Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Safe Space

April 6, 2016

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Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Over the past 20 years the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important  benefits. They accelerate  innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its  51,000 employees a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals, reliable interdependence and accountability matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big” finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Progress and results  depend on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via:lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

What Matters Most?

March 12, 2016

mopbucket  Imagine yourself in a business strategy course your senior year in college. Assume you had a “perfect” 4.0 average grade and were determined to keep it. With the final exam approaching, you’d likely spend many days and nights studying. You would probably memorize formulas or calculations, review notes, attend cram sessions and quiz study partners.

When the teacher hands out the final exam on a single piece of paper, you might be surprised. You might even be perplexed that it’s not far longer. And, what if both sides of that paper were entirely blank? Imagine once everyone has the paper, the professor says, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last few months, but the most important question is this: What’s the name of the person who cleans this building?”

Would you pass or fail the test?

Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger tells this story and it packs a memorable punch. It was the only college exam he ever failed. He says he got the B he deserved in that class but learned a lot. Over his years as a student, he had seen the janitor (Dottie) hundreds of times. He’d never taken the time for conversation or to ask her name.

The professor’s assessment sent a powerful message. What matters most says Bettinger, is that you never lose sight of the people who do the real work. His story is a terrific reminder about the perils of thin air. Be sure your altitude doesn’t affect your attitude.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her at: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com

 

 

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

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The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Got Bullies?

August 31, 2015

MeanPeople

Are there secrets about mean behavior in your workplace?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) receives calls about nurses and educators more than any others…In a recent book focused on the culture nurses commonly experience, hundreds were interviewed with surprising results. The norm was a culture of bullying, hazing and sabotage. The author profiles tragic behavior patterns: withholding information or help, spreading rumors, name-calling, playing favorites, and intimidating or berating peers until they quit.

Wherever people interact, bad actors appear. The  social and private sectors have plenty of  “anything goes.” Some organizations (and communities)  foster this rough and tumble context by feeding politics.

Abuse of Power

Although it impedes stellar performance, this destructive “underground” behavior happens too often in many organizations. This type of culture makes it very difficult to retain capable people. How individuals use power is key. Workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct driven by a perpetrator’s need to “assassinate” the targeted individual(s). These behaviors often escalate or spread to involve others who “side” with the bully. It’s similar to domestic violence but  it occurs in a specific workplace or industry. Bullies are insecure and use interpersonal aggression to cope.

Talent are Targets

Research indicates the targets of bullying are:

  • Independent…they refuse to be subservient,
  • More technically skilled than their bullies,
  • Go-to veteran workers,
  • Socially graceful, display greater emotional intelligence and are better liked, as well as
  • Ethical and honest.

Sadly, those most easily exploited targets are people with a prosocial orientation, meaning  those with a desire to help, heal, teach, develop and nurture others. If you’re a target, what actions do you take? The WBI recommends a 3-step action plan: (1) Recognize and name what’s happening (2) Get some supportive care for healing, and (3) Expose the bullies. Most human resource experts say you should also plan to exit.

Witnesses should document actions and speak up. Manager-leaders should always seriously consider their intuition, hints or explicit reports as legitimate. Capable people welcome “whistleblowers.” It takes huge courage to report misbehavior because it puts the target in a place of considerable vulnerability. Consider attributes of those reporting. How do they rate on the characteristics cited here? Are they typically reliable and competent professionals?

It is very deep trouble when bullies are in a supervisory capacity role without accountability. Sometimes those in charge of complaints and ethics are complicit. They rationalize by “protecting the organization.” This allows the bullies to continue to run roughshod over others.  In effect, it means they can’t or won’t clean up their personnel woes. It also ensures a perpetually hostile and dysfunctional environment. Inept management promotes and mimics bullies, those who are caring and competent purge bullies.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Looking Good and Cooperation

August 25, 2015

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Getting people to “pitch in” or engage can be a challenge.

Long ago, the “Pigouvian” approach to encouraging social cooperation was articulated by Arthur Pigou, a British economist. His idea was cooperation gets incented with  changes in price. For example, if we make water or energy more expensive or pay people to vaccinate their children. Costs are way to affect actions. Many times, though, people resist change even with higher prices. What we know now is that changing the material costs and benefits of cooperation appears to have limits.

