LWD 2010WK34 – Improve Productivity, Cut Out Politics


About ‘Leadership Weekly Digest’ (LWD): The goal of this weekly newsletter is to highlight quality articles from the past week –in a condensed format– that discuss leadership, with a focus on employee engagement. Much of the content comes from those we follow on Twitter, and members of the Employee Engagement Network.

You can also subscribe to the RSS Feed for LWD.

How to Minimize Politics in Your Company by Ben Horowitz

Is there really a systematic approach to reducing politics in the office? I always associated the amount of politics in an organization as being a function of its size, but this statement stopped me in my tracks: “It’s often the least political CEOs who run the most ferociously political organizations”, huh? Apparently, apolitical top executives actually have a stronger tendency to accidentally foster intense political behaviour (maybe because they spend less time thinking about it?).

He suggests the following approach to mitigate political behaviour – which he defines as ‘people advancing their careers or agendas by means other than merit and contribution’– based on his experience as a top executive:

  1. Hire people with the right kind of ambition –  “The right kind of ambition is ambition for the company’s success with the executive’s own success only coming as a by-product of the company’s victory. The wrong kind of ambition is ambition for the executive’s personal success regardless of the company’s outcome.”
  2. Build strict processes for potentially political issues and do not deviate–Certain activities attract political behavior. These activities include: performance evaluation and compensation, organizational design and territory, and promotions; these activities need that strict process to be defined.
  3. Be careful with “he said, she said” – The first caution is to “be very careful about how you listen and the message that it sends. Simply by hearing them out without defending the employee in question, you will send the message that you agree.” Depending on whether a complaint is about an executives behaviour or their capability (and whether the latter is news or not), Mr. Horowitz suggests 3 paths:
    • For behaviour-related complaints, the accuser, and the target of the accusation, have to be brought together to resolve the conflict. Attempting to resolve the conflict without both people in the room will just lead to opportunities for politicking.
    • For performance-based complaints that are old news to the leader, others have started to lose faith in that leader, and the leader in question has to go. “While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization then regain it.”
    • For performance-based complaints that are a surprise, the first step is damage control. Make sure that you vehemently disagree with the assessment (otherwise it will trigger a self fulfilling prophesy), and then you have to get busy assessing the employee for yourself. [Boy, this sounds like a tricky situation. -ed.]

If these suggestions piqued your interest, I highly recommend reading the full article, as there is a lot of great depth and breadth that this format didn’t allow.

Sources of Creativity by John Cleese

I wonder if it was this talk that caused John Cleese to ring up a £3800 taxi bill? Well, one thing is sure, Cleese’s comedy is often lost on the Belgians, or perhaps they are still sore about this.

I have to give a tip to the hat to 37 Signals for putting me on to this video, thanks!

In this video John Cleese discusses his personal experiences with the non-linear relationship between work, creativity, the role of the subconscious, and why he needs his ‘me time’.

Chip Conley’s Employee Pyramid by Kermit Pattison

Inevitably when the topic of employee (or customer) engagement is discussed, Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs will appear. In Mr. Pattison’s interview, Mr. Conley discusses how business & personal success can be found by focusing more time on climbing the Maslow pyramid, than the corporate ladder.

With his hotel chain in crisis, Conley discovered the work of Abraham Maslow, and adapted it into a 3 tier pyramid with security at the bottom, ‘succeed’ in the middle, and ‘transform’ at the top. Housekeeping –employees not typically accustomed to participating in such activities– were given group off sites and asked to participate in a thought experiment: explaining their jobs to visiting aliens. This helped them define their role in terms of the top levels of the Maslow hierarchy (‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualization’). For example, housecleaning could see that their role was not just cleaning rooms, but taking care of people.

He also helped institute a culture of recognition by ending every meeting with his senior managers on a high note, with each participant contributing examples of people that should be recognized. As this practice continued, Conley could see it spreading throughout the organization, reinforced by focused hiring and evaluation of managers:

If you hire the right people, it’s a lot easier. We actually evaluate our managers on a combination of both results and relationships. Relationships are an intangible that sometimes get lost in the process of evaluating the effectiveness of a manager. You look at manager say, “Hey great P&L or great cash flow statement,” but if the way they got that was to fire half their staff, piss off customers, or charge them so much, that’s not a sustainable business strategy. Generally speaking, sometimes being able to measure relationships with customers, employees, or vendors is better way to get a sense of the long term sustainability of the effectiveness of a manager or leader.

Worry Isn’t Work by Dan Pallotta

I spend a lot of time worrying, and I wish I didn’t. I found Dan Pallotta’s Jedi Mind Trick a helpful way to look at this wasted energy (in brief):

Worry isn’t work. Being stressed out isn’t work. Anxiety isn’t work. Entertaining a sense of impending doom isn’t work. Incessant internal verbal punishment isn’t work. Indulging the great unknown fear in your own mind isn’t work. Hating yourself isn’t work.

Work is the manifestation of value, and anyone who tells you that a person whose mind is 50% occupied with anxiety is more likely to manifest value is a person who isn’t manifesting much.

Start thinking of being hard on yourself as being irresponsible. Start thinking of wasting half of your brain power on fantasies about your own destruction as self-indulgent. Conflate self-negativity with laziness. Start thinking of time for yourself as being responsible. Start thinking of a healthy mid-day meal as essential to your productivity, time away from your desk as productive.

