Archive | September, 2014

Beware Small Men Who Cast Long Shadows!

28 Sep

The actual quote that caught my attention was “When small men begin to cast long shadows, it is a sure sign that the sun is setting”. The origin seems unclear, but what it conveys seems sombre and foreboding. I interpreted “small men” as “small minded people”. Not men of small stature (short) but men (or women) who may be deficient in many ways, but, nevertheless, exercising a dangerous level of control over our lives and our world. The sun setting is a warning that our future, if any, could be perpetual darkness – all gone. If I use the term “small men”, as explained before, it is not referring to stature or only men.

Who are these “small men”? I am sure we all know some. Many are motivated by personal greed and skilled in finding ways to justify action against anything affecting their personal gain or selfish ambition. They may act alone, or in concert with likeminded people. Collectively they can influence the structure of our society and divide people into those who use (for control or gain) and those who are used (most of us!).

Who allows the undeserving to control our lives? History confirms the pattern and the way those in power cling to power and their domination over average people. In our part of the world, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that there has been a progressive move to improve the lot of employees and working conditions, including limitations on child labour and other exploitive practices. It required legislation and the passing of such legislation met with intense opposition from the traditional ruling classes and nouveau riche business owners. They feared the increasing power of political parties representing the working classes, and giving too many rights to the people (including unions) that may inhibit their businesses.

It is not in our history to care too much about other people. It may be in our various religions, but interpreted by people in a “safe” and convenient way. We may establish social conventions to satisfy obligations of our faith, but generally making sure they do not close doors to personal opportunity, that may, by many, be seen as including exploitation.

Those in high places control by preserving their power. Frequently they try to convince us that it is the best way – that their power somehow benefits us and we should follow them. Big men are committed to what they say, take their responsibilities (for our future) seriously and without being completely unselfish, do nothing intentionally to harm us. Small men have personal goals we cannot trust, may pretend to care about people but do not and do not really care about the future (sustainable environment) much beyond their own lifetime. They may not deliberately harm or disadvantage people, but are indifferent to their fate if they are not important to their pursuit of wealth and power – or caring may limit their personal gain.

Times are changing. When we were small, my mother told us repeatedly about the horror she felt when they announced that that Atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wiping out much of the population. In many respects, she saw this as the beginning of the end and a terrible testimony to the capability of men to destroy. She had lived through the war and peace came at a terrible price. Destruction by fire (primarily bombs) continued to be a great fear during the cold war. War and destruction was the fear in peoples’ minds and could be visualized in very graphic terms. In our lifetime, the battle has become very different and distinguishing between friends and foes, big men and small men, is very difficult – they are often indistinguishable.

We have to think it all through and draw our own conclusions. To do that we have to reason and question, including principles we have lived with all our lives. The person who may appear big, successful and caring and claiming to protect our interests and freedoms – is he really a small person casting a long shadow and slowly turning off our light and our world, as the sun goes down?

Thank you for your interest and for caring – I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have,



How to be a Champion of Change!

21 Sep

Change is not simple. I had an idea to move my favourite living room chair closer to the window. I imagined sitting there, relaxing, and at the same time, watching what was happening on the street. I would be able to not only hear, but also see some of the latest construction, see cars being ticketed, and see leaf blowers and other noisy stuff being deployed to make our neighbourhood beautiful, while we all became a little deafer.

Change is not simple and I am still sitting far from the window. To put the chair where I wanted to would have meant moving Daisy’s mat, moving the television and a few other things I liked just where they were. Changing one thing usually means changing a lot of other stuff (lesson #1) and may be very daunting. Something that seems a good idea, at first glance, can be quickly abandoned when related obligations and consequential change are better understood.

It is about the same at work. Maybe our managers are somewhat grim and employees, in general seem somewhat morose and uncooperative. Then we hear about “engagement” and how that can motivate employees to be more interested, more innovative and voluntarily do extra work without expecting to be paid for it.

Engagement seems a great idea, so we had a few hundred coffee mugs made up, inscribed, “Engaged and Happy! Engaged Employee of the Day!”. We met with all the managers and told them to get employees engaged and someone wrote a small presentation for managers to tell employees how they should be more engaged and there would be awards for those who do it best.

Despite all our effort, It did not work and we could not understand why. We had made a significant investment to engage employees and it seemed in vain. Grudgingly we hired a consultant to try to solve the mystery. She told us that telling people how to change and offering awards is not enough. She said that we also had to change to be people that employees would want to engage with. Effectively she told us (or so it sounded) that we had to be less grim, that we were part of the problem. We did not like her either, so we went back to developing more rules and regulations to compel employees to be more productive and resolved to punish those who were not. There were too many changes required, in our opinion, going the engagement way.

Most change is holistic and some change we are instinctively (or necessarily) very good at. The changes in season, for example. We adapt well to wearing more or wearing less and in spring and fall can be very adept at switching between the extremes.   The greatest teacher of inevitable change, that we all experience, is aging and adapting to whatever stage we may be at, as comfortably as possible while still often trying to give the illusion that we belong to another preferred stage.

Back at work, it is much the same. The average person may change the way things have to be done based on new technology or changes in the business, but the attitude may not correspondingly change. There may be acceptance of change as needed and required, but with reservations. Some employees may handle change in a responsible way, but still somewhat clinging to the past. I have known people, including at senior management level, duplicating work as they persist in doing things the old way as well as the new way that they do not trust. Do they want to be heroes by finding fault with the new system? That can be a little short sighted and not likely to be career enhancing.

Embracing change is important, but understanding and speaking the language of the specific change is more important – a form of engagement to new ways. The person understanding not only their small part, but how it fits into everything else. Adopting a new mindset to new ways and exploring their potential rather than focusing on limitations and possibly appearing like a “stick in the mud” lamenting the loss of the good old ways!

One of the most traumatic changes can be the change of a boss, particularly when the old boss was respected and well liked. It will not work if the approach to the new boss seems more like humouring him/her while trying to steer things back to what used to be. That may be seen as implied criticism, which is not helpful when trying to build a relationship. To understand the new age change, it is necessary to try to understand the new manager viewpoint as well as possible, to try to think through from the perspective of the new boss. If change is necessary (as is always the case) it is far better to work from and expand from the new manager thinking rather than seeking to reintroduce the practices of the departed boss, no matter how good he or she may have been.

What do you think? These are very simple concepts about change. How important are they? Do you think most people instinctively adopt similar approaches or are more likely to cling to the past? Do we need to be more holistic and more open minded about how we consider change? Is business change a natural part of evolution that we need to be fully part of? How do we separate real change from gimmicky buzzword type things that come and go as minor distractions?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


Do the BEST ACTORS get the JOB?

18 Sep

Do the best actors (who look right) get the job? At work, are the best actors (playing the right role of course) most successful?  Are the most impressive employees usually acting or are they simply reacting in a style they believe will be most effective in the circumstances?  Another possibility, of course, is that the person is responding to whatever it is in a natural and sincere fashion.  What do you think?  Is there also room for the rebel who may be somewhat obnoxious, but exudes brilliance in his/her field?

Does it really matter?  Is sincerity so important in a captive environment?   It does make sense to develop an adaptive style within an organization and sometimes it is necessary for survival.   It can also help in developing tolerance and showing compliance in ways that may not make sense but are necessary.  There are reasons, of course, why employees should be appealing to others, but is it an integral part of the job, measurable and as important as getting the work done, or is it simply personal marketing?

Are managers (including executives) compromising the success of the organization by insisting on working with people they like the look of and who say the right things?  Are managers putting ego and “nice” (in their opinion) employees ahead of BEST WORK RESULTS!  I believe that is often the case.  Consistent with the “personality cult”, is the focus of managers on short-term success they will get credit for, rather than long term sustainability that will benefit others in the future? Is the focus often more on personal short-term security than corporate long-term success?

It seems that many managers have been allowed to hire in their own image and for their own comfort and companionship (?) rather than bona-fide job related reasons.  The frequent excuse is that the manager must commit to the employee he/she personally selects! The prevalent subjectivity in selection is widely known to job applicants, and preparation for an interview can be more focused on presentation and likeability factors than focus on the job.  The best actors will learn and play the part best and get the job.  Their selection over better-qualified and more capable candidates can be not only discriminatory but in conflict with the best business interests of the organization.  What do you think?

All the world is a stage and that can particularly apply in the workplace.  A workplace that superficially may seem the greatest, but often places more emphasis on looking right than actually doing what is best. All the right policies may be in place, all the right social commitments, but is it reality or only words? Focusing on what we are comfortable with and keeping it that way by hiring in our own image, rather than hiring people who may be a little different, but, nevertheless, have the best skills and ability to get results in any environment.

I believe the obligation to an organization, is have employees most capable of performing the work (including the interactive requirements) rather than hiring and promoting people we like the look of and we believe will fit in with our style.  To be competitive, we need to focus on hiring people with the best skills and results capability and selecting managers who are able to inspire and provide leadership to smart, innovative and high potential new age employees. Much more difficult to supervise the best than “direct” the good actors who know the game and foster their own wellbeing by making the boss feel good.

What do you think?  Are the best actors most successful?  Is role-playing within an organization often more important than results? If there is such an emphasis on looking right, is that likely to inhibit individuality and, particularly, innovation and progressive thinking? What do you think?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.




Realigning Performance Management with Business Reality!

13 Sep

The times they are a changing and our workforces also. New generations of employees are seeking better and more real time performance feedback from their supervisors. A program based on annual reviews is no longer appropriate. With the increasing use of freelancers (contract employees) and outsourcing, many workers will not be associated with a company for as long as a year, but their contribution to company results is critical. A new approach to performance management is essential to match the business dynamics of today and projecting into the future.

For years, we have been talking about managers taking more responsibility for Human Resources issues within their area.  Maybe this is the appropriate time. There has been ongoing discussion about the limitations of performance management in its current form, controlled centrally by HR. Some type of change seems inevitable and giving greater accountability to functional management/supervision may be the key.

The most logical change may be to focus performance management tracking on the criteria used within the functional areas (where the results have to be achieved) and to use the conventional HR system more in a training, assessing and coaching context.  HR would still be working directly with managers/supervisors, but on a continuing basis and in real time.  This change in focus would recognize that performance management accountability is within the function where the performance occurs and with flexibility to address changing needs.

Most HR systems focus on performance snapshots at specific points in time, while functional performance management and tracking is ongoing. The two distinct (HR and functional) ways of measuring performance have coexisted for considerable time and integrating the two programs will ensure common focus and that all resources are aligned, mutually supportive and focusing on today and tomorrow rather than yesterday. The CEO will (as always) track performance through the function, not HR, and that is where the emphasis must be.

Functional performance tracking systems and metrics may currently focus on a limited number of measures, but we count on their effectiveness to support and drive company results. They may focus primarily on costs, productivity, efficiency and quality, but that may, in real time, be appropriate.

The conventional HR performance management programs currently used are complex.  It may require significant investment to implement change, but if the current system is not working well, change is essential.  Some initial thoughts are as follows:

  • Functional performance management, addressing certain criteria e.g. productivity, quality etc., would continue to track performance as at present and be expanded as appropriate. Supervisors would review performance of individual employees on an ongoing basis and, when necessary, initiate action to deal with issues. Depending on the type of issue, HR may also be involved.
  • To meet legal and compliance requirements, HR would ensure that functional performance management practices and criteria are consistent (equitable) companywide, although varying based on functions. Key data would be online and HR would consolidate as appropriate to meet business and HR requirements e.g. salary planning and normal metrics.
  • Functional performance management would focus primarily on results. Competencies and other “soft” factors (HR specialities) would be used, when appropriate, to explore specific performance problems and for training purposes including career development. Progress review of such aspects (with the support of HR) would be separate from ongoing performance (output) tracking, but with some integration when appropriate.
  • A major HR role would be providing training and support to supervisors and managers (new or existing) and in providing assessment services for employees requiring special attention.  HR would work with supervisors, when appropriate, to identify individual employee performance issues and develop a plan of action.
  • Although the traditional HR Performance Management program would be deemphasized and significantly changed, the role of HR is likely to be greater and particularly from an ongoing learning and development, supervisor support and troubleshooting perspective.
  • The greater recognition of functional accountability should make HR a much stronger business partner and contributor to results. It is likely that some HR positions may need to be located directly within some operating divisions.

Functional (Departmental) Performance Management

Departmental performance tracking has become increasingly sophisticated over the years. In most cases, quantifiable production/output data is available, by employee, on a daily basis and the supervisor would receive system-generated alerts about specific issues needing attention. Local systems may also track other factors including training needs/progress and include input by both the supervisor and employee – both would have access to the system.

The supervisor (following direction from senior functional management) is committed to what he/she thinks is critical for managing performance within the specific area. The supervisor probably does not consider the HR factors and indicators as unimportant, but sees them more as belonging to HR. Supervisors who have followed their own style of performance management all year will not have to suddenly adopt a different (HR program) approach and fit employee performance into HR categories and using terms probably never referred to at any other time.

The new performance management approach would be more effective as it would directly interact with data already routinely collected, coupled with employee and supervisor online notes on specific issues and action committed to (employee and/or supervisor) or following a regular review meeting.

Human Resources Performance Management Support

Human Resources will be responsible for providing performance management support and specifically for working with supervisors to review/identify diagnostic and psychometric requirements, performance development planning and assistance with performance problem issues. Progress on action agreed for/with an employee would be tracked and reviewed by the supervisor and the employee on an ongoing basis. The new performance management direction will require HR to be a strong and equal team player – not controller.  HR will need to develop mutual trust with functional management, with HR working as an ally and partner.

Learning and development responsibility will remain with HR, reflecting our professional expertise and to consolidate and review needs for the total organization.  The HR role would require skilled HR analysts and planners to use total company information in the most effective manner. 

Why it will work

Executives, functional management and supervisors would be more committed to a company-wide performance management system tied more directly to business results. Employees, in general, will be better informed with ongoing communication and feedback from the supervisor and no year-end performance evaluation surprises.  Employees will know where they stand at any point and would still be able to go to HR with a problem. The Employee Relations role of HR would not be diminished.

Functional performance management would be expanded and higher profile because it would be “official”. The HR leadership and development role would be expanded because it would provide ongoing support to local supervisors and recommend action (e.g. employee related) that the supervisor would build into the applicable plan. The focus would be more on tackling needs and issues as they occur rather than looking back at what has already happened. Employees will benefit from improved communication and feedback and likely to be increasingly comfortable with the machine aspects of the online system including available help and online training modules.

Our traditional HR performance management systems are very thorough and were essential when little else existed. Based on technology advances and greater functional metrics based accountability, it is now time to move ahead. We have the capability to develop more appropriate and more flexible processes to meet the business challenges of today and tomorrow and working more collaboratively, rather than controlling through a central program. Does this make sense? What do you think?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


How Best to Avoid Toxic Workplaces!

6 Sep

I have never worked in an organization that is dominantly toxic, but my experience includes handling many toxic “pockets” within large organizations. Many times, trying to resolve has involved sitting down with a group of employees and their supervisor (accused of being abusive) and letting employees have their say. Before the meeting, I would spend considerable time with the supervisor trying to reach agreement on the best way he/she should handle the meeting. Usually, when the discord reaches this level, the situation is so serious that employees set aside some of their fear as continuing to work in such an abusive environment is not acceptable.

The employees usually make their concerns known collectively, often by reporting them to HR and sometimes in a jointly signed complaint or petition. Some hesitant “meeting of the minds” may be achieved at a meeting (if reconciliation seems possible) but in most cases, it would not last and the supervisor would ultimately be removed from the job. The whole process can be protracted and when the supervisor is at fault, significantly affect the lives of the employees and workplace efficiency.

How can we avoid festering of these toxic pockets? Why does it usually take so long to resolve – if ever? These are some of the main reasons I am familiar with:

  • The supervisor’s boss does not recognize there is a problem and refuses to get involved
  • The supervisor’s boss backs up the supervisor, even without knowing what is going on
  • The supervisor and his/her boss blame the employees and may focus on disciplining and terminating “bad attitude” employees. “Bad attitude” can include employees with medical problems or disability – anything that gets in the way of the work!
  • HR does not get involved early enough – probably should have been aware earlier and taken a stand, assuming an appropriate level of HR expertise and empowerment
  • There is no effective dispute resolution process, with teeth, in place
  • The supervisor is not competent to supervise employees and, probably, his/her boss also

Could the problem be because we are hiring the wrong type of employees? Have we been hiring troublemakers who conjure up complaints and stir up ill will against the supervisor? I think that is unlikely. The players (supervisor and employees) are generally good people. Often the supervisor was an excellent employee in a non-supervisory role, but totally unsuited to be a supervisor.

We can hire the greatest new employees, enthusiastic and with great skills, but once they enter the “zoo”, they quickly become demoralized and either leave or play along, keeping out of trouble the best they can. We may seek great employees outside, but it may mean little if we do not have an environment that supports having the best and meeting their expectations

Another major problem, common in many companies, is that supervisors and managers do not receive appropriate training, their bosses are similarly lacking in leadership and management skills and in the absence of role models the players resort to being “tough guys”, often overreacting and being more notable as bullies than benevolent bosses.

