Thriving in the Decade Ahead

September 17, 2020

In just 10 short years our world will be radically changed in both positive and negative ways. How we adapt to these changes will determine whether we thrive or merely hang on to survive. Developing and further honing creativity and social skills may be key.

In Mauro F. Guillén’s new book, 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, the author lays out an astonishing list of things to expect and how these will impact all of us in very dramatic ways. Among them:

  • Percentage of the world’s wealth owned by women in 2000: 15%; 2030: 55%
  • Percentage of Americans projected to be obese in 2030: 50%
  • Number of people entering the middle class in emerging markets in 2030: 1 billion
  • Percentage of world’s urban population exposed to rising sea levels in 2030: 80%
  • Percentage of American workers considered part of the “creative class” in 2030: 50%

The huge influx of people migrating to urban areas will further increase inequality as those in the “creative class” will thrive. This creative class, defined by author and University of Toronto professor Richard Florida, are those in knowledge professions, such as scientists, engineers, architects, artists, designers as well as those in healthcare, business, finance, legal and education.

Florida says what it takes for a city to develop a dynamic creative class with the concept of “the three T’s”: talent, tolerance and technology. While talent and technology may be obvious, it is tolerance that has attracted a lot of attention. This tolerance is defined as a melting pot of diverse people, including members of the LGBTQ community, artists, musicians and others.

“Tolerance and openness to diversity is part and parcel of the broad cultural shift toward post-materialist values,” writes Florida. He says this tolerance provides an added source of economic advantage working alongside technology and talent.

An increasing number of jobs also require non-routine analytical skills, according to David J. Deming, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Social skills involving coordination, negotiation, persuasion, and social perceptiveness are and will continue to be in high demand. By 2030, Deming’s research suggests a majority of jobs will require the use of social skills and creativity.

The coming decade will likely bring self-driving cars and an ever-increasing amount of automation throughout our lives. It is therefore vital to maintain our (dare I say) human advantage.

[By 2030,] “. . . there will be more computers than human brains, more sensors than eyes, and more robotic arms than human labor in manufacturing,” according to Mauro. In fact, a single robot will displace an average of five to six workers in the manufacturing sector.

Rather than resist or deny the rapid innovation inevitably coming our way, I believe we should embrace the opportunities that will accompany it. In the same way we previously adapted to massive revolutionary technology change in existing industries, markets and occupations, I think we can again. We need to acknowledge and embrace the unique skills we humans (at least currently) have over artificial intelligence.  

This creativity and social skills should continue to remain our competitive advantage. This means learning to regularly think “outside the box,” do more lateral thinking and develop strong social skills. The ability to grow our emotional intelligence to navigate workplace relationships effectively will also be increasingly important in the future.

No matter your profession, the ability to stay relevant and thrive in your career over the next decade will require more than simply staying up to date on your domain expertise and general business knowledge. You will also need to expand your ability to think creatively and strengthen your overall social skills.  

Gray Market Opportunity

August 30, 2020

Marketers target the youngest generation in order to capture spending by those early in their careers, starting families, buying their first home and generally seen as having the most disposable income. With a focus largely on the millennial generation, marketers are missing a huge opportunity with older consumers.

In addition, employers should recognize the value older employees provide in the workplace in helping to best serve the wants and needs of people over the age of 60.

In a new book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, author Mauro F. Guillén presents a compelling case for thinking differently about older consumers both today and ten years from now. Consider the following:

  • Currently, 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day; in 2030, those 60 or older will represent more than a quarter of the US population.
  • According to the Economist magazine the “older consumer will reshape the business landscape,” and Boston Consulting Group estimates that only one in seven companies are currently prepared for the growing spending power of this gray market.
  • Durable consumer goods such as appliances, tools and cars should assure older consumers that these products are geared to their needs, including that they are easy to use, provide legible instructions and controls, and offer leasing options.
  • According to AARP, a majority of seniors are optimistic about their overall quality of life, including financial well-being, mental and physical health, recreation and leisure time, and family life. When people feel optimistic, they tend to spend more.
  • Today’s expenditures on healthcare, home care, assisted living and similar service industries will accelerate over the next decade.

Technology certainly plays a part when it comes to aging as the breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition, biotechnology and other fields that help more people enjoy longer and happier lives. “By 2030,” according to Guillén, “the average seventy-year-old will live like today’s average fifty-year-old.”

If companies want to capitalize on this rapidly growing gray market, it’s important they recognize that those over 60—employees as well as customers—cannot be ignored. In fact, organizations should recognize the value employees can bring to serving similar aged consumers. Because they are of the same generation, older employees may be better able to define the feature set, user interface and overall value proposition.

As people live longer lives, the idea of early retirement becomes less attractive—either due to it not being financially viable or because people like working and want to continue being productive as long as it is enjoyable.

Older employees can bring experience and wisdom to complement the expected new ideas and tech savvy of younger people. And employees in their sixties and beyond can often provide stability, predictability and reliability other generations cannot. This is something HR departments should take into account when looking for job candidates.

These older workers are not going to be the best fit for every position. Recognizing those individuals who are will be vital in order to take advantage of this growing gray market. Similar aged employees will best be able to understand and meet the needs of such older customers. That makes good business sense now and in the coming decade.

Playing the Infinite Game

January 3, 2020

Running a business over the long-term requires looking beyond what’s good for shareholders to see what’s best for all the stakeholders. This requires seeing business not as a finite game of winners and losers, but as an infinite game where you get to choose how to play.

