Dear Corporate—Why We Hate Your Business Reviews

hearnoevilIn my considerable time working for and around large firms, I’ve been on the receiving end of exactly one good, constructive business review with a team from corporate. That makes the score approximately 119 lousy experiences to 1 that was worth a damn.

I’ll rail at the lopsided majority in a moment, but first the one good meeting. This singular event was the visit from a high-ranking member of this global electronics manufacturer to evaluate our progress. He had been involved in helping start us a number of years earlier and now he was overseeing the broader organization and needed to assess where to invest or cut.

For two weeks ahead of the review session, the general manager of our unit went into hyper-panic, driving his troops to produce a seemingly endless stream of reports and presentations. All of the data was assembled, bound and carefully positioned on the table in the spot designated for our visiting dignitary.

The day arrived and the big man, all 5’3” of him, along with his entourage took their seats and the process began. After opening words from our GM, the big man asked about the stack of bound reports practically blocking his view to the rest of us. The GM explained what had been prepared and for a few moments, the big man was silent. Finally, in what shocked everyone in the room, he looked at the stack, pounded his fist down on top of it and exclaimed, “Excuses! Get rid of this paper and let’s talk about your business.”

For the balance of the day, we engaged in a thoughtful overview of the business, outlining our challenges and opportunities. The tone was respectful and the questions were tough, and the responses honest. A form of swift trust developed that allowed for open discussion on difficult topics. When it came time to talk about the need for critical investments in infrastructure and new product development, we received approval for most of our needs on the spot.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsFascinating. Priceless!

This meeting was in accounting vernacular, accretive. I’ll go so far to say that it energized our team to push harder. After all, we didn’t want to let down someone who had both respected us and provided support.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of these corporate reviews are the exact opposite of motivational events. Here’s why:

6 Ways the Team from Corporate Destroys Value During Business Reviews:

1. You’re approach suggests we’re guilty until proven innocent. Most business reviews by corporate staff assume that the division company is guilty of crimes ranging from gross mismanagement to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. These sessions are extended trials where the goal of one side is to convice and the goal of the other is to escape the hangman’s noose, at least until the next review. Great for morale!

2. You assume we are morons. And why wouldn’t you? We’re running this little tiny business and you oversee a giant megalopolis with hundreds of minions doing your bidding. Clearly, you’re smarter than the rest of us who have invested decades of learning our industries and vocations.

3. Every line of inquiry compels us to justify why we are drawing air and taking up space on this planet and in your company. These meetings are often nothing more than a requirement that we re-justify our existence in your corporate universe. Instead of transparency, these events turn into something resembling a farce at best or a bad tragi-comedy at worst.

4. You preoccupy on cells in spreadsheets without context for the numbers. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard you beat us over the head with that particular number, it’s not going to change in this meeting. We promise to work on it for the future, and we’ll tell you how, but make your case, set your expectations and let it go. That cell is not a crime against humanity or a personal affront to your very existence.

5. You don’t make an effort to understand our business. You critique our strategy without context for our markets, clients, prospects and competitors. And you suggest where we’re weak on talent and process, without having spent any time working in the business. You’re ignorance is showing, and it isn’t flattering to you.

6. You’re tone is exclusively, “what have you done for me lately.” It should be, “how can we better support your strategy?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve attended, participated in and led productive and positive business reviews in a variety of settings. It’s the ones in the global conglomerates or highly divisionalized organizations with disconnected staffers or senior executives that seem to take on the personality of the sessions described above. For everyone involved in leading these reviews, start with showing respect and work towards establishing trust. After trust comes transparency about the opportunities, challenges and tough topics. If it never reaches this level, it’s just a waste of the precious time in our professional lives.

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Check out the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Radical Candor—A Band-Aid for Lack of Accountability

group fightingI was intrigued by the recent article in the Wall Street Journal (registration or subscription may be required), entitled: “Nice is a Four-Letter Word at Companies Practicing Radical Candor.” The opening of the article offers:

Companies from advertising firm Deutsch Inc. to hedge fund Bridgewater Associates are pushing workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other no matter what. The practice is referred to at some companies as “radical candor,” a “mokita” or “front-stabbing.”

