Posts Tagged leadership

327 — Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion

When a group is involved in selecting its own leader, you get the best candidate and a motivated, committed team. This process also demonstrates desirable cultural values.

“My lead manager suddenly resigned and I am looking for a replacement.” In this top-down autocratic company my friend added that he didn’t know if the opening would be filled with somebody from his own team or from another division. I suggested that he could use this unexpected vacancy as an opportunity to engage the people most affected — his Department Managers — in the selection process. Done right, the process would reveal the best candidate and further develop the division’s culture. Here’s what we discussed.

Invite the Department Managers to a meeting, “To discuss the selection of your new leader“. In the meeting, outline this group decision process. With your leadership they will:

    • Develop and agree on the selection criteria for the new lead manager.
    • Rank-order their selection criteria.
    • Rate each other (everyone in the room) against the criteria.
    • Discuss the results.

Be clear that the results of their discussion will not necessarily be the final decision. But at minimum what they say will be an important part of the selection decision process. Ask for their agreement before using this process. It involves peer feedback. People will be apprehensive. You might hand out copies of this paper so they better understand the process before agreeing to it. Emphasize that what is discussed in the meeting is confidential—it must “stay in the room”. Get their commitment to this.

Develop the Selection Criteria

    • Ask everybody to think about the qualities they would like in their new leader.
      “Think about a leader you had when you felt motivated and productive- who make your work easier. With that situation in mind, what qualities would you like in your new leader?” Allow plenty of time for discussion. Then allow five or ten minutes for everyone to separately write down his or her thoughts.
    • Go around the group asking each person for one criterion. Record what they say on a flip chart. Continue until there are no more criteria. For more on this technique see Making Better Decisions.
    • Ask the group to consolidate the criteria into 6 to 10 numbered items.
    • Ask each person to individually rank order the numbered items on a separate piece of paper.
    • Collect their rankings, tally the results, and write it on the flip chart
    • Now ask the group to weight each ranked item so the total is 100. This can be done individually and the results tallied, or it can be done through general group discussion.

You can stop the process at this point with some valuable information to the group, or you can continue and rank the candidates.

Rank Order the Candidates

    • On an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper turned horizontally (landscape mode), draw a rectangular grid/matrix with the criteria written on the left as horizontal rows, and each candidate (everyone in the room) as a vertical column with their initials on the top. Make one copy for everybody. This might be done during a coffee break.
    • Have each person privately rank order everyone (except him or herself) against each criterion. 1 as highest. No ties. Explain that the consolidated results will be information for them as a group and individually.
    • After each person has completed his or her scoring you collect them all and privately tally the results. Make a copy of the tally sheet for each person in the room. Destroy the individual ranking pages.

 

Discuss the Results

Each manager now knows how the group rates each person against the criteria they all developed. Some will rank high, others low. Sometimes one person stands out as the group’s clear favorite. Leave plenty of time for discussion. It may move in surprising and productive directions. For example an experienced team might decide that those scoring high in one area might coach those scoring low. Be open to developments.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Remind them of their agreement on confidentiality.

Caution

My friend the director was quite apprehensive about using this process with his managers. It is not for all groups. In a competitive or mistrusting group, the results might be used outside of the meeting as ammunition. This is dangerous and unfair. Because of the potential for misuse, discuss the process in detail with the group ahead of time. Get full understanding and honest agreement before using it.

In the right setting this process is exciting and informative. It identifies the person who can lead the team to new heights.

This process:

    • Involves the people most affected—in this case the Department Managers.
    • Demonstrates a new level of openness and involvement in a very sensitive area.
    • By opening the selection process to scrutiny, it reduces accusations of favoritism.
    • Shows the managers they are valued in new ways and encourages them to do something similar in their own departments.
    • Produces a clear set of selection criteria — what is important about the job to those most affected.
    • If the top ranked candidate is finally chosen, it almost guarantees his or her on-the-job success because he or she will have the support of the group.
    • Informs and simplifies the selection process for the Division Director.
    • Gives managers feedback from their peers on areas they should work on.

 

So what happened?

We worked through the process just as described. The managers were pleased and amazed at what they did and what it meant to them. Their rank ordering had no surprises, but doing it themselves built a powerful understanding and teamwork. It turned out that the corporation transferred in a new manager from outside the division. But that didn’t diminish the team’s work or the value and learning they gained from it.

More on Creative Uses for Group Decisions:

A very similar process is described in the paper Promotions and Transfers. You can use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. Here a volunteer group used a similar decision process to shrink itself to a workable size.

cc 327 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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132 — To Understand Behavior, Look At the Situation — The Culture

A person’s behavior is information about the person’s situation. Culture is the situation. To understand culture, look at what people do. To understand behavior, look at the culture.

When something goes wrong:

      • Don’t focus on the person as if they are the problem.
      • Don’t look at the problem as if it is an independent event.
      • Do look at the situation that led to the problem.

 

“There is no event in a vacuum.” Most problems come from the system. Most system problems come from poor decisions, resulting from poor relationships and communications. These are cultural issues, which is why the culture is always part of any problem, often the root cause.

Culture Is the Context for Human Actions

What people do comes from who they are and the situation they are in — a person in a culture. People in any culture behave similarly because they have a shared sense of what is appropriate. At work, our national culture combined with the local company culture, tells us what is appropriate. Anthropologists have long known that culture is the context that explains human actions.

1-situation behavior

Personality plays a role in what happens, but as a manager you cannot change someone’s personality — and you probably should not try. The situation or company culture is the most important part to look at for two reasons:

  1. The culture is the part leaders can manage.
  2. Managing the culture has great leverage. Developing the culture lifts the whole ship, not one part — it is a very efficient allocation of management time.

cc 132 © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Person and Behavior

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431 — Improve Safety, Reduce Accidents

When leader’s actions show that they take personal responsibility for safety, employees will act safely.

Only With Trust Can You Discover the Truth

It was 7 AM when Andy Brown, Vice President of U.S. Manufacturing arrived at his office. The night before there had been a deadly explosion and fire in one of the company’s Gulf Coast plants. His boss, the EVP Operations, called. After talking for a few minutes Andy put down the phone and said, “He wants to know what happened and he wants some heads on the table. I tried to tell him that I can do either of those things but I can’t do both. He wouldn’t listen.” We discussed his dilemma and he quickly came up with a brilliant one-liner that would make a great corporate bumper sticker:

safe plant bumper sticker

Andy knew that to get at the root cause of the explosion, people must felt safe to speak the truth. If they were afraid for their job, he probably could not get at the real cause and therefore not know what procedure modifications to make to prevent another similar blast. Andy knows that to understand a problem you must look at what led to it, to the context, the situation, the system, the culture. To Andy, the explosion was a symptom and the cause was the system. To his boss the explosion was a problem that someone caused.

People don’t come to work to perform poorly. They want to be proud of their work and feel that they are a valuable and appreciated team member. Few of us deliberately do the wrong thing. There is rarely an excuse for poor performance, but if you look carefully you’ll always find an explanation. Every careless person has a reason.

Accidents Are a Symptom of a Cultural Problem

You can’t understand the cause of the accidents unless you put yourself into the employee’s shoes, understanding why the employee bypasses procedures, takes shortcuts, and ignores obvious evidence of mounting problems, and why, after an accident, the employee justifies this behavior with, “That is how we’ve always done things here.” Culturally speaking the employee did nothing wrong. He or she did just what was expected, behaving appropriately to his or her situation, to the culture, to what managers ask for, not in words but through their actions.

We each know what it’s like to work under pressure to get the job done. You feel that push every minute, in everything you do. Senior managers may even have a bonus for on-time or early project completion. Leaders typically deny any relationship between accidents and their leadership. Ironically, if their division does well they will quickly claim personal credit. But if there is an accident that same manager will blame it on external events or someone at lower levels. Looking in the mirror is painful.

Safety or Profits, or Safety and Profits? — Example

Jack, the manager of a large processing plant regularly preached to his managers and employees about safety, yet the plant’s safety record lagged well below the company’s norms. Jack was unaware of the contradictions between what he preached about safety and what he said through his actions. In management meetings he focused on the numbers, on productivity, labor hours, maintenance costs, expenses, overtime and downtime. It was clear to his managers, and everybody below them, that financial performance trumped safety — every time. Jack justified his emphasis saying, “That’s’ my job. If we aren’t profitable we won’t stay in business!”

We suggested to Jack that if he wanted to improve safety it would need to share the stage with finances. The message took repeating but Jack eventually heard it. He started opening his management meetings by asking for the safety numbers and how these affected his employees. It wasn’t long before the safety numbers improved — significantly. Jack was surprised to see that along with improved safety numbers, productivity slowly rose. His conversations with supervisors revealed that improved safety was improving employee morale and work attitudes. Employees were bringing more responsibility and energy to their jobs.

Fear Brings Silence

Most corporate executives claim they are not afraid to say what they think when they are in meetings with their peers and the CEO. Is that true? Executive meetings are typically dominated by the powerful field of competition, power, authority and control. Put a bunch of alpha males in the same room, human nature prevails. If this were the open savannas of Africa, fangs and claws would be bared — there would be blood. That’s scary.

But in the controlled calm of the executive suite competition is more subtle. Fear is largely suppressed and denied behind a cool front. What is thought and what is said may be worlds apart. When not speaking up, except about “business” issues (levels 1, 2 and 3 of culture) is the model at the executive level, you can be sure it’s the same down below.

Investigators of the BP Gulf oil spill, along with other well-researched “incidents”, unearthed the fear of speaking up. Most companies have box cars full of safety procedures. They don’t need more. The problem is that even when employees know the rules, know what should be done or see something being done wrong, they don’t speak up, don’t say “Stop.” Anyone who has worked in a large organization knows exactly how that feels. Bravery is stupidity.

Ironically, leaders in these bureaucratic and autocratic cultures often imagine they can improve safety by issuing even more rules and harsher directives, maybe even shouting at people to follow the rules and speak out. Of course in a culture or fear and passive-aggressive obedience, this has the opposite effect. It brings more fear, more silence.

Executives Will Get What They Ask For

As we say repeatedly on this website, what people do at the top gives permission for what happens below. To say that in reverse — if there’s a problem at lower levels you can be sure it is mirrored by a similar problem at the top. So if you plan to improve or develop a safer work culture the leadership team might ask itself, “What can we do differently to show we want things done differently in safety?”

These discussions invariably include the human levels of culture. They bring more openness and trust in the leadership team. When leaders combine that with trying new ways of showing safety in their daily work, they start changing the culture. This happens automatically as people below look up, see the new expectation and copy it. People want a safe workplace. When they see they have permission it doesn’t take long before the workplace is more psychologically and physically safe.

Warnings:

1. It is important that leaders don’t navel gaze by asking what they’re doing now that fosters the present safety problem. Human behavior and cultures are far too complex for such simple analysis. Searching for behavioral causes only brings accusations, denial, makes people angry, and in any case looks backwards rather than forwards. It’s more useful to ask, “How can we show greater safety with small changes in how we work together as a team and to how we each do our daily work?”

2. Delegating safety problems to Human Resources or to the engineering department is not only irrational, (it is a leadership issue, not a procedural, training or HR issue) it is counterproductive. People know safety is a leadership issue. When leaders delegate the problem there’s a clear message, “Don’t change. Keep things the way they are.

cc 431 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — Operations

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121 — The Structure of Culture, The Five Levels

 

You don’t need to know the structure of your brain or personality to change your attitude and behavior. Similarly you don’t need to know the structure of you company culture in order to change it. However for those managers who’d like to know the basic structure of culture, here are the five distinct parts or levels. In a well developed work culture, these parts are balanced. The first three you can analyze, the last two you can’t. See also Balance The Two Halves of Culture.

1. Physical Objects — equipment

bridge 039This is the first level of any culture. It includes tools and objects people use to build and make, the clothes they wear, the structures they live and work in, the products they trade or sell, and the art they create and cherish. This is the level of physics and chemistry, equipment, hardware, engineering, and technology. (more…)

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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133 — Splitting Thoughts and Actions Cuts Profits

For many employees, what goes on in their head is not what they show through their words and actions. This split between thought and behavior is stressful and unproductive, a waste of company resources — bad for people and bad for business.

One of the many threads that led to my interest in culture was the book Something Happened by Joseph L. Heller of Catch 22 fame. In his book, Heller chronicles the inner life of Bob Slocum, a corporate middleman acutely conscious of company politics and power.

Like your average corporate employee, Bob Slocum struggles with what to say and what not to say in a meeting. He tries to interpret comments and glances in a hallway. He is uncertain about where he stands in the eyes of those above him. He does not say what he thinks. The contrast between his thoughts and actions, his feeling and words is jarring. What is real and unreal, true or false, rapidly blurs.

This describes my own experiences in my 20s, first as an employee, and later as a supervisor and manager in several companies. Later I thought, “If Slocum experiences corporate life like I do, perhaps others do also. Why don’t we talk about this at work?”

Dividing Thought and Action

We each adopt to the world of work. If we don’t we are ejected. I learned, as most of us do, that at work we discuss the abstractions, the ‘quantitative’ details of production — the numbers. In business meetings we rarely discuss the hard data of our immediate concrete experiences of work. We do not put these personal facts on the table. We sit in meetings thinking constantly, saying little. If we do talk about our feelings, it is at lunch, at the water cooler, in the restroom, after the meeting, or to our spouse in the evening, or to our friends at social gatherings.

Joining Thought and Action

Companies with well-developed cultures build relationships and trust that allow people to say what they are thinking, to be what they long to be, to hold together thought and action, to bring more of themselves to work. These companies are highly energetic and creative, a pleasure to work in, very productive, and exceptionally profitable.

cc 133 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

 

Posted in: About Company Culture — Person and Behavior

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