Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

turkeySo your leaders want to ‘improve’ your organisation! (or is that reduce its cost base – “aren’t these the same thing?!”).

Put yourself in the shoes of those leaders:

You have two choices:

a) You think you know ‘the answers’ and so can quickly move to ‘obvious solutions’: a dollop of specialisation here, a heap of centralisation there, perhaps with the ‘synergies’ word thrown in for good measure…and then, hey presto, let’s standardise and ‘automate it‘ whilst also doing that ‘customer-centric’ thing in parallel!; or

b) You understand that you don’t perform the daily processes at the front line and so you are necessarily reliant on the value-creating workers (with their middle and lower management) to:

  • Identify and work through where improvements might actually lie; and then
  • partner with you in successfully (and continually) changing the current system.

You can see (from the hyperlinks) that I have written a number posts that relate to option a) and I hope you agree that one of THE foundations of real and sustainable improvement is to meaningfully involve the process performers….so let’s take a look at option b).

Involving the workers

Okay, sounds great. Nice idea…so let’s start by asking the workers what they’d change.

Mmm, they don’t seem to be coming up with much, and what they are contributing seems rather insignificant and poorly thought through, dare we say feeble. They aren’t very competent are they! Perhaps our problem is with our workers – do we need to get rid of them and get a better bunch? After all, isn’t it one big ‘war for talent’ out there!

But, whoa, stop, back up the horse: What if your process performers aren’t (meaningfully) engaging in your much hyped ‘improvement programme’? …and why might that be? What might they be thinking about? How about the following:

“Do I have the time (and motivation) to properly engage in improvement thinking for fear of this counting against me elsewhere? (such as my business-as-usual workload, targets and incentives)

“Do I trust them to properly listen to what I am saying, in full and not jump to overly simplistic and seemingly easy ‘quick wins’?”

“What would any changes mean to me and my environment?”

“Will I be better or worse off?”

“Will they look after me (or those colleagues that my ideas would affect)?”

In short, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. (Nice Roast dinner picture though eh – looks very tasty)

If leaders haven’t established (and don’t continue to nurture) an environment of trust then they should expect very little in return.


A critical part of achieving (what is often termed) ‘Operational Excellence’ is trust. (The opposite of fear)

“To drive the kind of no-holds-barred commitment to operational excellence that is required, everyone in [the organisation] has to believe in the process and that she won’t be ‘rewarded’ for driving progress towards [improvement] by having her job cut!

Without trust, [improvement] projects quickly devolve from finding and fixing critical problems to battles to shift blame and accountability to others….” (Liker)

Put simply, we need to treat people as assets, not as costs to be slashed. Deming went further:

“I used to say that people are assets, not commodities. But they are not just assets: they are jewels.”

Now, leaders might respond with “we don’t do that here!”…and, yes, maybe not blatantly…but what about how it looks; how a leader’s words are translated and what actually eventuates?

  • do you require business cases with ROI’s and financial benefits to be calculated and ‘realised’? Are these benefits often about head-count (perhaps masked with that 3 letter ‘FTE’ acronym)?
  • do you have structures in place* that make it very hard for someone in the system to suggest horizontal changes from their vertical silo’d world? (*such as cascaded personal objectives linked by judgement and rewards)
  • do you hold competitions between teams that should be collaborating? Do you often talk/write in such competing language?
  • do you preach empowerment of the people but then provide little time and support for their ideas?
  • do you continually re-organise such that people are continually finding their feet (and voice) within yet another management structure?
  • do you employ lots of change managers and external resources, distorting and hindering natural team dynamics?

To establish trust, improvement must not get confused with head-count reduction.

Management need to provide an environment whereby people are comfortable ‘changing their jobs’ because they know that they will go on to even more interesting work (preferably inside, but also outside, the organisation).