What Promotes Cooperation?

Current research gives us some new ways to promote cooperation: they both build on social consciousness and the desire for a “good image.” They can be mutually reinforcing, too. One way is to raise visibility of people’s choices. An application of this? Donors are often cited in lists that recognize them at special events or in a public ad. Or, a pledge list is posted at a website.

Another option is to provide information about how others are behaving. This plays on a “keeping up with the Joneses” perspective. An example application? A California public utility sends homeowners comparable information about neighbors’ water use. People are eager to know if they are below, average or above. With no fondness, my husband recalls from his childhood a particular priest who published giving records of parishioner families. That example combines both visibility and comparability. Information can alter behavior, especially if toward a common goal.

Not all, but many people cooperate because they are concerned about appearances. Humans are social beings and deeply influenced by each other. People know that when they are observed doing good by others, then it benefits their reputation. This is why “true character” is best determined by what people do when unobserved.  And, it’s also why “herd behavior” can head in a constructive or destructive direction.

Leaders Offer Clear Right Actions

Norms (or the “right actions”) are a powerful influence and act as both an incentive and deterrent. Knowing why social interventions are effective can help guide policies and practices, regardless of sector. Setting defaults for noncooperation is becoming more common. For example, a suggested fee or donation pressures a participant to contribute or they must actively opt out (often, in a publicly observed setting). This same phenomenon occurs at church when the offering bowl is passed down the pew. Or, when a company automatically withholds a designated portion of salary for a benefit matching program and requires intentional action by non-participants. Because norms set clear guidance regarding standards for performance of individuals, disciplined attention to them is a vital lever in your organization (as well as home and community).

Influentials  First, Then Perceptions

Remember this as you seek highly engaged peers, team members, donors and volunteers. Making people feel more accountable supports cooperation. Being observed, making participation visible, and a clear display of “example” has substantial effect. What matters hugely are the “right actions” displayed by influentials. They shout what’s appropriate and what will get applause. It is the foundation for what matters to most people – the opinions of others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Courage

August 18, 2015

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Her official title is public protector.

Her work is a hybrid: “governmental watchdog and public prosecutor.” She has a tough job that relies on vast technical knowledge and vital personal attributes like integrity, transparency, candor. The challenge is tackling corruption at the highest levels of power.

Thulisile Madonsela fills  a role created to help safeguard democracy by the post-apartheid 1996 South African Constitution. To date, the protector’s office has addressed low-level government corruption, but last year a deep investigory report was prepared on activities of  President Zuma.

Prior to the report release, Madonsela (who was appointed by Zuma in 2009) was threatened with arrest. She was accused of being a covert CIA agent, having political motivations, racism and other charges. Regardless, she published the report that identifies both misappropriated funds and ethics violations.

Madonsela said, “The work here has exposed fault lines in our democracy. It has people talking about what kind of democracy we have – and what of democracy we deserve.” Described as being “exceedingly self-possessed” and “deliberative,” she is the first woman in South African history to hold this post. Prior to her appointment the office handled 19,000 cases annually, five years later the volume is nearly 40,000. The president has been repeatedly been the  subject of  investigations, eluding rape, racketeering, money-laundering and fraud charges. For now, the Zuma case is unresolved.

Madonsela’s mother was a maid and father an electrician. She defied her father’s direction to become a nurse. Known as a rigorous student, she secured scholarships for her education. As a young lawyer she helped draft South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Although deeply concerned about her country’s external image, she has said “Somebody had to raise the accountability question.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

In Pursuit of Fearless

May 29, 2015

Rejection can generate resilience. And, resilience is an essential characteristic of effective people.

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In Rejection Proof, Jia Jiang tackles this important issue, the very common fear of rejection. It’s an interesting psycho-social chronicle of his journey to  personal resilience. He distinguishes the vital necessity of allowing a rejection to take aim at ideas or requests but not self-worth. When we experience a setback, the trap we create is to internalize it as a personal failure. The reality is our idea was discarded.

