DEI is DOA …and we killed it!

DEI is DOA …and we killed it!

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.

But that 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:

    1. Hire talented people.
    2. Don’t tolerate discrimination, harassment, or offensive behavior. What you tolerate, you endorse.
    3. Don’t put someone who’s easily offended in the role of enforcing behavior problem.
    4. 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.

But it’s up to you, leaders.

Performance Management in Crazy Times — 1-on-1s, forms and Layoffs

Performance Management in Crazy Times

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.

Your Job Title is Meaningless! … and it isn’t who you are

Your Job Title is Meaningless

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.

How about it?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Leading in the New Year — Let’s do it right!

Leading in the New Year

It’s December. The current year is almost in the can, finished. Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

A new day has dawned. The new year is upon us.

Soon, we’ll be discussing how fast January flew by, then Q1. The great hamster wheel of life.

Have you made plans? Personal goals are great. Business objectives are super. But do you have specific plans to “do” leadership better in the upcoming year?

No? Why not?

Many of us create detailed plans for the new year. We spreadsheet various categories like personal, family, business, spiritual, health, etc. But we need to add one: Leading. What can you do differently this year to improve your personal impact? “Get better at it” sounds great but is woefully unactionable.

How about I suggest a few things for you to consider?

  1. Address a specific people problem. Take that toxic employee or the just-barely performer into a private office and have that tough, courageous conversation.

Advise them, coach them, counsel them. See brief excerpt of a recent workshop we facilitated on Courageous Conversations.

But it’s get better or get lost.

You’ll be potentially helping someone otherwise unaware of the negative impact or poor performance they demonstrate. And trust me, those around that person will sing your praises.

  1. Mentor someone. I mean really mentor them. Take them under your wing and help them grow.
    • Be present, and pay attention. Listen closely, make sure you hear what that mentee means, not just what they say. Take notes so you can follow up when appropriate.
    • Deliver genuine feedback. Tell them what’s working, and what isn’t. You need to be the truth-teller in their life, don’t let them down. Direct feedback is essential to effective mentoring.
    • Inspire and motivate. Mentoring is not coaching, and it’s not therapy. You should advise based on your experience. That’s the real value of mentoring, answering WWYD… What Would YOU Do?
  1. One-on-ones. Start having them if you don’t and make them better if you do. Some things to consider:
    • Regular, consistent scheduling with all of your direct reports. Weekly is great, but consistent, recurring biweekly is better than often-cancelled weekly.
    • If you schedule it, be there. No exceptions. Reread that sentence. 30 minutes is the right duration, though many have been successful with an hour.
    • Ask for a brief email update a day in advance. It allows you to be prepared to ask a few quick questions on daily operational/functional stuff (10 minutes, tops), then spend the remaining time on being a human.
    • Employee drives the agenda, not you. This is their one-on-one, for them. “So, how are things going?” and let it develop from there (I have a more thorough checklist with sample questions available—just ask and I’ll send it).
    • End with, “What can I do to help you?” Prepare to be surprised.
  1. Get some feedback from others. We’ve been doing a lot of 360 surveys lately, with pretty astonishing results. You can somewhat DIY with our Start-Stop-Accelerate worksheet.

Get off your butt and do something. Leading is not a passive activity, and if you aren’t growing up you’re falling back. Remember too that employees’ expectations increase as your ability and impact increases. Such is life. Plan on leadership success as much as you do everything else.

Besides, do you really want to run a marathon in this upcoming year? Hell, I get tired driving 26.2 miles…

But that’s just me…

Elon Musk, Twitter and Culture

Elon Musk, Twitter and Culture

Culture is driven 100% top-down.

No matter what BS you hear to the contrary, culture begins – and is perpetuated and maintained – by what occurs at the top of the heap.

Any ideas about driving culture “from below” is an amalgam of wishful thinking and consultant crockery. And only shared by someone trying to sell you something that sounds easier than the real work.

Take Elon Musk, for example.

Now, you can argue that Twitter is an appropriately regulated social media outlet, accurately praised for preventing ne’er-do-wells from propagating hateful messaging and disinformation.

Or, you can see Twitter as moving too far out of its lane, censoring freedom of speech that should promote differences of thought, ideas and opinion.

I’m cool with either. You do you. (See what I did there?)

Musk, if we are to believe media reports, seems to fiercely believe the latter, further contending that the root cause of the problem is the fabric – the very culture – of Twitter today. And he wants that culture changed.

His first official act then? He whacked a bevy of senior-most execs, including the CEO, within hours of closing the long-awaited purchase.

Again, argue whichever current state for Twitter you choose. Float your own boat, amigo. But if Musk wants a radically different culture, he’s going about it in the most expeditious, if not dubiously effective, manner.

What would clearly not work is a conflict or tension at the top of the organization regarding culture direction or emphasis.

Culture, like any major change initiative, is driven (again, from the top for those skimming) most quickly by simple a simple performance approach:

    1. Setting clear expectations,
    2. Managing to those expectations, and
    3. Consequences or rewards for not meeting, meeting, or exceeding those expectations.

Clear expectations are a must. It’s hard enough for folks to follow our vision when everything remains constant; when changing, they have no hope to follow us if they can’t see it, and see it plainly.

Be clear. Give examples of success. Be explicit about what failure looks like. Use English, and small words. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough (nod to Einstein).

Managing to those expectations is next. Here, we have metrics to help measure success and failure, based on the clear expectations outlined earlier.

Frequent calibrations allow empowered people the opportunity to align their efforts with our desired direction(s).

Specific targets here are again a must. Downrange visibility cannot be cluttered with a lot of bureaucratic bullshit.

