Category Archives: Engagement

Lessons about mateship from a 7yo

This Sunday it is Father’s Day. When collecting my two youngest sons from school yesterday, my seven-year-old son, affectionately known as ‘D-Man’, was covering a paper bag with a drawing he had just completed in class.

“Dad, you can’t see what’s inside the bag because it has the presents I bought for you from the Father’s Day Stall.”

 “Okay, don’t worry I promise I won’t look.” I said.

He then went on to say, “Dad, when we get home, can you give me ten dollars?

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Workplace safety starts at home

My eldest son is 17 and is eagerly searching for his first car. We have two parameters for his search. The first is his car must have a 5 Star ANCAP Rating, and the second is our budget.

Prior to facilitating a Safety Conference for Programmed with my good friend Jock Macneish in 2011, I would have shared different criteria with you regarding a first car for my son. He was only 11yo at the time so my criteria were somewhat premature, but a story shared by Programmed’s Managing Director Chris Sutherland changed my mindset.

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Do you have any Gloria’s working with you?

When working for Commercial Services at Monash University which had 750 staff over 28 sites providing a wide range of services for the students and staff of Monash University’s nine campuses, the CEO asked me to lead a recognition and reward project called Project Grateful.

He was a fan of Disney and had previously attended the Disney Institute’s leadership programs.

He handed me a ‘Star Card’, a card the size of a business card that read, “You’re a Star!” on one side, and had room for an employee to identify a colleague and create a short hand written note to either thank them or congratulate them for doing something useful, on the other side of the card.

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Five questions for your team

Gary RyanWhen working with my clients I am constantly asked, “How do I make sure that my team is focused and doing the right things?

If you want your team to be fully engaged and successful, below are five questions that you ought to consider. It is best if your team are included in the conversation to answer the questions.
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Why Mental Models Matter

Your mental models are your theories about how the world works. They come from your life’s experiences, your education, your family, your cultural background, your work experience, your religion (or no religion if you don’t have one). For most people, your mental models are sub-conscious – they affect how you behave but you aren’t aware of the impact that they have.

For example, if you had a mental model that as a manager you should have all the appropriate knowledge of someone in that role to justify your title and the money you are earning, and a staff member asks you a question to which you do not know the answer, then you are at risk of responding with a lie. You will simply make up an answer that will re-enforce your view of yourself as a competent manager.

This short video explains this concept in more detail.

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The characteristics of a high quality conversation

It is worth reading Quality Workplace Conversations Matter as an introduction to this post.

Providing conversations have a purpose and stay focussed on that purpose, below are five characteristics of high quality workplace conversations.

Continue reading The characteristics of a high quality conversation

What NOT to do when you first become a manager

On Sunday evening, a good friend of mine received the following message from his new manager who had been in the role for less than a week:
All,
For those that did not join the hook up Friday you must join it on Monday at 11:00am even if you are on RDO we need to discuss this urgently.
Please note the time change due to another appointment at 8:30am.
Regards,
A
My friend was on leave on Friday and was also on leave for the Monday, the same day as the second ‘hook up’.

The issue that the manager urgently wanted to discuss related to a safety matter. No doubt it is important that all staff, including my friend, are made aware of the issues that relate to the safety matter, and you won’t find me arguing with you about the importance of safety.

However, given the importance of the issue, and the manager knew that other staff were on their Rostered Day Off (RDO), and my friend was on leave, don’t you think it would make sense to provide many opportunities for staff to be brought up to speed about the issue when they returned to work?

Unfortunately, by creating only two opportunities for this message to be heard, the manager has sent the following message to his direct reports:

  1. Even though I’m saying that this safety matter is urgent, it really isn’t. What I’m really doing is making sure that my manager has seen that I have taken some action to make sure that my staff are aware of the issue.
  2. I do not respect your time. I have the right to send you messages when you are not at work and I expect you to read, respond and take whatever actions I have asked you to take, even though you aren’t at work.
  3. I believe that you put the company’s needs ahead of your own personal needs which is why you will be happy to give up your leave, at short notice, to attend any calls that I arrange.

