Over the past several years, I've noticed that many people seem to be experiencing an ever-increasing lack of enthusiasm for their work. The "job" just seems to have lost much of its at-traction. The fire is gone from the belly. Just put in the time and get a paycheck. Week after week...month after month. People just seem to be going through the motions.
I believe the primary reason has been that organizations, as well as their people, have lost their "vision." They have lost their sense of "purpose". With all the emphasis on downsizing, rightsizing, and improving the value for the shareholders, our business leaders seem to have lost sight of the fact that the purpose of organizations is to GROW-not just to improve the short-term picture by a few percentage points, but to grow...to create new products...to build...to expand...to prosper.
Paying enormous salaries to executives who can only shrink the organization is positively ludicrous. Those salaries and perquisites should be reserved for the truly creative people who can expand an organization.
I had to chuckle last month as I was reading an article in one of the popular business magazines. It described in glowing detail the latest hot, new management techniques. I chuckled be-cause, when I sorted through all the folderol, I realized the author was describing the same techniques some of us have been stressing since the mid-'70s.
Nothing is really new, folks-just repackaged. But it does serve to remind us that some points are so important that they need to be repeated periodically to re-emphasize their value.
One technique in particular stood out in that article: the use of top-down-bottom-up objective setting. Most organizations will claim they use some form of this technique. Most do not! I've seen it used both to galvanize organizations after serious labor problems and, at other times, by organizations on the ropes financially. It has the potential to ignite a sense of passion needed by an organization to get things moving again.
Very simply, management defines several critical areas where improvements are needed (higher productivity, cost reductions, getting new products to market faster, better customer service, etc.), and the people establish their own objectives. Inevitably, those people will aim higher with the objectives they set, and they will make a greater commitment than if they were defined by management.
The people then have a greater sense of purpose about their work. After all, people at all levels need to feel their efforts are important and meaningful. If you feel they're supposed to get all of this from the paycheck alone, you're missing the point. Just look around you. You will quickly recognize that the organizations which are aggressively pursuing their markets and experiencing positive growth have more enthusiastic people. It's not just a coincidence... there is passion in the purpose.
William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, "Catalytic Management: Success by Design," is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks stores.
When I was a young boy, the old minister at our little church gave a sermon that, for some reason, still sticks in my mind. The sermon, entitled, Beliefs That Matter, primarily addressed beliefs of a spiritual nature that could have an impact on a persons life.
The message was a simple one, but it continues to remind me of the importance of our beliefs and their role in our daily lives. We tend to become committed to the things we believe in. The message, in spite of its simplicity, has many applications.
Of all the things we believe in or think we believe in which really matter? Which are important enough to commit to to build a life upon? So often, we dont give this much thought.
If you dont believe in something, chances are your life will slip by and you will never glean a full measure from the effort you put forth. You will find that your efforts have been dissipated across a broad spectrum of possibilities without making the impact you may have intended.
We as individuals might choose to focus our attention on any number of areas. As the leader of a growing organization, youll find several where you can make a significant contribution.
- Believe in your organization. Too often, leaders are not managing to win. Rather, they manage to avoid losing. Many organizations are being managed defensively. Aggressiveness is set aside in favor of maintaining the status quo.
This strategy rarely works. It doesnt work very often in sports, and it doesnt work in business. Believe in your organization enough to sustain aggressive growth. In todays economy, an organization that aspires only to hold on to what it has will soon be swept away by a competitor that can respond more quickly to changes in the marketplace.
- Believe in your people. Over the years, I have heard any number of CEOs stand at company dinners or picnics and tell their employees how important they are. They would say something like, If all our buildings were to burn to the ground, and I still had all of you, I could begin again and rebuild the company!
It was a nice sentiment and seemed to be appreciated. But today it seems that some of organizations, make that many organizations, have lost sight of the fact that it is employees who make the wheels turn.
