When one starts having similar conversations at different meetings, its time to draw a theme, sit back and reflect as to what may really be going on.
I've had a few recent conversations with individuals (all men) looking to staff their boards with a woman director. They often want a recommendation. As we progress through the conversation, we usually hit a point where I hear -" you know we would really like someone with "pedigree"". When I probe deeper into what they mean by pedigree , its often about someone with a "brand name", someone visible, seen in public and can makes heads turn (yes, pun intended). I always want to ask , so are the men on the board all pedigree? But hold myself back.
Here is what I actually say
1. There are typically three types of women leaders you will often see in the public limelight. Women who have built billion dollar empires (Zhang Xin in China), either on their own or family run. Second, CEO's of organisations who are given the mandate of being the media spokesperson ( Chanda Kocchar in India) and third, someone who has written a best seller ( Sheryl Sandberg in the US). So are you looking for reflected glory , or something else?
2. While having a woman on the board is a decision I totally support, I would like you to look a step further and look deeper at what the board really needs. The board is a team of people who bring in different skills to achieve a certain objective. Does this person bring in an unique skill to the table that is needed by the organisation? Example: Cybersecurity, Sustainability, Mergers and Aquisitions or Social Media.
3. It is also about chemistry. Bringing in someone who is in the headline news every other day may not be someone who "fits" with your company culture, purpose and values. You need someone for the long haul, who will support and help the organisation grow.
Now do you still need pedigree?
ped·i·gree noun \ˈpe-də-ˌgrē\: Webster
the history of the family members in a person's or animal's past especially when it is good or impressive
the origin and history of something especially when it is good or impressive
I have a childhood friend who is a top fashion designer. Whenever I am in her city I make it a point to visit her chic and upmarket studio. Other than wanting to catch up with an old friend, I'm always curious to learn about another industry and what may be applied to the work I do as a management consultant. I have questioned her over and over on business models, business plans, customer acquisition strategy- blah blah. But, I can summarize my learnings in three simple statements:
1. Be a trend setter - The Fashion Industry does not do market research on what customers want , because customers do not know what they want from fashion. They are waiting to be told and will follow. The industry captures latent need.
So, let your imagination flow, think future, think of elements that will help them outshine others and offer that product/service.
Question - What part of you business/job do you think you can set a trend in? It will set you apart for sure.
2. Customise.Customise. Customise - On every visit I've made to my friend's studio , I have always met a celebrity (another reason I drop in ;)). Movie Stars, Fashionistas, Rich Housewives. They come because they are treated very well, its the place to be seen and they get asked what they really need and feel good about what they get. They are the loyal customers who come over and over again.
Question - When was it the last time your client/customer felt great about what you delivered to them because they felt special and taken care of ( the emphasis is on the felt)?
3. Being "with" the right audience - These celebrities, bring in more celebrities - it works on word of mouth. Because they are seen at the right places wearing these clothes, and inevitably the conversation drifts to "who are you wearing"? its the classic snowball effect, especially before a new season.
Question: Are you meeting/hanging around with the "right" people, who can be your word of mouth at the right forums? If not start now!
Unless you have been in a cave for the last few days, you would have noticed the worldwide media going a bit ballistic over the “predicted” successor to the CEO of Microsoft. What is ironic is that it is a serious change in the leadership of an organization, and yet it feels like it feels like we have seen so many acrobats in the ring, and we wait (with bated breath) for one to land safely!
With over 20 years of working in Talent and Organisation Development, being a partner to the business leaders for senior level succession planning, I can’t but help reflect on this process and why we need the world to watch this like an act.
Lets go back to some basics
· Everyone has an Expiry Date: We all have an expiry date – in a role, in an organization and of course in this world. As leaders we need to have a decent estimate of when that (role) expiry is. This date needs to be in alignment with business goals, requirements for the job and also in order to grow talent in the organisation. People who do not believe in a role expiry date are considered “blockers”. They block growth for others. Not having an expiry date or announcing an expiry date before it was expected causes havoc and trepidation
· The groomer of the CEO successor is the CEO: There is no two ways about this. As a leader one of your key performance indicator is how you groom your successor. Your successor has to have been set up for success. Have you ensured that your successor has imbibed all sets of possible experiences that are needed for the job? Be it Government Relations, Investor Relations or Managing an acquisition. Have you spent enough time coaching your successor to understand the success inhibitors that may become roadblocks?
· Gauge stakeholder perceptions early on – not after the decision is made. Putting the news out early to gauge investor and market perceptions only gets all the people in the world who need their opinions known on the front page. Headlines that say “Mr Nice guy – can he do the job” or “He actually doesn’t have “x” experience only puts self doubt in the system and also in the person who may end up being in the role.
So, in summary, succession planning cannot be a process that is followed annually. It has to be one that involves a deep understanding of nuances that drive people and organisations to build an individual as a leader with high stakes. It is requires deep investment in building capability and I have certainly seen several situations where the investment has paid off very well.
Daniel Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind” has talked about how MBA’s will need to develop a more creator, artistic, empathetic, pattern recogniser and meaning maker mindset. His argument is that we are moving from an Information Age to a Conceptual Age, where creativity and empathy will be rewarded in addition to analytical skills. And so, the way we teach the MBA program needs to change.
What Daniel Pink is saying is at the heart of a larger issue we are faced with in today’s professional working world, especially in India - that is the need to have more Women Leaders. Developments in the field of Neuroscience have helped us understand that women have a higher capacity of “web thinking”- weaving together connections to get different perspectives, work through ambiguity and that men have a higher capacity for “step thinking” – more focused compartmentalized thinking. Traditionally MBA programs have focused on male dominated thinking which is not a surprise because the process by which students are admitted into the top MBA schools in the country is heavily biased towards engineering graduates who are close to 80% male. As a result, we have now built an environment in organisations that predominantly prefer the “step” thinking and have lower tolerance for “web thinking”.
The 80’s and 90’s saw women be successful in corporations because they became “men” – they figured the only way to be accepted and succeed was to behave no differently from their male counterparts in an organisation. Today, I have conversations with women when they say that they do not feel the need to be “men”, but to be ‘themselves”. They find that they are not comfortable with mastering the male code and they want to establish a female code that plays up their strengths of being their authentic selves - nurturing, not being emotionless and bringing themselves to work. I have also spoken to several women and men managers who manage teams and they feel that it’s the strengths of nurture, empathy and connectedness is what helps women be great managers. In fact one woman who has college graduates come work in her team said to me “I find that I do better with these kids with my egalitarian and highly interactive style that I have ever in my 10 years done with other sets of teams.”
So, as we grow to have 40% of our workforce occupied by Gen Y, the women managers with the women’s code will turn out to be a huge advantage in keeping and growing the talent for tomorrow.
The question then becomes How? How to we attract, develop and retain women employees so that they are able to bring their strengths to the workplace and feel appreciated and rewarded for what they do?
We have to learn to have the whole brained conversation:
You know how I talked about women being web thinkers and men being step thinkers. I have a lot of women come to me to say I cannot have a conversation with my male manager on my issues and concerns. And even if I do, the next time I’m up for an assignment, he will not give it to me. We really need to help our managers learn to have crucial conversations in not just a data driven way, but in a more sensitive way. Typically, as a society in India we are not brought up to be with both genders side by side. In most parts there is educational and social segregation as we grow up. As a result there are socially inept behaviours that we need to overcome at the workplace, where both genders are made to work in equal partnership.
A new hire at a large technology company said to me once “You know I hear wonderful things about how this organisation promotes and supports women – and I see a lot of senior management walking the talk, but let me share something with you. When I was being interviewed one of the things my hiring manager said to me was - I really need you to accept this job, I need you to help me meet my diversity quota!”
As an HR Leader I have personally been in performance review sessions where data from a unrelated event shows up causing much havoc in the process – a lady manager at a leadership seminar had spoken about her challenges with her job and work life balance in her group, a manager who was at this seminar then brought this up at a performance review meeting, quoted her, and said that he didn’t think she was capable of doing the current job or being promoted!
So, in order to have the whole brained conversation, we need to build greater awareness and sensitivity to what is being said and what impact that may have. Managers need to push all employees to understand socially inept behavior, what damage it may cause and the long term consequences it may have on reputation and careers.
We need encourage more “web thinking” - the ability to go two levels down and delayer the data to come up with what it means to be able to understand a problem holistically and then solve it. This perspective will not just to tap the women consumer decision maker, attract the Gen Y to come to work but will help build an organisation culture that appreciates that we need to balance the “right” and the “left” to create sustainable, thriving, fun -to -work places.
Employee Retention is a critical concern in rapidly growing countries such as India. High growth industries like Information Technology grapple with attrition rates as high as 40%. Employee Retention is a business challenge that organisations need to find their own answer to as every organization promises a different employee value proposition. Very often we find that managers are surprised with employee resignations, which begs the question of how well do managers understand their employee aspirations and motivation?
Retention guides are used in organizations to help managers use a process to try to retain an employee. In my career as a Talent and Organisation Development professional, I have seen various ways in which organisations choose to handle retention. Most of them are ineffective or end up in an employee just demanding more compensation to stay.
My critical commentary is divided into two parts. Part A is the Retention Guide that is used in an organization and Part B is the improvements I have made to it after my understanding of the SCARF model on motivation. As a consultant I have helped this client use the new guide and they have had a success rate of 5-7% in retaining employees over the last six months. However, there needs to be more manager sessions on understanding the conceptual change in the framework so that understanding neuroscience is understood holistically as an important part of managing people instead of just managing retention.
Employee Retention Discussions- A Guide for Managers
In an organisation, we often have critical people in critical roles where the impact of an employee turnover is more costly than usual and could result in schedule slips, lost customers, loss of specialized technical expertise or loss of competitive advantage. Based on exit interview data and employee survey analysis, the areas that most often cause employees to consider external opportunities are job satisfaction and career opportunity. This document is a resource for managers to have discussions with employees to help retain them.
What do to if an employee comes to you and says “I’m going to X company”
Schedule meeting with them to discuss reasons for leaving
1. Ask the employee what they will be getting at X that they aren’t getting here
2. If the employee is a high potential – remind them of velocity, career path, and potential.
3. Ensure your manager has line of sight and schedules meeting with employee
4. Ask the employee what they intend to do if they get to X and the grass isn’t greener.
5. Determine what the employee is leaving on the table – vesting, stock, network of information/people.
6. Ask the employee if there is another team or project they want to work on here
7. Ask the employee how his manager could have known about this sooner in order to act sooner on employee’s behalf
8. Ask what prevents the employee from being satisfied in their current role?
9. Ask what would it take to re-engage this employee?
How to Approach the Discussions:
1. Work with your HR team to understand which roles if any has this individual been identified for targeted retention and why.
2. Tell your employee that you would like your next 1:1 to focus on their job satisfaction and career aspirations. If you do not have a regularly scheduled 1:1, let them know you’ll be setting up a meeting for this reason. Be transparent and give context for the discussion:
a. Explain that the employee is critical to the current business strategy and why. Example: “Losing you and others like you at this point in executing our strategy would have a big impact. I want to make sure I’m doing what I can to keep you challenged and engaged.”
b. Express your commitment to understanding the employee’s individual priorities, and aligning the job and the employee’s personal motivations.
c. Explain that we invest in a career discussion with every employee during mid-year, and you are connecting to that process with an intentional focus on critical roles.
3. Prepare for the meeting.
4. Meet with the employee and engage in the discussion.
a. Restate the purpose for the meeting (see #2 above)
b. Ask questions such as these:
· What is your overall level of satisfaction with your job?
· What are the top things that impact how satisfied you are with your job?
· What gets in the way of great accomplishments?
· What gets in the way of a great day at work?
· What do you enjoy most?
· What would you like to do more or less of to improve your job satisfaction?
· Where do you see yourself in 3 years; 5 years?
· What could I do to support your satisfaction and growth?
5. Agree to meet again. Ensuring your employee stays engaged and requires more than one discussion.
· If your employee is satisfied overall, feeling challenged and engaged, reinforce your commitment to reviewing this periodically and developing their career. Invite the employee to raise the topic going forward if there are opportunities to increase their satisfaction.
· If they have gaps - ask the employee for input on what they would like to happen to increase their satisfaction. Listen to understand how their suggestions align to what they have said is important to them. Agree to work with them to define actions that move things in the desired direction.
· Motivators - listen for their top ranked motivators and think about the current role, whether these are aligned and how to bring them in sync if they aren’t.
Employee Retention Guide – For Managers
Are you scrambling for some help? Has one of your team members dropped a bomb on you and told you that they are leaving? Are you finding yourself agitated, upset and beside yourself?
Take a deep breath, shut the door and calm yourself down. Switch off your phone and email for 10 minutes. As managers we are often subject to incredibly stressful moments and the first step there is to shift from feeling “done to” to feeling that “you can salvage this”. Once you are feeling in better control of yourself, decide to take thirty minutes by yourself to spend on introspecting on this individual, let’s call him Ben. If you have a few people you can trust, you may take them into confidence while you think through what may be the triggers for Ben to want to leave.
For your introspection time, here is the model you must follow. This is model is based on neuroscience by Dr David Rock. The thesis behind the model is that the brain is basically a social animal and it feels social pain and pleasure in the same way we feel physical pain and pleasure. The model below is called SCARF and is made up of domains of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. These “domains” activate the same regions of the brain as pain or reward, so for every activity we either feel pain (threatened) or pleasure (rewarded)
Understanding that these five domains as primary needs helps individuals and leaders better navigate the social world in the workplace (Rock, 2009b).
Now lets spend a few minutes understanding each domain, and how these may be affecting Ben. You will need to write questions and notes against each domain to help you prepare for the conversation with Ben.
Status is about one’s relative importance to others. We work in organisations because they give us an identity. We feel important about being a part of a team and working on a project that is exciting. Status is also about “in group” and “out group”. Is there any data you have based on feedback from Ben or feedback about Ben that helps you understand how important he feels with respect to his team? Does he feel that he is in the “in group” with you, his manager? Do you confide in him, give him the respect and attention he needs? When did you last have a one on one conversation with him? Were there concerns he raised? Does Ben feel a sense of importance and pride in what he does? Do peers respect him?
Certainty is about being able to predict the future.
Do you think Ben is clear about where his career is headed in this company? Are you as his manager clear as well? Have the both of you discussed his career plans and have you been visibly supportive? Do you feel that this could be a trigger to his resignation? Can you think of a conversation in the past where he may have hinted at not being happy with his career here?
Autonomy is about having control over a situation.
Does Ben feel empowered in his job? Are you as a manager giving him the space to work and take decisions, and not micro managing him? Do you see him take independent decisions and consult you only when something critical comes up? Or does he seem to need your sign off at every moment. Have you been clear about what kind of decision-making you expect him to do? As a manager you may like to seek further information on whether this is an issue.
Relatedness is a sense of safety with others – a feeling of being among friends than among foe. The Gallup Poll which is a very popular employee engagement survey ask a questions which has now become a popular question. “Do some of your best friends work with you?” Meaning to ask whether you find your work place exciting because you have people there you can trust and build long-term relationships with. Often times people want to leave an organisation when they feel they do not relate to people around them. As a manager you may like to look at whether Ben’s has relationships and a network in the organization to help him feel supported.
Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people. For employee retention, this would mean fair compensation. As a manager you need to pull out Ben’s compensation records and review his performance history and well as his salary and benefits increase. Has he got the right pay increases in the last two years? How does he compare with his set of peers? If he went out into the market would he make more?
Prepare for your discussion:
Based on the notes you have made and the people you have spoken to, you need to prepare for your discussion with Ben so that you can verify what domain or domains of the SCARF model is causing him demotivation to make him want to resign from the organisation. Your conversation has to be in a listening mode, asking open-ended questions and non judgemental. Begin the conversation by saying that you seek to understand. You may use this template below to record you conversation
Questions to ask
Once you have completed the conversation, ask for a follow up meeting with Ben. As a next step get your manager and your HR partner in the room to brainstorm on what the triggers for Ben to leave are. You must come to an agreement and document it. Then you must decide and what you can offer to retain Ben. (Both these conversations need to be completed within a week so that ben does not feel he is made hostage to a retention discussion). You can then go back to Ben and make the counter offer. Good luck!
1. ANDERSON, D. & ANDERSON, M. 2005. Coaching That Counts: Harnessing the Power of Leadership Coaching to Deliver Strategic Value, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
2. DENTON, KEITH 1992 Recruitment, Retention and Employee Relations
3. ROCK, DAVID 2009. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming distratction, Regaining Focus and Working Smarter All Day long
4. ROCK, DAVID 2008 SCARF- A brain Based Model for collaborating and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal. Issue One 2008.
The Leadership Pipeline, a book published in 2001, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel talked for the first time the important distinctions for different levels of leadership, with a basic message that with each step up the corporate ladder, the most successful people add appropriate skills for the new level. But in addition to skills, they also change two other critical ways; they change their perspective on what was important (what work they valued) and they change what they spend their time on.
Unfortunately, most people do not receive the type of training, mentoring or coaching that would help them understand how they need to take on new skills, views and values, and most importantly let go of the previous ones from the previous position. As a result, many, companies operate at a level of success much lower than need be. In this process each level of managers holds down the level below them because they don’t fully make the mental and emotional transition to each new level – I term this “down ward compression” like having a hierarchy of managers sitting on top of you and literally squashing you! Consequently, these companies have a weak leadership pipeline filled with underperforming managers and can never get to the root cause of underperformance. Think about it. How many times have you worked with a senior manager/vice president/president who has loved to micromanage and get into the details instead of building an inspiring vision?
The authors suggest that the first step to this change is for an individual to move from an Individual Contributor to Manager. This is often a big struggle and a key transition point in ones career and they have identified some of the key areas of transition below.
Key Transition Areas
· Most important is to learn to see and appreciate the value of managerial work; believe that making time for others, planning and coaching are mission critical to success.
· Shift from doing work to getting work done through others
ü Let go of being the high performer and learn to manage and develop others to high performance.
ü Reallocate time – less time on individual work and more time on managing others so they can perform effectively.
· See oneself as part of the management structure, not its adversary.
· Build social connections with upper management, direct reports, and external people such as supplies, customers, etc. This leads to broader thinking and a wider perspective.
Warning Signs of Incomplete Transition
· High stress and overwhelm among direct reports.
ü Managers view questions from their people as interruptions.