Finally, consequences – both positive and negative – must exist so others can personally feel the effects of success and failure. Rewards and penalties. Carrots and sticks. Call ‘em whatever. Just know they are essential, as culture change and reinforcement are driven most quickly via consequences and rewards.

That actionable piece, often skimmed over quickly in glossy culture tomes, is where things really change.

If rewarded for bad behavior, that behavior will continue.

If penalized for positive efforts, future efforts will be less positive.

This is where things can get really interesting, as the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head.

Rewarding individual performance sounds great but can work against the larger good of a successfully working team.

Rewarding cost savings or cuts can lead to a reticence in appropriate investments, allowing needed positions to go unfilled, terminations without sufficient forethought, or really idiotic spending restrictions.

Unintended consequences.

There will always be some instances of these unintended consequences. The key, then, is to set opposing rewards and consequences to allow for and balance the effects.

Example: Individual performance can be rewarded, but only after team performance triggers and award.

Cost-savings can be rewarded, but only within specific, agreed parameters (profitability, headcount, average SG&A, etc.).

Just a couple of examples – the devil is in the details, and your mileage may vary.

Bottom line for us… whether you or Elon Musk, $54B company or $100M, culture begins and is reinforced from the top of any specific organization.  Ergo (my favorite useless word), Musk whacking the top of the Twitter food chain was a necessity if he firmly believed that the culture needed to be changed drastically. And quickly.

There’s a lesson there for all on top of their pyramid, so read it closely.

Now, it gets a bit complicated when we start discussing where the organization hierarchy actually starts and stops, but that’s for another article.

If Musk can do it, you can too.

Just stay focused, like Elon Musk. Assuming you can call electric cars, boring, brain chips, rockets and social media “focused.”

When does the guy sleep??

Quiet Quitting– and more leadership malarkey

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: this “Quiet Quitting” stuff is just a load of crap. Nothing more.

Don’t fall for it, thinking you now have some incredibly useful excuse for why people aren’t performing as you think they should. Sorry – no cigar.

It’s a made-up phrase to describe an age-old problem. Likely invented by some consultant or academic trying to sell you something. (wasn’t me, promise)

First, employees playing hide and seek with their efforts and attention is nothing new. It’s likely gone on since we had employers and employees.

Quiet Quitting Think common phrases like “whack a mole,” “duck and cover,” “keep your head down” and “staying off the radar.”

When I was in the USAF, we had a phrase we would use with people, especially as they were nearing a change in station, or were nearing their separation or retirement. We called it ROAD – Retired On Active Duty.

In other words, they had quit working for the most part, and doing just enough to make sure they didn’t get whacked.

Now we say, “he quit some time ago, just hasn’t stopped getting paid.”

This didn’t begin in 2022, so don’t pretend like it’s this newfangled, pandemic-apocalypse-WFH-related shenanigan.

if you’re just now hearing about stuff like this. Well, that’s on you. You’re likely easily bamboozled and equally confused.

Next, that whole “do more than required” has a name. It’s called discretionary effort.

Discretionary effort is that effort exerted or offered by the employee, beyond that which is required to keep their job.

Discretionary effort. I refer to it as the holy grail of leadership. You know you’re doing something right when those whom you lead offer you this added degree of ownership and effort. (Bad news – if you aren’t getting discretionary effort, well, that’s on you too!).

Here’s the rub; since we’re so incredibly bad (global leadership) at setting clear expectations, including written job descriptions, we may not realize… do you know what you call an employee who gives you no discretionary effort, only doing what is specifically required by the organization?

Quiet Quitting We call them a fully satisfactory performer.

That’s right, a fully satisfactory performer. A 2 out of a 3-point scale, or 3 out of 5.

You set the requirements. You set the expectations. You set the minimum qualifications.

And they did exactly as you asked.

So don’t act like they’re doing less than is necessary, or less than what we actually required, because it’s neither of those. In fact, it’s exactly what we asked for.

The reality is that we aren’t very good at setting clear expectations for others, so our expectation has become that employees would always “do the right thing,” even if we weren’t clear on what that right thing is. Even if we didn’t know what it was at the outset.

So don’t blame the employee for “just doing their job.”

If you insist they do something, spell it out. Put it in English. Then manage to those expectations.

Wait a minute… that sounds eerily like typical performance management.

Finally discretionary effort is given in only three circumstances, reasons or events:

  1. The employee is hardwired to do it. Some folks just can’t help themselves and will do a little bit more than expected of them regardless of their environment or for whom they work. They do it because that’s what they need personally to be satisfied when they go home at night.

The upside is, even with crappy leadership, you get the extra, discretionary effort from the hardwired crew. The bad news is, when they decide that that discretionary effort is not valued appropriately, they don’t just lower their effort.

No, they leave.

  1. Leadership trust. People will give us the discretionary effort if they trust that will do good things with it; they have to believe that that we won’t abuse the added input, nor them for providing it.In other words, they want to make sure that they can trust us to not take advantage of them, or take them for granted.
  2. Leadership influence – our ability to help people understand our vision, know the value of helping us pursue that vision, and then personally want to be part of wherever it is that were headed.This leadership influence is critical to the discretionary effort equation.

So, to put a bow on it:  if we hire the right person (#1 above), and we provide a reasonably successful vision to follow, and are capable of positively influencing others to go with us on our journey, the odds are stacked in our favor that we’ll get that coveted discretionary effort.

If not, we can always just blame it on the Quiet Quitting, or Great Resignation, or some other made-up fad of the day to excuse our own lack of discretionary effort.

Oops, did I say that out loud?

Remember, Grace and Accountability can coexist.

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