Apply a Military Mindset to Make Your Business Less Fragile

Apply A Military Mindset To Make Your Business Less Fragile

From startups to the federal government, no organization is immune to the unpredictable.  We’re only halfway through 2016, and the U.S. Department of Defense is already tackling a range of complex challenges: battling the Islamic State group, combating domestic terrorism, and ensuring that key initiatives receive sufficient funding. And the impending presidential administration change will bring new priorities, regardless of who wins the White House.

Without a crystal ball, the department must develop solid strategic plans to achieve its goals this year and beyond. These techniques are based on military ideas, and you can apply them to your business, too.

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5 Lessons for Developing Culture in the New ‘Gig Economy’

organizational culture gig economy

Guest article written by Levi Nieminen, Ph.D.

This brief article explores the meaning and management of organizational culture in the new ‘Gig Economy.’ The Cardiology Fellowship Training Program at the University of Michigan provides a fascinating case example of an organization whose people are always on the move. What they have learned about how to create (and sustain) their program’s culture holds strong relevance for many organizations today, including some (like Uber) who are defining new organizational forms, and many others who are grappling with a high-churn millennial workforce.

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The Power of Pattern Disruption as a Vehicle for Change

pattern disruption change

Every day, billions of people around the world wake up to a daily routine. Take a shower. Get dressed. Grab their favorite double tall latte from Starbucks on their way to work.

Humans are creatures of habit. Some more than others, of course. And while some patterns have positive impact on our lives, like scheduled sleeping times for children and adults, production of manufactured goods and weekly schedules, we also know that NOT following patterned behavior can be just as important. Read More…

Measuring Performance: Are You Collecting the Right Data?

measuring performance data

We live in an age of data. Big data. The ability to collect and use data to make business decisions has become table stakes for any organization looking to gain operational efficiencies, drive innovation, obtain market share, and manage targeted and timely development of human capital. Looking back even five years, a McKinsey Global Institute report communicated the value of big data.

“We estimate that a retailer using big data to the fullest has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Harnessing big data in the public sector has enormous potential, too. If US healthcare were to use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year. Two-thirds of that would be in the form of reducing US healthcare expenditure by about 8 percent.” (MGI, 2011)

Over the course of these past five years, we have gained a lot of capability and capacity to help us manage all of this data. And yet, many organizations still feel as though they’re falling behind.

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Considering a Mass Layoff? You Might Be a Knuckle-Dragger

Considering a Mass Layoff? You Might Be a Knuckle-Dragger

It amazes me how many executives are knuckle-draggers. A knuckle-dragger, for purposes of this conversation, is someone who is unintelligent (or makes unintelligent decisions) and is stuck in the past, promoting and using antiquated and ineffective methods.

This is the person who is still wandering out of his/her cave with a club in search of something to knock in the head and eat for dinner. There isn’t a lot of thought that goes into a knuckle-dragger’s actions. In an office environment, it is the executive that screams at people when they make mistakes. Or a C-Suite that performs mass layoffs.

Yep, I said it. If you do mass layoffs, you are a knuckle-dragger.

According to CNBC, in January of this year, layoffs surged to a 6 month high. Over 75,000 planned job cuts by US-based companies were announced last month. That’s 200% more than December, and 42% higher than this time last year. Two of the major contributors are Wal-Mart and Macy’s, cutting 16,000 and 4,820 respectively.

People try to justify mass layoffs by talking about the good of the company, looking out for shareholders, blah, blah, blah. Here’s what they don’t tell you: They are laying off people because of their failure. Simply put, most executives rely on mass layoffs to compensate for their inability to lead properly and make the right decisions.

A great example is Al Dunlap, aka “Chainsaw Al.” He was famous for downsizing. Everyone thought his methods caused companies to become successful by “cutting the fat.” However, what people didn’t realize was his turnarounds were elaborate frauds. When Sunbeam brought him in to solve their financial issues, he downsized. Sunbeam went bankrupt, and he was caught trying to engineer an accounting scandal.

The Myths and Realities of Mass Layoffs

The simple truth is that downsizing and mass layoffs are BAD for your company. They will give you an uptick in profits at the end of the year if done at the proper time, but they are not a viable long term solution. In fact, in the long term they are detrimental to the sustainability of your company. Here are four myths and realities about layoffs:

Improving Productivity

Downsizing and mass layoffs are thought to improve the productivity of the organization. It supposedly motivates employees (which we will talk about later), consolidates resources, and makes the organization leaner.

But the simple truth is that organizations aren’t any more productive after a mass layoff than they were before it. The budget sheet looks better because there are less expenses, but productivity doesn’t increase. In fact, studies show you are likely to see a drop in productivity in the short and long term. Here’s why: When an organization has a mass layoff, they usually don’t determine who are the talent players (often because the people making the decision have no idea who they are laying off). So they choose some metric, and get rid of people using that.

