Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Managers Behaving Badly!

Managers are supposed to get stuff done. They're supposed to coordinate resources, build capable teams, and deliver shareholder value. We all work for a manager in one form or another. And while work isn't the sole domain of life, having a sense of meaning and making an impact are reasons #4 and #5 for coming to work. We want to be fairly rewarded for doing good work. And for that, we need good managers.

So how many good managers have you worked for in your career? Probably not that many. In fact, you'll be lucky if you can nominate more than two. And like most of us, you've probably left more than one position due to a toxic boss. What is the cost of managers behaving badly? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

Cost of Bad Managers

What's the cost of bad managers?
Of course, it's naïve to claim these costs are solely due to bad managers. Bad organizational culture, structure and systems contribute their fair share. And industry and market conditions add to these costs. But if there's any responsibility or liability, it invariably gets sheeted home to the managers involved. The 2018 Australian Banking Royal Commission is a case in point. The Commonwealth Bank has been forced to defend itself in court over allegations it systematically breached anti-money-laundering and terrorism-financing laws on nearly 54,000 occasions and could potentially face about $1 trillion worth of fines. These are the actions of managers behaving badly.

Mindless Managers

Managers behave badly when they don't stop to think about their actions or how their behavior might be  negatively impacting their team. They "drive for performance" (a curious term that suggests employees are more akin to vehicles). When managers lose focus on what really matters, and when their situational awareness becomes too narrow they behave mindlessly. They "go with the flow" even if that flow is unethical. They choose the path of least resistance even if that means riding roughshod over team members. Mindless managers behave badly because they are self-centered; they are preoccupied with their own agendas, and unable or unwilling to consider how their actions might affect others. Self-centredness arises because of (1) insecurity: they lack confidence and react emotionally to real or perceived threats; and (2) arrogance: They are overconfident and see people as objects to be used for their own purposes.

Mindful Managers

Managers behave better when they develop focused attention on what really matters, and when they become aware of how others are behaving and feeling. The key is how well managers manage distraction. A recent survey of more than 30,000 managers from thousands of companies in more than a hundred countries found that 71% of managers feel distracted from their current task either "some" or "most" of the time. Sources of distraction included:
  • Demands of other people (26%),

  • Competing priorities (23%),

  • General distractions (13%), and 

  • Workloads that are overwhelming (12%).
Overcoming distraction isn't the only thing that good managers do of course. But the ability to understand and manage attention keeps managers from behaving badly. How?

Mindful awareness helps managers to get in the driver's seat of their own mind and see more clearly what is the "right" thing to do for the benefit of all stakeholders. Mindful focus helps managers to be more efficient and consequently achieve better wellbeing.

But it takes training. We are hard-wired for distraction. Focus occurs in the prefrontal cortex, which is the centre of deliberation, reasoning, and choice. Through training and practice it is possible to develop the skill of sustained, focused attention on a chosen task or object. Through training and practice it is also possible to gain self-awareness and develop a more considerate and compassionate approach to others, realizing what is most likely the best choice for all concerned.

To stop managers behaving badly we need to include the skills of mindfulness in any management or leadership training curriculum. The linear MBA-trained logic is necessary but no longer sufficient if it comes at the cost of other skills like self-awareness. The cost of managers behaving badly is just too great to put up with anymore.

Monday, March 26, 2018

You Want Performance? Here's How!

The performance dilemma
“Our latest staff engagement results were really quite bad” admitted the HR Director of a mid-sized Asian Financial Services company when I met with her recently. “Staff are really disappointed with their managers”, she shared with me. “Yet, many of those same managers have been sent on very expensive leadership programs in Europe and North America”, she declared. “And now I don’t have enough budget left to get performance up!”
Of course, there is great prestige in sending managers away to a castle in Europe or to an Ivy League campus in the USA for a week. But what’s the return on investment? Could that same budget have been spent more effectively?

In the “open source era” HR Directors are finding themselves backed into a corner. Their companies are demanding higher performance targets despite sluggish economic growth almost everywhere. And the workforce of the future – the millennials – are questioning whether they even want to be part of a company structure when they can more easily launch their own start-ups. This makes talent retention a key issue for HR Directors. Companies want the performance dividend that comes with talented people, but they are reluctant to invest too much in case they leave.

How do you get performance up when the budget is down?


But coaching is too expensive you say. And anyway, does it even work?

The need for speed
It turns out the open source era is a key driver of the rapid rise of coaching engagements globally. Digital disruption, AI, blockchain, and the shift to platform-based business models are some of the factors contributing to heightened uncertainty and demand for an agile and innovative workforce. Coaching is increasingly seen as a flexible,individually-tailored business performance intervention and an accelerator of organisational learning – a crucial component for enterprises to thrive.

Older generations who currently occupy senior leadership positions want different things from work than younger generations. Millennials value work where they can be acknowledged, find enjoyment and fun, have opportunities to give back to others, work in collaborative environments, and have a sense of stability.

Guess what, they want coaching!

In the US, 93% of US-based Global 100 companies use executive coaches. In the UK, 88% of organizations use coaching. In Australia, 64% of business leaders and 72% of senior managers report using coaches. Seventy-one percent of these Australian respondents also stated that having a coach was an important factor in their decision to stay with their organisations.

Coaching has moved away from being remedial. In the past if you were told you needed coaching you assumed there was a problem. Now coaching is viewed as an important constituent of the company’s overall human capital development strategy.

So, what is coaching?
It is a one-to-one learning and development intervention that uses a collaborative, reflective, goal-focused relationship to achieve professional and personal outcomes valued by the person being coached. Coaching – when done well – can inspire and empower people, build commitment, increase performance and productivity, grow talent, promote success, and build high performing teams. It is, quite simply, a way of facilitating positive change faster than it might happen on its own.

In the open source era people are willing to fail fast to learn quickly. The need for speed in learning means people are more willing to seek the help of coaches to understand themselves and to grow and develop rapidly in their working environment. Being allocated a coach is now associated with being singled out as someone of worth to the company.

By estimates of product growth cycle coaching has not yet entered the maturity phase in any market. Coaching will continue to grow in North America, Europe, UK, and Australia. But it is set for rapid growth in Asia, particularly China.

Yes, but does it work?

Accelerating Performance
People who have experienced coaching overwhelmingly report that they were satisfied and would recommend it to others. Various assessments of return on investment (ROI) report the return to be at least equal to the investment, and by some estimates up to seven times the cost of coaching.

Even though coaching is a highly individualized human change methodology there is a consistent body of research that supports the positive effects of coaching as an approach to employee learning and development in organisations, and leadership effectiveness. According to a 2015 review of the research, coaching is the only organisation consultancy intervention known to have proven efficacy!

In a 2016 study of one-to-one executive coaching (conducted by a panel of 11 professional coaches) for 49 program managers and directors of an Australian state government health agency over 6 sessions each, the following outcomes were noted:
  • Anxiety: 41.21% reduction
  • Goal attainment: 37.26% increase
  • Stress reduction: 28.34% reduction
  • Leadership self-efficacy: 27.04% increase
  • Tolerance of ambiguity: 13.89% increase
  • Self-insight: 10.59% increase
  • Solution-focused thinking: 8.86% increase
  • Perspective taking capacity: 5.30% increase
  • Resilience: 4.49% increase

Coaching works!
But it’s expensive isn’t it? Well not when you compare it to the cost of training and the inevitable drop off in retention. Coaching following training is significantly more effective than training alone, and gains from coaching have been sustained even 18 months after the end of coaching.

Coaching delivers more bang for the training budget buck, particularly in the areas of self-management, leadership effectiveness, and preparing for succession. Coaching is an individually tailored learning agenda that helps to fast-track development.

And it rubs off on others! Managers who receive coaching are more likely to use coaching approaches with their team members and generate higher performing teams. And higher performing teams are the nucleus for organisational growth and productivity.

Investing in coaching has a multiplier effect. Not only does it contribute to more effective individual leadership, but it also promotes better communication both within business units and across boundaries. And as the quality of conversations change the culture changes.

