Conscripts, mercenaries, and volunteers

Willing volunteers outperform conscripts and mercenaries every time. They are more innovative and creative as well more diligent and disciplined.

Volunteers have bought into a mission and a purpose rather then been bought into it.

Much of the private sector is struggling with how to turn salaried staff from conscripts and mercenaries into volunteers. Finding ways to engage them in the work of the organisation. To provide them with fulfilling and rewarding work.

Much of the public and third sector seems to be taking almost exactly the opposite path. It finds ways to turn passionate and caring volunteers (people who have bought into the mission) into conscripts and mercenaries. This is achieved by:

  • making them servants of the system rather than servants of their customers
  • imposing performance management systems that often fail to recognise quality service delivery
  • entering into inflexible and output related contracts for service delivery that shrink opportunities for innovation and improvement
  • managing them as if they are units of production rather than as caring and compassionate people full of insights into how to improve performance.

It is a strange paradox that many private sector clients are making genuine efforts at developing employee engagement in pursuit of profits while so many third sector and public sector organisations are developing processes and systems that alienate employees and volunteers in pursuit of efficiency.

Goals, Priorities and Resources; where does it all go wrong?

Spending time developing and clarifying goals is rarely time wasted. Although some of us spend time clarifying our work goals few of us spend time developing goals for other important aspects of our lives – family, community and self. This is one of the reasons why we find work-life balance so hard to achieve. Goals that have been set in our professional lives are not balanced by goals in other areas. The goals that we have set start to demand creativity and resources and before we know it…

Sometimes we set goals that do not provide clear priorities. Or they provide us with so many priorities that we may as well have no priorities at all. Priorities are immediate next steps that will move us closer to our goals. Good priorities are ones that we cannot fail to address. They are so simple and appealing that they cry out for us to get on with them.

But often we forget to allocate time and other resources to our priorities. Without resources to go with them our priorities are worthless. Without doubt time is the most precious resource that we can commit to a priority. I often find myself working with senior managers to clarify goals and priorities (no more than three or four at a time) and then schedule time in busy diaries to spend on them.

By scheduling two 90 minute blocks of time every week to work on priorities many managers ‘magically’ start to make tangible progress towards goals that had previously frustrated them.

Building a High Performing Team – Part 2 – Anticipate Conflicts

Organisation divides people. It sets up conflict:

  • Who does what? – task conflicts
  • How do we get this done? – process conflicts
  • Who gets what? – resource conflicts

Failure to anticipate, recognise and resolve these conflicts leads to the most dangerous conflicts of all – personal conflicts.

Two people in conflict can usually both make a plausible case for their position. You can of course handle these conflicts just by issuing a decree. However the value of a high performing team, and the measure of your ability to manage it is in getting a decision that has allowed everyone to have their say, for pros and cons to be fully explored and for commitment to making the decision work to be built.

Handled like this, conflicts become powerful team building tools as people start to recognise that the group can make better decisions than any one individual and that no one person has all the information required to make the best decision.

Boosting Productivity in Tough Economic Times

When times get tough productivity should become an overriding priority. You have to get the most out of every resource, and find ways to deliver more value at lower cost. In my experience a relatively modest investment in management skills can produce productivity increases of 25-40% as managers really help team members contribute fully and systematically develop their potential

Knowing that you need to place greater emphasis on productivity is not the same as knowing exactly which productivity practices are most effective. The five factors that have the biggest impact on productivity according to a recent survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP) are:

  • corporate culture,
  • leadership,
  • compensation and benefit programs,
  • training and development, and
  • performance management.

These represent the collective and, perhaps, conventional wisdom on how best to boost productivity.

I4CP then analysed their data to discover the primary differences between average and highly productive companies. The analysis found that the most productive organisations really outstripped the average ones in several areas, including:

  • The culture of the organization
  • Leadership
  • Employee engagement practices

Seventy-nine percent of the most productive organizations say that, to a high or very high degree, the cultures of their organizations help raise employee productivity. Training managers to build a performance culture would seem to be a sensible option.

Seventy-six percent of highly productive companies said that, to a high or very high extent, leadership in their companies raises productivity. Programs that teach managers how to boost productivity among their direct reports would also seem to be an excellent tactic.

59% of highly productive organizations said they use systematic processes to engage employees. Engagement means that workers are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer’s success. Such employees are usually satisfied with their work and speak positively about their employers. Which is why cracking the whip and exhorting employees to work harder or longer is unlikely to be a good productivity strategy over the long term.