And here’s the wonderful chain reaction:

  • If you gain people’s trust (which will be hard at first and will take real leadership)
  • …by providing a safe, secure and stimulating environment for your people
  • …then they will develop themselves (some will amaze you!)
  • …and look for opportunities to continue on this journey
  • …which will mean that your organisation becomes self-sufficient in the ‘brains department’
  • …with a very healthy side effect that you can save an awful lot of money (and often pain) by avoiding the ‘bring in the outside consultants’ option
  • …meaning that you will align organisational purpose with those of your people
  • ….causing exceptional, and sustainable, results
  • …allowing the organisation to organically grow (rather than by constant acquisition)
  • …which enables you to invest in your people and we are off, full circle, around the chain reaction 🙂
  • BUT this chain is unstable and can be ever so easily broken by the words and deeds of leaders.

“Trust takes time to build, seconds to lose and twice as long to regain as it did to build in the first place.” (Unknown)

People and relationships

!cid_image003_png@01D0AE76Relax, don’t worry about the title: I will be limiting this post to ‘work relationships’…and I don’t mean ‘relationships at work’.

Peter Scholtes wrote that, to understand people, we need to understand relationships. In particular, leading people requires the establishment and nurturing of personal relationships on a daily basis and the encouragement of others to do the same.

He sets out some characteristics of what he calls a good, old-fashioned one-to-one, face-to-face, first name to first name personal relationship”:

  • You listen to each other. You are able to talk to each other;
  • Each respects the other and knows how to show this respect; and
  • Each knows the other well enough to know their vulnerabilities and cares enough to avoid them.

Now, relationships are hugely important between manager and employee. Unfortunately, these relationships in most organisations are patronising and paternalistic.

The psychiatrist Dr Eric Berne (1910 – 1970) set out three ‘ego states’ – postures that we assume in relation to each other. These are:

  • Parent: from nurturing and supportive through to judgmental and controlling;
  • Adult: from realistic, logical, rationale through to affectless; and
  • Child: from playful and creative through to rebellious and spiteful.

Command and Control management systems necessitate ‘management’ to assume a parent ego state, which often ends up causing the employee to adopt a child-like ego state in reaction. The words ‘boss’ and ‘subordinate’ (both of which I dislike) fit this parent – child relationship narrative.

In reality, we are all adults at work. It just happens that we are employed to play different roles – from helping customers through to running a business division.

It is each leader’s choice as to the ego state they adopt…and therefore the likely ego state that their employees will take in response.

As an example: I find it odd when a manager verbalises to ‘their’ employee that what they are about to say to them is a ‘coaching moment’ (i.e. “…so listen up and take note!”) – how much closer could you get to a parent – child presumption by the manager? It’s akin to what my youngest son refers to as “getting a lecture” from me.

To be clear, I am most certainly NOT saying that I can’t be coached (I clearly can)….but:

  • A coachee needs to a) have a personal goal and b) a desire to be coached towards it. You can’t ‘coach’ without these two requisites;
  • A leader can equally (and often) be coached by employees, but only if they have their mind opened to be so; and
  • Pointing out to someone that ‘this is a coaching moment’ is patronising and presumptuous and demonstrates an (often sub-conscious) intent to enforce a superior (‘alpha’)/ inferior relationship signal…and it generally breaks point 1, so it isn’t actually coaching.

Right, coaching rant over, back to it….

Leaders need to recognise that we are all people (organistic systems), with our own separate purposes (just like them). The need is to establish adult-adult relationships, in which no one sets themselves out as being ‘above’ or ‘better’ than anyone else. If an organisation’s leaders succeed in this then they will have created a hugely powerful environment.

So, moving on to trust:

Healthy relationships require trust. Here’s an interesting figure from Scholtes showing the two converging beliefs that need to coexist for one person to trust another:


I find this figure illuminating. It makes me see that (and understand why) I have had some managers that I have respected and some that I have had (professional) affection for…but trust is much rarer.

