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.

121s – Common Objections

When I am talking with managers about the benefits of doing 121s they usually resist the idea and offer a range of objections:

  1. I don’t need 121s – I speak with my staff ALL the time!
  2. I would never have enough time to meet with each member of staff for half an hour every week.
  3. What would we talk about if we met every week?
  4. My staff would feel that I was micro-managing them – they just want to get on with the job
  5. My staff aren’t interested in strategy or otherwise engaging – they just want to do a good job

I don’t need 121s – I speak with my staff ALL the time!

It is true that a lot of managers spend a lot of time talking with staff.  The conversations are spontaneous, unplanned, unstructured, unfocused and often unproductive.  They promote a conversation culture rather that is characterised by high levels of interruptions – ‘Sorry to disturb you but can an I just have a quick word with about….’ Managerial time is freely available and therefore barely valued.  Prioritisation by staff is poor and managers are often diverted from more important tasks as they feel obliged to respond to staff requests for help.  Such managers usually have gaping holes in their performance when it comes to areas such as innovation, creativity, strategy and planning as they are too busy ‘mole-whacking’.

I would never have enough time to meet with each member of staff for half an hour every week

This translates direclty to ‘I have more important things to do than work in planned structured way with staff on a 121 basis’.   It also translates to ‘People are not our most important asset and therefore I can afford to neglect them’.

Company costs per full-time employee in the UK now stand at £97,122.  Such costs typically include:

  • pay and bonuses,
  • employers’ national insurance payments and pension contributions,
  • office accommodation costs, and
  • central costs, which incorporate elements such as HR and finance departments.

What other assets do you manage that cost this much to keep in the game – that, if they feel disgruntled, devalued or otherwise fed up can literally just get up and walk out the door?  You really think that investing 30 minutes a week in them to keep them engaged, challenged, informed, recognised and valued won’t give you a great return on your investment.  NB See above – structured 121 time is very different to ‘talking with them all of the time’.

What would we talk about if we met every week?

This one comes from managers where the culture is about delivering this year what we delivered last year but incrementally better.  No-one is thinking or exploring, looking for better ways to skin the cat/butter the parsnips etc .  No one is learning stuff every week that is relevant to improving the product, service or processes of work.  Expect people to make things better every week and ask them what they have done every week to contribute to making things better.  It also comes from managers that have ‘values on the website’ but don’t see their role in reinforcing them in practice on a weekly basis.

My staff would feel that I was micro-managing them

This comes from managers who don’t understand that most people want to have a connection to work.  They want to be engaged and to matter.  They want to have a chance to give their best.  They don’t want to be alienated and cynical. Although if you don’t work with them frequently on a 121 basis they will be!

They also don’t understand the difference between dabbling in the detail (micro-managing) and unleashing potential (the number 1 priority of the high performance manager).

My staff aren’t interested in strategy or otherwise engaging

This comes from managers who have tried to engage staff but failed.  Therefore in order to maintain their own self – image (I am a good manager) they have to believe that staff are not interested.  Do you REALLY have staff who aren’t interested in the future of their employer and how they can help to make it better?

So what is your excuse?

Connecting with a Vision

This post first appeared on my other blog ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Community‘ but I have reproduced it here because it contains some insights on working with ‘Vision’ that are relevant to the progressive manager.  Apologies to those of you who have got it for the second time!

Our Vision for Leeds is an internationally competitive European city at the heart of a prosperous region where everyone can enjoy a high quality of life.

Leeds Initiative Vision for Leeds – 2004 2020

That must seem like a pretty distant vision for many Leeds residents.  For the tens of thousands that are living on incapacity benefits.  For those who have no job.  For those who work in the third sector and are more interested in social justice than international competitiveness.  For parents who are struggling to raise and educate their children.  For pensioners. For migrants and refugees.

But the problem is not with the vision per se.  The problem lies with the capacity available to help a very wide range of people and communities to connect with it.  To understand why it is relevant to them and how it can help them to make progress on their agenda.  How it can help them find a sense of belonging in a Leeds community that is striving to make ‘progress’.

For a vision to be effective a wide range of stakeholders have to be able to connect with it and make sense of it in their own context, and then to use it to leverage action – to make things happen.  Otherwise it is just words.  I suspect it is no accident that this ‘Vision for Leeds’ appeals so directly to the white collar community, to the developers and the investors.  To those that have power shall be given more.

Visions can help to pull us towards a more attractive future, but only if they are relevant to us and are dripping with possibilities for action.

In the world of organisational and business development the ‘Vision backlash’ has started.  Instead of dreaming of distant possibilities those leading the backlash ask:

  • ‘What is it that we are on the verge of becoming?’,
  • ‘How, at this time, is it possible that we could change?’

This ‘emergence’ based on a process of ‘presencing’ (understanding the ‘here and now’ and then acting to tip the balance in favour of progress) honours the past as much as the future. It ensures that the future is rooted in the strengths and cultures of the past.  It encourages placemaking based on history as much as on the future.  And this matters because it is the history that has shaped us all.  Our cultures, our psyches our potentials and our preferences.  Development that honours who we are, what we have become and what we believe it is possible for us to be.

Perhaps we should compliment the Vision with a real understanding of what we have the potential to become – not by 2020 – but right now.

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.

Problems With Partnerships

Fellow Leeds blogger Todd Hannula has shared some of his concerns about ‘partnership’ over at his Social Catalyst blog which prompted me to comment.  I think this matters because so often I see partnerships of competent, mature and capable organisations that  in ‘partnership’ become the corporate equivalent of  a three year old having a temper tantrum in a sweet shop.

I work with a chief executive who has a plaque in his (home) office that says ‘Partnership: the temporary suspension of mutual loathing in pursuit of funding’.  How true in many cases!
One of the challenges is that partnership is a ‘weasel word’ with many definitions:

  1. a relationship of two or more entities conducting business for mutual benefit
  2. a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labour for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.
  3. The persons bound by such a contract.
  4. A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterised by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal: Neighbourhood groups formed a partnership to fight crime.

Then there are different types and levels of partnership:

  • Self Interested Partnerships – only put in place in pursuit of funding
  • Mutual Partnership – in pursuit of a single relatively narrow agenda that benefits both parties
  • Strategic Partnership – characterised by a wider and longer term context and relationship
  • Shared Destiny Partnership – close to a merger situation where both partners share a single vision and go a long way towards the integration of cultures and systems. All partners face extinction as a consequence of failure.

One of the challenges in making any partnership work is to recognise it for what it is, be up front about it and manage the partnership accordingly.   Don’t pretend that a self interested partnership is in fact deeply strategic.  And never try to build a strategic partnership based on what you can win in the short term.

Make sure that all partners know exactly what type of partnership they are pursuing as differing expectations can be very damaging.