Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are that of the author. Caution: some of you may agree with them.
Some of you may be offended by this. Me saying sorry you’re offended probably won’t make you feel any better.
It’s a good bet that you and I have different ideas about the goals of well-intentioned DEI efforts, how they should be measured, and the benefits they can bring an organization. And I would argue that’s a good thing; after all, that’s what diversity of thought is all about.
But we have absolutely ruined what diversity, equality, and inclusion policies were meant to bring to the workplace by the heavy-handed and ham-fisted way we’ve shoved them down people’s throats.
And we wonder why people aren’t embracing what should have already existed in the organization… as if the unreceptive employees are heretics who should be burned at the stake.
Obviously, something set me off and, as usual, it was another close encounter with a friend who’s struggling in a business turned upside down by a new CEO top-down driven DEI agenda. After the swift exodus of high-performing talent who didn’t like to be told what they had to believe, there’s yet another new CEO who’s left to hold together a business that may not survive.
Probably not the goal of the DEI-focused CEO.
Let’s dissect this DEI, shall we? It used to be diversity, equality, and inclusion and has evolved somewhat (unfortunately, in my opinion), so let’s take each part as it has to do with your BUSINESS. That’s right, a change in your business, not society.
DIVERSITY: We have always believed that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people with the company’s best interests in mind have a difference of opinion and are able to have an adult conversation about it – no matter what they look like – it’s good for the company. This is the essence of diversity of thought. And for it to be part of your culture, it has to be promoted and practiced at the very senior levels of leadership.
Group-think is a virus that grows quickly in an organization and usually dooms it to failure. A group of old white men can group-think just as easily as a rainbow-colored group of men and women who are hesitant to raise their voice in dissent around the boardroom table.
Deny it and you’re lying to yourself.
If you want more physical diversity in your organization, you have to hire differently than you have in the past. Plain and simple.
Butthat doesn’t mean lowering hiring standards! No, you need to expand your recruiting pool, create programs (internships) that attract talent, and invest in programs that develop the kind of future talent you’re looking for to lead your company in the coming years.
That’s what we should have been doing all along.
How about EQUALITY? Equal compensation for equal value to the company? Equal opportunity to advance in the organization for qualified individuals? Of course it should be that way! It should have always been that way. The best way to make sure that happens is to have a system of checks and balances to review both; you probably have perfectly capable people to do that already. I added that last bit because you don’t have to hire a slew of self-proclaimed DEI “experts” to do the job. Just don’t leave it in the hands of a single individual or you invite (and encourage) bias and favoritism into the process.
EQUALITY does not mean EQUITY! Equity has come to mean giving a few smaller pieces of the pie so others get more. And I don’t even mean everyone gets an equal share of the pie… that’s called socialism.
I once explained the concept to my socially liberal daughter by using her grades in school. As a straight A student, I suggested she give a letter grade to those who weren’t passing so that, while she would still be above average, the other students could pass and be promoted to the next level. Not surprisingly, she protested the proposal.
Some cry “that’s not fair!” You want fair? It comes once a year with cotton candy and fun rides. Equality is fair; equity is not. As leaders, we have to understand the difference.
INCLUSION. Merriam-Webster does a fine job of defining it for me: “the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).” It’s the opposite of exclusion. I’m good with the definition because we (the we who these programs are meant to help) have historically been exclusive – discriminatory, if you will – in hiring, paying, and promoting practices.
But give me a break, WE have been doing bad things to each other since the advent of the human condition. Mostly out of ignorance, pride, and jealousy (think Cain and Abel).
Here’s why inclusion gets a bad rap, with an apology to Lewis Carroll:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
The military ensured I worked with a number of people I didn’t particularly care for over the years, mostly for their work ethic, and I’ve been in the EEO crosshairs for it more than once.
Naturally, I didn’t hang out with those outside work.
The fact is, regardless of anyone’s beliefs, if someone wasn’t pulling their weight around the office, I didn’t like it and might not have expressed my opinion in the most mature fashion. Sue me; I’m human.