Another difference between highly productive and average organizations is in how they tend to measure productivity. The I4CP survey asked about the various ways in which they gauge productivity and found that the most widely utilized metric was:

  • output per work group, followed by
  • revenue per employee,
  • output per person,
  • output per hour and
  • profits per employee.

Highly productive organizations were not only more likely to use most productivity measures of all types, they tended to place nearly the same emphasis on output per person as they did on output per work group. Now the I4CP only surveyed for profit organisations – but my take would be that the use of similar hard performance measures in a well designed performance management system would have the same impact in the social sector.

These findings suggest two possibilities:

  1. that applying such metrics leads to higher productivity levels because what gets measured gets done, and
  2. that organizations should look at both individual and group productivity metrics if they want to have success in this area.

The I4CP study shows that organizations are placing greater emphasis on productivity in today’s challenging times.

It also suggests that organisations that want to boost productivity should consider doing more to measure and track productivity as well as focus on specific organisational factors, including culture, leadership, employee engagement and, health and wellness initiatives.

You can read the original article on the I4CP website here.

Building the Social System for High Performance

Whenever you see an organisation doing something consistently well, you can be sure that there is an effective social system behind it. The social system is made up of both a hard and a soft landscape. The hard landscape is that of meetings, information flows and decision making processes. The soft landscape is to do with behaviours, attitudes, values, respect and commitment.

Effective managers recognise their role in developing both the hard and soft landscapes of the social system – but recognise that it is the soft landscape – the way people and teams work together that really drives culture and performance.

When trying to initiate change, less effective managers work on the hard landscape. They change the organisational structure, replace key people or alter what is measured and rewarded. While such changes maybe necessary, they are NEVER sufficient.

It is the interactions between people that need to be changed, the information flows and the decision making processes. If people are not having the right discussions or behaving in ways that drive values and performance then the managers’ job is to influence them to adopt different ‘value creating’ behaviours.

In most cases this can be done using feedback. In other cases it may require more concerted efforts at coaching for the desired behaviours.

Recognising and shaping the behaviours that drive values and performance is the hallmark of an outstanding manager.

The social system changes and enables the organisation to perform consistently well because managers use mechanisms that ensure that the right conversations happen consistently and frequently. These conversations improve the quality of decision making and encourage behaviours in people’s every day work to accomplish the elusive goal of culture change.

Personal e-mail and reflections on transformation, humanity and compassion!

I got  a wonderful e-mail this morning from an old friend, Jim McLaughlin.

In it he said:

I love this marriage of science and heart.

It’s where the human potential movement meets good organisational practices.  In fact, if people in organisations were enabled to be their best human selves – loving, forgiving, caring, open, courageous – there would be wonderful organisations.  But somehow we change the rules of what is expected when someone brings their work self into the office/hospital/factory.”

Now why didn’t I put it like that!

One of the real sources of advantage is the ability to retain humanity and compassion while developing excellent organisational practices.  However this is a trick that many organisations with ‘transactional’ rather than ‘transformational’ cultures have managed to miss.

On a good day I would like to think that the compassion and humanity that attracts so many of us to third sector would make this transformation trick a straightforward one to play.   However the evidence suggests that many organisations in third sector quickly become as transactional as so many of their private and public sector cousins

Thanks Jim!

Sue Wiley on Why and How PMN Works for Her

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Sue Wylie is the office manager at re’new in Leeds.

She has attended four PMN workshops and has used much of what we have covered in her work.  In this podcast she talks about PMN and how it works for her.

Sue explains why;

  • she thought she would never have enough time for 121s – but now would not be without them, and
  • how 121s actually save her time and avoid interruptions in her working day
  • how the principles and practices have driven progress in her team
  • the impact that 121s with her manager have had in her

You can listen to the podcast here.

Enjoy!

Many thanks Sue!

If you have attended PMN training and benefitted from it, and would like to make a podcast with me – just let me know!  You could become an iTunes star!

What Gets Measured Gets Done

This is the title of blog post by Jim Estill over at CEO Blog – Time Leadership.  And as Wally Bock says this is ‘one of those hoary old management sayings that hangs around because it’s both true and useful’.

Interestingly in the main body of the post Jim changes the saying slightly to:

What gets tracked and measured gets done.

The addition of this one word makes a massive difference.  The truism leads to poor management because it often gets put into practice as:

  1. What can be measured (objectively) that appears to be a reasonable proxy for what we want to get done?
  2. Let’s measure it and then hope we will get the important things done.