Imagine the start-up of a new program introducing radical candor in a culture where the norm has been more collegial and reserved in communication and criticism:

(Said tongue in cheek): “Finally! Bob, I’ve been waiting for years to tell you what a jerk you really are. And Mary, you should seriously consider a new career because you suck at the current one. Jeff, I know your the new accountant here, but I truly believe you that you couldn’t tell your rear end from a contra-account.”

The sudden introduction of radical candor in most of our organizations would take on the demeanor of the movie, “Liar, Liar,” where the principal character, a lawyer, is suddenly unable tell a lie to hilarious outcomes. (The lawyer not lying sounds like serious fiction.) While the sudden candor makes for some funny situations in the movie, I’m not certain too many would be laughing in our offices. As one recipient of someone’s radically candid observations offered in the article, “…the unvarnished feedback cut me to the bone.”  A good biting, bone-cutting comment from a co-worker is better than an energy drink for my motivation.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsIn all candor, (I couldn’t resist), environments where people struggle to communicate openly about business issues and performance and behavioral issues don’t need a new program, they need new leadership and management.

Individuals struggle to talk openly and respectfully about the big issues because management stinks. (Hey, I’m getting the hang of this radical candor!) The ability to talk clearly and even directly about the important issues is a function of how effective management has been in imbuing the culture with the quality of accountability and the values of honesty and continuous improvement. The lack of candor in the workplace reflects the absence of those values and the presence of fear of reprisal from those in positions of authority.

In particular, the often elusive quality of accountability is the life-blood of high performance and continuous learning, and where it is lacking, everyone suffers—often in silence. Accountability is key and king when it comes to promoting a healthy workplace environment built around open and honest communication.

At Least 7 Benefits of an Environment of Accountability:

  1. People understand their jobs and what’s expected of them.
  2. Everyone understands what’s expected of everyone else.
  3. Performance gaps are easily identified and traced to the source.
  4. Teams and groups self-police accountability with their team members.
  5. Discussion around the tough topics is a regular, comfortable occurrence.
  6. Accountability promotes continuous learning and improvement.
  7. The chances of negative surprises are minimized.

And yes, even in long dysfunctional cultures, accountability can be fostered and cultivated, and openness in communicating can be strengthened. All it takes is transplanting those in charge with leaders who care. Investing in a gimmicky program is a band-aid for the wounds created by a bigger problem.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Instead of tacking on what is likely to be a disastrous and potentially personally destructive program that breeds fear in an already dysfunctional workplace environment, make it simpler and teach and expect accountability from yourself and others. When it fails to show up, bring it up. This isn’t a program you add on to your firm, openness and honesty are core values and a way of life.

Read more in the Art of Managing Series.

Read Art’s All-New Management and Leadership writing at About.com

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

 

 

Leadership Caffeine™—It’s Time to Become Better Informed Leadership Consumers

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThere’s a lot of happy talk in books, on blogs and in articles about leaders and leading. From revisionist histories of yesterday’s great CEO warriors to the feel-good advice that is so eagerly consumed by the masses of workers yearning for liberation from the tyranny of lousy managers and cubicle kingdoms, there’s no shortage of opinions on how to get this act and role of leading right. I applaud the efforts, but I decry much of the advice—it lacks the critical connection to reality that we need to get leadership right in an era rightly characterized by “overload, ambiguity and conflict.”

Much of the writing and commentary on leadership and leading reads like a Made-for-TV script with much of the gory and dirty content left out and the outcome predictable—the good guys always win. It’s disconnected from reality. Other content offers quick fixes, dispensed in “Top Ten Ideas…” lists. And yes, in over 1,100 articles, I’m guilty of some of this scripting. I believe in the goodness of the words and ideas, much as I know the authors and speakers offering their guidance for the seemingly profound lack of leadership in our organizations and in our world, believe in their own words. But, we (myself included) must infuse this talk with clear, dispassionate clinical context of this damnably difficult world.