Coping better with “no” requires new literacies in interpreting others. Jiang’s experiment shows it’s possible to shape a request for success; pick the right people and even convert an initial no to a different response. Social science and Jian’s personal journey found that rejection is mostly about the rejecter. The doubts, denial, avoidance, needs, panic and angst of your audience are primarily why most rejection happens. Recognition of and empathy for this can bolster your interpersonal skills.

Fitting In

Think about your teen years. Your peers (or tribe) were the overwhelming influence. Teens will do almost anything to fit in. At that stage, human beings are typically insecure. They lack identity, self-esteem, judgment, perspective and confidence. In error, we assume (because of age and experience) adults have conquered these concerns. The obvious implication is that capable manager-leaders must be self-aware while concurrently supporting others.

Why does inappropriate, unprofessional or rude treatment have such a deep impact? Exclusion or disrespect are a “slap in the face” that is processed by our brains the same as physical assault. The pain of rejection causes a chemical reaction in our brains. So, it comes as no surprise that people fear social rejection. Very often it is the fear of rejection that precludes any risk and deeply inhibits the potential for individual or social change.

Timing

Jiang’s book reminds us that timing matters. Too smart, too soon is the same as being wrong. An important way to think of rejection is simply as delay. George Bernard Shaw said “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” History provides countless examples of people persecuted or rejected for their thinking or actions. Later, we discover that the great ideas of good people faced an uphill climb because too many interests were upset or uncertainty was introduced.

Prevailing culture often resists interesting ideas, new strategies, fresh insights that diverse opinion and wise experience can contribute. Instead, a desperate, vigorous protection of control maintains the status quo. This is why change doesn’t happen. It helps explain why people, organizations and communities fail to make progress. It’s also why resilience is an important muscle to exercise!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Courageous Convictions

April 23, 2015

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In 1964, Dr. Irwin Schatz, was a new cardiologist who had completed medical school just a few years prior. He read the December   issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine and was outraged.

An article that described a syphilis experiment on uneducated African American men who lived in Tuskegee, Alabama was so startling he said, “I couldn’t believe what I had read… but the message was unmistakable.”

Researchers in the Tuskegee Clinical Study deliberately withheld treatment for a group of poor, Black sharecroppers. Of the 600 men enrolled in the study about two-thirds had already contracted syphilis. Although penicillin was known as a proven treatment for the disease, uninformed participants were told they had “bad blood” and the antibiotic was withheld. Those conducting the study aimed to observe the evolution of the disease in untreated human subjects.

For Schatz, this raised huge concerns about the denial of treatment, racial discrimination and morality. He wondered how doctors trained not to harm others could intentionally deny care. Dr. Schatz wrote a short, strong letter to the study’s author. He directly challenged the moral judgment of the Public Health Service and doctors associated with the effort.

At the time, Schatz was a young professional criticizing an investigation overseen by leading figures in America’s public health system. In 2009, he was honored for actions that were, “to say the very least, potentially harmful to his career.”

The Tuskegee Study is well known, now, as one of the first U.S. examples of flagrantly unethical and unacceptable human research. It was conducted over a period of 40 years and mirrored the medical experiment atrocities by Nazis during WW II. In the 1970s, Schatz’s letter was discovered. An investigation by the New York Times found the letter was received, shared with senior management, and its merit promptly dismissed.  His brief communication framed a vital national debate over patient’s rights and standards for human subjects. It also exposed the deeply destructive implications of racism.

“His style was that you just do the right thing and move on, then you do the right thing again and just move on,” said his son.

Dr. Schatz, 83, died a few weeks ago. His legacy offers us a great example: leadership requires courageous action grounded in clear convictions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

House of Cards

April 12, 2015

CardHouse

Tell the truth. This is the advice your parents gave you when you were five. They insisted on it or there were consequences. It’s a good idea, regardless of your age, because it has everything to do with progress. It does, however, require courage.

Like temperature is to fever, truth is to organizational health.  We see this all the time  where people gather in organizations and communities. Safe space for truth is “permitted” by powerful people and the routine level of tolerance becomes a norm.