In the past 50 years it seems corporations have become the center of our capitalist society. Many have lobbyists to steer governmental policy decisions and some organizations even take part in helping to write many of the bills in Congress. Large businesses are often viewed as a barometer of our economic health, with their financial returns considered more important than the employees who work for them and the very customers they serve.

And while fewer than 20 percent of Americans invest in stocks, it seems strange to associate the Dow Jones industrial average with the overall health of our economy.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that in 1978 average CEO pay was 30 times the average worker, and by 2016 it had increased to 271 times the average worker’s pay. In fact, average CEO pay has increased at a rate 70 percent faster than the stock market!

Perhaps our over-reliance on the health of our corporations, including quarterly earnings focused on meeting Wall Street expectations and on over-compensating our CEOs, is not the best way to judge the economy or the state of workers in our society.  

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman in 1970. “He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.”

One wonders if maybe we’ve focused too much on Friedman’s notion of “make as much money as possible” and not nearly enough on the rules “embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.” Too often there seems to be more emphasis on skirting the laws or finding ways to circumvent them—not to mention little if any focus on ethical considerations.

In Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, he suggests we need to replace Friedman’s definition with one that goes beyond profit and considers the dynamism and additional facets that make business work.

“The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible,” writes Sinek. “An organization can do whatever it likes to build its business so long as it is responsible for the consequences of its actions.”

He suggests that to increase the infinite value to our nation, economy and all companies, the responsibility of businesses must be to: 1) advance a purpose, 2) protect people, and 3) generate a profit. Sinek’s order of these is deliberate and important.

Advancing a purpose is about offering people a sense of belonging and the feeling that their lives and work have value beyond the work itself. In protecting people, companies should operate in a way that protects the people who work for it and buy from it, as well as the environment in which they live and work. And though money is the fuel for a business to remain viable, it should be used to continue to advance the first two priorities.

In this infinite mindset, Sinek sees a longer-term focus beyond merely making money. It is a perspective that enables companies to remain viable because it focuses on its employees and customers—the result of which is making a profit. The object of the infinite game is not to win, but to continue playing. When you run a business, you don’t win; you continue to play.  

“Where a finite-minded player makes products they think they can sell to people, the infinite-minded player makes product that people want to buy,” writes Sinek. “The former is primarily focused on how the sale of those products benefits the company; the latter is primarily focused on how the products benefit those who buy them.”

Sinek points to companies like Apple, Patagonia and Four Seasons as examples of companies that have embraced this infinite game mindset. So are other companies once they brought in a new leadership perspective, e.g., Ford under Alan Mulally and Microsoft under Satya Nadella.

This longer-term infinite game focus provides an environment beyond profit, and actually extends closer to Friedman’s notion of capitalism. A renewed focus on conforming to basic rules of society—both laws and ethical customs—may ultimately yield an economic model that serves not only CEOs and shareholders, but also workers, customers and the environment.

Perhaps this would be capitalism at its finest and make it more viable in the long term. And if capitalism truly benefited all stakeholders, maybe socialism wouldn’t be gaining traction by so many younger people as a viable alternative in this country.

Meetings Rule our World

October 28, 2019

As a coach and consultant, I regularly meet with clients challenged to find time due to other meetings crowding their calendars. Meetings rule many of our working lives and this requires we push back to make the best use of our time and to make meetings better.

If you find most of your workday is simply moving from one meeting to the next, you are not alone. Collectively, we attend some 11 million meetings each business day in America. Many of these meetings have no clear agenda, may not require our attendance, and some may not be necessary in the first place.

There’s no doubt some meetings are very important and need to take place with you in attendance. Your challenge is to ensure you participate only in those and find ways to avoid meetings that don’t make the best use of your time.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more your day will be filled with meetings. Therefore, you need to be selective by understanding the meeting’s purpose, determining whether you are the right person to attend, and ultimately whether this meeting is a priority for you right now given your role.

You may find it difficult to push back when you’re invited to attend a meeting, but it’s important that you do this.

When to Decline a Meeting:

  • You should decline when the purpose for the meeting isn’t clear well in advance. The meaning should make it clear why your attendance is necessary. That’s not to imply that what is discussed or decided is not important, but this information can be communicated back to you in the minutes after the meeting.  
  • You should decline when an agenda is not available ahead of time and it’s clear that one will not be used. An agenda helps you best prepare for what will be discussed. It also demonstrates that the meeting organizer has a plan and respects your time and attention.
  • You should decline if you’ve attended a similar meeting in the past from this organizer and found that your participation was not the best use of your time. This may require that you find or appoint someone to attend in your place.
  • You should decline if the meeting is likely to serve as primarily a data dump of information rather than a discussion. Insist that meetings be used for discussion and decision-making, so that you and other attendees stay engaged and feel valued.
  • You should decline when your attendance is not a priority for you in your role. This means you decline due to conflicting priorities. This is not saying the meeting is not important, only that it is not as important as your other priorities.

It should go without saying that how you decline a meeting will influence the reputation you’ll leave with the organizer. There’s obviously a polite way to say “no” and it is important to learn how to politely decline.

Ultimately, if you are able to decline effectively, you may help influence organizers to ensure that future meetings are conducted more thoughtfully. These meetings would include providing agendas in advance, carefully selecting the right people, using the time most effectively, and providing minutes following the meeting. Your ability to decline effectively may then lead to helping to improve meetings organization-wide.  