What level of engagement do you think my friend has with his new manager? Do you think this experience has made it higher or lower? How happy do you think my friend was to have this message arrive while he was at another friend’s birthday celebration and then find himself diverting his attention to decide what he’ll do the following day when he’s on leave? “Should I attend the call or not?“, became his dilemma.

I discovered that his new manager was at least 50 years old, but as far as my friend was aware, had never led a team prior to his recent appointment.

In all honesty, he ought to know better. People know when they are being respected, and they know when they are being disrespected.

If you are a new manager, do everything you can to make sure that you respect your team members. Not doing so will disengage your staff and make your job all the more difficult. Why would anyone want to do that?

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Do Drucker’s leadership practices stand the test of time?

In 2004, Peter Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, published What Makes an Effective Executive in the Harvard Business Review.

Drucker outlined eight practices and one rule that he had identified from the most effective executives with whom he had worked and/or studied. Let’s look at each of them and see if they are still useful.

Gary Ryan1. Ask, “What needs to be done?“.

This question provides focus. Nothing is more relevant. Focus implies prioritising. What do you prioritise? The activities that are going to give you the biggest returns/outputs for your efforts in the context of achieving the long-term success you are striving to achieve.

This question is also specific for the leader. “What tasks are aligned to my talents?” These are the tasks the leader ought to focus on, and delegate the rest of the tasks to others for whom the tasks match their exceptional talents.

Is this practice still useful?

Yes. This practice is certainly useful. Anything that provides focus in this age is useful. Distractions cost time and time costs money. Whether you are a for profit, not for profit, government or military organisation, time cannot be wasted with the limited resources that are available.

2. Ask, “What is right for the enterprise?

This question has a long-term focus and causes the leader to consider their responsibilities as a steward for the organisation. “Will the organisation be better off, or at least not worse off, as a result of the actions we are about to take?”. While no leader is infallible and there are no guarantees in business, not asking this question is likely to lead to failure.

Is this practice still useful?

Yes. Today’s actions must always be taken in the context of the longer term and the greater good of the organisation.

3. Develop action plans

Drucker explains that plans are a statement of intention. They ought to be living documents that change as forces require them to change. They should not become ‘straightjackets’ that stifle opportunities. Regularly checking progress data, learning from mistakes and successes should all provide information that is used to update the plan.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Plans provide the detail for our focussed actions.

4. Take responsibility for decisions

Drucker says, “A decision has not been made until people know:

  • the name of the person accountable for carrying it out;
  • the deadline;
  • the names of the people who will be affected by the decision and therefore have to know about, understand, and approve it—or at least not be strongly opposed to it—and
  • the names of the people who have to be informed of the decision, even if they are not directly affected by it.”

Critically, Drucker advises that a ‘decision review system‘ must exist where decisions are evaluated against results. How many of your decisions would pass this test? Not many, I dare guess.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Even though few people can claim to follow this rule, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful. The recent events with CommInsure highlight that leaders need to continually communicate their decisions, their reasons for them, who they will affect and be open to opposing voices from within the organisation who challenge the thinking behind the decisions. Groupthink is dangerous for organisations. Just ask Enron, BP, Arthur Anderson, the Hastie Group, and more recently Dick Smith (although we are yet to know the full underlying reason behind the collapse of this company) etc. about the quality of their decision-making processes.

5. Take responsibility for communicating

Effective communication is one of the greatest leadership challenges of the 21st century. Do your staff know what they need to know, when they need to know it? As a leader, do you know what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Michael Marquardt, author of Leading With Questions believes that effective leaders regularly ask the following three questions of as many staff as possible:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What aren’t we doing well?
  • What would you do if you had the power and authority to create positive change in this organisation?

Is this practice useful?

Yes. It always will be. A tip to help you to increase the likelihood that your team members will know what they need to know when they need to know it, is to make sure that important information from you to them is conveyed by at least three channels of communication e.g. verbally in a meeting, written via an email, published as an article on your company’s intranet.

6. Focus on opportunities, not problems

Jack Welch, while CEO of GE, was famous for teaching his leaders that they must become adept at seeing reality for what is really was, not what they might have wanted it to be. And then, to seek out the opportunities.

As Drucker highlighted, problems need to be solved, but they don’t produce results. Acting on opportunities does.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Particularly the ability to assess reality for what it is. This leadership skill cannot be underestimated because it allows opportunities to be identified and seized with perfect timing.

7. Run effective meetings

Aah meetings. How many of you think most of the ones you attend are a waste of time? The problem is that too many meetings really are a waste of time.

Drucker advised that you should consider what type of meeting you are going to conduct, well in advance of the meeting. His reasoning was that different types of meetings require different forms of meetings which are driven by the different results they are seeking. His logic makes sense.

Is this practice useful?

Absolutely. At least half of a leader’s time is spent with other people. If this time with other people is not a meeting, then what is it? In this context, making use of this time is critical if a leader is to be effective. Drucker’s suggestions for the different types of meetings to achieve different results is well worth the read – and his suggestions are as relevant today as they have ever been.

8. Think and say, “We”

Leadership is not about you. It is about your organisation and those whom you are serving. They come first.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. As a practitioner of Servant Leadership it is possibly the most important of all Drucker’s practices.

Drucker’s rule – Listen first, speak last

In order to practice this rule a leader must be genuinely curious. Refer to practice 5 above for the three questions that a leader can regularly ask their staff.

Is this rule useful?

Yes. 100%. Use it. Follow it. Practice it. Your leadership needs this rule.

16 years may have passed since Drucker published his article. Each one of his eight practices and his single rule are as important today as they have ever been. They are interdependent and feed off each other. One thing is certain, they won’t harm your leadership effectiveness if you show them. In fact, the opposite will be true.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Don’t Kick The Cat!

There used to be a saying that when you’d had a hard day at work, when you got home you should ‘kick the cat‘ before you went in the house. This theory was based on the idea that if you ‘kicked the cat‘ then you could let out your aggression and everything would be okay when you went inside.

Thankfully such thinking is long gone! Not only would it be politically incorrect to take such action, it would be morally and legally inappropriate! So please, don’t kick your cat.

Unfortunately, however, this metaphor is alive and well in ‘Organisation Land’. Maybe some of you have been the ‘cat‘ who has been ‘kicked‘ (metaphorically speaking).

A case in point. A client of mine has a national sales role. In 2010, prior to her taking on the role the sales team failed to achieve their prescribed 2010 targets.  In 2011 they just achieved their prescribed targets. Celebrations followed. The ‘cat‘ was patted.

In 2012 they just missed their prescribed targets after having been ahead of them for most of the year. What do you think is happening now? Yes, you guessed it, the ‘cat‘ is being ‘kicked‘. Apparently in ‘Organisation Land’ kicking the cat inspires the cat to higher performance. What do you think?

Personally I have never found getting kicked motivating. Unfortunately I am hearing more and more stories like this.

In this specific example my client was informed by senior managers that she and her team would be trusted to contribute to the targets process once they could be trusted to achieve them. Interesting logic, that!

Let me just walk through that logic again. Once the team regularly achieve budgets that they had no input in creating, that’s when they will be trusted to put forward budgets in the future. Oh, by the way I should mention that I’m not talking about junior staff here. I’m talking about staff with a minimum of seven years experience. There’s a lesson in how to de-motivate people right there!

Kicking the cat‘ creates demotivated and disengaged staff. Seriously, if you think that such behaviour really motivates people to perform at a higher standard, you probably also believe that if you go outside and yell at your grass to grow that it will! I’m sorry to let you down but both strategies don’t work.

Folks, growth doesn’t happen in straight lines, not in the short term that’s for sure. Linear growth expectations are flawed and ultimately cause senior managers to do ‘kick the cat‘ type behaviours.

My client is a wonderful, high performing person. She did amazingly well to achieve her result in 2011 and also did amazingly well given local economic conditions to achieve what she did in 2012. I doubt that any other team could have matched her teams performance. Yet do you think she is feeling valued right now?

You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? This high performer will leave and will end up serving another organisation more worthy of her commitment. ‘Kicking the cat‘ doesn’t work so if you’re one of the guilty ones who does this behaviour, stop! Treat your people like human beings – you may just be surprised by how well they shine.

