they waited to find out what to do next or how to find their loved ones in the confusion and the rapidly cordoned-off streets.

When sudden tragedy happens, this is the mark of a great and strong people. Courage, helpfulness, servant-hood.

Our hearts are with you, Boston.

Frustration, Program Success, Getting in Sync, and more from Compensation Cafe

I realized today I have not shared with you my posts on Compensation Cafe in quite a while. I greatly enjoy the Cafe community and commentary encourage you to follow the conversation directly.

But in case you missed these posts:

3 Reasons Why Employees Are Frustrated & 3 Things You Can Do about It (14th December)

Frustration is a common theme I see everywhere I look today. In the workplace it seems to stem from three main sources:

  1. Employees sense more barriers to getting the work done, even as they are asked to do more with less.
  2. Companies sitting on loads of cash and not reinvesting that back into the workforce.
  3. Executive compensation and bonus structures that make no sense – not even to investors.

Click through to read more on the impact these points of frustration are having on employees (and consequently on their organizations) and my three common-sense solutions.

The 1 Thing You Must Do to Ensure Program Success (5th December)

Without executive support – a highly visible and actively involved CEO, preferably – any highly visible program (recognition and rewards, benefits, health and wellness, safety, etc.) will fail.

In this post I relate a story of just such a failure originally reported in HR Magazine and then give you the three steps to securing executive support and visible sponsorship:

  1. Build a strong business case for your program, showing the benefits in terms that matter to the C-Suite.
  2. Show executives the power of your program to change corporate culture and thereby your reputation in the market.
  3. Make it easy for executives to show their support.

Keeping Employees in Sync with Recognition (15th November)

This is my take on the murmuration viral video making the rounds of thousands of starlings moving in unison across the Irish sky over the River Shannon.

I looked at the science of murmuration that makes it possible for this level of movement without a single bird striking another and how that kind of synchronization in the workplace requires us to lift our heads out of our own work to notice and appreciate the important contributions and efforts of those around us.

Click through to check out the video and read my thoughts on how to achieve this workplace synchronization.

The Role of Financial vs. Non-Financial “Incentives” in Employee Motivation (5th November)

Lynn Blodgett, president and CEO of ACS, a Xerox company, explained in a New York Times “Corner Office” column the incentives lessons he learned as a child working on early computers (a key punch machine) in his mother’s home-based business. He learned it’s careful balance between financial incentives and highly personal motivations like having a sense of meaning and purpose in your work.

I related this to Mercer’s October 2011 What’s Working survey report, which found these “soft” factors are much stronger influencers of motivation and engagement. Click through for a chart from the report illustrating respect, work-life balance, meaningful work, leadership and team members are the most critical.

Competition Is Good, Except When It’s Not: The Difference between Incentives and Recognition (25th October)

In this post I answer one of questions I’m asked most frequently: “What’s the difference between incentives and recognition? Aren’t they the same thing?”

Incentives and recognition are two distinctly different mechanisms that can be used to boost employee productivity, but each has its proper place and time for use. Incentives in particular can cause unintended consequences if not thought through fully. Click through for a chart illustrating these differences as well as a story from the LA Times of incentives gone awry so terribly, employees refer to mechanism as the “electronic whip.”

Retention & Compensation: Keeping Them Is Cheaper than Finding Them (13th October)

True compensation and HR pros know there’s much more to retaining key employees (even in this tough job market), and compensation is one critical piece of that puzzle. I highlight research from Towers Watson and WorldatWork that showed retention is a growing challenge among employees who just can’t take it anymore, but a little recognition would go a long way in changing mindsets.

I also explain what all of this has to do with compensation, namely how much more budget you would have to increase the salary of key employees, invest in additional training opportunities for high potential employees, or simply hire more staff to relieve the burden on over-worked employees if you didn’t have to spend it replacing the ones you should have retained in the first place.

Company Culture = Core Values in Action

Recognize This! – Defining desired values is useless without making those values real for employees in behavior.

How do you define company culture? Since this is a topic I’m passionate about, I’ve read many descriptions of company culture over the years. One I particularly like appeared recently in Harvard Business Review:

“In practical terms, culture is not an intangible cloud that hangs over a company, but an outcome of the way people behave on multiple dimensions. Better understanding of these behavioral patterns — and how each person experiences them — makes it possible to decide whether to continue them or not.”

Your culture is an outcome of the way your employees behave. This begs the question, “Precisely how are you encouraging your employees to behave?”

What are you using as the guideposts for employees to follow on desired behaviors? We always strongly recommend your core values – after all, your management team invested a good deal of time at some point determining these values to be critical to company success.

The challenge lies in helping employees understand how those abstract values translate into real actions and behaviors in their daily work. It’s your values in action that define your culture – not your values hanging on a plaque on the wall.