Because they are only measuring performance based on a single factor, they get rid of both talented and untalented employees. The result is a smaller workforce, not a more productive one. Often mass layoffs cause employees to look for work elsewhere. Would you want to work where you could get laid off any minute? Usually, the better employees get hired at other places and leave. Once this happens, the level of talent at your organization actually decreases.

Motivating the Workforce

Downsizing and mass layoffs are thought by some to motivate employees. They don’t motivate, they distract. Think about it. When a company has a mass layoff, it causes widespread uncertainty and fear. Every employee wonders if they are the next to go. While they might work a bit harder for a short time, they are constantly worried about losing their job.

At best, mass layoffs motivate your most talented employees to look for jobs elsewhere.

Solving Financial Issues

Many people think mass layoffs will solve an organization’s financial problems. But rather than actually solving the problem that caused the budget shortfall, layoffs are usually used to offset it. An organization fires a large amount of people to help their budget and then, as things seem to get better, they hire all these people back until they are in the same spot they were in to begin with. 3-5 years later, they have to have another mass layoff. The cycle repeats itself.

In addition, studies show that layoffs actually drag down a company’s stock value.

Making the Company Stronger

There is this perception that mass layoffs make companies stronger. They don’t. Usually, its because they don’t solve the root of the problem. The problems might even be making the layoff decisions.

Other than some major external factors shifting without warning, the failures that lead to a mass layoff are the responsibility of the C-Suite. And in the end, it is the failure of company leadership that causes mass layoffs. Sadly, they often don’t see it and aren’t held accountable. Instead, they hold others accountable for their failure in leadership and decision making.

Are You a Knuckle-Dragger?

It saddens me how many executives think mass layoffs are a viable option. To be fair, in some rare cases they are, but not usually. Yet, we have created a business culture that says it is just another way of doing business. But the ways of doing business are changing, and mass layoffs are more of a detriment to your organization than ever before.

Think about millennials, for example. We constantly hear companies complain that the millennials don’t want to work for them, or are more concerned with personal gain than their loyalty to the company. I’ve heard many business executives shake their heads, tsk and complain about this behavior. Guess what, knuckle-draggers? You caused it. Who’d want to be loyal to a company when mass layoffs are a just another way of doing business?

Financially, layoffs reduce stock prices. They reduce productivity and cause a need for payouts in severance, plus the cost of rehiring employees as business improves. They cause a burden on the tax payers because of the increase in unemployment recipients. They make people wary of working there, have a severe negative effect on employee health, and often leave the organization with a less capable workforce in the long run.

So, with the overwhelming amount of evidence about the detrimental effects of mass layoffs, why do they still do it? How do we get the knuckle-draggers to put down the clubs, become leaders, and make better decisions?

3 Development Principles to Reshape Performance Management

3 Development Principles to Reshape Performance Management

Guest article written by Levi Nieminen, Ph.D.

As part of the debate over whether to end traditional performance management and where to go from here, one fundamental question that needs to be addressed is whether a single HR- Talent Management system can achieve both evaluative and developmental objectives? In this brief article, I describe a few of the principles that OD professionals live by and the challenges they present for the designers and overseers of “performance management 2.0.”

“Blow up” performance management

Over the last several months, the list of high-profile companies who have “blown up” performance management (PM) as they (we) once knew it has grown to include GE, Microsoft, Adobe, Gap, Accenture, and Deloitte. These are just the most recent public denouncements of what is certainly a long standing and widely held discontent over PM and appraisal practices. Two years ago, CEB’s research indicated that upwards of 90% of companies were looking at major overhauls to their PM systems.

These days, it appears that the debate over PM is taking on both on new heights (see Bersin by Deloitte report) and adding new angles of aerial attack. As an Organizational Development (OD) professional looking in from a semi-outsider perspective, it occurs to me that the latest round of scrutiny has focused on the many ways in which traditional PM systems fail not only from an evaluative perspective (i.e., valid appraisal of people), which is old news, but also from a developmental perspective. That companies want to invest more in the development of their people makes good sense. Whether this responsibility can or should be housed within traditional HR departments and aligned in other ways with formal PM systems remains to be seen.

I am biased however, to think that PM 2.0 will fail on developmental objectives until the old principles of PM are replaced with a radical new set. Though a much longer list is certainly possible, here are 3 principles that most OD professionals I know live by, and which might provide useful guideposts for PM 2.0… if we are to take the new focus on development seriously.

Principle 1: You can lead a horse to water…

PM 2.0 needs to turn the concept of who owns employee development on its head. In the past, we have pointed to management, the HR-Talent Management-OD department, and most recently, team leaders (see Deloitte in HBR) as the owners of the development process. While we talk about the idea that managers need to “develop their people,” from the employee perspective, this makes development feel like something “they’re doing to us.” Once the whole activity takes on an odor of compliance, what follows more often than not are check-the-box actions and commitments. There is an art form to giving ownership to employees that will no doubt involve learning new and productive ways to lead the horses to water. And some leaders and some cultures will support these coaching behaviors more than others.

One organization that has been leading this charge is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rather than focusing their efforts on manager-supervisor engagement in the process, they have recently begun to shift toward fostering employee ownership. One practice involves training employees in how to seek, receive, and use feedback. Culturally, they recognize the need to attract and hire the right people for this strategy to be effective.

Principle 2: From big data to small data

Many of the emerging trends of PM 2.0 [so far] have focused on solving the old problems of how to evaluate people, for example, how to fix ratings. As a result, many of the proposed solutions focus on giving bigger and better data to management so that organizations can make smarter decisions about how to compensate and utilize its people. On the hand, this is really good progress!

On the other hand, this progress seems to do little to address the development objectives. While new data-driven solutions are certainly needed on this side too, what’s needed will likely look very different than the recent clamoring for big data. Instead, it’s much more likely to look like small data–informal, ongoing, un-documented, and owned by the individual.

Every coach who has used a 360 with a client knows that there comes a moment-of-truth question when it’s time to ask the HR sponsor: “Who will own the data?” The old PM script that gives HR co-ownership of the data is one of the best ways to compromise the individual’s ownership of the process and certainly conflates the purpose of development with a new possibility that evaluation will sneak in. Even the best and most well-intended HR partners cannot be expected to un-see performance data they’ve seen and this can be a problem when it later comes time to weigh in on personnel decisions.

For PM 2.0 to truly prioritize development, organizations will need to add a healthy dose of small data that is owned by individuals and off-limits to corporate. This does not mean that the new systems will lack transparency, but that the modes for achieving transparency will need to be different. For example, the assessment data or feedback can be held and owned privately by the employee, so long as the process also encourages honest conversations about the key insights gained from that data. Those conversations are essential in order to gain the input and support of the boss, co-workers, and HR as the employee embarks on new development priorities and goals. As the next section describes, there is a certain “art form” in the coaching that is needed to guide a person through this process.

Principle 3: Feedback without coaching doesn’t work

Freeing managers from the burdens of ownership (Principle 1) does not let them off the hook. But it does allow for a shift in how they interact with the process and the skills they will need to build. In the big scheme of things, organizations might get more return-on-investment from PM 2.0 by wrestling a little less with the measurement of performance and a little more with teaching managers how to be good coaches for their people.

Recent research confirms that providing feedback without the adjacent support of a coach leaves a lot of the value in these exercises on the table, and in particular, whether the individual sees growth in him or herself as a leader over time. One reason is that the translation of the feedback into priorities and specific actions is rarely self-contained in the feedback. This takes work and requires not only a motivated individual who wants to change but also a supporting process that builds awareness and alignment with the key people around him or her.

In this respect, PM 2.0 will need to replace the old “compartmentalized” view of individual performance with a wider-lens that also shines a light on key elements of the team, organization, and strategy. The most value will be created when the development strategies for people accurately reflect the specific needs of the business strategy (read J. Boudreau’s, “Trouble with the Curve” for an interesting take on this). And it seems reasonable to expect even more demand on coaching and coaching skills as a more complex view of individual performance and the surrounding context is embraced.

Development and evaluation: A paradox?

Stanford business professor Charles Bonini described how it is not possible to create a model that is both accurate and useful. A model that is fully accurate is too complex to understand, and thus, we must compromise some accuracy in order to achieve some practical value. This is called “Bonini’s paradox.

As with the HR sponsor in the 360 moment-of-truth, the designers of PM 2.0 will need to decide what their ultimate priority is. If development is the priority, the new systems will need to be engineered with development principles in mind, and the solution will be as much about changing the culture as it is about improving the measurement. As my description of each principle has highlighted, these cultural shifts will most likely entail:

  • The shift toward employee ownership of development and corresponding changes to how HR and managers support and bring accountability to the process,
  • New norms that effectively balance privacy and transparency so that employees can own their feedback and data (e.g., 360 data) while also having the honest conversations needed to allow others to support their progress, and
  • A shift in management style and skillset that moves away from “telling and directing” and moves closer to “asking and coaching.”

This article first appeared on Denison Consulting.

Levi-NieminenLevi Nieminen, Ph.D. is the Director of Research and a Senior Consultant with Denison Consulting. His work focuses on conducting applied research on organizational culture and leadership and translating that research into improved solutions for clients and shareable knowledge for the larger scientific community.