Corporations Responsibility to Society

August 21, 2019

For more than 50 years American corporations have prioritized profits for its shareholders above serving customers, employees and communities. This may be changing as a significant number of Fortune 500 companies indicated a shift to also focus on customers, employees, suppliers and protecting the environment.

Milton Friedman, the celebrated University of Chicago economist, proclaimed in 1962 that a corporation is a morally neutral legal construct and its single purpose should be maximizing returns for shareholders. This profits-as-purpose grew ever since. Friedman wrote in 1970:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

I suspect that Friedman might have concerns with the many examples of corporations who have stretched the meaning of and violated those “rules of the game.”

Beginning in 1978 Business Roundtable periodically issued a “Principles of Corporate Governance” and since 1997 each version of the document endorsed principles that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. That changed with this new statement.

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” says Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”

Purpose of a Corporation

Earlier this week the Business Roundtable issued a “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” stating that corporations—in addition to maximizing shareholder return—should also deliver value to customers, invest in employees, deal fairly and ethically with suppliers, and support communities by protecting the environment. In fact, the bulleted list of commitments now places customers, employees, suppliers and communities all before shareholders.

“Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity,” the statement begins. “We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

“Each of our stakeholders is essential,” the statement concludes. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

This new focus shouldn’t seem so radical yet only 181 of the CEOs from the 500 corporations signed the document. Some of the well-known companies represented include Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Oracle, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Boeing, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

The companies who chose not to sign the new document include such giants as Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Alcoa and General Electric.

Now signing a document doesn’t necessarily mean it results in change to actual corporate behavior, but I think it’s a good sign that there is interest in moving in the direction of corporate social responsibility. The real strength of this statement is if and when specific proposals are offered up and corporations actually carry through on the them.

How We Can Act

As customers we can often choose whether to purchase their products and services; as employees we can hopefully choose whether to work for them; as suppliers we may be able to choose whether we provide to them; and as citizens of the communities impacted by corporations, we can choose to take action against them if we don’t respect how they impact our environment.

Investors will have to decide whether their return-on-investment trumps all else.  

The long-term result of this new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” has yet to be written. However, all of us have the option on whether to support or associate with powerful corporations. And in this way, we have the power to hold them accountable.

Building Self-Awareness in Teams

August 9, 2019

Qualities critical for workplace success include emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration. All of which stem from self-awareness. And self-awareness in teams can make them more efficient, effective, innovative and rewarding to be a part of.

As I’ve written previously, this highly developable skill is perhaps the most important element for leadership. Research has shown that knowing who we are and how others see us is foundational to strong leadership, smart decisions and lasting relationships. However, it seems the higher one rises in leadership, the less likely they are to be self-aware.

And becoming self-aware yourself is essential before you can build self-awareness in your team.

“If being individually self-aware means understanding who you are and how others see you, a self-aware team commits to that same understanding at a collective level,” says Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of the excellent book Insight: the surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“With the right approach and a true ongoing commitment, you can foster a culture that encourages communication and feedback at all levels,” says Eurich. “One where honesty trumps hierarchy and even the lowest-ranking member feels safe putting problems on the table.”

To build self-awareness in your team, Eurich points to what she calls the three building blocks a leader must put in place. Prior to this, the team must already have a clear and compelling direction. “If a team doesn’t know where it’s headed, they are missing the ‘because’ of self-awareness,” explains Eurich.

The three building blocks are:

A Leader Who Models the Way

  • Make a commitment to your team’s self-awareness by starting with your own. When you as a leader demonstrate authenticity, team members learn to follow along in their interactions as well.
  • Engage in a leader feedback process to provide insight into your leadership, communication and well-being. This vulnerable exercise truly demonstrates to the team your commitment to transparency and own growth.

The Safety and Expectation to Tell the Truth

  • Provide the psychological safety to enable everyone the acceptance to ask one another for help, admit mistakes and raise tough issues. This requires not only trust, but also vulnerability.
  • Create clear set of norms. For example: What behaviors will help you achieve your strategy? What do you need to do to make this a safe and supportive team?

An Ongoing Commitment and Process to Stay Self-Aware

  • Candor challenge. Begin with team feedback exchange where every member gives and gets peer feedback. This is done by providing strictly behavioral feedback based on what they said, how they said it, or what they did. The kicker is that it is done publicly in front of the entire group.
  • Accountability conversations. This process assists the team in remaining self-aware by deliberately re-evaluating and regular intervals to ensure team members remain accountable for their commitments.

Teams are capable of doing great things. In fact, the most important developments throughout history have been accomplished not by individuals by people in groups. People working together effectively can be truly greater than those of individuals working independently.

In the same way self-aware leaders are more effective, so too are self-aware teams. Using the three building blocks as a model for how to strengthen the self-awareness of your team can lead to a stronger, more effective and more fulfilling group to be a part of.  

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Lonely in the Workplace

December 7, 2018

Loneliness is on the rise in America. This is a huge health concern and has ramifications in the workplace. The solution is complex yet maybe we can learn something from magpies.

First some facts regarding the impending epidemic. A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 U.S. adults 18 years or older found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Only about half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Turns out loneliness can be as big a health risk as obesity. The American Psychological Association released a study concluding lonely people are at a greater risk for premature death. And according to John Cacioppo and William Patrick in their book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, studies suggest that one lonely day can exact roughly the same toll on the body as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes!

Many of us are not sleeping enough, and sleep deprivation can increase loneliness because it takes a lot of energy to engage with others. Despite the fact that the “open office” environment was designed to bring about more interaction, this has yet to be proven effective.

Using Slack, social media and your company’s intranet are no substitute for face-to-face water cooler—err, espresso bar—conversations. Interacting with co-workers in real time and in person enables connection unlike any other method.

Now about those magpies: Research by Ben Ashton from the University of Western Australia found that cooperatively breeding Australian magpies living in large groups showed increased cognitive performance. Repeated cognitive testing of juveniles at different ages showed that the correlation between group size and cognition emerged in early life, suggesting that living in larger groups promotes cognitive development.

“Our results suggest that the social environment plays a key role in the development of cognition,” says Ashton, though the findings are considered contentious.

Nevertheless, if magpies can benefit cognitively from social interaction, shouldn’t humans—considered the most social animals—find ways to interact face-to-face more often?

Bright spots in the Cigna survey found:

  • People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
  • Getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” said Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna. “Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace and the one that takes place in your doctor’s office as a part of the annual checkup.”

We shouldn’t look to our workplace to keep us from being lonely, of course, but we could all benefit by choosing to meet with our colleagues and discuss things face-to-face more often. To enable time for this will require getting out of those many meetings we currently attend. But that’s a topic for another post.

Demanding Jobs with Little Agency

November 8, 2018

The World Health Organization reports that the United States is among the most anxious nations on the planet. Our current political climate certainly contributes to this distinction, but much of our stress stems from feeling a lack of agency on the job.

Agency is the capacity to act independently and make our own free choices. This sense of agency is tightly connected to a sense of ownership. If we feel a lack of agency on the job, it can show up as not being fully engaged, holding back on challenging assumptions, and withholding the important creativity and problem-solving abilities we were hired to demonstrate.

Increased anxiety and stress are huge problems for businesses and the government. According to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year—or $7,500 per worker—in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

“While it may seem obvious that hard-charging white-collar workers are under stress, studies show that blue-collar workers—line cooks, factory workers, practical nurses—are even more vulnerable,” according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change. “This is because of what Ofer Sharone describes as the toxic confluence of high demand for their efforts and low control over their working lives.”

This high demand for ever-increasing productivity in a 24/7 always-on workplace combined with little control and freedom over the tasks makes for an unhealthy environment.

“Demanding jobs do not necessarily make us sick, but demanding jobs that give us no agency over what we do or the way we do it are quite likely to,” says Shell. “For growing numbers of Americans—no matter how successful—these pressures have transformed work from a source of satisfaction and pride to an anxiety-ridden bout of shadowboxing.”

So how much of this lack of agency should be blamed on the employer and how much on the employee? This is not easy to answer, but clearly there is responsibility in both.

Leaders and managers in organizations need to consider how much freedom and control they actually provide individual employees. For example, is the task well-defined with a clear understanding of what the deliverable should look like and when it should be completed? Yes. But are the steps regarding how it should be completed and delivered also predetermined yet perhaps not clearly communicated? This can undermine agency.

And how much overall tolerance is there for risk taking and trying things in a different way? If you find yourself hearing (or saying) “That’s not how we do things here,” you may find little tolerance in your organization, and this lack of tolerance also undermines agency.

Employees also have a role and they need to consider when and how to step into agency—even when they may not feel they have the right to do so. Obviously, when you’re new to the job, it’s important to first understand the established rules, norms, values and organizational culture before you can fully express agency. Many of these may actually be the culprit.

Demonstrating agency means taking responsibility and ownership when it’s clear no one else has and yet needs to happen. It means pushing back on standard operating procedures when you see the faults, have a better solution and know how to communicate and implement it. And it means requesting more control or freedom over the work when you can provide clear and compelling benefits. These not only demonstrate agency, but also leadership potential.

It often takes courage to demonstrate agency. When unsuccessful, challenging assumptions or making mistakes can sometimes damage your reputation. Tread carefully but proceed boldly.

By carefully choosing when and how to use agency, you may find you can have more success than failure. You will have more freedom and control on your job. You will reduce your overall anxiety and stress. And you will likely feel more fully engaged. All of this is good for you and your organization.

Psychological Safety in Workgroups & Teams

October 25, 2018

Most of the important things accomplished in the workplace as well as society are done not by individuals but by groups of people. Workgroups and teams at their best are able to accomplish far more than a collection of individuals on their own. Effective collaboration is essential and this begins with psychological safety.

Feeling psychologically safe in our environment is a basic requirement, yet all too often we may take this for granted. Think about the last time you joined a new team or workgroup. How long before you felt comfortable speaking up, challenging assumptions, and making mistakes? Maybe you still feel uncomfortable doing so.

When you feel unsafe due to negative or disrespectful behaviors in the group, you are unlikely to contribute effectively. On the other hand, when you do feel safe and comfortable to deliver your best self in a group setting, you are more likely to make contributions that benefit the group as a whole.

Group Norms Determine Performance

As I wrote about previously, researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were key to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms can raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms can hobble a team—even if all the individual members are exceptionally bright.

Specifically, the researchers at Google found that group norms of 1) taking turns speaking and 2) listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes.

Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Teaming, Amy Edmondson, found that when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other—what she terms psychological safety—this was by far the most important of five dynamics that set successful teams apart.

“Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth,” says Edmondson. “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it.”

Psychologically Safe in Your Workgroup or Team

To determine the level of psychological safety in workgroups or teams in your workplace, look for signs of judgment, unsolicited advice giving, interrupting, or sharing outside the meetings. These things get in the way of psychological safety, according to researcher and author Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead.

To counteract those behaviors and provide psychological safety, Brown suggests initiating and modeling behaviors that include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidences. Then and only then will all members of the group feel confident to speak up, offer new ideas, and challenge potential groupthink.

Highly effective workgroups and teams require trust, respect, cooperation and commitment. When people are able to take turns speaking and listening to each other with empathy, these group norms can bring about greater outcomes. First establishing psychological safety as a foundation to build upon is critical. Think safety first.

Focused Attention Through Intention & Discipline

October 10, 2018

In this age of intensified distraction, it’s hard to find time and space to concentrate on one specific thing to any significant degree. Yet if you want to be more productive, you need to focus, which requires both intention and discipline.

Productivity means different things to different people, but we all know what we need and want to accomplish. It just seems we are often stymied in our attempts due to the hyper-connected world in which we live. The solution is to deliberately manage your attention.

Take a look at just a few of the distractions in our workday:

  • We look at our cellphone on average 80 times a day (Millennials 150 times each day!)
  • We check email on average 88 times each day (11 times per hour)
  • Two-thirds (67%) of surveyed employees say they check social media while at work
  • Some 58% of surveyed employees want more privacy in the open office environment
  • And 54% said the open office environment is too distracting to concentrate

Even with the best of intentions, this combination of technology and environment make it difficult to focus on any given task. It should be no surprise then that the best way to manage our attention in order to concentrate is to first turn off all alerts (text, email, news, etc.) and create a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.

Take Charge of Technology

With regard to technology, this means mustering up the discipline and courage to deliberately turn off all those alerts on both your computer and cellphone. It also means resisting the urge to constantly check email, news sites and social media. I know FOMO (fear of missing out) is intense, but I suspect you are currently unable to accomplish all that you want. Isn’t that more important than knowing the constant status of your virtual friends and followers?

Enter the Best Environment

If you work in an open office, this can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to make the best of it, such as using noise-cancelling headphones. You can also alert your colleagues of your intention to have “focus-time,” and that you would appreciate not being interrupted. Use a simple sign on your desk or cube to signal when you want this.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to declare your intention and develop the discipline in order to deliberately manage your attention.

According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction, directing your attention toward the most important object of your choosing—and then sustaining that attention—is the most consequential decision you will make throughout the day. Ultimately, you are what you pay attention to.

Bailey calls this attentional space the amount of mental capacity you have available to focus on and process things in the moment. He suggests the most important way to begin is to divide your tasks into the quadrants below. The bulleted items are mine; yours may be entirely different.

Intention-Setting Rules

With regard to intention, Bailey recommends three intention-setting rules:

  1. The Rule of Three: Everyday choose three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Keep these very visible, such as on a white board. You can also choose three things you’d like to accomplish each week.
  2. Most Consequential: Determine which of the three is most consequential by separating them into the four quadrants: necessary, purposeful, distracting and unnecessary. Out of the necessary and purposeful lists, which has the potential to set off a chain reaction?
  3. Hourly Awareness Chime: Have a chime on your watch, cellphone or computer remind you to check in to see which quadrant you are in at that moment and whether you are following your intentions. (I know this is counter to “turn off your alerts” mentioned above, but this is important and purposely distracting for the right reason.)

By following these intention-setting rules you will go a long way to accomplishing more because your intention drives your attention.

When it comes to discipline, you will need to find the motivation to keep this method of operating present in your life. Take three weeks and implement it every day so it becomes a habit. Then reflect on whether this has made you more productive or not. Perhaps enlist your supervisor to provide his or her perspective and to keep you motivated and engaged.

You will likely need to alter your current behavior and show up differently. And while your colleagues may at first mock or sneer at what they may perceive as “anti-social” behavior, they will ultimately respect you for your ability to provide the boundaries necessary in helping you bring your best self to the workplace environment.

Be intentional about where you direct your attention so you can be more productive and reach more of your goals.

Men Abusing Power vs. Men Manning Up

September 28, 2018

The allegations against and removal of powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media has sparked increased attention on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Men abusing power in the workplace isn’t new, of course, but other men manning up to defend women seems to be especially lacking.

The unfolding drama that is Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is reminiscent of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings 27 years ago. That event was followed by the so-called “year of the woman” in 1992. But little has changed with regard to the way many men in power treat women.

Yes, the recent #MeToo movement created a stir and helped remove powerful men such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, Travis Kalanick from Uber, Charlie Rose from PBS and CBS, and Harvey Weinstein from The Weinstein Company. Most recently, comedian Bill Cosby—once referred to as “America’s Dad”—was sentenced for three to 10 years in prison for his sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct of five women and fallen out of favor, has recently staged a comeback. Charlie Rose reportedly was in discussions with regard to starring in a show where he would interview other high profile men brought down by the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the current President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, yet continues to serve.

In any workplace, as long as there is a huge imbalance of men to women in leadership positions, a lack of equal pay for equal work, and the minimizing of sexual harassment claims, we cannot have a safe, equitable and thriving work environment.

According to a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, of the 6,251 people surveyed, a majority of men (55%) and nearly half of women (47%) said that “the recent developments have made it harder for men to navigate workplace interactions.”

But when it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, it shouldn’t be difficult to navigate workplace interactions. It is simply about respect and treating others the way you would expect to be treated—regardless of gender.

The Equality Act of 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” This includes indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography.

Though there may be some cases of misunderstanding, the bottom line is demonstrating basic respect for the other person. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And treating women in the workplace no worse than you would treat your mother, sister or daughter.

As someone who regularly encourages men and women to tweak their behavior in order to show up as better leaders, I know changing behavior is difficult. It takes concentrated effort that needs to be continually monitored and applied. Changing behavior also takes a network of others to make the most progress as well as maintain accountability. This network of other people can encourage positive steps and attest to whether there’s improvement or not.

And this is where other men come in. If there is sexual harassment in any workplace, it seems unlikely that no other male colleagues are aware of it. And because far too many men look the other way or fail to speak up, sexual harassment continues unabated in many of today’s workplaces. In the same way women are reluctant to speak up for fear of repercussions with regard to their careers, so too appear to be many men.

It takes courage to stand up to a bully. It takes courage to speak out against a fraternity of colleagues. And it takes enormous courage to call out one’s boss. But by not speaking up, standing up, and calling out sexual harassment, you are complicit in its continuation.

We live at a time far removed from a “Mad Men” workplace, but until all men begin to hold themselves, their colleagues and leaders accountable, little will change will be made for bringing true equality for women in the workplace.

As Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono said recently with regard to men in this country: “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

Thriving in the Workplace

October 28, 2016

We live at a time when employee engagement is especially low. Employees are dissatisfied, discouraged and disinclined to be optimally productive. This is bad for both employers and employees.

According to Gallop’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, 70% of American workers said they feel they are not engaged at work. This comes at a time when competitive pressures and the technological rate of change are ever increasing.

Engaged employees are those who work with passion and feel a connection to the work and their company. They have a positive relationship with the people they work around and to the work itself. They are also vastly more productive than those who are not engaged.

Disengaged employees may show up to work, but they lack the enthusiasm and energy necessary to thrive. Disengaged employees are pervasive yet most are not actively disengaged, which can be especially harmful to an organization. Nevertheless, it is this lack of engagement that really hinders organizations.

It also impacts the ability for employees to thrive. And without thriving employees, organizations can’t bring about the innovation and creative problem solving required to be competitive in the 21st century.

The solution is for employers to provide an environment suitable to engage employees and for employees to do their part to be engaged. This second part is just as important as no amount of incentives will raise engagement without the employee’s own involvement.

While it is possible to find and hire employees who are naturally inclined to thrive regardless of where they work, the workplace environment can certainly accelerate or hinder this.

Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porat along with their research partners at the Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship found that thriving employees are those who are not just satisfied and productive, but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.

In their research regarding what enables sustainable individual and organizational performance, they found that thriving employees were 32% more committed to their organization and 46% more satisfied with their jobs. Not surprising, these employees were also less likely to miss work.

In order for employees to thrive, Spreitzer and Porat identified two components: vitality and learning. Vitality is the sense of being passionate and excited, which can spark energy in themselves and those around them. Learning is in the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills, such as developing expertise in a certain area.

It’s the combination of the two components that is required because learning without vitality can result in burnout, and vitality without learning leads to work that is too repetitious and boring. It is also the partnership of the employer and employee to be actively involved.

To encourage vitality, employers should provide an environment that generates a sense that what employees do for them really makes a difference.

Employees should seek out organizations for whom they can get passionate and excited about as well as put forth the effort to actively participate. Vitality cannot come from outside the individual because it is intrinsic and, although it can be supported by the opportunities inside the organization, it must bubble up from within the individual employee.

With regard to learning, employers need to provide opportunities for employees to obtain new knowledge and skills. And employees need to maintain a growth mindset and choose to continue learning while on the job. No amount of teaching will lead to learning without a willing student who is ready and interested in gaining new knowledge.

Spreitzer and Porat further identified four mechanisms that can help create the condition for thriving employees. They are:

  • Providing decision-making discretion
  • Sharing information
  • Minimizing incivility
  • Offering performance feedback

This makes sense as these mechanisms are necessary for employees to feel empowered, knowledgeable, comfortable and self-aware.

And organizations can either encourage or discourage these mechanisms. To encourage them, they need to be more than HR policies or corporate value statements because it is a part of the corporate culture. To fully embrace these four mechanisms means everyone in the organization needs to adhere to them and they need to be reinforced each and every day.

Thriving employees need to feel that their contribution is making a positive difference, they are able to directly influence the results, they are free to speak openly even when they disagree with the status quo, and they are able to continue learning and growing in their career

A thriving workplace is one where both organizations and their employees take responsibility. This partnership is mutually beneficial. Organizations can attract and retain top talent while increasing profitability, and employees are more satisfied, encouraged, and inclined to be optimally productive. A thriving workplace is a win-win.

The Value of Thought Diversity

September 29, 2016

As much as we have learned the importance of diversity in the workplace, it is often focused on gender, race and ethnicity. Thought diversity is more subtle, but just as important. That’s because our thoughts are guided by where we focus our attention and, all too often, we seek the comfort of confirmation rather than the anxiety of challenging our assumptions.

This deficit in thought diversity is limiting our overall understanding, undermining the ability to truly connect and collaborate with others, and detrimental to the creativity necessary for solving the most challenging problems.

Think about how:

  • Our family, friends and acquaintances are made up primarily of people who share and reaffirm our individual identity of who we are and what we believe.
  • Our neighbors likely share a socio-economic demographic that continually reinforces our perspectives directly based on our geographic point of reference.
  • Our individual news feeds are chosen to maintain rather than challenge our perspectives on the economy, politics, entertainment, environment, and other subjects.
  • Our social networks are filled with those who align with our unique views and opinions, enabling more “follows,” “likes,” and “shares.”
  • Our entire digital footprint is making it so advertisers can provide us with information tailored to what they believe we want and limit our attention from going elsewhere.
  • Our workplace, though there may be some diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and/or sexuality, it may not be a place that encourages diversity of thoughts, opinions or perspectives.

Too often a hiring manager and HR partner—after first singling out candidates who possess the necessary skills and experience—look for the one who fits the corporate culture, which may unfortunately lead to groupthink. This cultural fit may actually undermine the ability to bring about diversity of thought.

The Difference

In his book The Difference, University of Michigan economist Scott Page describes a unique way to hire people to maximize diversity of thought within an organization. In the study, three candidates interviewed for two vacant positions on a research team. All candidates were asked the same 10 questions: Jeff correctly answered 7 of 10, Rose 6 of 10, and Spencer 5 of 10.

table

Many organizations would hire Jeff and Rose because these two candidates garnered the highest cumulative score. Another reason is that HR managers spend a lot of time and money-making sure that their people all think the same. They value “consistency and efficiency over individual flair.”

If the hiring manager and HR manager, however, spend time examining which questions each candidate answered correctly, they will notice that Spencer, the lowest overall scorer, correctly answered every question that Jeff, the highest scorer, incorrectly answered. As such, Spencer presumably brings a different way of thinking to the organization—and quite possibly more value.

Thought diversity at work is vital as it enables out-of-the-box thinking to bring about creative solutions to 21st century challenges.

Some companies use the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, four-color personality test or other 4-grid assessment in order to identify and differentiate employees as this helps each person to understand the benefits and drawbacks in each type. The larger lesson is that there is wisdom when all four types or colors are represented as it can help bring about diversity in thought to arrive at the best solutions.

Encouraging Thought Diversity

Diversity of thought can come in many forms, and it needs to be encouraged in the way organizations both hire and manage their workers.

Thought diversity places the focus on an individual’s mind, which is influenced by his or her experiences, culture, background and personality. It is not rooted in opinions, but in thought processes and problem solving abilities.

The primary benefits of thought diversity include:

  • Reduction in groupthink because different perspectives encourage everyone to bring their own perspective based on their unique background and personality.
  • Creative tension that enables fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, which can sometimes be messy, but ultimately leads to new insights.
  • Increased employee engagement as everyone feels that their opinion and ideas matter, and that they have value in reaching the best solutions.
  • Attracting Millennials who are looking to join those organizations that foster an inclusive culture where they can be most successful.

Thought diversity should be included in every organization’s diversity initiatives. It makes sense when choosing who to hire and it makes sense in how to manage employees. When people are actively encouraged to present different perspectives and ideas to challenge assumptions and the status quo, that’s when you’ll see new insights, innovation, collaboration, and the very best of teamwork.

Don’t Underestimate Corporate Culture

April 2, 2015

Beyond salary, benefits, perks, and the nature of the work itself, a company’s culture is often the reason people stay in an organization. That’s because corporate culture—though not readily apparent or even easily defined—can make you feel like you are part of a team, that you belong, and that you are doing something important.

It can also do the opposite.

No matter where you work, part of the reason you’re there may very well have to do with the connectedness you feel with your co-workers. When this is strong, you are probably accomplishing a lot and feeling good about how you spend your working day. When it is weak, you are probably dreading each Monday morning.

Think of Twitter, Google, Apple, Zappo’s, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, REI, Patagonia and Netflix. These are all companies with positive corporate cultures that share widespread brand awareness, strong financial performance, unrelenting customer focus, and a reputation that makes them a magnet for job seekers.

Corporate culture can best be defined as the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize those in an organization. It is based on the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s management and employees interact and handle their business transactions.

It is defined over time from the cumulative traits of the people hired, and rooted in the organization’s goals, strategies, structure and approaches to its employees, customers, vendors, investors and the larger community. You might think of your company’s culture as its personality.

The statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has often been attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker, who argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with its culture. Drucker compared company cultures to country cultures. Never try to change one, he said, but instead try to work with what you’ve got.

In the same way that a company’s products and services, leadership team, market conditions, competitive pressures, and other factors need to be considered in any corporate strategy, so too must the existing culture.

Corporate culture can either help or hamper an organization in its efforts to implement a strategy. More often than not, leaders underestimate the power of culture rather than embracing its power for helping them. Implementing a strategy that runs counter to or requires a huge shift in the culture can be disastrous.

Instead, you can leverage the corporate culture by ensuring it is aligned with your new strategy, latest company acquisition, or your incoming CEO. Each of these transitions can be successful if the cultural aspects of the change are considered along with all the other due diligence completed.

A positive company culture can benefit recruiting, employee motivation and retention, teamwork, reduced absenteeism, customer service, responsiveness to change, and bottom line financial performance.

Developing such a positive culture evolves over time and grounded in the employees you hire. Be careful and selective in recruitment and in every way you conduct business, and your culture will enable the organization to grow and thrive.

Corporate Values and Goldman Sachs

March 14, 2012

Corporate values are often what attract and keep many of us at the fine companies we work for. They are above and beyond the paycheck that give our working lives meaning. Corporate values are what attracted Greg Smith to Goldman Sachs 12 years ago.

The values Smith describes at Goldman were “teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.” Beginning as a summer intern while at Stanford, he ultimately reached the position of head of United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Smith recently left Goldman Sachs and wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Times as to why.