That both behaviors were tolerated is a leadership issue, but that’s the subject of other articles.
So, for you leaders out there, here’s how to promote inclusion in the workplace:
Hire talented people.
Don’t tolerate discrimination, harassment, or offensive behavior. What you tolerate, you endorse.
Don’t put someone who’s easily offended in the role of enforcing behavior problem.
If someone’s behavior is unacceptable, don’t let them continue to work for you.
See, you can change behavior if the individual (or group) is willing to change, but you can’t change a person’s beliefs by force. No one – no one – has ever changed their beliefs through argument or intimidation. You can brow beat someone with a stick of another color all you want, but it’s not going to change their mind.
I’ll end my rant with this: if leaders are going to change culture in regard to DEI, they’re going to have to lead from the top and by example. They’re going to have to communicate to those they lead why a change is important to the survival of the company and why the efforts are the right thing to do.”
If they don’t, hiring all the DEI specialists in the world aren’t going to fix their leadership problems.
Effectively managing performance today is a bear. It’s tough. And can feel thankless… sometimes even pointless.
It’s also one of the most important things we do as senior managers – setting, and managing to, performance expectations.
Why, then, do we anguish about it so?
The problem, of course, is we frequently confuse performance reviews with performance management. We make the appraisal process so onerous that no one wants to do anything but the appraisals… forgetting, of course, why we do those troublesome things in the first place.
It’s because we don’t take ownership of the process. It’s not the form we use, the rating scale identified, nor the percentage of pay increase associated with various rankings. It’s that we just don’t see the process as significant in our pursuit for business success.
It is, however, as necessary as breathing for an organization’s success, so let’s stop complicating it unnecessarily. It’s actually pretty damned simple.
In that vein, I’m not going to offer some academic treatise BS here; I’m just going to share what I believe are the components of applying successful performance management. Here goes:
There are three key components to this stuff: Communication—Feedback–Assessment.
Communications are the foundation. Negotiating, then setting, clear expectations is where it all starts. Frequent follow-up conversations are essential, as is some method of tracking so all can keep an eye on progress. Your regularly scheduled 1:1 conversations are a big part here.
You are having regularly scheduled (weekly preferable, no less than monthly) 1:1 discussions, aren’t you?
Feedback is essential for calibration. This includes briefs and debriefs of events, like key meetings, project completions, necessary interactions, obvious conflicts, etc. This event feedback is some of the most valuable fodder for learning – don’t miss out.
I had a board chair once tell me his role was to simply “tap the rudders” behind the ship. This is what feedback does. It allows for target assessment, recognition of successes and opportunities, and allows us to use “tracer rounds” to focus our efforts.
Assessment occurs as an amalgam of expectations, tracking and feedback, Here we determine “good,” or “needs improvement;” “on target,” or “3 inches to the left;” “success” or “do-over.” It must be clear that assessments use clear expectations as the yardstick, and that well-intentioned failures are a path to success, not a clear shot to termination.
But Kevin, what about our corporate Performance Review form? Where does that fit in? Well, frankly, it doesn’t. At least it doesn’t need to. All that form should be used for is to memorialize the ongoing communication—feedback—assessment that occurred throughout the year (quarter, month, whatever).
Nothing new. No surprises.
Realize that the goal here is not a form… it’s managing/improving performance. Oh, yeah… we sometimes get so lost in the process, that we forget the real purpose. To manage and improve performance.
Let’s not lose sight of that objective.
And as presented in a recent AMA on “Should Performance Reviews be used for Layoffs?” – No, that performance review should not be the sole determinant for a layoff, nor should they be “shifted” in focus or substance at the end of a review period.
Performance management is essential for growth, improvement, and success. Performance reviews are a repository; a memorialization of ongoing performance management. Know the difference.
Performance matters. We all know this intuitively, yet we wrestle with the best way to manage that performance in our workplace. Own the process, decide that it’s about success, not perfection, and schedule the conversations.