ü Fixes mistakes rather than coaching others to resolve their own issues.
ü Doesn’t take ownership for their peoples’ problems, failures, or successes.
However, in my years of practice as an internal and external OD consultant I have often found that while there is realization in a lot of people that they appear to be struggling with such transition, they do not have the understanding of why the struggle and therefore ways of helping themselves out of such situations. After going through module 2, I realise that there is a connection to neuroscience that would help managers tremendously in making such changes. I focused on four “manager” competencies that we try and build in managers as they transition from being individual contributors to managers and have tried and connect them to what we have learnt. After several discussions, it looks like I may end up creating better materials for successful transitions.
1. Interpersonal Awareness: Interpersonal Awareness is the desire to understand other people. It is the ability to accurately hear and understand spoken as well as unspoken or partly expressed thoughts, feelings, and concerns of others. This competency allows the person to understand the reasons for another’s behaviour, even when the behaviour is subtle or complex.
The successful way to build good interpersonal awareness is to understand oneself better. As a manager it is critical for one to know and understand at what point negative emotions are taking over the pre-fontal cortex to impede decision-making. Once that sensitivity and control is built, the manager has complete understanding of when and what “trips” him or her and has a built a high degree of self - awareness.
Enhancing mindfulness is another way to build better interpersonal awareness. This will help to train oneself to have a conversation with a direct report with full and complete attention. This means every interaction is without distraction and making the other person feel you care and you are a 100% invested in the conversation. This helps in building the relationship. Statements such as “Managers view questions from their people as interruptions” (when they struggle to make the transition)– are heard only because the manager is not mindful of the fact that the relationship needs investment, coaching and guidance. Often the managers Pre Frontal cortex (decision engine of the brain) is flooded with issues that make them highly distracted, irritable and unpredictable. Mindfulness training also helps in self-reflection to help the amygdala get smaller, and as a result the “hot buttons” get lower in frequency.
2. Impact and Influence Impact and Influence is the ability to generate support from others to achieve desired business outcomes. It also involves taking advantage of opportunities to make a difference and have an impact. It is always planned and strategic—never random. When used well, the intended outcome of this competency is the creation of goodwill, trust, and respect while motivating people to want to follow you even when they don’t have to.
To help a manager attain this competency and imbibe it as a behavior that will help move any business agenda forward, it would help managers to understand the Integrate Model. The brain is a master integrator and one thing leads to another. To be able to take stakeholders, peers and superiors along and achieve a desired goal it is critical to understand that the brain in its default mode likes to Minimise Danger and Maximise Reward. Which means red flags go off when the brain senses danger/ a negative outcome.
Lets take the example of a manager who needs to deliver a business outcome: To get a sales team to deliver a 15% margin on sales for the year. If this is a target that has not been met before and the market is tough, fear-based emotions immediately kick in. Thoughts in the team will range from “will I be able to make it” to “will I get fired?” If the manager has the understanding of the integrate model and that these negative emotions need to move to a thinking – feeling stage and then to a stage of self regulation, he or she will to be able to positively influence the team. He will have to instil trust (focus on maximizing reward – what success the team can expect) and plan communications in a way that feels approachable to the team for them to be able to voice their concerns. Additionally, the manager can help move the team to Thinking – Feeling by having a discussion based on data and facts, using more logic and reasoning to work on how and the best ways one can achieve the margin. This can be brain storming, getting to a consensus decision where everyone feels like they have been made a stakeholder in the decision. The final stage in the Integrate Model is Emotional Regulation. Which is the stage where team members become conscious of their behaviour and actions and what impact they may have on others. The manager can help the team reach this stage by giving them continuous constructive feedback and positive strokes. This will help the team understand the right behaviours to exhibit to get to the goal.
3. Developing People
Developing People is the ability that requires discussing development needs and career strategy with employees and providing them with opportunities and visibility as well as advice and coaching. It is the manager's sincere interest in growing talent for the sake of the employee as well as the organisation. This competency also includes coaching the employee through the on-boarding process, on their job performance, giving feedback and suggesting corrective action as appropriate to the situation and need.
Understanding Emotional Theory and the critical role of self-reflection in helping one to become aware of one’s emotion is important to be a good people developer. The manager needs to understand the brain in the sequence of understanding the situation, paying attention to the situation, appraising the situation and then responding to it.