“I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity,” writes Smith. “And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”

“Leadership used to be about ideas,” he continues. “Setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

Goldman leaders immediately responded to this with an open letter to employees on their website. However, other than reporting that 89 percent of employees say the firm provides “exceptional service” to clients and that for the third consecutive year, the firm was the highest paid financial services company, I read no real challenge to the assertions Smith made regarding values and integrity in his opinion piece.

It reminds me of the importance of things that do not necessarily show up on financial quarterly reports and are therefore less likely to be reported in the mainstream press. Corporate values like integrity, teamwork and doing the right thing are what attract and keep the best employees and ultimately what wins and keeps customers.

Earlier in my career, I remember working for start-up software companies where customers were treated as the top priority and employees a close second. When some of these companies filed for an initial public offering, shareholders replaced employees in second place and, in some companies, were even prioritized over customers.

When short term profits take precedence over corporate values, a company is in great trouble. Trust and ethical behavior outweigh financial performance if not in the short term then certainly over the long run.

I have had an increasing number of clients during the past several years complaining about unethical behavior, lack of honesty and bullying by their immediate supervisor. This leads to a stressful work environment and a depreciation of corporate values.

The old adage that people join a company based on its reputation and leave because of a manager is truer than ever. When managers engage in unethical behavior, they damage not only their own careers and those around them, but also the entire company.

Earning and keeping customer trust takes a long time; losing it can happen overnight. Goldman Sachs is 143 years old and surely they won’t sacrifice that trust easily.

I am sure Smith’s assertions have some basis in fact, but with 30,000 employees I’m equally certain there are many contrary opinions.

Regardless, the lesson should be that respecting customers and employees should be paramount in any company. Maintaining corporate values that attract employees and customers should always be more important than higher short terms profits.

A Culture of Collaboration

December 18, 2010

In my last post I wrote about collaboration as one of the essential elements in order to thrive in the knowledge economy. Though most companies boast of their own collaborative workplace environment, all too often this is more of a public relations talking point rather than an internal employee reality.

Changing the corporate culture from one that is competitive to collaborative is a huge challenge. To be meaningful, it needs to be fully embraced and articulated by the entire management team, and implemented throughout all departments.

Back in the twentieth century, employees made themselves valuable based on what they knew. Today people make themselves valuable by seeking opportunities to work with others and tapping into their expertise. Content is jointly developed through participation. The content is fluid and leveraged to create opportunities with ongoing collaboration.

Knowledge-hoarding and the accompanying silo mentality that takes place in many large organizations blocks this collaboration. The end result is power struggles, a lack of cooperation, and lower productivity.

Lack of true collaboration can also diminish innovation as competition for resources can cripple efforts for new products.

In a New York Times editorial earlier this year, former Microsoft executive Dick Brass wrote that Microsoft has a “dysfunctional corporate culture where big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence.”

“Unlike other companies,” wrote Brass, “Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.”

Time will tell whether this year’s release of Windows Phone 7, Windows Azure and Kinect will nullify any of this.

John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, in a recent Newsweek interview explains how abandoning command-and-control leadership has enabled Cisco to innovate more quickly, using collaboration and teamwork.

“At Cisco we are moving to collaboration teams, groups coming together that represent sales, engineering, finance, legal, etc. And we’re training leaders to think across silos. We now do that with 70 different teams in the company.”

Chambers continues, “So we’ll have a sales leader go run engineering. A lawyer go run business development. A business development leader go run our consumer operations. We’re going to train a generalist group of leaders who know how to learn and operate in collaboration teamwork. I think that’s the future of leadership.”

In author Evan Rosen’s book, “The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy,” he explains how and why collaborative tools can motivate employees and drive business. What follows are what he considers the ten cultural elements present when collaboration is working.

  • Trust – To exchange ideas and create something with others, we must develop trust. This is a challenge, especially in competitive organizational cultures. Nevertheless, we must get over our fears and develop trust if we are to collaborate freely.
  • Sharing – Hoarding information prevents the free flow of ideas and therefore sabotages collaboration. Sharing what we know improves collective creation by an order of magnitude and therefore makes everybody more valuable.
  • Goals – Taking the time to agree on goals at the beginning of a collaborative project pays off exponentially by providing the impetus for shared creation.
  • Innovation – The desire to innovate fuels collaboration. In turn, collaboration enhances innovation. After all, why collaborate just to maintain the status quo?
  • Environment – The design of both physical space and virtual environments impacts innovation and collaboration.
  • Collaborative Chaos – While all people and organizations require some order, effective collaboration requires some degree of chaos. Collaborative chaos allows the unexpected to happen and generates rich returns.
  • Constructive Confrontation – Great collaboration requires exchanging viewpoints, and sometimes that means construction confrontation—expressing candor about ideas. Collaborators must confront each other so that they can hash out their differences and make their shared creation better.
  • Communication – Collaboration is inextricably linked with communication, both interpersonal and organizational.
  • Community – Without a sense of community, we often lack comfort and trust. Therefore, community must be present for effective collaboration to occur.
  • Value – The primary reason we collaborate is to create value—reducing cycle or product development time, creating a new market, solving problems faster, designing a more marketable product or service, or increasing sales.

For organizations to meet the competitive challenges in the external marketplace, they must change the internal corporate culture from competitive to collaborative. This is a radical change and it is one that is vital for sustained innovation and increased productivity.