To grow your organization, its important to recognize the value of your people and the role they play in your success. A lack of confidence limits a persons growth. By increasing their confidence, you will greatly enhance their value as employees. Invest in training. Help them learn new skills that will make your organization stronger. In return, they will continue to add value to the organization.
- Believe in yourself. To be an effective leader, you must believe in yourself. Im not talking about ego. Im referring to self-esteem your confidence. Ego often interferes with the ability to recognize available options. It may prevent you from seeking advice from others, resulting in decisions that are less than optimal. It may even interfere with your personal relationships at home as well as at work.
- Put the ego aside. Put your trust in your abilities and your intuition. Recognize and understand the importance of your position as a positive role model and leader.
Believe in yourself make a difference!
And thank you, Reverend Lemmon, for reminding us that our beliefs do matter.
William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, Catalytic Management: Success by Design (McGraw-Hill), is available at book stores. He can be reached at (412 )276-7396.
Nearly a dozen years ago, Ross Perot distributed copies of the book Leadership Skills of Attila The Hun to some 500 managers at General Motors. You may recall the event was widely publicized by the media, and the book became a bestseller.
As I reread the book recently, I was struck by how a number of the observations continue to be relevant in todays business environment.
On Empathy: Chieftains must develop empathy an appreciation for and an understanding of the values of others, a sensitivity for other cultures, beliefs and traditions.
Todays leaders must have empathy and an appreciation for the diversity that has become a reality in the world of commerce. Issues related to racism, sexism, people with disabilities and the needs of people in other countries can slow the momentum of any organization when not given proper attention.
On Stewardship: Our leaders must have the essential quality of stewardship, a caretaker quality. They must serve in a manner that encourages confidence, trust and loyalty.
As a leader, you are responsible for any number of resources, tangible and intangible. Its your duty to enhance the value of these resources. If you are in charge of a marginal facility, your primary responsibility should be to make that facility strong and viable not to dismantle and discard it. Too many of our facilities are being cast off while they could still be resuscitated.
On the Responsibilities of the Chieftain: Leaders must encourage creativity, freedom of action and innovation among their subordinates, so long as these efforts are consistent with the goals of the tribe or nation.
Today we use the term empowerment to describe this responsibility of leadership. Some organizations have invested a great deal of money in training to help their people understand exactly what is meant by the term, along with how and when they are expected to exercise greater responsibility.
The success of these programs often depends on the leaders willingness to relinquish authority to their people, and on how effectively they define and communicate precisely what the employees new responsibilities are and under what circumstances they are to exercise that authority. Too often, leaders erroneously assume that the information has been communicated effectively, when, in fact, it has not.
On Lust for Leadership: You must have the courage, creativity and stamina to focus on accomplishing your responsibilities through the directed, delegated efforts of subordinates.
To be successful as a leader, you must want to lead, You must have the desire to accomplish organizational objectives through the combined efforts of both you and your people. Any problem you can resolve alone is probably only a symptom of the real problem. To accomplish worthwhile objectives, the leader must utilize all available resources.
Attila adds an additional thought on the Lust for Leadership:
You must be determined to apply massive common sense in solving complex problems.
In todays world, we frequently try to create complex solutions for what appear to be complex problems. Make certain all available options are considered before action is taken. Quite often, you will find that the simplest and best solution can be found in the mind of one of your soldiers. Never be too proud to seek answers from others; even the humblest person has the capacity to recognize a potential solution to a seemingly complex problem.
And finally, one of the most important secrets to effective leadership, according to the book:
On Credibility: Chieftains must be credible. Their words and actions must be believable to both friend and foe.
This bit of counsel will always be relevant. If any leader loses credibility, his or her ability to lead effectively will always be compromised. Too many leaders, even those with exceptional potential, have learned the wisdom of this advice only after their careers have been sidetracked.
The leaders credibility becomes the foundation upon which employee loyalty, trust, and involvement can be established.
William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the median job tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is 2.7 years; by age 32, the average worker in the United States has had nine full- or part-time jobs.
