Archive | August, 2015

Is Short Term Executive Thinking a Problem?

7 Aug

All executives, and most other employees, are judged on a daily basis by what they are producing and particularly results measured against goals contributing to achievement of the business plan.  In a fairly large organization, metrics may be tracked on a daily basis within an operating division and at head offices far away.  Everyone is watching to see whether the numbers will be met today, this month, this quarter, this year.

Sustainability and working towards the future is critical, in principle, but results today, for most individuals, are what matters for survival and personal advantage.

Many executives, particularly CEOs and those responsible for Sales, may turn over frequently.  No matter who is the leader of the pack today, it is inevitable that for most, their days are numbered. New stars will be welcomed to take their place and yesterday’s heroes will be out the door and poised to be the hope of tomorrow at another organization, as the cycle repeats.

The executive knows he/she has to get results today and knows that the opportunity to dazzle an organization and, possibly, within an industry is limited.  Because of that, the focus is on results NOW, and at all costs and within his/her business lifetime.  These high profile executives are generally very smart people who understand long term planning and long term opportunity very well.  They can talk about it, prepare long term plans and projections, but if they are unlikely to be around to see it happen, all the focus has to be on results today and within the time frame of the current plan.

Of course, the executives all have their separate goals based on their specialty areas (e.g. Sales, Manufacturing) and the CEO counts on them all being achieved in order to meet business plan goals for the total organization. It is probably well understood that optimum results of one executive can often be at the expense of another.

Are they – the executive team – all pulling together in the same direction?  Does overall corporate success by superb teamwork take precedence over their individual successes in their own functional area?  That is extremely unlikely.  Their individual goals (functional and personal) come first and determine their success. They must take every action necessary to achieve them.  The VPs are working together, but not always marching under the same flag.

They may respect one-another but most likely spend significant time fighting, complaining about one another and each one doing whatever is necessary to meet his/her goals regardless of the impact on other goals and even the impact on future results.  Today is what counts, for the CEO also, who acts as referee!

How Does Human Resources Fit In?

It is not so easy.  HR is constantly told that it has to align with business goals and talk the talk of business colleagues.  If the executive relationships are somewhat dysfunctional, as I suggest, how does the VP HR determine what to align to?  HR has the vision and programs to contribute to the future, to sustainability and to contribute to productivity in many ways but do the executives really care? What do you think? Are they more interested in what HR can do for them today – to get problems and roadblocks out of the way, not the promise of great things in the future? Is it more important for HR to determine the true values and operating style of the organization and focus on responding within the real rather than pretend environment?

Should the success of most organizations be acknowledged as based primarily on the smart, day to day, and often reactive decisions of executives rather than a long term somewhat safe plan? Elements of both are essential, but how would they balance in real life? The question of executives to HR is likely to be “what can you do for me today?” rather than soliciting HR’s vision of the future.

My belief is that executives will want HR to address very practical things to help them achieve what each of them has to achieve today.  For example:

  • Hiring the right people without delay and firing people cleanly and quickly when they are no longer needed
  • Keeping the union under control (getting rid of it is generally preferred) and finding ways around limitations – similarly finding a way around restrictive and annoying legislation
  • Looking after employee problems and preferably without involving executives any more than absolutely necessary
  • Doing all the nice things to make the company look good and seem like a great employer and giving executives as much credit as possible e.g.  including them in photos and announcements and inviting them to participate in or lead high profile presentations
  • Keeping the employee records in order and making HR programs as easy as possible to comply with e.g.  performance management which should be more focused on results in real time rather than historically

If real business is often more immediate than imagined, are the standard HR approaches listed below really important to the CEO and VPs except as compliance rhetoric or in meeting formal planning requirements? For example:

  • Acting as an equal business partner and giving input to VPs about their operations and how best to achieve results
  • Being too proactive, with HR initiatives that may theoretically bring great results, but not helping achieve goals today or within the foreseeable future
  • Reminding executives that negative actions today can possibly help immediate results, but are likely to have a backlash in a year or so.

Do you think that executives are looking for that type of support? Are they seeking HR words of wisdom or a dynamic HR able to respond to issues and make things happen quickly to support the organization in real time? Do you believe that the executive short term thinking I describe is reality (for survival) and if so should it be more openly acknowledged? Do executives need HR help consistent with their business challenges today, largely leaving the future to take care of itself? 

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



Should We Blame Employees, Managers or HR for Poor Performance?

3 Aug

It really is confusing.  In recent discussions, there has been considerable emphasis placed on managers not being effective in reviewing the performance of their employees.  They are not diligent in following the steps of HR performance management programs and particularly ongoing communication with employees between formal reviews.

HR is often distrustful of managers, but once the managers complete their employee evaluations, we become their best supporters.  If an employee complains about an evaluation, most of the time we support the manager, unless the unfairness is too blatant.

It is logical that we should focus on managers and supervisors, as their effectiveness directly affects large numbers of employees reporting to them. In some respects, however, they can only be as effective as the tools we (HR) provide them with. If our HR performance management program is so excellent, we should take every action to ensure it is followed, but generally, we don’t.  Very often, we focus on employees as though they are the ones at fault and inherently lazy unless prodded. We constantly devise new initiatives to stimulate employees to do their best and become “engaged” but do managers/supervisors (and HR) really support employee success by setting the best example? Is our performance theory too often based on what we say rather than what we do?

Does the manager’s boss care whether the manager follows the HR performance management program diligently?  It is unlikely, as “big” bosses are not likely to be any better or any more committed to HR programs and principles. They are unlikely, in assessing performance of their first line managers/supervisors, to place much emphasis on how well they are following HR programs.  Is that the problem – or a major part of it?

We have developed a compelling argument that managers, by not following HR, are responsible for poor performance in their areas.  However, as we know, managers are always accountable for performance in their department, so what is the role of HR?  Is it possible that HR is indirectly responsible for some of the poor performance?

Unfortunately, HR is in a very vulnerable position.  If the same HR programs, particularly performance management, have been in place for 30 years or more and they are still not being seriously followed, there must be a problem.   Most HR programs have become increasingly sophisticated and are aligned to current theory and technical expertise, but that does not seem, in the case of performance management, to have helped.  Could it be that although the set-up and adaption of the program is technologically impressive, the program content and style remains seriously outdated and geared to another point in time?

Perhaps managers are better at managing performance than we think.  It seems that at the same time we have been developing and building on our conventional HR program, functional managers/supervisors have become increasingly sophisticated in tracking performance within their own areas.  They have their own metrics and tracking systems and are generally able to view current performance at any critical point.  The manager can see employee results/effectiveness in real time, and his/her boss and executives can similarly be tracking the manager performance. They are all obsessed by aspects that feed directly into objectives set by the organizations rather than historical HR criteria.  The manager’s boss cares about these numbers, the manager must also and HR must provide them with the best support in achieving what they need to achieve rather than what HR thinks they should be focusing on. If our HR performance management program has become redundant, maybe it is time for us to get together with the managers and develop something more appropriate for today and looking into the future.

For the company to be successful, the managers must be tracking relevant performance consistently and very effectively.  Probably better than trying to integrate their functional goals into our HR program (and retain control) it would be better to use some aspects of our HR program to train and expand the manager’s effectiveness in building their own performance management program.  Not forcing managers to follow a prescribed program, but to help the managers to customize their programs in the most effective way – programs that will be theirs and they will be fully accountable for.

Consistent with supporting the development of functional performance management programs, HR would take a proactive stand.  HR would support managers by providing coaching and training and collaborating as trouble-shooters should there be specific problems.  If, for example, there is a need for specific employee training, HR could develop a program and if it is available on line, all employees can benefit. In reality, I would see the HR role becoming more important rather than less important, particularly in addressing skills development needs as they occur rather than belatedly based on questionable historical analysis of employee performance after the fact.

I believe the change in focus, referred to above, would ensure that managers are fully committed to and embrace their own formally recognized program.  HR would be accepted and valued more as partners dealing with issues in real time and helping prevent poor performance during the current business cycle – rather than looking back in anger at the end of a business cycle and telling people what went wrong – when it is too late!  The technology is available to have an individual program for every employee (if desired) and we must embrace the potential application of available technology.

What do you think? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Between Life and Death at the Mystical Regatta!

1 Aug

It is the end of July and I am writing this from Sunnybrook Hospital just prior to being discharged. I referred to the waterway and regatta in the earlier summary below and emphasize it again as the context seems to strengthen rather than become more remote. My earlier hospital illusions seem to coexist very nicely with the reality I am now very aware of. Sunny brook is not set on a waterway hosting regattas, but after five admissions in 2015, the concept of being supported and driven positively forward by professional teams and great people in smooth gliding boats/canoes seems so close to the truth – wonderful teams of medical staff, friends, family and so many others who have helped my during this difficult time. My sincere thanks to you all!