Scholtes writes that “When I believe you are competent and that you care about me, I will trust you. Competency alone or caring by itself will not engender trust. Both are necessary.”

A couple of comments on trust:

  • I doubt it can be over emphasised that trust is in the eye of the beholder! ‘You’ can say that you care about me and that you know what you are doing but only ‘I’ decide whether I believe this…and I will be looking closely (and constantly) at your actions, not taking your word for it;
  • Some command and control managers have the view that employees need to earn their trust…this is the wrong way round! If someone wants to lead, they have to earn the trust of those that they would like to follow them.

KITA management (aka the picture at the top):

Now, onto the idea of KITA management: the term ‘KITA’ was coined by the psychologist and Professor of management, Frederick Herzberg (1923 – 2000)*. It stands for Kick-in-the-(pants)…he was too polite to write what the A actually stood for.

Herzberg wrote about positive KITA (carrots) and negative KITA (sticks)…and here’s why it isn’t motivation:

“If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again…” (Herzberg)

The related problem with KITA thinking is that it locks manager and employee in a highly unhealthy parent-child relationship. Further, when rewards are competitive (which they usually are in some way) KITA thinking creates winners and losers and adversarial relationships among those who should be colleagues.

* Note: Herzberg wrote the classic 1968 article “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” This is one of the most requested HBR articles of all time and has sold well over 1 million copies.

…and finally:

I’d like to share with you some wise words written by Alfie Kohn under the self-explanatory title ‘Rewards rupture relationships’

“We need to understand what the process of rewarding does to the interaction between the giver and receiver:

If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgement of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.

You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow; you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing so that you can get the goodies.

A powerful inducement has been created [through the regular judgement and resulting outcomes] to conceal problems, to present yourself as infinitely competent, and to spend your energies trying to impress (or flatter) the person with power….

… people are less likely to ask for help when the person to whom they would normally turn wields carrots and sticks. Needless to say, if people do not ask for help when they need it, performance suffers on virtually any kind of task.”

…and, in so writing, Alfie eloquently uncovers the damage caused by rewards and the stunting effect they have on the ability of an organisation, and its people, to improve.

The positive bit: It would be great if all of us worked really hard to attain an adult-adult relationship footing…realised when this had been broken by our words and deeds …and, through humility and dialogue, worked even harder to bring it back again.

An apology: I have a rule that a post should only cover one thing…and this one doesn’t appear to! It’s a bit of a journey from relationships, through leadership, coaching, trust, motivation and ending at rewards, which brings it full circle back to what rewards do to relationships.

In fact the topics in this journey do all belong together, under the competency of ‘Understanding people and why they behave as they do’. My intent was to show how they are all so tied up together so I hope you don’t mind me bending my rules 🙂

Does your organisation trust you?

fear-441402_640Wow, that’s a big hairy question! Let me use an old case study by Peter Scholtes to explain:

In the mid 1980s the management of an American company (The Falk Corporation) were working to understand the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. They began to explore his 8th (out of 14) Management Point:Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.”

The company had a long history of adversarial relationships between management and employees. Whilst trying to grapple with this fear point they decided to consider its inverse, which they concluded was trust.

They then began to explore the issue of trust.

  • Do we trust our employees?
  • Are our employees trustworthy?
  • How can we develop and maintain an organisational environment that values mutual trust and respect?

They developed two lists of characteristics to describe a trustworthy employee and its converse. These lists looked remarkably similar to Douglas McGregor’s famous 1960s descriptions of Theory X and Theory Y assumptions about people.

They then came up with an estimate of how many of their employees resembled the trustworthy list and how many the untrustworthy. They concluded that at least 95% of their people were trustworthy.

They stood back and realised that their policies, practises and procedures were written for the 5% and were not compatible with Deming’s Point 8 of driving out fear.

They undertook to rewrite their policies with trust in mind.

Here is a wonderful example of one of their ‘before’ and ‘after’ policies’

Bereavement Leave (the old policy)

All employees shall receive time off with pay up to a maximum of three (3) days for working time lost if there is a death in the immediate family.

These days must be within a seven-calendar-day period, the first day of which would be the initial bereavement day paid. However, one of the days must be the day of the funeral. If the funeral falls on a non-scheduled workday (Saturday, Sunday, holiday, during a plant shutdown, or during a period of disability), no loss of pay is involved, therefore bereavement pay will not be made for such days.

Pay will be for eight (8) hours at the employee’s day rate plus average premium for the three (3) months prior to the month in which the time off occurred.

A part-time employee’s pay will be based on average hours worked in the previous month and will be at the employee’s day rate plus average premium.

An employee’s immediate family will be considered…spouse, child, stepchild, mother, father, sister, brother, stepparents, grandparents, and grandchildren of the employee; son-in-law and daughter-in-law; mother, father, sister, brother, and grandparents of the spouse.

Payment will be made by the company upon request by the employee to the personnel department.

The personnel department may require verification of death and relationship of the employee.

Bereavement Leave (the new policy)

If you require time off due to the death of a friend or family member, make arrangements with your supervisor.

The usage result? Bereavement leave usage under the new policy was only 47% of the days used under the old policy.

To be clear, the usage result wasn’t the purpose of the change, but it was a healthy side effect for the organisation – a win/win.

Conversely, if they had focused on a numeric KPI target to reduce bereavement leave usage, they would likely never have achieved such a major change, any improvement would have been unlikely to have lasted…and, in the long run, it may very well have become worse! This is because they wouldn’t have understood the cause. This links back to my earlier post on the folly of managing by results.

What about the link between trust and transparency?

Borrowing from a Hakan Forss post entitled: There is a reason why thieves and crooks prefer to operate at night

“There are organisations that have thrown away their control systems for controlling things like travel expenses. They at the same time made everyone’s travel expenses public. You may suspect that this led to higher travel expenses as everyone would travel in first class and stay at the most expensive hotels. But no, the results are the opposite.

Travel expenses often go down or stay the same. When everyone can see what everyone else is spending there is less room for the thief and crook behavior, because everyone can see it.”

He then goes on to deal with the issue of the potentially untrustworthy 5%:

“… but what if people are not making the right decisions. What if everyone travels first class and are spending like drunken sailors…then you as the leader have to lead by example. Show the organisation’s values, show the wanted direction. Don’t blame the people. Don’t create a control system. Show the direction and lead by example.”

We won’t change the reality that there is likely to always be one ‘black spot on a white page’ but, rather than designing a straight jacket for everyone, a better approach is for management to properly handle the 5%. Indeed, if we combined transparency with a clear organisational purpose and the sharing of the organisation’s success (I don’t mean incentives!) then policies will likely be self-policed by the group.

I like the concluding quote:

“Transparency is the new control system” (Jeremy Hope)

Now, to relate this back to a typical modern day organisation: I consider myself trustworthy, that I know to do the right thing but I also know that an untrusting (bureaucratic and controlling) environment seriously annoys me and may cause me to react accordingly.

Take expenses as an easy example:

  • If I am staying away from home and am trusted, I might have a nice meal out one night. I will then have a lesser meal the next night to compensate and keep my costs in balance. I accept that I need receipts and that someone could ask me about this, but I am comfortable that I have a reasoned response for my actions;
  • If management impose a controlling policy on me which prevents me making reasonable choices for myself (as in the above) and, instead, dictates a complicated and exacting policy along the lines of a daily limit of, say, $60 for breakfast, diner and drinks….then I might very well be tempted to ‘use all of my allowance every day’ as a reaction to the lack of trust being shown in me…even though I never used to get close to spending this much!

Whilst expenses are an easy example to demonstrate the trust and transparency point, I am sure many of you will have your own personal stories to tell about organisations you have worked in, their business policies and the effects.