Tag Archives: high performance

Hierarchical Management – a reprise

down_the_chain_1600_wht_5908Employers who want peak performance from their employees might do better by ensuring that they have a strong but fair hierarchy in place.

Aaron Kay at Fuqua Management School of Business at Duke University, Carolina,  thinks leaders should worry less about empowerment and equality.

He says “In organisations there is a move to become flat but that is not always the best thingy you want to keep employees working hard”.

“People may say that they want to work in an egalitarian workplace but sometimes they actually function better in a hierarchy” regardless of where they sit in the organisation.

It’s not  just that a hierarchy offers more chance of promotion – although some staff will appreciate seeing a ladder to climb – but that hierarchies offer staff a sense of order and structure which they like.

When times are turbulent and external circumstances reduce their sense of control preference for hierarchies increases. Kay says “People seek out guidance and leaders”  And a  hierarchy helps them feel that they are in a safe, stable environment … where they can predict the outcome of their behaviours.

His research also suggests that a strong hierarchy helps people feel that they are being more effective in tackling long-term goals. “If you lead an organisation where you need employees to work on long-term projects, committed to long-term goals, it’s tempting to think that if you give them autonomy they will be more interested and it will drive the right behaviour”.

But as he points out long-term goals are hard to achieve and people need to forgo immediate reward to focus on something way off in the future. They have to trust the system. Having a clear structure and a hierarchy reassures employees that things won’t change before they complete the task.

Hierarchy might also be better for complex tasks where each person needs to complete their part exactly as it is specified. This doesn’t necessarily mean managers should adopt a directive or autocratic approach. Employees obviously like to know where they stand but managers shouldn’t lord it over them and be open to new ideas.

Other experts disagree. One said  ‘it’s naive to think that structures always work the way they were intended”. In some organisations employees feel that although there is a structure and the rules are fair, they are not always applied fairly.

It seems to depend on whether or not you can trust the leaders and managers to be fair and whether or not the rules change as you are working.

See also my earlier post on this topic. 

Can you have too much talent in a team?

people_puzzle_1600_wht_4253Well, yes, according to Professor of organisational behaviour Roderick Swaab at the French business school INSEAD (reported recently in the Sunday Times).

Apparently having too much talent can be as bad as not having enough in terms of team performance.

His research suggests that once 68% of your team is made up of highly talented people,  that becomes the point where adding more gives you less in terms of performance.

However this is based on research into elite sports teams and in football and basketball the highly skilled are known to pass the ball less and not provide as many assists to team mates as they would rather go for glory themselves.

Does that apply to business? Despite Swaab’s assertion that it does I have my doubts. Perhaps if you are  competing in an investment bank, the example he quotes,  you might be less inclined to share information and help colleagues, but that is hardly typical of most business environments.

The problem seems to be that very talented people are used to being recognised for their individual talent and  not for being team players.

Swaab says “hiring these people does add value but with potential costs”. Hiring big egos can easily lead to personality clashes and conflict over status when they all want to be recognised as the best.

Of course if you are working in a group that is not strictly a team (in Hackman‘s definition i.e. the members are not dependent on each other) then it shouldn’t matter how many talented people you have, in fact the more the merrier to get best results overall.

So it’s probably” horses for courses”. For independent workers in a group there’s no reason to assume a tipping point where performance drops off. In a real team you need the right mix of talent and diversity (and the right supporting conditions a la Hackman’s model).

Swaab acknowledges that the level of interdependence is important and it might also mean recruiting fewer star players to ensure team cohesiveness – or rewarding the team as a whole rather than individuals.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is leadership. It might be more of a challenge to manage a team brimming with talent but would a good leader rather have a team of mediocre people?

 

 

 

Leaders without any shame – 2013 update

s6000346_22013 update:

So many people I could add. First let me just add the whole of the BBC corporate set-up after the Savile affair and excessive payouts to the former DG and other unsuccessful applicants. That was unbelievable.

And the Sir David Nicholson scandal. He refuses to take responsibility for what happened on his watch at mid-Staffs and since as NHS CEO. He has faced many calls to resign and fall on his sword (well he is a knight) but astonishingly has the backing of the NHS commissioners and the Prime Minister.

Another knight Sir Hector Sants is accused of turning a blind eye when he was head of the FSA during Libor scandal. Barclays bank was one of worst offenders and now employ him on a reputed £3M salary as head of compliance.

Then we had the Senior Fraud Office. The former head, Richard Alderman, was lambasted by the Public Accounts Committee for slovenly leadership. There were unauthorised payoffs of millions of pounds of taxpayers money considered irregular by National Audit Office.

The former Chief Executive Phillippa Williamson, one of the recipients of Alderman’s generosity, wasn’t even appointed through proper channels. She was taken in on secondment by Alderman then made permanent and promoted to Chief Executive. She also lived in the Lake District and claimed £27k for travelling to London 3 times a week.

If the SFO behaves in such a haphazard manner how can they expect to be effective in carrying out their role?

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It’s been a while since I added anyone to my leadership hall of shame. Not because I didn’t care any more but there seemed to be too many mediocre leaders receiving high rewards – even when they were found out.

OK Bob Diamond had to go in the end and we had Fred the Shred de-knighted – but he kept the majority of his massive pension (around £350,000 a year plus a lump sum and bonus of several million) more than most of us have any chance of earning when we are working never mind retired.

But a recent news story reminded me how people get way with it because of incompetence by their employers.

Steve Garner was Head of Children’s Services for Rochdale Council after being promoted from being a manager three years ago. So the systematic abuse of vulnerable children was happening on his watch. He’s now been allowed to resign without any disciplinary action being taken against him.

A review by the Council’s safeguarding board into 5 years of sexual exploitation of girls by a group of predatory Asian men, mainly of Pakistani heritage, who were part of a sex-grooming network which eventually led to 9 of them being jailed, found that in 2007 fifty girls aged between 10 and 17 were identified as having links with local taxi and food takeaway businesses. (NB a further 76 were identified at the start of 2013)

Yet when these girls were referred to social service no action was taken despite concerns by police and care workers as it was thought they were making their own lifestyle choices – remember some of these girls were as young as 10!

The MP for Rotherham – another area with similar problems – said “it was outrageous that the local authority was allowing its senior managers to sneak off without being held to account for their actions”. 

He said that Mr Garner was the person within the department who influenced the culture which failed the victims. He went on to say that he thought the manager should have been suspended months ago, a point most people would find it hard to disagree with, and for that non-action you have to look at the employer, Rochdale Council.

Mr Garner was probably continuing in his predecessor’s footsteps as he was following a series of internal appointments – not always a good thing if change needs to be made.

We could probably add former CEO Roger Ellis to this list as well as he told the parliamentary inquiry (which Steve Garner has declined to attend) that he knew nothing about the child abuse although he was in post for 10 years and it happened on his watch! Like Sharon Shoesmith he says he feels no personal responsibility for any of it. He’s a lawyer so presumably knows his rights if no-one else’s.

The Council’s new Chief Executive Jim Taylor (formerly Director of Children’s Services at Tameside and a maths teacher before that) said that Mr Garner’s resignation was not directly connected to the report and that he would be willing to take disciplinary action against any staff who were identified as culpable after an internal review has been concluded. He said that Mr Garner would not receive any redundancy pay.

Well why would he as they are replacing him, following the thematic review of multi-agency responses to the sexual exploitation of children, to “allow someone else to take forward recommendations”.

Allowing people potentially facing disciplinary action is a common practice in the Public Sector including the Police service eg only this week Sir Norman Bettison has decided to retire in the wake of the report from the  Hillsborough Independent Panel as it enables people who might have been disciplined to retire on their pensions.

It seems that no-one is being held accountable for the whole sorry saga which has been going on for a lot, lot longer than this report suggests and before Mr Garner’s time in post. Nevertheless the Rotherham MP is correct; leaders are highly influential in setting the culture of an organisation and in this case it was clearly a failure of leadership as well as a lack of moral certainty usurped by political correctness on race issues.

In some respects this is similar to the Sharon Shoesmith case (see below).

With Sharon Shoesmith’s distasteful victory in the Courts we saw yet another example of leaders who refuse to take responsibility for their actions – or in this case inactions.

Her reported comments that I don’t do blame” and “this is a victory” has a hollow ring when you think about Baby P. Shoesmith was appointed to make sure that the Climbie case in 2000 was not repeated. She clearly failed to do this and the Courts upheld Ofsted’s findings which described the department as the worst they had ever seen.

At least the leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for the children’s’ services resigned, but not Shoesmith. And she got her compensation for unfair dismissal thanks to Ed Balls heavy-handed interference (but what was HR doing?). So big compensation for being rubbish at her job.

The last person I  added to my list was Barclay’s Bob Diamond who told the House of Commons Treasury Committee parliamentary committee earlier this year that “There was a period of remorse and apology for banks, that period needs to be over” and “the biggest issue is how do we put some of the blame game behind us?”.

He also said that they were sensitive and were listening. I don’t remember any bankers listening and refusing bonuses or showing any remorse at all!

We expect a lot of leaders and expect them to be good role models but that’s not what we get a lot of the time. Leaders with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies often show their dark side when under pressure.

The fact that “Fred the Shred” felt it necessary to take out a superinjunction to protect the public learning about his alleged affair with a senior member of staff at a time that the bank was going under at least shows some self-awareness, albeit in his own interest, that his behaviour might be seen as counter-productive. But on the whole people like Diamond and Shoesmith don’t seem to possess a lot of emotional intelligence.

4 June 2011: It would be so easy to add Sepp Blatter to the list after his Napoleonic “coronation” but this week’s nomination has to be Bernie Ecclestone after his decision to go to Bahrain with his Formula 1 circus. He obviously needs the $40m but even the sponsors are nervous about the effect on their reputations.

Britain has close relations with Bahrain but given the suppression of protests there and the possibility of a terrorist attack it’s a dubious decision. Ecclestone might have a nose for a commercial deal but scores zero for ethical leadership.

12 July 2011: I’ve been trying to decide who is worse, Rebecca Brooks or any member of the Murdoch family. But the “red top” who oversaw the demise of the News of the World, which she described as a toxic brand and thereby besmirched the reputations of the 200 staff, has to be on a par with Sharon Shoesmith for not accepting any responsibility for what happened.

Leaders who won’t fall on their sword, who believe they are right, who blame everyone else (Brooks was editor at the time of the hacking) don’t deserve to be leaders. Why did Murdoch back her? She said she was a lightning rod for criticism.

Perhaps it keeps the heat off son James Murdoch. Rebecca should remember that no matter how much a favoured “daughter” she thinks she is, blood is thicker than water (and true to form Murdoch is now back at BSkyB).

Rebecca Brooks eventually lost her job, albeit with a reported £1.7M payoff and use of an office and chauffeur-driven car for two years. Perhaps they’re waiting for the Sun on Sunday to be published.

And whilst we are on this topic let’s add Assistant Commissioner John Yates to the list for complete lack of leadership. OK he has apologised, admitted that the Metropolitan Police’s reputation is “very damaged“, appears not to have carried out his responsibilities properly when he mishandled the review of the 2007 inquiry (apparently he decided in a matter of hours even though there were 11,000 pages of notes involved), but he’s not resigned either.

James is still trying not to show how incompetent, or devious, he is but it looks like the Murdoch dynasty has upset too many shareholders to continue for another generation.

I previously let Sepp Blatter off the hook because of Bernie Ecclestone’s Bahrain fiasco but after this week and his belated apology and refusal to resign – and why would he quit the corrupt gravy train that is FIFA – he’s got to be latest nomination for a leader completely without principles and any awareness of what the public think about him and his ideas.

He’s not the only one in football to defend the indefensible this month eg spitting at people is culturally acceptable in South American countries – really? So Sepp Blatter joins my leadership hall of shame.

Motivating staff – the Dan Pink seminar

Excited Businessman Speaking on Cell PhoneMotivating staff is not the easiest thing to do. In fact is it possible to motivate someone else to do something at all?

We can coerce or threaten and, to use that horrible word, “incentivise” people but most people only really do things they want to unless in desperate straits. In other words motivation, for most people, is internally generated.

Maslow‘s idea of people seeking self-actualisation may be considered old hat now but you can still see evidence of that human potential philosophy in the field of positive psychology.

Similarly Herzberg’s two-factor theory distinguished between motivators –  which were intrinsic to the job, and demotivators, or hygiene factors, which constantly need attention like money which motivates for a while but then loses its incentive value.

Dan Pink‘s seminar on this topic is interesting and thought-provoking and you can watch it by clicking here.

First posted September 2010

Potential or Achievement

Anyone working in a large organisation will be familiar with the talent matrix, the 9-box model used  to score high potentials.

A recent survey by SHL suggests we have good leadership in the UK at the moment but might struggle in the future because we’re not getting people with potential coming through the pipeline.

From the 25 countries in the SHL database it was Mexico, Turkey and Egypt who have the greatest source of potential future leaders. The UK fell 18 places and out of the top 20 and Hong Kong dropped from 1st to 20th position.

AN SHL spokesperson said that; “the UK  has a leadership time bomb on its hands if  it doesn’t invest in learning and development to cultivate future leaders. Rising education standards in other countries along with a culture of entrepreneurialism are factors driving the emerging economies such as Brazil, India, Mexico, and Turkey, up the rankings for future leadership potential. These nations have a huge growth opportunity if they can identify, nurture and develop this potential“.

In their survey SHL found that only 1 in 15 managers and professionals qualify as effective leaders today but there are six times as many managers who have the potential to develop if they are targeted for investment. And note the word “if”. No doubt SHL would love to help them identify and develop their potential.

So little in the way of hard facts and the future may turn out differently depending on investment.

But given a choice between choosing someone who was a proven leader with solid achievements and someone who had potential what should UK plc do?

Researchers have found that in some situations people will choose potential over achievement. They asked participants to choose between two candidates and select the one who they thought would do better in 5 years time.

They both had the same qualifications but one had two years of high achievement compared to no experience but a high potential score – perhaps surprisingly the participants in the experiments chose the high potential, “the next big thing” even though they accepted that objectively the experienced candidate was the stronger.

And that reasoning applied not just to job candidates but to evaluations of restaurants and stand-up comics. The research, published in the Journal of personality and social psychology (2012), suggests that using potential can be an effective means of persuasion whether in getting a job or winning business.

The recession however may have turned the research on its head. PWC’s Key Trends in Human Capital report 2012 states that productivity is at a 5-year low since 2011.

This is partly because payroll costs rose 16% from 2009 to 2011. And the reason? Organisations turned to more experienced, and expensive, managers to get them out of trouble rather than inexperienced but cheaper alternatives.

It’s good to talk – or maybe not?

An analysis of over 20 years research into team effectiveness revealed that talkative teams are less effective (Journal of Applied Psychology Vol 94 No 2, 2009).

Teams which talk more aren’t necessarily sharing useful information and are not therefore getting better outcomes. And more introverted types will feel entitled to think “I told you so”, because what you talk about is more important for teams than how much you talk.

The researchers also found that teams communicate better when they are told to come up with a correct or best  solution rather than a consensus.

This is yet another report which shows teams aren’t always as effective as people believe.

A report in the Quack Quack column – “We debunk the myths behind the headlines” – in The Times 27 April – cites research from the University of Arizona, reported in Psychological Science, which shows that the more people engage in superficial communication, the lower their morale.

This followed on from criticism of the report that you could measure the happiness levels of celebrities by analysing their tweets, some not very convincing research from the University of Edinburgh.

Updated since first posted 06/04/2010

Are your employees engaged?

The Sunday Times “Best Companies to Work For survey”, which has now canvassed over a million workers since 2000, has identified eight factors that foster workplace engagement.

The factor with the strongest correlation is Leadership: employees must have faith and trust in their senior management team to be engaged.

To do that leaders must gain their trust, live the values, and inspire the team.

Their 2009 survey revealed, in answer to the statement “I have great confidence in the leadership skills of the SMT”, there was a 54% difference between engaged and disengaged employees. In answer to the statement; “senior management truly live the values of this organisation”, there was a 51% difference.

In the top 10% of companies there was a massive 94% confidence rating that the leader ran the company on moral principles.  Would that figure be so high today in the depths of a recession?

Giving something Back (GSB) is one way of engaging employees. Organisations with a good track record of this get higher scores from staff for leadership, pride in their company, and personal well-being.

There does seem to be a rash of books and articles on the new leadership approach needed since the recession. And values and principles are high up among the key factors which is maybe why organisations turn to women when they are in a crisis as they appear to be more trusted as CEOs even though, or maybe because, they  seem more willing to criticise their organisations.

Updated since first published 02/04/2010