During this medical stay I benefitted from a medical procedure that, hopefully, should allow me to return home on a more permanent basis and resume my life and relationships in a more positive way rather than too often from a hospital bed. I look forward to resuming normal communications and catching up with so many kind people who have contacted me but (offline) I have been unable to respond to. Thank you everyone and looking forward to chatting!



Sometimes the moment of truth is not truth at all – at least in the conventional sense. My claim to a 2015 moment of truth was when I died in the corridor of Sunnybrook hospital after being rushed in by ambulance. The moment of truth outcome was determined by superb medical staff that revived me and supported me as I continued to hover between life and death and gradually improved.

Some people asked later what it was like to be technically dead for that short period. I could not respond as I only learned later about what happened. I do not think I saw any white light (as often reported) as I walked from the land of the living to meet my ancestors. I remember nothing except at some point I announced that I could see my mother. That declaration had an eerie effect on my wife and others present, but was not really obscure as my mother often appeared in dreams and these early hospital days in February 2015 (coldest February on record) were dominated by dreams and illusions.

It was a strange experience, particularly at first, hovering between consciousness and the deepest level of sedation and governed by dreams that felt real but were not. The dreams provided, it seems, acceptable explanations about what was happening. They were not reality, but to this day continue to feel real, like an alternative reality that accompanied, protected and strengthened me.

The strangest persistent delusion was about the location of the hospital. It was actually only about 10 minutes from our home, but in my mind it was remote on a waterway that was somehow linked by treaty to Norway and although freezing, still host to water sports at an annual regatta. In an earlier dream flashback, I recalled attending voluntarily on an earlier occasion – an interesting form of authentication. My hospital room (in my mind) was in a towering building overlooking the waterway.

For a considerable time I was not aware that I was in hospital. I generally believed I was located on the waterway mentioned above. The scenarios seemed to start to merge from the time I started to switch from intravenous to solid food. I was introduced to my meal (green, brown and white pureed mounds) by a nurse (real) at one of the outer buildings. I was amazed and believed that this waterway territory must provide free meals to anyone in the region. I asked whether that was true and was only told that I was entitled to free meals. At that point I was not sure how much overlap there was between reality and fantasy, but it all fitted nicely together.

The most disturbing delusion was the link I made between all the medical lines, tubes etc. I was attached to and limitations placed on my movement. In very precise terms the limitations translated into a restricted area of precisely 10 feet square within which I could freely move but not go outside. This was incredibly frustrating as in this alternative reality I could not go where I “needed” to go. Probably why it is not surprising to learn that in those early days, when I was so heavily restricted and medicated, I was fighting constantly and trying to unhook all the attachments and get out of bed.

One aspect I became aware of later was the intense spiritual support that was given to me particularly during the early days. Prayers and blessings and particularly from Christian practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists we have been close to over the years. Whatever the religion, I believe I heard the prayers – another moment of truth – and felt the collective strength steering me. I make no judgment about the relative truth of different religions, but that true caring and messages of love will always be heard. That, at least, is my moment of truth.

Certainly February 2015 was like no other month I had ever experienced. The moment of truth came with extreme consequences (life or death) and thankfully I survived. There are many moments of truth that contributed to the successful outcome. If the ambulance had not been so prompt, revival may not have been possible regardless of the skills of the medical staff. I believe the battle for survival drew on strengths from so many sources, many of which I may never fully understand but will always be thankful.

I cannot thank the staff of Sunnybrook Health Science Centre and St. John’s Cardiac Rehab enough for their support and for dealing so capably with my medical crisis. I thank all those who provided loving and spiritual support. I felt their support and prayers in a very personal and strengthening way.

My personal moments of truth drew on forms of reality (dreams and illusion) that may not have been real but were real, I believe, in mustering all the power available to meet the challenge. Now the weather has improved, I look forward to rejoining life and enjoying normal activities that I took for granted for many years. My moment of truth is the opportunity for a fresh beginning and probably greater appreciation than ever before.

Thank you everyone for helping me face my moment of truth and for supporting my confidence in our international caring society. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



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