Originally published nearly 40 years ago, What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff (now in its fifth edition) is the best-selling book on pregnancy of all time. As a man, I don’t know what’s different about being pregnant now than 40 years ago (and I’m not going to read the first and fifth editions to find out), but I don’t argue that more information is available now than then.
I can almost hear you thinking: What the hell does being pregnant have to do with leadership??
Nothing… except there’s not much difference between leading people today and leading them 40 (or 400 or 4,000) years ago. There’s just more information about it now.
As it was in the beginning, expectations – setting clear ones, communicating them, understanding them, and managing them – are one of the biggest challenges leaders face today.
I’m writing about expectations because last week a CEO I know – and most of the senior leadership team – was fired by the board for not dealing with some toxic interpersonal conflict among the senior team. The board expected the CEO to deal with it in a more timely manner, and that wasn’t happening.
Had the board communicated their expectation to the CEO? No. Did the CEO know there would be dire consequences for failing to meet the board’s expectation (that she didn’t know about)? Obviously not. So now you have a company that’s been decapitated and will struggle to survive.
Several years ago I worked with a company where the COO was frustrated with a senior director because she wasn’t managing her department like he expected. During feedback sessions, he would tell her to “manage your department.” She thought she was managing her department and didn’t understand his frustration.
How’s that for setting and communicating clear expectations?
If you assign someone a role without clearly setting and communicating your expectations – and the consequences for not meeting them, you’re setting them up for failure and yourself up for frustration.
On the flipside, if you accept a role without clearly understanding the expectations, you’re setting yourself up for both frustration and failure.
As a refresher, here’s few tips for setting expectations:
Set them early in the relationship – both performance and behavior
Make sure they’re realistic, attainable, and measurable.
Ensure they’re clearly communicated and understood.
Review them regularly (aka feedback) and be willing to revise them if necessary.
Clearly communicating your expectations as a leader has a number of benefits for your team, and Google can provide you with about a hundred million ways and whys. Not clearly communicating them always leads to miscommunication and usually results in low employee satisfaction and engagement.
One of the most important benefits of clearly set expectations (in my humble but educated opinion) is that it significantly reduces the amount of “am I doing this right” anxiety produced in an ambiguous environment. We all want to do the right thing correctly, but that’s really hard to do when we don’t know what’s expected of us.
Setting, communicating, and regularly reviewing expectations isn’t particularly difficult, but it has to be an intentional behavior for an effective leader. Like most of leadership, it’s a skill that can be learned and needs to be practiced.
If I’m not striking a chord with you, that must mean you’re already good at it. Chances are there are others in your organization that aren’t. How about helping them develop the skill.
Feedback’s not getting easier, just a damned sight more essential.
Tom Peters once described a really unique method of communicating at a client company… he said they talked to each other. Now this was some years ago, so talking may have morphed into various forms today (email, text, etc.), but the concept is still true—personal communications is a necessity and will be crucial for leadership success in the future.
This is where you slap your head, à la Homer Simpson, with a resounding D’oh!
Our biggest challenge with feedback is usually the definition: it doesn’t mean “talking to someone,” and it certainly doesn’t mean “telling someone what you think.” Both of those may to the untrained observer, look like feedback. Neither actually is.
And it’s not simple criticism, either. See my AMA video for a discussion on this.
Let’s cut to the chase:
Feedback is information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve.
Do I need to repeat that?? If you aren’t trying to help someone grow and/or improve, it isn’t feedback. It may be something else (and likely not something good), but feedback?
Feedback neither requested nor expected is for the sender, not the receiver. Telling me that I’m fat and ugly (a bald-faced lie, by the way) does nothing to help me improve, which should be the cornerstone of any feedback effort.
And saying “well, it’s true” is no defense. Too many people wield the “truth” like some invisible sword and shield. It’s not. And in feedback, it must be balanced with the overarching need to help. So, how do we do that?