What is the Solution?

The real life toxic management situations I have described above are the ones that have deteriorated the most. At the same time, there may be many more developing problems and examples of management ineffectiveness throughout the organization. They are all affecting business results and need to be addressed.   In so many organizations, ineffective managers are empowered with hiring decisions, required to conduct performance appraisals and directed (often by HR) to implement employee engagement strategies. To ensure basic organizational effectiveness, I believe the following requirements must be met:

  • Effective dispute resolution processes are in place and experienced HR specialists empowered with overall responsibility
  • All managers/supervisors should receive appropriate management training and be assessed as competent to fulfill basic job requirements e.g. employee relations, dispute resolution, performance evaluation of reports and making hiring decisions
  • HR would have overall responsibility for management training and for follow up to ensure continuing HR related effectiveness of new managers
  • Managers/supervisors who do not achieve an acceptable level of competence would not be allowed to continue in their management position

What do you think? If more emphasis is placed on the competence of management, toxic situations should be minimized, employees will be more motivated and the best are more likely to stay and be committed. Do you think management competence is a major problem in many organizations? Do you agree that unless managers are competent, particularly in people management, we cannot hope to move towards achieving employee engagement and true employee development? Can we realistically hope to be productively working together rather than constantly dealing with various levels of conflict and the related inefficiency?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Does Millennial Idealism Echo Our Own Hopes?

1 Sep

So much has been said about the millennials and generally with respect. Their views about life are more balanced and notably the reported greater focus on work/life balance and more importance given to the meaningful way they occupy their time at work, rather than how much they are paid. It is not unusual for people early in their career to have higher expectations and ideals and what is attributed to millennials may well have been the initial thinking of many younger people from earlier generations. I remember at one of my earliest interviews (UK) being asked my political affiliation and after responding, the interviewer saying that it was normal for many young people to start as socialists and later become conservatives. It made me think of George Orwell and peers, going off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The sixties and seventies were also periods when young people sought enlightenment and a more meaningful understanding of life and the ability to experience at a more profound level than our parents.

One thing I believe has changed significantly is the job situation. During most of my career, despite economic fluctuations, there have been enough jobs, particularly for young people and recent graduates. This included summer jobs for students that could inspire confidence for later and possible career direction. The need to work and availability of work was almost an assumption. People could develop their own values and philosophies, but while things were going well did not have to think much about employment.   Materialism may have seemed somewhat distasteful to many, but the availability of jobs mellowed some criticism as income earned supported independence in other ways. Earlier generations seemed to focus more on politics than the sins of big business.  

Today the situation is very different. Major organizations have been exposed for unethical and illegal practices and trust in organizations is probably at an all time low. Recent (and continuing) economic problems have triggered harsh treatment of employees and indifference by many to the communities they are part of e.g. outsourcing and relocation.

There is no longer trust that there will be jobs in the future. There is significant emphasis on the new workforce needing to be freelancers and self-employed in other ways. The balanced interdependence between employers who need people and people who need to work no longer exists. There may be some employees very high in demand, but most are on their own and will have to make do the best they can.

The millennials are very bright and have access to information from all sources and the experience to differentiate between credible sources and other sources biased for whatever reason. Many millennials feel alienated from an economic system that does not seem inclusive of them. More than previous generations, from a personal and social perspective, they know values must change and that acceptance of the status quo is slanted against them and their future interests. The millennials, with little vested interest in the present system, must be the change agents and steer business evolution in a just and sustainable way. They know not all is well and their thoughts are already influencing change, particularly with employers seeking to accommodate millennial thinking to promote engagement.   The millennials (and other new generations) are the future and must build a future more appropriate to all the changes, including environmental, anticipated.

Earlier generations may have developed similar ideals, but in different economic times, it was easier to slip into the comfort, relative stability, of conventional employment and accept the good with the bad and at least have reasonable financial security. Today it is different and as we watch the progress of the millennials, maybe we see them as the champions of our earlier ideals. Maybe we have confidence in their ability to take our civilization to the next stage – a civilization based on what is and will be rather than what used to be!

I can only comment based on my own environment and recognize that many different “worlds” converging into the future may introduce factors we cannot even anticipate at this time. We wish well to the magnificent millennials as they move forward with their ideals and their commitment to a sustainable and inclusive new world.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



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