I do think that we the people—the consumers of leadership are waking up to the need for something real and substantive, much like Britain woke up to the naïve idealism of Neville Chamberlin spouting the achievement of, “Peace for our time,” with Germany in late, 1938. The resolve and work of Churchill (particularly in cultivating FDR as an ally) was needed to save Britain and perhaps the world from an unthinkable fate.

As consumers, we’re left in a quandary as to whether we trust a sitting president’s leadership in a world that grows more dangerous by the day. (We would have this issue with any leader, but there’s a creeping sense today of dissonance in the people about the situation and the perspective and subsequent actions.) The surge of a businessman and reality t.v. personality in the other party is in my opinion a commentary on people’s hunger for someone who they perceive will be both strong and protective. The rhetoric is powerful and it feeds the emotions, but it’s not entirely rational.

Interestingly, one of the top selling new books on leadership, Leadership B.S.—Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, takes a  stab at the pablum dispensed by the broader leadership complex of authors, consultants, bloggers, trainers and speakers. Pfeffer uses data and studies to debunk the prevailing myths of the leadership peddlers with the effectiveness of a prosecuting attorney building an air-tight case against the defendant. His premise is provocative and spot-on: we need to develop better b.s. detectors around leaders and leadership ideas.

So, how can all of us improve our abilities to evaluate and choose leaders wisely in our firms and in our elected officials? (Yes, this still sounds like a list, but I’ll reform one post at a time!)

Da Vinci suggested that everyone should look at issues from three perspectives: your own, an alternative and one other. In a world that is highly polarized, just taking the time to ask deep questions about your own gut views and those of others—striving to understand the core premises of ideas and approaches is a good starting point. Blind loyalty for loyalty’s sake yields mediocrity at best and invites evil to the table at worst.

Demand straight talk from those in leadership roles or from those who aspire to leadership. Turn up your b.s. detector and when it’s triggered, trust your gut and ask for clarity. A humbling moment for me in a leadership role occurred after describing a new strategic direction, a bold employee stood up and said, “I didn’t understand a single thing you just said.” Thank goodness he had the courage to speak up.

Quit expecting those in leadership roles to have all of the answers. They don’t, but they need to be remarkable at working with others to find the answers. We falsely expect our corporate and political leaders to operate on super-orbital plane where the answers are clear to them while foggy to us. Yes, on rare occasions, we run into a human operating on a seemingly elevated plane of thinking (Da Vinci, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, some of the great inventors), but mostly they are very human and very fallible individuals. They need our help. Give it. Constructively.

Enforce accountability. The failure to lead—the failure to solve the problems must be met with the cold hand of rejection. Solve problems and improve conditions and you are retained.

Choose leaders that fit the situation. In many workplaces today, teams select the individual best suited to lead in the particular situation. It’s neither birthright, seniority or title, but a fitness for use. The individual serves and then reverts to a contributor role. The team members understand they are consumers of leadership, and they match the skills and abilities to the challenges in front of them, offer their support and then move on. This temporary, fitness for use merits additional exploration in all walks of our lives and firms.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m envisioning a “Consumer Reports” style grading of leaders and leadership ideas, completed with ratings for categories such as: results, predicted reliability, willingness to buy again, effectiveness in tough circumstances, propensity to offer straight talk and the ever important, backs words with actions. Now, more than ever, we need to improve our ability to select and support and guide the right people. Whether we’re talking about the futures of our firms or the safety of our citizens, it’s time for a revolution in leadership consumerism.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—Are You Driving Your Team Bananas?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveFair warning—watch out ahead for excessive use of alliteration and the massacre of more than a few innocent metaphors.

What I really wanted to call this post was, “Quit Acting Like a Hyper-Rooster.” It’s much more visual, and after all, does anyone really want to look or act like a hyper-rooster? Yet, that’s exactly what too many managers act and look like, as they simultaneously strut and flit around the office or plant, moving from activity to activity, focusing on everything and nothing and making their colleagues dizzy and disoriented in the process.

