Insight – Leadership and the eyes of the poet

I believe that I can learn from everybody and everything. Therefore everybody and everything can teach me something. That is sometimes the mantra of a poet. They are in search of understanding and an opportunity to contribute in a manner that is a valuable and hopefully, a unique expression of insight.

Insight is described by business dictionary.com as a combination of feedback and knowledge.

“1. Feedback; ideas about the true nature of something In business, product testing sessions are used to gather insight from people with different backgrounds, experiences and feelings, with the intent of finding out how consumers may respond.
2. Knowledge in the form of perspective, understanding, or deduction. Someone may come up with an insight after a long period of thought, or suddenly out of thin air as in an epiphany or sudden understanding. “Management had the insight to decrease its expenses amid falling sales before a scheduled earnings release, so that the company would be viewed in a more favorable light.”

Poets use their senses to cultivate their insight to gain a better understanding and appreciation of their world. They can be introspective, sensitive and deep thinkers able to view a situation from many perspectives. They like to experiment with different approaches in search of a fresh thought.

A poet’s insight is used to teach panoramic thinking. They use magnification and peripheral vision to evaluate many sides to an issue, problem, project or situation. Magnification allows them to see things on a different level and expose certain aspects that were never considered. This poetic viewpoint can therefore, help in brainstorming and innovative thinking sessions, whether alone or in groups. Leadership should capture this brilliance and use it achieve the vision and the mission.

Poets learn to;

• Deal with being different,
• Be reflective, alone and sometimes not appreciated
• Explore different approaches to achieve the ideal word painting
• Use ordinary objects to state their case or make a point
• Constructively use their mind and their senses
• Use memory mechanisms to recall lines, associations and patterns
• Develop an appreciation for the entire object
• Give voice to the other side of a situation or issue
• Search for another perspective
• and expressing inner feelings
• Take an inward journey of discovery to increase self awareness
• Use of structure and routines to organize thoughts
• Use journals, diaries and notebooks to record their observation and thoughts

The poet has inspirational words for winning, has a vocabulary for victory and can speak effectively against the pervasive language of losing. You want them linked to the vision and mission of the organization. Their words will immortalize and internalize the vision, mission and purpose. A poet summed up the vision and the spirit of the company by starting each day with a message to his wife, “I am going to save a life today.” He was a successful pharmaceutical sales representative.

The poet may be the introvert in the room, deriving their energy from absorbing everything around them and processing it later in the day. They are the creative ones, who are insightful, observing and analyzing problems. They may see things that others don’t see, mainly because they are looking. In my book the Isle of knowledge, I tell a story about my friend Buttons from my childhood. During our walks around streets and alleys on the West side of Chicago, Buttons was always finding money and other things of value. I tried to match his skill with little success. His secret was that he was always looking down and therefore, had a greater opportunity to find things. He was looking where the treasure was located. The poet is always looking for treasure in the places where they reside.
Poets are always observing, always using their senses, connected and involved in the world around them. A poet likes to experiment. She is always working with different styles, words, formats, illustrations and images. You need to find them and include them in the high-performance functioning of your team.

You may have heard that poetry and business to not go together. However, if leaders practice this reality it may hinder you in identifying and harnessing this valuable human resource. This power, if channeled properly, will improve the culture within your business.

You want to know the poets, because this knowledge can cause an exponential rise in productivity. Leveraging their talent will help you unlock your greatness. You can utilize this talent within yourself and produce a chain reaction of the skill in others. Max De Pree, former CEO of the Herman Miller furniture company, tells a story in his book Leadership is an art, which is a part of the Herman Miller company history. One day the founder of Howard Miller went to the house of a recently deceased employee. The man’s job was a millwright for his furniture company. While visiting his home, the widow asked if the young manager would mind if she read some poetry aloud. After listening to her read beautiful poetry he asked the author of the work. She replied that it was her husband, the millwright. At that moment the young manager wondered,” was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?

Max Dupree goes on to say,” understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed. It also enables us to begin to think about being abandoned to the strengths of others, of admitting that we cannot know nor do everything. This simple act of recognizing diversity in corporate life helps us to connect the great variety of gifts that people bring to the work and service of the organization.” Unlocking your diversity greatness means you are maximizing the creative talent within yourself and the members of your team. This will help you extract and multiply the greatness around you.

The poet was always looking for ways to explore other opinions, described the people and environments in a new way and using language to encourage and celebrate success. The poet may not actually use the gift to write words of verse or disclose this talent of others. However, it is evident in the way they go through life and perform their vocation. They have a desired to find a creative outlet, especially if their skills cannot be used at work.

It is crucial and beneficial to view the world through the eyes of the poet. Their insight is talent on your team that can add to your success and overall effectiveness. Leaders must recognize the poetic perspective as an aspect of diversity and the ways people present themselves at work which could make the world a better place.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

The Company is last – Sacrificed for personal gain – Part 1of 2

Managers are hired to grow the organization, protect Company interests, steward its resources and provide value to share holders / stake holders. They achieve this by making decisions that benefit themselves personally, individuals they like, their team or the overall organization. When these decisions are made for the right reasons, everyone wins.

Some people treat Company interests as a latter option. They disregard their primary responsibility and make decisions that may harm the corporation in the long run. This mindset is present in people of power, whether serving as a manager, coach, or politician. My focus for this article will be on those serving as a manager or leader.

These individuals in question view resources, influence and assets as their private property. They selfishly make decisions to stroke their personal egos, enrich their bank accounts and advance their personal careers and the careers of their minions.

Let us discuss the decision making practices of many managers when selecting candidates for hire or promotion as an example of this behavior. There are four perspectives and the company may be last. The four perspectives are:

• Personal
• Protégé
• Team
• Organization

Personal

The personal perspective is highly visible in selecting talent. Manager’s with this dominant mode will hire and promote in their image. The candidate reminds them of themselves when they were that age. Also, they have attributes that remind them of someone they admire. Managers select people based on comfort, familiarity and personal identification. They can relate to the attributes shared in common. They feel the person has the potential to do well and they may personally receive accolades for hiring / promoting such a fine talent.

These opportunities are often blatant examples of nepotism because these individuals are in the same club, group, fraternity, sorority or ethnic or racial group. The person is elevated in stature due to an affiliation of some sorts. The candidate presumably has the qualifications, but affiliation or identification on some level compels them to advocate their candidacy.

The idea of reciprocity comes to mind. Someday the person may repay the favor and help them in some manner. The manager may offer the job to a friend of a friend or the referral of a very important person. The concept is to place the job in the hands of someone who owes them and may pay dividends in the future. There is hope that someone will be grateful for this act of generosity and show their gratitude at the appropriate moment with the appropriate stipend.

The personal focus of this perspective is also evident in their daily practices. A person gains accolades for developing a new program. Mind you, a recently introduced program was not given an adequate chance to work. They therefore, convinced the company to make a make a large financial investment in their new program. They do not want credit for implementing someone’s program, so they develop their own. If this happens frequently, it does not allow the company to establish their brand identity due to the revolving door of new managers with new programs to fit their personal agendas.

The perceived personal benefit is the driving force behind their actions. The manager in this mindset is hiring for personal gain, image and reputation. They are executing their job with a short term personal focus on their career. They will duplicate expenditures; make poor decisions and institute practices that may actually cost the company more money, time and resources.

Protégé

People immersed in the protégé mindset are influenced by what is best for the candidate, rather than the company. These candidates may be worthy people, with a compelling story. The manager feels an obligation to help them complete their story, by making the path easier or more open for them. The manager wants to accelerate the person’s learning curve, but the effect may be catastrophic for the corporate culture.

People are placed on a fast track program. They are placed on a short term basis in a series of departments to give them exposure to the company quickly. This allows the person to check off a box that they have experience in various disciplines. The concept makes sense, but they are never in one department long enough to fully understand how it works. Additionally, they are not there long enough to have an impact on the business and to make a significant contribution. They are viewed as lame ducks or worse, someone passing through on their way to the top with an opportunity reserved for a select few.

The protégé mindset espouses that potential will eventually lead to qualifications, but there is collateral damage when following this approach.

In this category, someone may get a job because of who they know, influence plays a role in their hiring or promotion. Patronage and favoritism are focused on the person who may become the protégé.

When there are problems with the protégé, the hiring managers becomes protective, since they are responsible for the hire. They take it personally and defend the new person. They are prone to ignore criticism, justify the poor performance by blaming others and circumstances. They will castigate the messengers who bring bad news about poor performance, regarding their hiring / promotional choice.

The protégé mindset is replete with hiring friends and family members. The CEO of a Charter School was reprimanded when they found many of his family members on the company payroll in key positions. City governments are notorious for this practice.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Perform or perish – Part 1

I interviewed with a manager from a medium size pharmaceutical company. The DM spoke of sales success as a ruthless priority. There was an intolerance of mediocrity. If your performance was “subpar and under the bar” you were in trouble. He looked at me intently and uttered that familiar phrase, around here, “Money talks and BS walks.”  I had heard the phrase many times before and being quick on my feet, I responded, “What’s the use, if you don’t produce.” I wanted him to know I could swim in shark infested waters and that I was the person for the job.

In research circles and the halls of academia, researchers and professors are told to publish or perish. In sales and marketing organizations all over the world, a variation of this battle cry can be heard. We are in a constant struggle to prove our value by selling our products and services and competing for our jobs. We “fight extinction with distinction.” Our existence or extinction is governed by our ability to meet or exceed the demands of the marketplace. If we are to be successful, we must accept the ultimatum to perform or perish.

Many companies are in a reduction mode; reducing the size of sales forces and other resources. Some good representatives are displaced in the process, but an effort is made to keep the top performers. Territory performance is evaluated and the under performing ones are eliminated, left vacant or absorbed into adjacent geographies. It is imperative to understand how performance is measured, exceed expectations and ensure that management is aware of your full contributions to the bottom line.

How is performance measured?

Everyone should understand how performance is measured in their organization. Sales teams rely heavily on objective factors such as, market share growth, new customers, satisfied clients, new prescriptions, total prescriptions, customer satisfaction or engagement scores, pieces sold, number of calls made, customer conversions and documents or people processed. There may also be subjective factors such as, behavioral traits, competencies or success factors which represent how the employee achieved their goals. 

Performance is captured and referenced in performance reviews, (formally once or twice a year) and coaching discussions on work days and other interactions with the manager. Frequent performance discussions against objectives will eliminate surprises at the end of the year and ensure that the latest document accurately reflects your results. You may want to initiate these fireside chats if your manager does not do this routinely.

Understand the evaluation system

Many companies will force rank their employees based on their overall performance. If there are 10 people in a District, they are ranked from 1 – 10, with the top representative occupying the #1 position. This process is helpful in distributing performance ratings, merit increases and incentive compensation. This process may also be used to determine the lower 10% of performers. Some companies will remove the lower performers if they are at the bottom of the list two years in a row.

Companies may categorize employees as A, B or C players. Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghaven in their Harvard Business Review article defined A, B and C players as follows:

A’s are star performers. They are employees who put their professional lives ahead of their families and personal lives because they are striving to accomplish more or move upward in the organization. They are the risk-takers, the “high potentials,” and employers enjoy finding and hiring them. They are also the players most likely to leave the organization for opportunities elsewhere.

B’s are competent, steady performers who balance their work and personal lives while still doing the bulk of the work of the company. They tend to stay put, don’t require a lot of attention, and they get the job done. Because they stay, they tend to carry the corporate history with them.

C’s are performers who are not achieving enough to satisfy their employers and are most likely to be asked to move along.” In hard times Companies try to keep their A & B performers.

There are other variables in assessing your performance and that includes comparing it to your peers who may work for other managers. Calibration is a process used to discuss employees in an effort to measure employees against their peers. There are some managers who are hard on their people and therefore distribute lower ratings and incentive payouts, but they have stuff standards. Other managers have been known to be easy on their people and rate them higher and reward them with higher incentives whether they earned them or not. To even the playing field a process of calibration was established. This is considered a more equitable system because it allows managers to discuss their ratings with the peers. In this scenario people of comparable performance are compared to ensure equity in the system.

Managers are challenged to evaluate performance in a pay for performance environment. Force ranking and calibrating are ways to ensure that people are reviewed, rated, rewarded and retained based on their performance. Your objective is to ensure that you are viewed near the top of the pack, as an A or B player which is validated by the calibration process. No system is perfect, but assessment is here to stay and necessary to provide data for promotions and when tough personnel decisions, such as staff reductions have to be made.

Tooting your own horn

In Philosophy 101 the professor asked, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? In business if you are making a contribution, you want the world to know about it.

There is a feeling in our culture that you should not toot your own horn, let others do it for you. We label those that do, arrogant and braggarts. Ironically, some of these individuals get promoted, because management has a better assessment of their ability. We may become disillusioned and accuse management of favoritism.

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

Perish or Perform – Part 2 on December 3, 2012

Internal Corporate Warfare – Mind to mind combat

In an era of empowerment, engagement and teamwork, there is an internal struggle among people who should be allies. Individuals who should be aligned against the external competitive forces have squared off against their co-workers. This internal corporate warfare is a game of mind to mind combat initiated by managerial favoritism, individual’s ambition, hastily conceived diversity programs and survival tendencies linked to the current economic environment.  Frequently this warfare is undetected by leadership until the damage has been done through poor morale and the loss of key talent.

Managerial Favoritism

When individuals realize that some people or person has an inside track to promotions they are more than slightly irritated. Nepotism is alive and well in corporate America and so is employee backlash. People do not willingly work with someone if they feel they cannot be trusted or that they will arbitrarily move ahead of them on the promotional totem pole. One of the reasons it is uncouth to get involved in an office affair is the impact it has on the other employees. They do not feel comfortable. They are afraid the person is a spy and will tell all of their secret conversations.

If someone is placed on the proverbial fast track, this leads to friction in meetings and in interactions with their peers. Some people want to dethrone the heir apparent, while others befriend them for personal gain. However, the mind to mind combat and verbal sparring are evident in their personal interactions. As a leader, have you thought about the conflict caused by a potential show of favoritism with certain employees?

Individual Ambition

Ambition is not a dirty word or a concept that is frowned upon by people in power. Organizations want employees who work hard to improve their performance and strive to excellence. Corporations want leaders because they will assume the executive positions within the organizations. They will be responsible and accountable to achieve corporate objectives for the shareholders.

There seems to be a resurgence of cut throat career ladder climbing within a number of companies. This is very true in those organizations that pit their employees against each other in a “may the best man or woman win” scenario. Employees realize that the managerial hierarchy has flattened and therefore, there are fewer roles, so the ambitious become more aggressive. The ambitious are savvier in selecting mentors, taking additional courses and networking feverishly to line up an army of supporters and advisors. Whereas, many in the younger generation want work life balance, the unscrupulous ambitious ones are still willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to reach the top of the heap.

Hastily Conceived Diversity Programs

Leaders read the latest business publications and are confronted with leaders who tout the richness of their Diversity / Inclusion strategies. Top companies in their industry are featured on Top 50 lists for diversity and inclusion. The Corporate ego is inflamed and they decide to do something about diversity and inclusion to improve their corporate culture. They may realize that the demographics of their company do not match their customers or the external marketplace. This need to tap into a wider swath of the talent within the minds of their employees is done swiftly and without much research into how it fits into their overall strategy.

Corporate awareness is further enlightened when they consider data on engagement and how, many of their workers are not bringing their entire selves to work. With these factors in mind they decided to hire and promote people without doing their homework and disseminating their strategy to their people. They waste a golden opportunity to use diversity and inclusion as a means to make all employees feel valuable and appreciated.

When people realize that a diversity and inclusion program incorporates everyone within the company and offers equality for the most talented, much of the infighting is reduced. Diversity programs should include all of the ways in which employees are different. The business case should be discussed and the benefits to the entire company should be delineated. When this is not done properly, workers will not accept new people and will sabotage the arrival and careers of their teammates. The conflict, clashes and ostracism create unnecessary tension. The new employee is blind-sided. They have no idea what is going on. They view their co-workers as cold hearted, hostile and unfriendly.  

Survival tendencies

Companies are doing more with less and becoming more creative in achieving their objectives. Talent management strategies have introduced concepts such as forced ranking which can inadvertently lead to internal corporate or departmental warfare. How does widely advertised forced ranking affect teamwork among peers? If you know your assistance could help someone leap frog you and move in front of you in the eyes of management, would that affect your desire to coach your peers?

When I was in sales it was common for sales people in the same industry not to talk to each other. They viewed each other as the competition and the enemy. This helped them make sure they would not give away any secrets on strategy or promotional programs. Is it unreasonable to think this could occur within an organization if people view their peers as the competition? Suppose they see their co-workers as threats to continued employment or promotions, would it affect their actions?

Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot are two of the most notable traitors in history. Many careers have been sabotaged by co-workers who gave disparaging stories about their peers for personal gain. I was told a story early in my career. Apparently a group of employees were complaining about a recent company policy. The most vocal among the group reported the meeting to his manager, conveniently leaving out his role in the meeting.  He sacrificed his peers to make himself look good. He was subsequently promoted to the chagrin of the rest of the group who attended that meeting.

Companies may try to improve their culture, but are unaware of the internal corporate warfare raging within their doors. Self aware leaders and employee surveys may alert them to the potential skirmishes. Enlightened and strategic leaders improve their culture for the benefit of all.  The prevailing peace and cooperation among co-workers will minimize counterproductive exercises and enhance productivity, performance and profits.

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser