Leadership


Back at work more full time these days, and this project is taking me 4 hours away from home Sunday night through Thursday. So I’m still trying to settle into the new routine, but it’s taking time away from reading and thinking…although I’ve started listening to all the good Christian authors I have on CD while I’m on the road, so maybe that time will spur some thought processes. 🙂

Over the years, I’ve read a number of text books, magazine articles, and leadership newsletters about motivating employees. From what I remember, they tended to be rather “one-dimensional.” At least I’m remembering it that way based on an article I read in July-August’s Harvard Business Review. Now, I could be all wrong on this, but from what I remember, most of what I’ve read was about finding out what motivated am employee, and focusing your efforts on that. I suppose it could have meant multidimensional, but I tended to take it as finding out if people wanted more money, position, importance, recognition, etc. But this article by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee made me think.

The part that really hit me at first was the authors claim to have identified drives that could explain almost 60% of the variance in whether an employee was motivated or not. Hmm, that’s a pretty good percentage when you think about it. If you know your employees well, and you can hit at least 60% of those areas that motivate an employee, and possibly more as you get to know the employee, you would have one extremely motivated workforce. And what company wouldn’t love to have employees that were that motivated.

The drivers that they identified in the article are:

  • The drive to acquire – we all want to earn money in order to buy what we need to survive, but by structuring rewards such that poor performance gets the same as excellent performance, motivation is destroyed.
  • The drive to bond – “… the drive to bond accounts for an enormous boost in motivation when employees feel proud of belonging to the organization” (pp. 80-81). This is where leadership can really shine. If we can create a culture of caring and trust within companies, employees will bond easily and also defend (#4) against competition much more aggressively.
  • The drive to comprehend – “We are frustrated when things seem senseless, and we are invigorated, typically, by the challenge of working out answers” (p. 81). I really appreciate this concept, because I have been in situations where decisions were made that had I known the reasoning behind the decisions, I know I would have fought harder to accomplish the end result.
  • The drive to defend -“Fulfilling the drive to defend leads to feelings of security and confidence; not fulfilling it produces strong negative emotions like fear and resentment” (p. 81). I know I would rather defend against competition in the world than be insulated from it and not know why things aren’t doing as well.

The article presents an interesting statistic: if you take a company in the 50th percentile in its industry, and are able to improve on one of these drives, the company would only increase to the 56th percentile. But if you engage the employees on all four drives, it rises to the 88th percentile. That’s a significant gain!

What’s the leader’s drive in this knowledge? I can give you a quick, non-altruistic one; imagine your bonus if you are able to increase productivity to drive the company’s profits up that much in just a few years?

— Nohria, N., Groysberg, B. & Lee, L. (2008, July-August). Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model. Harvard Business Review, 86-7/8, 79-84.

Three articles from Darkreading.com recently caught my attention and made me wonder, why don’t we think anymore? I mean, I know we all “think“, but serious cognitive thought about situations seems to be a lost art.

For example, Kelly Higgins describes a situation where bank records involving customers in stock option programs as well as other banking activity were lost. Now that is somewhat understandable when you use a third-party to store the tapes as I have in the past. But this is the part of the article that caught my attention, “The unencrypted storage tapes…” (Higgins, 2008, ¶ 2). WAIT!!!  Unencrypted?!?! Why would you want to risk the exposure of sensitive personal information by not encrypting the backup tapes? In my job I deal with personal health information (PHI), A.K.A. HIPAA governed information. I would NEVER send data across the Internet to our external backup site or do a tape backup without encrypting the data I’m putting on the tape. I’ve had 2 people fired for transmitting PHI via e-mail to an employee working from home.

Then the article by John Sawyer about a microSD card he found on the street and what was on it. Word and Excel documents…okay. Probably information the company wouldn’t want to be released, but it’s probably low-risk and low-threat type data. But porn movies? And not only that, but homemade porn movies also? I mean seriously! Do people really want to risk their jobs with porn on their phones? And hopefully not a company supplied phone.

And then this gem by Tom Wilson. How did the virus get on the computers in the Space Station? Yep, a virus made it to outerspace folks. Someone is suggesting it probably made it there on a USB thumb drive. Probably. But they do transmit e-mail via KU band transmissions back and forth to the station. I guess now we’re going to have to start frisking astronauts before they get on the rocket to make sure they don’t have any undeclared thumb drives.

So, the common thread on these stories is why don’t people think? When you look back over the past couple of years of breach reports, you’ll see stories about someone leaving a CD full of unencrypted PHI in the backseat pocket of an airplane. Consultants and employees having their laptops stolen from cars and restaurants, and the data stored on the notebook is not secured. And now 12 million people have had their personal financial information exposed because someone didn’t encrypt a backup tape. These are easy to prevent situations, but why don’t we think? Are we naive enough to think that “it won’t happen to me?” I think that has been disproved enough times. Which is why the number of computers reported as being a member of a botnet has quadrupled over the past few months!

It seems to be to be a pretty simple situation. “I have health related data on my notebook, or on the CD, so I better make sure it’s either encrypted, or I need to be EXTREMELY careful with it.” Isn’t that the thought that should be going through your mind? Wouldn’t you want someone who was working with your personal information to exercise the same restraint and concern to make sure your data is secured? Of course you would. You’d be the first to scream when your data was released. But why don’t we show that same respect toward others? Why don’t we think?

— Higgins, Kelly Jackson. (2008, August 29). Bank’s Lost Backup Tapes Contained IDs of 12 Million Clients. Dark Reading. http://www.darkreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=162651.

— Sawyer, John H. (2008, August 29). Dangers of Mixing Business and Pleasure. Dark Reading. http://www.darkreading.com/blog.asp?blog_sectionid=447&doc_id=162653.

— Wilson, Tom. (2008, August 29). Who Infected the International Space Station? Dark Reading. http://www.darkreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=162654.

Ever needed to find an in-house expert on a topic at your company, but didn’t know where to look? That’s the subject of this article related to “information networks,” or how we find information.

The authors studied how people found experts in a large multinational consulting company, and mapped out the number of steps each attempt took. They found that three groups of people had the most difficulty finding the experts:

  1. Employees who were relatively new,
  2. Employees who resided at the periphery of the organizations social network, and
  3. Female employees.

New employees and those who are at the periphery of the social network of the company I can understand, but female employees being in there intrigues me. Is it the “boys club” nature coming through again? Or could it be some other factor?

The obvious solutions to finding an expert were mentioned in the article, “One potential solution is a mentoring program that not only pairs newcomers with veterans but also tries to match people across various social lines” (p. 9).

Another idea came to me, which also is good for building a skills matrix on employees. Companies should build an intranet where the employees are listed along with skills the company markets. Let everyone vote for who they think are the experts in the field. As the number of votes rises, the “real” experts in a particular field should rise to the top, and then the information is available for anyone to search.

— Hayashi, A. M. (2008, Spring). The World Might Be Small, but Not for Everyone. MIT Sloan Management Review. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2008/spring/04/.

As leaders, influence is our “stock and trade.” It’s what allows us to get those jobs done that we need our team to do. But are we influencing people the right way? Subtle changes can make a message either very effective, or cause people to dig in their heels against the message and resist the change. This article describes a situation that describes this subtlety well.

Consider the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, which loses more than a ton of petrified wood each month because of theft. In hopes of preventing the vandalism, the park has instituted a deterrence program in which prominently placed signs make visitors aware of past thievery: ‘Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time'” (p. 85).

The sign sounds good. It alerts people to a problem in the hopes that people will realize that they shouldn’t be stealing the petrified wood. But the result?

… a woman he described as someone who would never take even a paperclip or rubber band without returning it – he was astonished when, after reading the sign decrying vandalism, she whispered to him, ‘We better get ours now'” (p. 85).

The core to the problem in that sign was an implicit approval of stealing because others were doing it also. How many times have we seen people do something at work because someone else was also doing it. Or, have you mentioned to your team the amount of time that some people are doing something that is a waste of time, and it only seemed to encourage that pattern of behavior?

In order to test this assumption, the authors created a situation in hotels with the “help save our environment by reusing towels” cards in the rooms. By changing the wording on the cards to, “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment,” they were able to increase participation in towel reuse by 34%. By implying that everyone was doing it, other hotel guests began to join the program.

So be aware of “how” you’re saying something when you’re working with your team. You might be inadvertently encouraging the behavior you’re trying to stop.

— Griskevicius, V., Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2008, Winter). Applying (and Resisting) Peer Influence. MIT Sloan Management Review. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2008/winter/20/.

There’s a good article on Fortune this week called “Wall Street Whiners.” Read the whole thing, but I really like this section of the article:

The various reports may have gotten one big thing right: Many argued that a broad, principles-based approach to both accounting and regulation would work better and cost less. But living according to principles requires a certain maturity and a long-term view of where one’s self-interest lies. Right now, Wall Street seems like a child who can’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar, even when the cookies are going to make him sick (¶ 9).

Good advice for Wall Street…and Main Street.

— McLean, B. (2008, April 1). Wall Street Whiners. Fortune. http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/31/news/economy/wall_street_whines.fortune/index.htm.

Complements are like mirror images of each other. The article “Adjusting Your Leadership Volume” puts it this way, “Leadership involves two great pairs of opposing approaches. One pair, the how of leading, consists of forceful leadership and enabling leadership” (p. 16). How many of us have worked for Type A bosses? They have the forceful part down pat, but they tend to be lacking on the enabling side. Just like Aristotle’s thought, that “what is good, virtuous, and effective in thought and action is the midpoint between deficiency and excess” (p. 14), we have to slide across the scale depending on the situation and the person.

“The other pair, the what of leading, consists of strategic leadership and operational leadership” (p. 16). I once worked for a man that was close to 90% strategic. He needed people around him that were able to see the vision, understand it, and implement it. It’s why we worked so well together, because I could get dirty with the day-to-day, but also able to sit back and make sure the end result, the strategic, was going to marry up well with the vision. Or said differently, the ability to see the forest and the trees, which is one of my strengths.

This article was really good for me because it helps me to see the two “pairs of leadership” visually, and helps me think about what is required in order to accomplish the current goals.

leadership-complements.jpg

Where on the lines do you need to be?

– Kaplan, B. & Kaiser, R. (2007, Winter). Adjusting Your Leadership Volume. Leader to Leader. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/114030679/ABSTRACT.

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