These over-caffeinated and self-anointed drivers of productivity falsely believe that constant pushing and oversight followed by more pushing are all essential. They subscribe to an old model of motivation—one that depended upon unwavering immersion in the act of “supervising” the work of others. The underlying belief is that people who are watched and/or, who are constantly goaded into action actually outperform those left to their own designs.

There’s the un-trusting, “you’re likely screwing off if I’m not here, so I’m going to incessantly look over your shoulder,” form of this “hyper-rooster syndrome.” And then there’s the falsely noble but every bit as destructive form of constantly “touching base” or “checking in” which fools no one. A third incarnation is the manager who resets priorities every time the wind changes direction, creating a maelstrom of motion but killing any chance of productive performance. I’ve encountered a few managers who regularly hit the trifecta in displaying these horrendous habits.

While it might work for ensuring calm in prison populations, this style of management—death by oversight and over-involvement—doesn’t work for any audience on the other side of the barbed wire. Our brains are wired to respond differently depending upon whether external stimuli are sending us forward (with interest) or pushing us away from something (out of fear). The habits of the hyper-rooster manager induce anxiety and ambiguity and drive us squarely into the fight or flight camp. Unless we’re being challenged for “who’s going to be dinner?” by a sabre-tooth tiger, the fight or flight trigger offers no benefit in the workplace. Quit invoking it, dammit!

Your job…our job, is to form and frame an environment where we’re able to simplify complexity, stimulate creativity and foster collaboration in pursuit of their work and the team’s or firm’s goals. While sounding a bit like the inside of a Hallmark Management Card (do they have that category?!) it’s true. The short form tag-line might be (in a tribute to Deming): “Get the fear out!”

image of a hand holding a mirrorSpeaking of fear, if you fear that you resemble the hyper-rooster, even a little bit, why not try an experiment or three. (If you’re not sure, find someone willing to give you frank feedback and ask them about what works and what doesn’t work with your style.) Spend more time up front clarifying goals and direction and then back off and let people show you what you can do. If you’re courageous, confess to your team that you are working on becoming more effective as their manager and part of it is trusting more and overseeing less. While no one will believe you until you prove it, at least you won’t leave them confused, waiting for the hyper-rooster to jump in the middle of their work.

Try issuing fewer orders and instead, ask more questions. Aim for a 10:1 ratio—10 questions for every order. Keep a tally.

Encourage people to reach out to you to bounce ideas around or to alert you of potential problems and potential solutions to problems. Don’t fall back into old habits and start solving every problem for everyone who walks through your office door. Your new favorite question should be, “I don’t know, what do YOU think YOU should do?”

Offer positive feedback. A lot of positive feedback. You’ll be amazed how people respond once they get over the shock.

Take the time to sit down with team members and work with them on developmental ideas or directions. Where needed, offer that critical constructive input. Try feed-forward. Instead of criticism, talk about great behaviors and approaches looking forward.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While the list of good behaviors can go on indefinitely, changing our behaviors is incredibly difficult. Look in the mirror and if you see a hyper-rooster, accept that you need to change and do it incrementally. Move too fast on your own positive change and people will think you’re dying. Of course, if you keep up your old habits, they might not mind.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Art of Managing—Bad Boss? Are You Sure it’s Not You?

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsJust about everyone I’ve encountered recently—or so it seems—has an ax or two to grind with their boss. From, “she just doesn’t understand me,” to, “he’s only in it for himself,” to, “he micromanages me,” the complaints sound like the story lines of bad (redundant?) relationship-gone-wrong episodes of the Dr. Phil Show.

I ran into an individual celebrating leaving an alleged miserable manager in the lurch by quitting. Another was busy scheming of ways to undercut her manager by sinking one of the manager’s pet projects. (Harsh and stupid!) And, the coldest cut came from someone genuinely positive that his manager was out on sick leave. I asked whether it was serious, and the guy laughed and said, “It’s not my problem.” (Harsh and cruel!)