For most organizations, especially smaller companies that may lack the resources to continually recruit and train people, this can pose a significant problem.
A survey by the Gallop organization concludes that two-thirds of employees leave their jobs at the end of the day with a lower level of self esteem than they had at the beginning of the day. The nature of their work actually lowers their self esteem.
Poor self esteem causes people to lower their personal performance standards to become satisfied with lower levels of achievement. This results in a tremendous loss in productivity and a waste of valuable resources. And it certainly can cause people to look for greener pastures.
So if you don’t have the resources to continually recruit and train if you would like to keep the cream of your crop consider the following:
1. Show your people they are an important part of your organization. This is sometimes easier said than done. People seem to be more cynical nowadays when it comes to their work. Perhaps we can thank the Dilbert craze or our politicians. Nevertheless, providing people with a sense that they are important can go a long way toward helping you retain them.
2. Maintain a high level of involvement and enthusiasm. Someone once wrote, “The test of a true calling is a love for the drudgery it requires.” When a person can tolerate what they perceive as unpleasant tasks, they are more inclined to retain a higher sense of involvement and enthusiasm.
Of course, sometimes even the most unpleasant tasks are important and critical to the organization’s success. If these tasks can’t be eliminated, re-emphasize their importance. The tasks most often reported as drudgery include excessive paperwork, attending what appear to be nonproductive meetings and checking and rechecking another person’s work.
3. Don’t let your people become complacent. When they do, their performance begins to decline. When it continues for even a relatively short time, they will begin to find fault and regress to thoughts about “the good old days.” Maintain a sense of urgency about the work by implementing a focus that sustains growth through meaningful objectives which continually challenge and stretch their abilities. Keep them focused on the future.
4. Keep people involved in the implementation process. Roughly 20 percent of the tasks performed in any organization do not add value to the products and services. If a task does not increase profits, reduce costs, improve workflow or address a specific customer need, it should be changed or eliminated. By getting your people involved in the process, you improve their sense of involvement and organizational performance.
So make a special effort to retain your top performers and, like the cream, you, too, will rise to the top.
William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anytime you are faced with leading people when some form of change is necessary, you will recognize some resistance. The magnitude of the resistance may vary, but it seems like it is always present.
In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter says, "In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change." As the size of the organization increases, the number of people necessary to produce the change grows geometrically.
The enemy is often complacency. No matter what the circumstances, when people become comfortable, it's often difficult to get their attention and motivate them to commit to change. Sir Isaac Newton must have been thinking about these folks when he said, "A body at rest tends to remain at rest." Without a sense of urgency, it's difficult to build sufficient momentum to move your mountains. As Kotter says, "Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo."
The best way to overcome complacency is to communicate a sense of urgency. However, this isn't always as easy as it appears. If it's overused, or misused, the people may become cynical to the point where your credibility suffers. One way to avoid this problem is to be straightforward with your people. It makes little sense for management to maintain a lot of "happy talk" when the people know there are problems.
Several suggestions for increasing the sense of urgency include:
- Eliminate organizational excesses-One of my clients once wanted to communicate the importance his company was placing on training as a means of improving performance to gain a competitive advantage. The employees got the message when the executive dining room was converted into classrooms.
- Set higher standards-This means higher expectations for all levels of the organization in such areas as income, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction, product development, etc. At the same time increase personal accountability for results. The responsibility for improved performance is shared throughout the organization.
- Increase management visibility-Spend more time in the trenches during difficult times to lend support (but don't disappear as soon as the crisis passes).
- Increase feedback-When the situation is urgent, increase both the quantity and the quality of the feedback. When the frequency of feedback is increased, the employees begin to recognize improvement is a priority. Several of my clients have gone from weekly to daily performance updates during a crisis to communicate its significance.
An honest, justifiable sense of urgency can bring out the best of any organization. It can build self-esteem and increase the sense of esprit de corps. But using it as a gimmick for a short-term gain will always backfire in the end.
William Armstrong has been a management consultant for nearly 30 years. He is president of Armstrong/Associates and the author of Catalytic Management: Success by design (McGraw-Hill). He is a member of the Pennsylvania Speakers Association, a chapter of the National Speakers Association.
Whenever Im helping a client plan a major change, we always spend a considerable amount of time discussing values and principles. It doesnt matter whether its a family-owned company or a member of the Fortune 500, values are a concern.
They are a concern because management has come to realize the importance of the issue, but confusion arises over defining what constitutes a value, and which values are the most important to that client.
Values are always intangible its the behavior which you, the leader, exemplify that makes them real. In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner point out that values provide a prism through which all behavior is ultimately viewed.
Appropriate values vary for each organization. In a highly competitive organization where low profit margins are a fact of life, cost cutting might be an important value. In another organization, experimentation and risk-taking might be necessary values. In most organizations, attention to customer service is a critical value at all levels.
While the priority of the values may vary from one organization to another, research by Charles OReilly and David Caldwell points out that three qualities are present in all effective value systems: clarity, consensus and intensity.
Clarity means that each member of the organization understands the importance of the values and how they apply to their particular jobs. For this to happen, leaders must have a very clear understanding of the value and the outcomes they expect to achieve through its application.
Consensus means leaders and their employees reach an agreement as to the importance of these. To achieve consensus, the leaders must mirror the value through their own behavior. An organization can never implement a value system if it doesnt subscribe to the same system in its business dealings. Merely articulating the desired values, without living them, will never work.
Intensity refers to the importance employees place on the value system. Good leaders, those who are in touch with their employees, will know in advance which values their employees are likely to accept and support. How they feel about the values, and what values are important to them, are easy to recognize because they will frequently be the topics of conversation even before the value system is designed. If the organization mistreats employees, customers and suppliers, you can be certain people will talk about it.
When a meaningful value system is in place, amazing things happen. Attendance improves, fewer discipline problems arise, schedules are met and quality increases. Motivating becomes easier. When employees recognize how their work relates to the organizational value system, they likely also will see their contributions as being more important.
At that juncture, the value system becomes a source of motivation. The job becomes more meaningful. The difficult and unpleasant tasks become less a source of dissatisfaction. Their jobs assume a greater significance in their minds. As Logan Pearsall Smith once wrote, The test of a calling is a love of the drudgery it necessitates.
A value system that captures what is important to all members of the group, is presented and communicated with clarity and is embraced as a priority can be a strong motivational force for any organization.
Like most of you, I watched in horror the events that took place in Littleton, Colo., a few months ago. I couldnt help but think about how, in the near future, our role as leaders and managers will need to be adjusted to meet the changing needs of this new generation.
We have just become accustomed to the eccentricities of the Generation Xers the so-called Me Generation. And now we begin to observe the latest generation of kids as they progress through their formative years. In no time at all, they will be the people we hire to produce our goods and services and in time, to run our organizations and our country.
What changes will we need to make in our leadership styles to help these young people take their place as productive members of society? At first blush, this might seem like a difficult task a far cry from the simplicity of the people described by management theorist and author Douglas McGregors Theory X and Theory Y.
Or is it?
In the aftermath of Littleton, we see what is, perhaps, a microcosm of our society. There are any number of young people who are studious, hardworking, anxiously preparing for college, active in school and community activities and well adjusted and mature.
Some students were straightforward about their values and spiritual convictions. Some, because of the tragedy, were thrust into positions of leadership, and with little advanced training, responded heroically.
At the same time, we learned there were others who felt different out of place, disenfranchised. In this case, they acted violently, with no thought to the harm they were inflicting on innocent people. We wonder what has created these aberrant behaviors.
But to some degree, they have always been with us. Every generation has had a group of people who, at that age, felt out of touch. In every generation, there has been a fringe group that seeks recognition by being different, like the flower children of the 60s. In time, the majority grew up and took their places as productive members of society.
The difference might lie in the fact that todays young people have grown up in a time when discipline and accountability have not been given a great deal of emphasis. Many spend hours each day in isolation, playing computer games in which killing and maiming are rewarded. The more advanced your skill level, the more complicated and challenging the game becomes.
Violence and death take on a surreal ambiance, a form of escapism. The people who are most negatively affected by this pastime are not easily identified. The young shooters in Littleton were once Boy Scouts.
At the same time, many of their peers were using computers to learn to do research and expand their skills.
To successfully manage these two diverse groups in our companies, we will need to focus on our coaching skills. We will need to listen better. We will need to look for ways to build upon their need for recognition by stressing the importance of the job and reinforcing organizational value systems.
Make accountability a part of your recognition programs. Restructure the work in ways that provide greater challenges. Find ways to make use of their longer attention spans. Anyone who can sit and play one of these goofy games for hours on end must have the skills necessary to remain focused on a difficult task until it is solved.
But above all, remember that the so-called problem people are in the minority. They always have been and they will remain a small percentage of the total work force. Most of the people you will lead and manage in the future are not that different from the employees you have worked with in the past. Just as all people need to feel someone is listening to them and is interested in their well-being, they also need to feel their work is important and meaningful. William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
I was thinking recently about all the leaders and managers I have known who have achieved a good measure of success in their chosen vocation, but who seem to lack a sense of achievement and happiness that should rightly be theirs.
The late Viktor Frankl addressed the issue in his book, Mans Search for Meaning. As a Holocaust survivor, he had spent a considerable amount of time pondering why some people who have achieved success fail to find happiness in that success.
He wrote that its possible to have both success and happiness, if you have a sense of meaning and purpose.
As a regular speaker on the subject, I constantly hear of distractions that can crop up, even in the lives of successful people, when they lack this sense of purpose. One fellow told me that he had reached all the financial goals he had set for himself when he left college. He felt he had done everything he set out to do.
To him, the sole justification for his existence had become the achievement of those objectives. Nothing else mattered. What makes this so disturbing is that he is only 36 years old. His success has only brought him unhappiness and uncertainty and two divorces.
Most of us, when things are going well, dont invest much time thinking about the direction our lives have taken. We are perfectly content to go with the flow, to ride the current of whatever momentum we have established.
It seems that thoughts of lifes meaning and purpose most often emerge only during times of confusion and uncertainty. Or perhaps following a deep emotional experience, such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, the break-up of an important relationship or when you begin to realize you are getting older. For most of us, these are the times when we begin to have thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life.
I believe one of the keys to resolving some of these concerns lies in a quote from one of my favorite writers, Richard Bach, who said in his book, Illusions, Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. We are all learners, doers, teachers.
I would add to Bachs quotation a personal observation: When you are teaching, you begin to realize how much you can learn from your students. Thus, the entire process becomes cyclical, an unending stream of growth, sharing and then more growth.
A near-perfect form of give-and-take is beneficial to all parties. When applied to each aspect of life, you will begin to grasp more of the true essence of life itself. You will begin to recognize not only important elements of your own self worth, but also how your personal piece of the puzzle fits into the big picture.
The realization that you are connected to your purpose, or at least making progress toward a connection, can give you a whole new perspective. It can make what might otherwise seem a drab existence fairly sing with excitement and anticipation.
You will begin to realize that you are much more than next months sales or next quarters net earnings. And when you do achieve these rather minor milestones, you will realize they are mere stepping stones to the real prize the realization of you.
William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once, after a particularly brutal encounter with the enemy in which his outnumbered troops rallied to score a decisive victory, Napoleon commented about the nature of incentives. He observed that money alone could never adequately compensate the troops for the hardships of battle. The desire to fight on in bitter cold, facing hunger, fatigue and the ever-present threat of the loss of a limb or even death, could not be sustained with the mere promise of wages.
Early in his military career, he realized that people would actually risk their lives for a tiny piece of colored material they could pin to their uniforms. The motivational value of a ribbon that signified an achievement had more value to many of these men than their very lives.
I thought of this story while preparing a presentation for a team of upper-level managers faced with the prospect of initiating several major changes over the next few months. One of their concerns was determining what incentives would motivate their associates to put forth the extra effort necessary to successfully implement the changes, given the time constraints.
As often happens, management's first thoughts were of financial incentives. But after some discussion of Napoleon's observation, they were able to cobble together an innovative package of non-financial incentives that should result in a higher level of involvement in the change process.
Employee involvement was enhanced in part when they were included in the planning process and given regular updates as to the progress being made as a result of their input.
Needless to say, the package did not include combat ribbons or medals, but then none of the people were being asked to risk their lives.
We have been told for several decades by leading management gurus, including Herzberg, Drucker, Deming and even Tom Peters, that monetary incentives are not the only, or even the best, motivators. Maslow wrote that once people have met their physiological, security and safety needs, their attention turns to their social and self-actualization needs. You can meet such needs by creating an environment in which people are challenged and believe they are contributing to important results-and have some control over their destinies.
Organizations that have embraced a team-based working environment report higher levels of employee commitment. When teams have the responsibility for implementing their suggestions, the results have been even more significant. A study done some years ago concluded that real involvement could be achieved when the work environment includes:
- a visual objective;
- immediate feedback;
- challenging, but attainable goals; and
- work performed in a socially acceptable atmosphere.
The social atmosphere is created when the work is associated with a meaningful purpose.and everyone is working together to achieve that purpose.
However, "a small piece of cloth" will never motivate effectively in an organization whose greatest concern is over the size of the "parachutes."
William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, Catalytic Management: Success by Design (McGraw-Hill), is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and WaldenBooks stores. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Speakers Association, a chapter of the National Speakers Association.
All too frequently the pattern is repeated. The organization has a quarter or two of poor performance, and the obvious solution emerges-get rid of some people. Wall Street loves you, and the poor performance is brushed aside-as long as you can reduce the head count.
Organizations often overlook the fact that, once those employees are gone, they no longer can earn a nickel's worth of profit for you. If these people are really excess baggage, if they really are the cause of the poor performance, then as the manager, you should be looking for ways to make them more valuable. And as their value increases, they can help you become more profitable.
One way to make your company more attractive to the investing public is to make your people more knowledgeable and thus more valuable. According to an article in Fortune magazine (June 22, 1998), "In an economy based increasingly on intellectual capital, a company's assets are in the employees."
Personal observations and research by writers like Michael Hammer and James Champy, authors of "Reengineering the Corporation," indicate that at least 20 percent of all activities add little or no value to your products and services. If you and your people were to place an emphasis on just finding and eliminating those activities, your bottom line would greatly improve.
These non-value-adding activities include nonproductive and unnecessary meetings, the preparation of redundant reports and studies no one reads, outdated work practices, checking and rechecking another person's work and ineffective communications. These problem areas are present in nearly every organization and can be eliminated if every employee, at all levels, would look at each task he or she performs and asks these four questions:
- Does this activity increase profits?
- Does it reduce costs?
- Does it increase throughput?
- Does it address a specific customer need?
If the activity meets one or more of these criteria, it adds value. If it doesn't, it should be eliminated.
There is another benefit to this exercise. A recent study reports that a full two-thirds of the employees in this country leave their place of employment at the end of the day with a lower level of self-esteem than they had when they went to work. This loss of self-esteem accounts, at least in part, for poor morale and the reduced loyalty they feel toward their employers.
I find that self-esteem is greatly enhanced when people feel they are doing work that is important. When useless work is eliminated, and people are able to recognize their roles in improving performance, their self-esteem increases along with their productivity-a double boost for the bottom line. When these areas of waste are eliminated and the bottom line grows, you will begin to see the folly of downsizing as an answer to every problem.
Any way you look at it, value-adding employees are a good investment.
William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, Catalytic Management: Success by Design, is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and WaldenBooks stores.