However many of the ‘important things’ are difficult to objectify and measure.  But they can usually be tracked.

Take for example this core value:

‘We challenge complacency and the second rate and embrace change’

My guess is that it would not ‘get measured’.  My second guess is that it would rarely be tracked.  And my third guess is that it would therefore rarely get done!

So how might it be tracked to see if it does get done?

By asking regularly (in 121s perhaps…) questions like:

‘Have you found yourself putting any of our core values in to practice this week?’

‘Which ones?’

‘How did they help or hinder your progress?’

we can regularly track core values and are far more likely to get all team members thinking about how they live the values (or not) in their day to day work.  We can track which are being used to shape practice and decision making and which ones aren’t.  Can you imagine the impact on equality and diversity in your organisation if every employee was asked regularly:

How has your work, this week, lived our value of ‘welcoming people’s differences’.

Or have you found any situations this week where living this value was difficult?

So revisit the mission, vision, values, principles and objectives of your organisation and ask yourself:

  • Are these important enough for me to want to measure or track regularly?
  • How can I track these in such a way that they are more likely to get done? (If you are doing 121s this should be a no-brainer!)
  • Do we have the balance right between tracking and measuring the ‘whats’ the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’?
  • What are the risks of writing these sorts of statements and then not tracking them regularly and building them into expectations around employee performance and development?

Your answer to this last question might feature some or all of the following – hypocrisy, mediocrity, blandness, disillusionment….

Alien versus Predator 2; Profit taking versus social enterprise

“For a profit maximising company, the bottom line is how much money you make. But when you run a social business, it’s about impact.”

Mohammed Younis

For a publicly listed company there is a legal obligation on the Board of Directors to act in a way that will maximise the return on investment to shareholders i.e. profit.

For any shareholders who seek a long term return on their investment – rather than quarterly profit taking – then ‘impact’ (net ‘good done’ in the community as the result of the company’s actions) will be more or less synonymous with profit.  In a perfect world, companies that do bad things in the name of profit will only derive those profits in the short term.

Every company I have ever worked in (I have not worked in any PLCs but have worked in profit and non-profit distributing businesses) there has been a real concern both for social impact and for making a sound return on investment.

The sense of dynamic balance has been vital.  It is not profit making OR social impact but profit taking AND social impact that leads to sustained progress.

We can shun the tyranny of “OR” and embrace the genius of “AND” – there is a yin/yang dynamic; a Zen type ambiguity that can be used creatively.

In my experience it was the companies that traded profitably and used those profits transparently and accountably to ensure the sustainable development of the company and is employees that were able to do their best work in the long term.  In the ‘non profits’ too often the development of the business was entirely hi-jacked by the whims of funders and policy makers.

It is possible to find profitable ways to make the world a better place.

Alien versus Predator:NCVO takes on Added Value

Last week I attended my first ever Performance Hub event at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London.  The event was jointly run by NCVO and the New Economics Foundation and played to a full house.

In essence the message was:

  1. the third sector doesn’t understand ‘added value’
  2. ‘added value’ is therefore a concept that is passed it ‘sell by’ date
  3. luckily we have developed a concept that can take its place – called ‘full value’
  4. even more luckily we have managed to reduce this to a 2×2 matrix that can be explained easily.

Now the origins of ‘added value’ are pretty old and extremely well respected.  Like any models or concepts they have their uses and their limitations – but this concept has done much to drive economic development, competitiveness and strategy over the last 3 decades.  Michael Porter, Harvard Professor and father of the ‘value chain’ has just celebrated 30 years of world leading consulting developing the competitiveness agenda using the concepts of value added, the value chain and the 5 forces model.

No doubt he will be devastated at the judgements passed down on his work by the NCVO.

While I admire the nerve of the Third Sector to challenge the business orthodoxy I can’t help but think that sometimes it shoots itself in the foot.  Surely if the idea is still good enough for the Institute for Strategy and Leadership at Harvard Business School we should not be too quick to dismiss it out of hand and replace it with a dinky 2×2 matrix?

Perhaps we just need to work a little harder to help our client group understand the concept and reflect on how it maybe used to add value to our work in making our communities better places to live and work.

My bet is that Michael Porters ideas might just outlive the neat little 2×2 that NCVO suggest should be used to replace it.  I will certainly be a little more circumspect before I hop on a train to London to receive the wisdom of NCVO.

Not that the day was bad!

I met some wonderful people.  We were all reminded of the importance of the unforeseen benefits of our work as well as the hard outcomes that we were paid to achieve.