I’ve experienced my own fair share of individuals in leadership roles who would have struggled to organize a pumpkin judging contest for 8-year-olds. And there are more than a few I’ve encountered, where it has  crossed my mind that karma will be a b@tch. However, newsflash: it’s not always the manager that’s the issue.

If you’re struggling with a challenging boss, a bit of mirror-gazing might just be the ticket. While never excusing or defending bosses who violate ethics, values, and common courtesy, there are a good number who work hard at this most difficult of all tasks of being responsible for the work of others, and still end up on the short-end of your judgment. However, I can assure you from long experience, that a good number of you are no day at the beach to work with. (And yes, I resemble that remark. I made life challenging for a number of my well-intended managers. Too brash, too zealous, too aggressive—guilty on all counts.)

Take a look at the list, and if the mirror isn’t clouded by a bit too much ego, perhaps you might just catch a glimpse of yourself.

The Boss’s Top 10 Challenging People:

1. The One Who Doesn’t Think for Himself. Your favorite question is, “How would you like me to handle this?” Your favorite complaint is, “She’s a micromanager.” Hmmm.

2. The Soap Opera Star. Yes, it’s unfortunate that you crashed your 23 year-old car while driving your child to his court-mandated counseling the same morning you accidentally fed your dog cat food and the cat ate the bird in protest. You could sell tickets to your weekly stories, and while I empathized 52 tragedies ago, you’re wearing thin. I’m not sorry that I’m holding you accountable to the same standards for timeliness and productivity as your colleagues.

3. The Us-v-Them Revolutionary. It’s great that you take your role in building our culture seriously, however, if you would start working and spend a little less time raising a militia to confront the evils of management, perhaps things would go better for you.

4. The Office Politician. You’re networking skills are excellent. In fact, it seems like you are perpetually running for an office that doesn’t exist. Now,  about your project, your deadlines, your team’s performance…

5. The Outraged One. Yes, I know you find it preposterous and outrageous and reprehensible that anyone might dare to offer you specific, behavioral, constructive feedback. If I’m a jerk for doing this important part of my job, so be it. Here’s some heartfelt advice: GET OVER YOURSELF!

6. The Harmonizer. I love your idealistic view to what the workplace should look like. In your mind, there’s a lot of hand-holding and harmony and peace and orderliness. In reality, we’re running flat out for survival, and the process is just a bit messy. Work with me and I’ll work with you.

7. The One with the Chip on the Shoulder. Seriously, not everything is an insult to your intelligence. Your propensity to start an argument for dominance with anyone who you think even looks at you funny is annoying. Much like the advice to the Outraged One, GET OVER YOURSELF!

8. The Knowledge Hoarder. OK, we know you’re smart. Your willingness to only dole out nuggets of wisdom on the second Tuesday of the month is just annoying. And, it’s definitely not a strategy for long-term growth and development. Maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are…

9. The Conspiracy Theorist. There are no aliens or alien craft on the third floor; that executive meeting wasn’t about you, and the look that you think you got from your boss’s boss wasn’t the, “Remind me to fire him” look. You see conspiracies where there are none and you play games where no one else sees the playing field. It’s obvious and funny and sad at the same time.

10. The “What’s My Career-Path” One. OK, good managers love people who want to develop and grow. It’s the people who want the promotion before they develop and grow that we struggle with. Newsflash: your progress down any path requires hard work, great results and signs that you can take on increasing levels of responsibility and deliver. While I can explain possible paths and strive to understand your interests and skills, and I can give you new challenges, I cannot predict your future. You make your future one step at a time!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s no doubt your manager owns the majority of the heavy lifting for building an effective working environment and for building effective working relationships. However, you are a stakeholder in this situation with a significant investment—your time and energy and your future prospects. The relationship is a two-way street. If things aren’t going well with the boss in your mind, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror at your own behaviors and make a few adjustments.