Skillful leaders interrogate reality and engage multiple opinions, they value insights beyond or different from their own. They recognize arguments by detractors, minority opinions and others’ experience. They know these are all vital to informed decisions and learning. They are aware of their own blind spots. Many people in key jobs don’t proceed this way. They require loyalty, no matter how foolish or nonsensical the party line and exclude or otherwise squash any deviance.

Marketing or Reality

The essential problem with this is that experienced people know the variations in the truth fall in two big camps: marketing and reality. The former weighs politics far more than the latter which is aimed at performance. Marketing or the “official truth” is a constructed notion that all is well. It is the party line that ignores the smoldering fires. It only allows heroes and never recognizes wrongs, errors, mischief or corruption. You find out about truth later when there’s a big spill, investigative journalism, a lawsuit or gossip. Marketing doesn’t expect anyone to think.

The common clever ways to manage information for advantage include: withholding, obfuscating, avoiding, reframing or twisting the script. Depending on core values, people cope with this in different ways. It has certain ethical dimensions.  Unfortunately, when people change the story to suit their own purposes there is real cost. Feeding a narrative that’s at odds with the facts has consequence. Research shows when issues get ignored then there is erosion in staff confidence, compliance, productivity, safety and legal concerns, as well as damage to brand, vendor relations, trust and other factors.

In contrast, grounded truth reflects ugly reality, unpleasant news and a whole picture that includes flaws, bumps and deficits. Looking at the truth means thinking must happen. When we and others start thinking then we can co-create great efforts to fix what needs a fix.

Messengers & Silent Good People

Very capable, honest people can get hurt in the space between marketing and truth. To deflect substance, dysfunctional organizations take aim at the messenger versus the message. Instead, there ought to be someone asking: What about these serious concerns?

Martin Luther King said: “We will have to repent not merely for our vitriolic words and actions of bad people…but for the appalling silence of good people.” When reality isn’t permitted, then threats and opportunities, and simple information sharing and integration aren’t either. We know it is a foundational error to have inadequate situational analysis. Without it, the rest of your edifice gets shaky. So, if strategy is weak from the get go and trust takes a beating, there’s big trouble. In their absence, you are likely to add bad execution to weak strategy. The net is a virtual house of cards.

You are a lot older than five. So,  tell the truth and welcome it warmly from others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Play To Win

February 27, 2015

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“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope.”

This comment by Pope John XXIII makes me chuckle. It also encourages personal growth.

In any organization, performance potential has a lot to do with accountability. It also has a lot to do with individual character and prevailing norms (or organization culture). Accountability is an attitude and it informs behaviors. Successful people and organizations are accountable.

A favorite author, Susan Scott, defines accountability as “a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards solution, action.” She writes it is “a personal, private nonnegotiable decision about how to live one’s life.”

In Fierce Leadership, Scott lists some signs accountability may be a challenge for you or your workplace.

  • People play to avoid loss.
  • Productivity and morale are poor.
  • Lack of clarity, lots of confusion, tunnel vision.
  • Nasty surprises and cultural frustration.
  • Bitterness toward coworkers, partners, and failed relationships.
  • Difficulty leading.
  • Rule-driven, dependency and justified victims.
  • Stalled strategies, initiatives, progress.

When people complain they want their organization to be authentic, focused, engaged, on the right issues…but explain it isn’t, then whatever “reason” is offered is an excuse. That person is articulating a belief and acting on it. They may signal earnestness and other manners of a gracious person but they are not a leader.

Accountability is a leadership attitude. It begins with individuals – regardless of title or position. It starts right now  with each of us. It’s not finger pointing at leadership because you are the leader. Leadership has a cost. It’s price is relative but always more than simple self interest. When people “hurt” their self interest to be accountable, you know someone is leading.

Scott points out a sophisticated and too-common version of finger pointing happens. People in “high places” often say, “I acknowledge mistakes were made here.” She says this technique is popular because the passive voice avoids accountability. The trite comment removes any actor. Mistakes are made by individuals – they don’t emerge from thin air. One of the important things about learning is the necessity of noting errors so they can be corrected.

So, this next week, skip the automatic responses like: run, hide, huddle and cover. That’s what animals do when fearful. Choose to build an essential habit. In effective organizations, accountability is a bedrock, pervasive value lived daily by every member.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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