A selection of our recent posts:

LWD 2010WK30 – How Not to Lead


About ‘Leadership Weekly Digest’ (LWD): The goal of this weekly newsletter is to highlight quality articles from the past week –in a condensed format– that discuss leadership, with a focus on employee engagement. Much of the content comes from those we follow on Twitter, and members of the Employee Engagement Network.

You can also subscribe to the RSS Feed for LWD.

Leadership Tips from Tony Hayward (or Not) by Rosabeth Kanter

While it is always more fun to learn by being part of something successful, a lot can still be learned from the post-mortem of a disaster.

The Gulf Oil Spill disaster was paralleled by a public relations (PR) disaster for BP’s CEO Tony Hayward. While this is to be expected, Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes how Mr. Hayward’s actions made it much worse for BP’s PR department, and contributed to his recent exit from BP’s top post.

Kanter suggests “Mr. Hayward must have studied management in a parallel universe, where a set of anti-rules for bad leadership are taught. Here’s what I imagine are those anti-rules.”:

  • Deny and minimize problems. With the problem under thousands of feet of water, it seems Hayward thought he could throw ‘transparency’ under the bus. This contrasts the typical CEO playbook that suggests to ‘assume everyone knows everything’. Unfortunately for Hayward, his problems showed up on the beaches of Louisiana and Florida.
  • Emphasize your own power and importance. “Keep yourself front and center all the time. Rarely bring forward the rest of the team, nor even indicate that it’s a team effort.”
  • Make the story all about you. Hayward seemed more motivated by “getting his life back”, than any concern for the many lives his company negatively impacted.
  • Never apologize, and don’t even pretend to learn from your mistakes. “Brush off public disapproval, and persist in the same mindless behavior that provoked criticism in the first place.”*
  • Hang onto your job even when it’s clear you should go, in order to negotiate the highest severance package, whether you deserve it or not.

Kanter suggests that you can simply flip these behaviours around to find success!

On the other hand, it seems BP still has high hopes for Hayward, as they gave him responsibility for BP interests in Siberia. I hope he HAS* learned some lessons from his experience, for Siberia’s sake.

I will leave you with Kanter’s final comment: “It is certainly an object lesson for all aspiring leaders about what not to do. “

3 Universal Goals to Influence People by PsyBlog

Psyche doesn’t condone coercive means to influence and motivate your workforce, in fact we think it is a really bad idea. This article is included because it covers some really good background on how to influence people, which has a lot of ties to motivation and engagement, but be wary of any means that may lead you down a coercive path.

The article identifies 6 key means to influence people, and ties them to 3 basic human goals that make them effective.

6 ‘Techniques of influence’:

  1. Being likeable, since people tend to be influenced more by people they like.
  2. Herd mentality; take advantage of the fact that people often like to follow others.
  3. People like to keep their word, so getting a commitment (even a small one) helps influence.
  4. When something appears to be running out, this scarcity makes people want something more.
  5. People are strongly influenced by experts and others in positions of authority.
  6. If something is offered to someone, they feel a lot of pressure to offer something in return.

The human goals these methods are tied to are:

The Goal of Affiliation: Most people want to be social, liked and included, and will make efforts be. ”The techniques of ‘liking’ (1) and ‘reciprocity’ (6) mentioned above both clearly play on our desire for affiliation, as do many other techniques of persuasion and influence. Most people are joiners and followers so influencers like to give us something to join and someone to follow.”

The Goal of Accuracy: A basic desire to be correct drives most of us, and this is a goal that experts (5) tend to use to influence.  “The techniques of ‘social proof’ (2) and ‘scarcity’ (4) both nag at our desire to be accurate because we assume other people are likely to be right and we don’t want to miss out on a bargain.”

The Goal of Maintaining a Positive Self-concept: ”People want to protect their view of themselves because it takes a long time to build up a semi-coherent view of oneself and one’s place in the world. We work hard to keep our world-views intact: we want to maintain our self-esteem, to continue believing in the things we believe in and to honour whatever commitments we have espoused (3) in the past. In an inconsistent world we at least should be self-consistent.”

If this material interests you, PsyBlog promises more to come!

The Four Phases of Design Thinking by Warren Berger

Mr. Berger poses the question: “What can people in business learn from studying the ways successful designers solve problems and innovate?” From his years studying 100+ top designers he concludes: “On the most basic level, they can learn to question, care, connect, and commit — four of the most important things successful designers do to achieve significant breakthroughs.”

More on each of these four key problem solving behaviours:

Question: “For business in today’s volatile marketplace, the ability to question and rethink basic fundamentals — What business are we really in? What do today’s consumers actually need or expect from us? — has never been more important.”

Care: Berger suggest to “step out of the corporate bubble and actually immerse yourself in the daily lives of people you’re trying to serve… because this is usually the best way to ferret out their deep, unarticulated needs. Focus groups and questionnaires don’t cut it.” As an example, IDEO –a famous design firm– would capture the patient’s point-of-view as they are treated at a hospital, highlighting all sorts of problems to hospital administrators.

Connect. “Designers… have a knack… for taking existing elements or ideas and mashing them together in fresh new ways. This can be a valuable shortcut to innovation because it means you don’t necessarily have to invent from scratch. Designers know that you must… [search] far and wide for ideas and influences — and must also be willing to try connecting ideas that might not seem to go together.“

Commit. “[Designers] know that innovation often involves an iterative process with setbacks along the way — and those small failures are actually useful because they show the designer what works and what needs fixing. The designer’s ability to “fail forward” is a particularly valuable quality in times of dynamic change.”

Other Recent Posts from Psyche: