Writing Our Own Scorecards

I recently spoke to about a hundred C-level executives at a partner conference hosted by one of the top IT providers. As part of the workshop, the executives predicted how their employees would rate their agreement with 15 statements dealing with organizational climate. The second lowest agreement score of the fifteen was this for this statement: “I can clearly explain the mission of my company and how I contribute”.

A continuing theme in the literature on best places to work, is that leadership in Best-Place companies makes it easy for people to know, and in fact, measure for themselves, their work output and the resulting impact on their organization. Sounds easy and straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it proves to be a daunting, almost impossible task for many organizations and teams.  That gap has the resulting impact of being a significant impediment to both the business impact itself, as well as the sense of pride and well-being and confidence of being assured that our work product is (or isn’t) hitting the business mark.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book,  “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”, talks about “immeasurement” as one of the three signs.  “Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.  They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person no matter how benevolent that person may be.”  How many of us either anticipate or dread the annual performance review with our boss to get their blessing or curse on our work product?  What in heaven’s name did we do for the rest of the year to know where we stood?  I can think of maybe one or two bosses in a forty year career that gave me regular and objective feedback as a routine function of managing me, and my discussions with colleagues tell me that is more the norm than the exception.

Grab the May 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review for an excellent article by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer on “The Power of Small Wins”.  (HBR Reprint R1105C).  Amabile and Kramer studied the impact of employees’ ”inner work life” on their performance inside complex organizations.  A seminal finding of their research:  “What motivates people on a day to day day basis is the sense they are making progress.”   They echo the classic work by Frederick Herzberg in his 1960’s studies of how employees are motivated.  “People are most satisfied with their jobs …. When those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement”.

Turning their research forward into idea for how managers can ensure that their people are getting the visibility they need into their own performance, they not only lay out the four primary ways that managers drain work of its meaning (!!) but in a more positive vein, they lay out a Daily Progress Checklist to help managers measure and deal with measures of both positive and negative factors in measuring daily progress.  Their intent is to help managers build the habitual processes which enable them to create the “Progress Loop” with their teams.

“Inner work life drives performance; in turn, good performance, which depends on consistent progress, enhances inner work life. We call this the progress loop; it reveals the potential for self-reinforcing benefits.

“So, the most important implication of the progress principle is this: By supporting people and their daily progress in meaningful work, managers improve not only the inner work lives of their employees but also the organization’s long-term performance, which enhances inner work life even more.  Of course, there is a dark side—the possibility of negative feedback loops. If managers fail to support progress and the people trying to make it, inner work life suffers and so does performance; and degraded performance further undermines inner work life.

“A second implication of the progress principle is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes, to ensure that employees are motivated and happy. As long as they show basic respect and consideration, they can focus on supporting the work itself.”

We have to enable our employees to write their own scorecard, and then help them do what it takes to put runs on the board.

The Primacy of Relationships

Take the recently reported experience by Google in their Project Oxygen.  (Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss) Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for “people operations”, described their research into the relative importance of eight key management attributes:  “In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison.  Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

Gallup surveyed over one million workers on what drove job satisfaction.  Their analysis yielded 12 critical questions to ask workers about their work place.  Of the 12, half of them  related strongly to factors heavily driven by relationships created and nurtured in the workplace: recognition, supervisor level of caring, encouraging development, being listened to by others, having a best friend at work, and receiving frequent and active discussion about development progress.

The Great Place to Work Institute is the “engine” behind Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to work for.  Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin from the Institute recently published “The Great Workplace – How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters” , summarizing the results of the institute’s over 30 years of research into great places to work.  They define a great workplace as “one where people trust the people they work for, take pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.”  One of their overarching conclusions of their research:  “The practices companies had and the money leaders spent on employees did not always lead to great workplaces;  The relationships they built in the process did.”

The implication is clear.  Of course, every business depends on its core competence and its command of its market understanding and its technologies.  Yet what will distinguish us as great places to work will be how effectively we pay attention to and nurture the key relationships between our executives, line leadership, and our extended team of employees.

How are You Showing Up?

“80 Percent of Success is Showing Up”    (Woody Allen)

I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1981.  My second level sales manager was a character named Bob Sandefer.  Bob had already been around HP for over 25 years and was a legend with our factories.  Over the next five years, I would be part of Bob’s team, both as a sales rep and later as a first level sales manager.  Over those years, I had plenty of disagreements with Bob on a variety of topics.  He was tough as nails.  As the years passed, and I got a little smarter, two things occurred to me.  First, on virtually all of the areas where we had disagreed, he was right.  Much more importantly I came to really appreciate how dedicated Bob was to “showing up” for his people.

On anything to do with the business, Bob had very strong ideas on how to take care of customers and through doing so, to grow the business.  He would be in your face in a heartbeat if he sensed anything less than total dedication to HP or the customer.  He had high expectations, and enforced them to the last inch.  On the personal side (after five, mind you), he showed a really remarkable ability to get to know everyone on his team (about fifty people), their personal strengths and shortcomings, but also their spouse, kids, and how big the new house had to be…  At 5:01, he would hold court, and the office was usually full until after 7, with one person or another going in for coaching.  We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.  It often involved a minute or two of those  intense “feedback moments” but that didn’t seem to matter.  He was like a candle to a moth.  The interaction didn’t just happen in the office.  If there was a wedding, a funeral, or any other kind of significant life event, he was there.  Period.  It didn’t matter where you were on the list of fifty.  You were one of his people.

As a perspective on coaching, Bob’s strength in building productive coaching relationships was his ability to show up on a variety of levels.  No one could touch his knowledge of our business.  Beyond the business, he put in the time to connect with everyone on a deeply personal level.  He expected you to have a plan and he had the audacity to remember it and ask you how it was going the next time he saw you.  If you fell short of your plan or his expectations for you, you learned accountability in a hurry.  After some of his accountability sessions, you might feel like you had been kicked around the block, but you knew that he knew you and loved you with every kick.  It wasn’t just kicking.  He celebrated with us, cried with us, and was very predictably there for us, 24-7.

A lot of coaching was delivered on that very firm foundation.