Make it personal. Feedback needs to be directed to someone specifically to be relevant. All-hands communications are so frequently ignored, they’ve lost all effectiveness for real feedback. Though face-to-face is best, video works well also, as can telephone or emails, or even text (decidedly least effective) directed to a specific individual, with specifics on the feedback topic.
And never forget; we need to communicate in a manner that can be best received by the other person. Decide in advance whether you’re trying to win, or to change behavior. Your communications—style, method, frequency—will then drive how you execute that feedback.
Be timely. Note, I didn’t say immediate. If you are so fired up right now because someone made such an egregious error that you would like to strangle them, “timely” means waiting until you can give feedback in a way that can be best received by that same person (see above). Preferably sans strangulation.
Being timely also means delivering feedback when its relevance can be understood and acted upon if necessary. This usually (barring the notable “strangulation exception” mentioned earlier) means as soon as practical to the event, behavior, or action driving the feedback subject.
Feedback must be two-way. Here’s the formula: The more we share relevant parts of ourselves—what we like, don’t like, expect, demand—the more others understand and trust us. The more they trust us, the more they share, and the more we share together, the higher the overall level of trust between us.
Trust is the very currency of leadership; we simply cannot succeed without it This is one of the few things that will not change in future years. What may evolve, however, is the manner in which trust is created, built, and fostered.
We must accept—insist on—regular feedback from those we lead. Find a way that works; you can always start with getting good at providing feedback yourself, and consistently asking for same. Some may still be hesitant, and you’ll need some help. 360s are a great tool for this. My Start-Stop-Continue worksheet can sometimes lower the resistance.
Feedback—helpful, relevant, and regular—will be essential to building trust today, tomorrow and beyond, and trust is essential to leadership. Without trust, there can be no discretionary effort; without discretionary effort, we only get what we pay for. Is that really what we want?
Educating executives, managers, supervisors and other leaders remains a major concern for companies eager to keep their organizations afloat or even thriving in a challenging economic environment. Frankly, the limiting factor for most organizations continues to be leadership.
Leader development is not a new concept. It continues, however, to be practiced in ways that – at best – do little to develop successful leaders and – at worst – damage functional relationships by allowing learning to exist in silos and independent “vacuums.”
The problem is not content. Adequate topical content is a dime-a-dozen and represents time-tested applications and concepts that have not changed much in a couple of millennia. Any of several firms create and publish reasonably valid content.
The principal challenge around effective development is relevancy. The content mentioned above is generic and must be made relevant for a specific functional or hierarchical group, within a specific organization. Then, when properly facilitated, we can at least hope to successfully develop a group of leaders.
The biggest issue, though, in effectively developing a group, team, gaggle, or flock of leaders is making sure they all learn the same things, the same way, and in the same context. Further, they should be able to test relevant applications and concepts together, for best learning and application.
Enter Team-Based Leader Development.
Now, I’m not speaking of team-building, per se, nor am I talking about campfires, challenge/ropes courses, falling-backward trust exercises, or other hardly-effective methods of development.
Those have value in team-bonding, but not real team development. And no, bonding and development are not the same things… in fact, it’s not actually a team just because you call it a team. See our article on The First rule of the Leadership Team.
I’m simply talking about developing a team or group of leaders at the same time, together. At our firm, we see more and more organizations wanting – needing – content specific for their groups; you just can’t get there when sending people out to some public session or seminar trying to be all things to all people.
You need your leaders developed together, learning applications and concepts relevant to your organization. By using team-based leader development, all leaders of a particular level or function learn these things at the same time, in the same room, using each other as learning tools.
The advantages of this approach should be obvious, and include demonstrated successes in:
Improving communication flow within the team and out to the organization. This can occur naturally, and in a less stressful, facilitated environment. Conversations like this…
…benefit the organization, by providing calm discussions among leaders of similar hierarchical or functional levels, about just about anything important occurring in the organization today, and
…benefit the specific leaders involved, as they not only are discussing new learnings and applications, but they now have the opportunity to discuss things not normally discussed.
For example, without a safer venue, how many mid or senior-level managers would ask a peer “Hey, John, what’s the best way for me to resolve a conflict in my department?” Or “Say, Susan, I’m having some issues in driving empowerment to my hourly employees – any suggestions?”
I’m guessing those conversations/questions, in the midst of our brutally hectic workdays, would be damned rare.
Fostering mutual accountability for behaviors and results. One of the biggest advantages in having all these leaders in one location discussing the same things is that accountabilities can become institutionalized. It’s one thing to make a casual mention in the hallway; another thing altogether to commit to a group today, then speak with them a month or so later about your progress.
Also, this close-in work environment creates team ground rules that foster cohesion; if we agree in a group that behind-the-back caucusing is not something we’ll do, then having those back-stabbing conversations later just doesn’t feel right. Further, open communications in a facilitated setting inevitably translate to more open conversations in the open workplace.
Faster assimilation, shared accountabilities, and increased understanding. This is the financial “why?” answered. Homogeneous participants learn faster, and the learning is more relevant. Therefore, an organization’s return on those development dollars is quicker, and the skills are more appropriate for the organization’s needs.
Understanding is accelerated; participants can discuss/explain with each other on various points and concepts, making sure that the meaning is the same for all, and that more realize how they can actually be used for leader success.
Participants in team-based development are able to identify their primary strengths quicker, and better understand how building on those contributes to higher levels of personal satisfaction and team success.
In short, all win. And the organization is better for it, all the time.
2023’s first leadership newsflash: You aren’t what you do!
And if that doesn’t surprise you, how about this: Your job title isn’t what you do, either.
Have you ever talked to someone who was a little too proud of their job title? Like “I’m the SENIOR Vice President for Beverage Dissemination” is supposed to impress someone. I hate guys like that.
Job titles are a lot like the letters after a name in a signature block. They’re only important to people who are impressed by them. Otherwise, they’re largely meaningless, especially to the people who work for and with you.
My first experience with this was as a young lieutenant when I was appointed as the Resources Augmentation Duty Officer. I guess they figured if I could say it, I could be it, and very few people knew what the job entailed. What I did was plan for and tell people how to protect planes and people in case of a disaster – including nuclear. And I was damned good at telling people what to do.
My job title wasn’t what I did… and what I did wasn’t who I was.
Years ago, I worked with the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict and Interoperable Capabilities (PDASD SO/LIC & IC for short). Try putting that on a business card. I’m not sure even he knew what he was supposed to do, except whatever the ASD SP/LIC & IC told him to do.
My point is this: Leaders don’t need a fancy job title to lead. They don’t need to be the Chief anything or the Vice President of anything to be a positive influence on, give a shit about, and help others succeed.
And their role in the organization is less important than who they are.
Good leaders know who they are – what their purpose is, what they believe in, and what they stand for… and what they won’t stand for. And none of that should be focused on self. They may not fully realize it at the time, but when a leader believes in people and cares more for the success of others than their own, everyone around them can tell.
Case in point: When I was the commander of a flying squadron, my purpose was to do everything in my power to help my teams deliver exceptional service to our clients. That was the measure of our success. I believed in them and their abilities and my confidence in them showed. They knew what I expected of them and what I wouldn’t tolerate. And it created an environment in which they were wildly successful (and made me look good in the process as an added bonus).
See, I knew the title wasn’t what I was supposed to do, and what I did reflected who I was.
At a time when job titles were so important to my peers, the sign on my door said simply “Kevin.” People didn’t come to me to be commanded; they came to me to be led.
Enough about me. How about you?
Does your desire for the next higher job title interfere with how you’re leading your team? Does your team know that you care about them and their success more than you care about yours? Does what’s important to you reflect in what’s important to them… and vice versa?
It’s a new year, so how about we start off with a new job title. If being a good leader is important to you in 2023, dare to be just Kevin. Or Bill or Julia or Ginny or Todd. Know who you are and dare to be yourself.
Or this year will be just like the last and the one before that.