I can think of a great example when this sequence can be used in a manager employee conversation. Very often in organisations, development conversations become promotion and compensation conversations. Employees often feel that the only way to get ahead in an organization is by way of promotion, which means more pay. Development conversations actually are quite the opposite. They take a long-term view of the person’s aspirations and his or her skills, competencies and experiences and focuses the manager engage in a conversation on areas of strengths which need to be maintained and the development areas to be focused on for the next career stage. When employees do not understand the focus of a development conversation and a conversation starts to get derailed (moving to more short terms needs), the manager needs to take a step back to understand the situation – what does the employee really want and why is the agenda different from mine? How can I help this employee get back on a development conversation versus a promotion conversation? How shall I help him or her look at the situation he /she is facing right now differently? (appraise the situation) What is the best way I should behave at this time? Shall I be calm and supportive or tough? What are the implications to my relationship with this person if I’m tough with him or her? (emotional regulation). When a manager has got enough practice of this sequence and is able to get to a do this with ease, one can safely say that this is a manager who has strong competence in developing people.
4. Setting Goals & Expectations Setting Goals and Expectations is the ability of a manager to establish specific, measurable goals and commitments with his or her direct reports. It is recognizing the importance of making performance discussions more results focused and emphasizing measurable outcomes as well as how they are achieved. It also includes putting processes and systems in place to assess progress against individual and team goals.
It is critical for managers to understand how the brain is linked to setting expectations. If a manager is clear about what he/she expects from an employee and has been able to establish specific and measurable goals with appropriate coaching to guide the employee successfully to meet the expectations then the employee feels motivated (has a dopamine rush) and feels charged to go ahead to another challenge. However if the manager has not clearly specified goals and has not had discussions on the best way to achieve the goals and then expressed disappointment at the employees performance, this causes decreased dopamine levels, increased stress and a downward spiral leading to a demotivated and a disengaged employee. The link between creating a motivated employee and a manager’s ability to set clear goals and expectations is linear and highly correlated and there can be no two ways about how critical a competency this is for a manager.
In summary, it is clear that individual contributors transitioning to be people managers need to understand that a great way to build a new set of skills and competencies and to be able to get to a level of ease with their direct reports will be to understand the connection of their roles to neuroscience. In the specific examples of the competencies I have chosen, I have been able to link them to certain topics in the module. My creation of materials to help train managers will not just be based on theory but I will build case studies, simulations and role plays to help the connect feel real and alive.
Viktor Frankl, the famous Austrian neurologist and psychologist as well as a Holocaust survivor, wrote the following paragraph in his best selling book Man’s Search for Meaning.
“I remember one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread, which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me -the word and look which accompanied the gift.
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two-the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”-and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.” (Frankl, 137)
As we can see, Viktor Frankl, after his captivity and abuse at the hands of the Nazis divided humanity into two distinct races of “decent” and “indecent” men.
In the same book, he goes on to describe a commander of his camp, who took pity on the prisoners, and purchased, out of his own pocket, medicines from the nearest market town. At the same time, the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, beat the other prisoners at every opportunity. Frankl goes on to say that, this commander was rewarded for his humanity. After the war, three young Hungarian Jews hid the commander, then went to the commandant of the American forces, who were very eager to catch this commander, and stated that they would only disclose his location if it was promised no harm would come to this man. What I also think Frankl was trying to say is that “decent” people attract other “decent” people, and support them. I think the reverse may also be true – indecent people support other indecent people
I would now like to describe a real life situation that I once struggled with in my career for several years, and that experience has today helped me make connections to what I think organisations, teams and individual struggle with in day-to-day management and leadership issues and a broader connection to what Frankl may have tried to say.
Violet was my supervising manager. She was in her mid forties, smart and always elegantly dressed and came into the organization to lead the function. While Violet came in with good looking credentials and work experience that looked impressive, over a period of time, I started finding out that working with her was incredibly difficult. She had a short fuse, would often be abusive to her colleagues and always skimmed the surface of any discussion that warranted debate or exchange of ideas. As a manager it appeared like she was focused on managing her own image instead of mentoring, coaching and helping her team members to succeed. She had no qualms about being disrespectful to people in public and criticism came very easily to her. In my years of working with her I had never heard a word of appreciation from her and could never manage her unpredictable behaviour. Everyone, always, stopped short of her expectations and the best part was that she never really set any!
My years of working as an OD professional, my understanding of Neuroscience and the reflection I have had to do as a part of my work with senior executives has made me believe that the world is may not be divided into decent and indecent people as per Frankl, but into what I call SEC (secure) and INS (insecure) people. The reason I share my personal story is because Ms Violet was clearly an INS person. And, when you put an INS person in a leadership position, you automatically have an INS team and therefore an INS organization. Organization Theorists have not quite delved into a deep correlation between a leaders style and organisation culture.
So, what do I mean by INS and SEC people?