If you want to improve the performance of your organisation and the engagement of your employees, and if you must do it quickly, then professional coaching is the answer!

For more information, contact the author at: 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Six Principles for the Disconnected Leader!

In 2016 McKinsey & Company conducted a study of more than 52,000 managers, 86% rated themselves as inspiring and good role models. In the same year, a Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of their employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring.

What's wrong with this picture?

There is a stark disconnect between how leaders see themselves and how others see them. You could put this down to attribution bias - we attribute only good explanations for our own behavior. But the disconnect is bigger than that. When it affects tens of thousands of managers across thousands of companies it becomes systemic. And it results in the following dysfunctions:
  • Mangers don't listen to feedback and so they don't change their behavior.
  • Employees feel trapped with managers who are not leading or guiding them.
  • Managers don't accept contrary views or ideas which disrupt their view of themselves.
  • Employees don't speak up for fear of being shut down.
  • Creativity and innovation suffer.
  • Organisational culture becomes rule-bound at best, and toxic at worst.
To close the gap between self-perception and others' perceptions, leaders will need to embrace these six principles:

1. Practice mindfulness

While much has been written about the benefits of mindfulness training, at the very least it can help better focus energy and develop resilience. Paradoxically, mindfulness training can lead to a deeper and more accurate level of self-awareness, and a detachment from external determinants of self-identity. Leaders who practice mindfulness report feeling more in tune with their inner world and more aware of others. They also feel released from the need to please others as a measure of their performance. Instead they make better judgements based on their own values and purpose.

2. Practice Kindness and Compassion

Kindness is one of the simplest acts of support we can show others, but corporate life breeds it out of us. We are told self-criticism is what keeps us accountable and improves our performance. We become our own harshest critics and then take out our frustrations on others. But studies over the past decade show the multiple benefits from being kind to oneself include resilience after failure, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and a better overall quality of life.

Compassion is allowing yourself to be moved by someone else's suffering and experiencing the motivation to do something to alleviate it. Compassion is also about understanding people at an emotional level, and genuinely caring abut their well-being. In fact, it's hard to think of a way in which compassion is not relevant to leadership, success and well-being. Leaders with high empathy and compassion, who can connect with others succeed, and their bottom line is better.

3. Practice Tolerance for Divergent Values

Acceptance of diversity of views means you may have strong feelings about something, but also understand why someone else might have different feelings about it. It doesn’t mean that you give up on your values, but you can also understand why someone else may feel or think differently. Leaders who readily acknowledge diversity of views, ideas, beliefs, and values are more prepared to change their mind if new information presents itself. And they are better placed to foster creativity and innovation in their organisations.

4. Practice Emotion Regulation

Control over your emotions is not absence of emotions, but having control over the magnitude and the variation of them. All too often we see leaders who "go ballistic", thump the table, scream, shout, or cry. These are not the hallmarks of a fully self-aware, people-centred leader. Emotion regulation is about reducing the severity of both depression and excitement. At the same time, it’s somewhat on the positive side and associated with well-being and happiness.

5. Practice Intellectual Humility

You cannot be right all the time. There are limits to your own knowledge, and the current era of open source and digital disruption presents a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. Self-awareness comes through being humble about oneself and acknowledging that no outcome can be certain. Leaders must assess the information available but not spend a lot of time thinking abut the pros and cons of everything. At some point a decision has to be made.

6. Foster Psychological Safety

Speaking up at work can be difficult. People worry that their boss or colleagues will criticize them. As a result, people hold back on everything from good ideas to great questions. But by fostering psychological safety, leaders can encourage a free flow of ideas and robust debate. The key tenants of psychological safety are:

  • Civility - Attending to what others contribute and responding with consideration.
  • Fight fair - Debating contrasting ideas or other's viewpoints yet respectfully disagreeing.
  • Be Supportive - Using supportive language and not resorting to sarcasm or put-downs.

Practicing these six principles will help the disconnected leader to close the self-other perception gap, and lead a more innovative organization into the Fourth Industrial Revolution!