“HEIGH-HO, HEIGH-HO, IT’S OFF TO WORK WE GO!”

Did you ever wish your employees would come to work singing that tune! Well maybe not, but I’m sure you can conjure the image in your mind and I’m sure it has a certain appeal. After all, your employees are the ones you create the value in your products and services; so it makes sense to want to keep them motivated.

As the industrial and then electronics revolution evolved work evolved along with it.  Today’s employees are less relied on for labour and manual operation than their grand parents. As machines and equipment replaced manual operations the employee’s role changed along with it. Today’s employees are relied upon to keep the machines and process running. At first it was with wrenches and screwdrivers now it’s with a touch screen. Work simply evolves along with technology. Nowadays, if you want to stain competitive, you need to invest in people. You may go out and get some specialist for a certain task but technology is changing so fast nowadays that today’s specialist is tomorrow’s dinosaur. So hiring employee with learning skills and development potential is your real insurance policy to sustained growth.

If we look at one of the best, if not “the best”, employer of our times, Google, we can learn something interesting. It ‘s not what you might think. When asked what made employees at Google happy, the number one reason was:” they feel that the work itself is rewarding”.  Google provides meaningful work for its employees. Sure it also goes out of it’s way to provide a conducive environment that fosters creativity and it encourages the creative process.  By it’s actions Google the three key ingredients to happy and motivated employees:

-Meaningful work that is rewarding

-An opportunity to participate and contribute

-Feedback for good work in the form of perks, freedom and a good remuneration.

Are you providing the same to your employees?

Keeping up expectations

“If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal.” Norman Vincent Peale

You may have heard me talking about my wife and how we are complete opposites. I like to see it as a “yin-yang” relationship. Of course this also means there is constant tension, which is both good and bad. Good because we are always exploring the limits of our individual comfort zones, and bad because this process requires an endless amount of patience and understanding. One of our recent debates was about a weekend escape I’d planned for the two of us. After 20 years of marriage, I finally convinced my wife that it was okay to leave our kids at home alone. (Our eldest will be 18 in September, and his brother is only 17 months younger.) Eventually, it was agreed that we should go somewhere for the weekend – but where?  This seemed to be an impossible question to answer; there were just too many variables. In the end we conquered our indecisiveness: we just got into the car and left. I figured we would get as far as Zagreb (which is about 25 km away) and then make our decision just where the motorway splits in two. I’m all for adventure and this was certainly testing the limits of my comfort zone. Deep down I believed my wife was afraid of being disappointed; however, not knowing where we were going to end up meant that we had no expectations.

But it is one thing for my wife to choose not to have expectations about her vacation, it’s another when this becomes your guiding principle. Expectations are the carrots that dangle in front of mankind; they pull evolution forward. We see them at the personal level, for instance, a scientist would not perform an experiment if he did not expect some kind of result, or you would not go on a diet if you did not expect to lose weight. However, we also see them at the societal level, where expectations are derived from religious norms and beliefs and guide our social maturity. Expectations are the seeds of hypotheses and science.

You may ask yourself why I chose to write about this; after all, there is nothing new here. But you may be surprised to discover that I regularly observe missed opportunities that are simply due to low expectations. I have also realised that setting proper expectations feeds the “Strength of the Workplace” model of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, published in their book First Break All The Rules. The model depicts three main elements of employee satisfaction: meaningful work, opportunity to contribute and feedback for good work. Setting expectations reinforces all three elements and enables employee growth and development. The same is true for personal development. Expectations of one’s own performance – be it about staying in shape, attaining at school or triumphing on the sports field – dictates one’s success. Without expectations there are no champions. It is through having expectations that progress is made and learning takes place. You see, expectations allow you to calibrate your efforts and set “smart” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) objectives that will help you overcome challenges along the way to your goal.

In consulting, one of our favourite tools is getting people to describe what a perfect day would look like and how others would know it was a perfect day. Similarly, we like to ask the “consulting genie question”: if you had three wishes, what would you change about your work, in terms of your job and the company you work for? This line of questioning raises awareness and helps create a vivid image of an ideal situation – even if it’s only a dream at that moment.

By creating a contrasting image of a better environment we raise awareness, which allows us to see the deficiencies and opportunities for improvement in the current work environment. Once we have this information we know where we’re heading. It is then a simple task to divide our journey into several stages, each with its own milestone. These stages, in turn, will get broken down further into smaller measurable criteria and units that will provide the basis for your planning.

It is easy to set expectations for yourself and your team when the purpose is clear, the task is meaningful and you are contributing to make things better. The other vital ingredient is feedback: expectations don’t work if you don’t measure results or don’t get any feedback about your effort. It is all very well if we diligently measure our performance using certain indicators; what is crucial is that we seek an explanation for any deviation from that which we had expected. The indicators you use to measure performance will take on a new meaning when you not only understand them but also are able to influence them with the quality of your work. Analyse the deviation and learn from it, no matter whether it’s positive or negative in its outcome; that is the essence of continuous improvement.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 12 June 2013

How do you know when your time has come…?

Chances are, if you are asking the question yourself this question, your time has already come; it’s just waiting for you to make your move. So why don’t you?

Well as we have learnt in my last blog (The individuality of duality), it is most likely that your elephant is holding you back. If you remember the elephant is in charge of “now” and unfortunately “now” is when action happens. Your rational side, the rider can come up with the best ideas and make great plans, it’s all in vain if you can’t get our elephant to take action and stay focused on the task at hand. Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to tell you about my current internal debate. My rider has planned that I sit here now and write (because it’s early in he morning, I feel at my best, it’s quiet and I’m comfortable).  My elephant is restless and is constantly bombarding me with ideas of other activities that need doing and would be a lot more gratifying write now. So how do I manage this debate? I breakdown my plan into small steps and reward my elephant with gratifying moments every time I accomplish a step; in my case completing this page or paragraph before making another cup of coffee.

I need to stress that there is not one recipe for this. Each rider needs to learn what works best with his elephant and every situation will demand different steps and rewards. However if you understand the dynamics of rider and elephant, you will quickly see patterns of this dynamic in your own behavior. Opportunities will emerge that you can use to tame your elephant and set you back on your path.

Ok, so what if you haven’t asked yourself the question: How do I know my time has come? Well maybe you are on the right path already and are a master elephant rider. However if you are like most people, you are trapped in a somewhat comfortable and unfulfilling life path.  You may be asking yourself the question all the time but don’t know where to start and what to do.  Fortunately there is hope.   Now that we have learnt that for change to succeed you have to control your elephant and what better way to do so than with emotions. In their book “Success Built to Last” Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson make a case that successful people all share one thing in common, they are passionate about what they do.  Here is a quote:

“It’s dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll lose to someone who does! For every person who is half-hearted about their work or relationship, there is someone else who loves what they’re half-hearted about. This person will work harder and longer. They will outrun you. Although it might feel safer to hang onto and old role, you’ll find your energy is depleted and, miraculously, you’ll be the first in line for he layoffs when they come.”

It makes total sense, if we stick to our example, it could not be easier for the rider.  The path he wants to follow is a breadcrumb trail for the elephant. Because passion means emotional engagement, what for someone is work is for someone else fun. Following the path naturally satisfies the elephant’s hunger for gratification, thereby minimizing the efforts of the rider.

You may say that this is great advice for kids entering high school, but not practical for 50 year olds’ who are approaching the sunset of their careers. Of course you are right, however I believe that it’s never too late to change, by the time you are fifty, you should be well aware of what you like and what gives you pleasure. If you are not doing this for a living than it may be too late to change careers, but it’s probably not too late to reorient yourself in a position where you can make use of your work experience to date and do something else that will bring you closer to your passion. And don’t feel bad because the 15 year olds’ may still have a lot of time ahead of them but it is rare that the already know what the are passionate about.

Here again I would like to make a reference to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and their book “first Break all the rules”[1] . They make a reference to  a model that constitutes employee satisfaction:

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “first Break all the rules”

Basically for employees to be satisfied they need to understand how their role or position is linked to the organisation’s vision and mission. They need to constantly be reminded of the importance of their work as to stimulate their sense of pride. The opportunity to contribute is obvious, who wants to work in a place and be considered a robot. You may have heard some of these classic statements: “ just do what you are told” or  “you’re not paid to think, you’re paid to produce”.  Although this one seems obvious, you would be amazed how many times, in my 20+ years as consultant, employees complain that the issues we identified through our observations and analysis have been known for years but no one does anything about them. Finally, feedback for good work, again this may seem obvious but a lot of companies have not even defined what good work is, so it’s difficult to measure against it. As for feedback, let’s not talk about your direct boss that you probably see every day, what about your boss’s bosses?   Can you remember last time you saw them, let alone received feedback from them?

Whatever you are doing in your career at the moment you can use the model above to test how satisfied you are with your job, it may help you answer the  original question

However, before you can answer: How do I know my time has come?  You will first have to fill in the blank  “my time has come … (to what?) : look for another job? Ask my girlfriend to marry me? Start exercising? Have another beer or position myself in front of my boss? Start a change program in my company? Start my own business and follow my passion. However you phrase it, your answer will ultimately lead to change.

 

Zabok, HR 31st May 2012


[1] They have also developed a very simple but effective employee questionnaire that can be used in association with organizational maturity model.