The brain has a Reflexive and a Reflective system. The Reflexive system is the automatic and spontaneous system of the brain that is typically sensory and is governed by error detection zones in the brain, such as the amygdala and the VLPFC (ventro lateral pre frontal cortex). INS people are dominantly governed by their reflexive system also called the X system. In contrast, the Reflective system of the brain is intentional, controlled and regulates responses appropriate to the environment and is governed more by the PFC (pre frontal cortex - the decision engine). SEC people are governed by the reflective system or the C system. They are calmer, easy going and show optimism and warmth since they are able to emotionally regulate their brain to handle any situation in front of them.
What may be the root cause?
Lets go back to the example of Ms Violet who I term as an INS person. She was governed largely by her X system, where her brain detected error or threat in most situations. Over a period of time, her amygdala (error detecting zone in the brain) had probably become so large that it was out to sense the smallest error as a threat and push her to go into frenzy as often times as it did. Research also says that our limbic system - the master of the X system ( which houses the error detecting zone)is actually coded in the third trimester of the foetus in the mother’s womb, causing certain “threats” to be stored there. I remember Violet once telling me a story as to how her mother was considered a pariah in the family since she came from a very different background. Perhaps some of those negative experiences her mother had passed down as code?
There is another aspect of the working of the X system and the C system that may play a part in this type of behaviour. The C system as we know is the “goldilocks” of the brain (Rock). Which means that the C system needs to have everything right to be able to function and is highly energy consuming. When someone like Violet feels incompetent in her job and knows that she actually has a larger job that she can handle, her C system overworks all the time and causing an overload, triggering her X system off more than needed. I have often noticed incompetent people(or people who are put in jobs that are not a fit for them) stress easily and the use dysfunctional behaviour to protect themselves.
How do INS leaders affect a team?
As one can imagine Violet ran her team with an absence of trust. Her team members never knew what to expect, she always said and believed that team members were not performing up to her expectations. This caused enormous tension within the team. Individuals did not feel that they could trust one another, and the team was a collection of individuals and not a team. I cant help believing that INS people rather manage their leadership teams this way so they don’t have a team force to reckon with (given the lack of competence we talked about earlier). Violet also had a very select in-group. Interestingly this in-group had INS people. The other learning I have had is the INS people are threatened by SEC people because SEC people exude confidence, are able to argue their point and essentially more competent professionals. So, INS leaders end up recruiting more INS team members.
It is a great insight on seeing a trend of how organization sub cultures are built.
How do INS leaders effect an organization?
Have you ever worked in a “fear based” organization? “Fear based” organizations have INS leaders. Because INS leaders are primarily motivated by fear, these leaders thrive on creating such a culture. For example once Violets direct reports Violet's understood that the best way to survive was to put one’s head down, not challenge and be a “yes” person because that is the behaviour that will keep one “safe” – it became the norm. So, Violet’s leadership team culture just percolated further down the organization. The few SEC leaders on Violets team were either made to leave or left on their own volition.
What can we as change agents do about it?
Books like “Built to Last” by authors Collins and Porras and “Good to Great” by Collins touched upon themes that resonate within the context of INS and SEC leaders.
In the book “Built to Last” the authors Collins and Porras researched organizations that were sustainable over a long period of time and flourished and grew because they pushed their boundaries and never believed there was a finish line. The research also showed what really kept these organizations going was the fact that they had a larger organization purpose - called a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) which believed in the greater good of mankind. Bill Gates’ purpose of having “a computer on every desk” when he started Microsoft in 1981 is an example of a company with a BHAG.
Companies with BHAG’s work beyond a goal of achieving a certain margin or revenue target and the end of a year and therefore require evolved leadership. Evolved leadership leaders and teams build cultures that foster innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Leadership of this calibre are SEC leaders.
In the book “Good to Great” Jim Collins talks about the “Level 5” leader. Collins argues that the “key ingredient that allows a company to become great is having a Level 5 leader: an executive who blends genuine personal humility with intense professional will”. A leader with humility asks him self in the mirror every morning – what could I have done better yesterday? He or she is not the kind of leader who will play the blame game when the going gets tough or shrug accountability in such a situation. Again, as we can see Level 5 leaders need to be SEC leaders.
If pushing boundaries and building organizations for tomorrow require a culture of questioning the status quo then as change agents, we need to help facilitate the creation of the breed of SEC leaders. My reflection above has shown that INS leaders not just create a hostile environment in their teams, but have the capacity of creating dysfunction across the organisation. The question then is how do we create more SEC leaders and importantly help move INS leaders to SEC leaders? How do we sensitize organisations to understanding and believing the right type of leadership that is required?
Taking the first step: Understanding one-self as an instrument of change - being a more effective executive coach
My coaching practice begins with helping leaders understanding themselves by applying the neuroscience tools I have mentioned above. How much of an INS or SEC person am I? What situations make me react as an INS person? What behaviours do I need to change when I’m being an INS person? (All of us show up INS traits at times, although we may be predominantly SEC) What about me, makes me a person who is Reflective vs Reactive? This understanding is helps leaders put together a framework for better self-reflection. I also encourage them to use an EBT (emotional brain training) Iphone application that helps them map situations in the day where they may not have used my C system and instead used their X system. This helps them become self-aware and understand the shifts they need to make. I encourage them to log each event then play it back in their mind – this helps them get mindful every time they are faced with a stressful situation.
SCARF is useful as not just self awareness tool, to help individuals understand their own behaviours and what impacts them, but also useful in understanding our impact on others, and how other peoples needs in terms of within a social context may differ from our own. This is a nice way to introduce the fact two brains being alike, and how we all differ as humans, and relevant at all levels within an organisation.
SCARF is has five domains based on David Rock’s research of the brain. The domains are Status – where you stand vs other people around you, Certainty – what is your need to have clarity vs living more ambiguously, Autonomy – your need for independent working Relatedness – the need of having close and personal relationships and Fairness – ensuring that the give and take in a situation is of the right balance.
SCARF is a relatively easy model to understand and apply. In a sense SCARF gives us the broad parameters on how a persons brain is functioning and therefore help understand certain behaviours. There is no right or wrong SCARF model, it is about who you are and in that sense helps broaden the scope of application even more. Leaders may use it for leadership assessment, team building, recruiting, developing talent or even retaining talent.
I have written a critical commentary on how the SCARF model can be applied to employee retention. To better understand which domain is causing a person to be demotivated and disengaged or even to resign helps a leader to have a deeper conversation. Instead of assuming that someone wants more pay or to be promoted, this conversation gives a deeper understanding to a persons mind at how it may work. The SCARF model helps a leader pinpoint the domain that may be triggering the response to want to leave the organisation. An understanding of the model will also help in having regular one on one conversations with employees to keep them engaged and involved instead of it being once off at the time when an employee
The human brain responds differently to another person depending on how it analyses others status. People who perceive themselves as being of a high status exhibit added brain activity with those whom they think same status as them, while those with lower status have a greater response to other low-status individuals. According to author Dr Caroline Zink, the way people behave and interact with other people is frequently decided by their social status comparative to their own. So information concerning social status is awfully precious to them. The socioeconomic status is not based solely on money, but may also comprise aspects like achievements and habits.
In an organisation such as the one I work in consisting of knowledge workers, “higher” status is attributed to people who are deep technical experts with a number of patents to their credit, who have a track record of shipping fantastic products or people run large teams, which build the cutting edge technology. It therefore becomes very important for leaders to use this as ways to motivate and retain people, especially high potential employees. Some ways to provide status would be
· Recognition of any technology innovation done by an individual or team. Showcasing it in a large audience
· The leaders themselves being hands on technical experts and teaming with younger employees to work on a product
· Visible recognition of High Potential employees for their contribution by an expert
· Mentoring and Coaching by senior leaders who have domain expertise in a certain technology
· Encourage participation in external forum of technology excellence
· Create communities/learning circles of similar technology interests with a senior expert
Although status may be something that is personal and defined differently by different individual, at an organization level there is scope to build in some broad brush-strokes and commonly understand “status” needs depending on the organizational goals and aspirations of employees. Status is something that needs to top of mind of leaders while defining employee development strategies.
One of the Leadership Competencies we suggest leaders build in our organisation in order to be successful is “networking”. Networking means to be able to build relationships across hierarchies, functions and divisions in the organization and outside to be able to be a more effective leader. We provide leaders with a software package that helps them manage networks, understand in which areas they need to build more networks (with the company or outside etc) and how often should they be reaching out to different people. Networking is often without an agenda. It’s “lets catch up for coffee because I’m in town” or “let me send you my latest article that I wrote in a magazine”. However I have noticed that either leaders take to this like a fish to water – easily, happy to build networks and thrive on building relationship that help them through their careers or there are leaders who simply cringe at the idea. These leaders think its an overburden and goes beyond the duty of work.
After understanding the SCARF model and Relatedness, I realise why there are these two different pools of leaders, who may be competent in their own way but feel differently to the concept of networking. It means that different leaders have different needs of relatedness, and as an organisation we need to understand these needs. Often times not wanting or not needing to “network” impedes a leaders career, but it now seems that there is intervention needed to help the leader meet his capacity of Relatedness and for the organization to understand the varied needs in an individual.
It will be important to probably have stages in the process of networking, to help address this issue. Stage one as a basic networking skill, how many people do you interact with within your department, Stage two could be interact within your function and Stage 3 could be interact within the company. This could be taught as a skill building process instead of such expecting people to take it up and master it since that seems dependant on the dominance of Relatedness domain in ones brain.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.