If targets aren’t achieved by experienced, engaged people, then sit down with them and work together to work out what can be done. Maybe achieving the 2012 target in 2013 would be, in reality, a success. Just giving people bigger numbers to achieve because it is a new budget cycle is seriously flawed and lacks using the knowledge, talent and expertise that exists within organisational teams. People don’t want to fail. People don’t try to fail. Not most people. Work with people so success over the long term can be achieved. It is possible.

What’s your experience of being ‘kicked’?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

How to overcome low levels of employee trust toward senior leaders

Gary, I found it interesting that many staff struggled at first to tell me what they really thought. They would say, ‘You’re not going to like what I have to say so I’m not sure if I should say it’. Each time they said this to me I told them that I needed to hear what they had to say. They would then tell me that they weren’t sure they had the right words to use. So I told them to use whatever words they had and that if, at the end of them speaking I didn’t understand what they had just said, I would ask questions. Slowly, they started to tell me what they thought. And today I heard things that were different from what my senior management colleagues are telling me. So I have some work to do. And it’s good work!“.

These words came from the most senior Australian Executive for a European based company for whom I recently facilitated an OTM Strategic Conversation®. The conversation was about success.

Comments such as the ones above are common. Think about it. How often do senior leaders have strategic conversations with staff who are three, four, five or more levels away from them? Virtually never. If these folk ever do have a conversation it is over a cup of coffee after the senior leader has just provided a one way update to a large group of staff. Such conversations are unfocused and polite – most people don’t say what they really think because the context doesn’t encourage it. You’re the boss and you have power over me. If I tell what I really think I risk bad things happening to me. So it is best to keep quiet.

Truth to Power is a concept identified by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and Jim O’Toole in their book ‘Transparency‘. Organisational values such as Openness, Integrity and Service Excellence are supported by having a high level of Truth to Power. In its simplest form, Truth to Power means that the right information gets to the right person at the right time for the right reason. The challenge, according to the research conducted by Bennis, Goleman and O’Toole is that the vast majority of workers do not trust senior leaders, so they keep their information to themselves.

Part of the reason for low trust stems from the power differentials between people lower in an organisational hierarchy and people higher in an organisational hierarchy. It is natural for people to be wary of people who exert power over them. After all, these people can make decisions that can make their lives more difficult.

This creates a dilemma for organisational leaders. The reality is, most staff don’t trust them even if they don’t know them. Their title, role and power generate the distrust. Yet the leaders would see themselves as trustworthy. You’ve heard the saying, trust must be gained – it isn’t just given.

One way to gain that trust is to have regular, focused conversations with employees. Leaders need to engage in Conversations That Matter® with their people. Not just their direct reports and other senior leaders. They need to engage in strategic conversations with everyone.

But leaders are busy. Exceptionally busy. How can they engage in regular strategic conversations when there are so many people to speak with?

Once again, their is a solution to this dilemma. OTM Strategic Conversations® enable large groups of people to have focused conversations on issues that matter to them. Instead of a random and polite conversation over a coffee after a speech provided by a senior leader, imagine sitting down with three or four people talking about the challenges that the organisation is facing in creating the success it desires. Success, by the way, that was just defined by the large group of employees present. Imagine if this same conversation was being repeated at 10, 20, 30 other tables at the same time. Imagine the energy in the room. Imagine this whole process being completed within three to four hours.

Imagine, as a senior leader the genuine rapport that you could build with people multiple levels away from you. Imagine the trust that you could build. What if participating in OTM Strategic Conversations® became a regular and strategic tool for your organisation?

Bennis, Goleman and O’Toole identify that organisations that are high in Truth to Power are also high performing organisations. This means that there is a bottom line benefit for raising the level of Truth to Power in your organisation. Strategic conversations enhance performance. Strategic conversations enhance trust. Strategic conversations enhance Truth to Power.

The internal business intelligence that my client above discovered through his first experience of an OTM Strategic Conversation was priceless. He told me himself. His organisation has customer and staff morale problems that he hadn’t fully appreciated largely because he had been receiving a consistent senior management perspective on the issues. In other words, he had only been hearing part of the story.

How do you maintain Truth to Power in your organisation?

Gary Ryan is the Founder of Organisations That Matter and has been hosting OTM Strategic Conversations since the year 2000.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com