Sunday, 29 November 2009

"The Point Is To Labour"

This last year has seen the spotlight on organisational values as never before. Particularly, but not exclusively, here in the UK.

First, we discovered that our big banks were no longer true to the values of thrift, prudence, and good housekeeping.

Then we found out that some of our top bankers cared more about the value of feathering their own nest than looking after their customers' cash.

And finally we saw how some of our politicians paid more attention to the value of personal profit than public service.

The resulting debate over values only serves to underline Alvin Toffler's quote that "every organisation has a values system and it is at least as important as, if not more important than, its accounting system and authority system."

Leadership expert John Maxwell says that values are an organisation's glue, compass, and identity. They are the glue because they knit everyone together. They are the compass because they give the guide to where people need to go. And they are the identity because they are what the organisation stands for.

When Unilever talk about the value of co-operation, and Mars talk about the value of efficiency, and IBM talk about the value of innovation, they're really saying "this is what matters to us, to our customers, and to those who work here." They are, quite simply, non-negotiable.

My favourite story about the value of values comes from Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who founded the Mission of Charity in Kolkata in 1950 and worked tirelessly for the poor, the sick and the dying until her death in 1997.

The story is that a woman from America decided to go and work for Mother Teresa in her Kolkata refuge. The woman was married to a rich businessman and an accomplished fixer in her own right. She thought that her skills could make a real difference to Mother Teresa's work and at the same time bring her some enrichment and enlightenment.

When she arrived at the refuge, she saw the nuns on their knees cleaning the floors with old cloths. A month after observing the harsh conditions, she went to Mother Teresa and said, "Mother, I have noticed how hard you all work. I have a lot of connections back in the States and I can get you everything you need to clean this place. Brooms. Mops. Cleaning machines. And it won't cost you a penny."

"Cleaning machines?" replied Mother Teresa.

"Yes," replied the woman, "they'll save you time and labour."

"Labour-saving devices?" replied Mother Teresa. "But, my dear, the point is to labour," and, with that, she smiled and walked away.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

"The Ultimate Triumph of Theory Y"

Can you remember your first training model?

I don't mean that dishy graduate from the IT training team or that handsome hunk from the consultancy.

I mean a theory of how people behave and relate in organisations.

I can.

It was Theory X and Y and it was nearly 35 years ago.

At the time, as a junior manager in a big food company, my introduction to Douglas McGregor's theory of human motivation hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue.

I can still recall the flipchart where my trainer drew a vertical line down the paper and on one side, under "Theory X", wrote that "people are lazy, will only work for money, and do no more than they have to".

And then, on the other side, to my growing fascination, wrote under "Theory Y" that "people want to learn, want to grow, and want to become something."

Looking back, I guess that day changed everything I had assumed about people and work, changed how I wanted to manage them, and turned me into a devotee of personal development.

In short, it made me a fan of Theory Y.

Imagine then my shock and horror to discover that, far from having changed everyone else back in the 1970's into Theory Y advocates, Theory X is still alive and well and thriving in a bank near you.

I know this because of accounts of the management style of Sir Fred Goodwin, until last year chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the biggest banks in the world.

These accounts relate how every day during his tenure as chairman, Sir Fred would summon his top executives to his office at 9.30 prompt and grill them mercilessly about the shortcomings of any branch and its staff.

If any branch were under-performing, he would humiliate the poor executive responsible, using his favourite phrases, "I think you're asleep at the wheel" and "that's life in the big city, chum".

Sir Fred became known as Fred the Shred for his people-destroying management style. A Theory X manager incarnate.

I'm not glad that the Royal Bank of Scotland has crashed with huge debts and been bailed out by the taxpayer. Nor am I glad that in the year since its demise, thousands of hardworking bank staff have lost their jobs. And I'm certainly not glad that Sir Fred Goodwin jumped the ship in time by negotiating a massive pension for himself right at the moment in the mid-night hours when it looked as if the bank was about to run out of money for all its customers.

However, I am glad that, nearly 50 years after McGregor produced his theory, and 30-odd years after I discovered it, Theory Y has won the day.

Monday, 9 November 2009

"The 99 Club"

As some of you will know, I've spent the best part of this year re-decorating our house, following some major structural work two years ago.

We're now on the last lap and, although nearly every part of our re-design and re-decoration looks beautiful, I am sometimes irritated by a few niggling things that don't quite work.

These include the overlapping wallpaper edges in the living room, the border that's out by about 3 degrees in the study, and the carpet that doesn't quite match the wallpaper in one of the bedrooms.

Although these are miniscule matters compared with the overall effect, they still niggle me from time to time. And they would totally destroy the overall effect if it wasn't for my refusal to join the 99 Club.

If you don't know what the 99 Club is, then let me tell you.

There once was a king who, despite his wealth, was very unhappy.

One day, the king came across a servant who was happily singing at his work. The king demanded to know why he was singing.

"Sire," said the servant, "I know I am only a servant but I and my family have all we need to be happy. We have a roof over our heads, a nice home, and three healthy children. Why shouldn't I be happy?"

This reply troubled the rich but miserable king who called in his chief advisor to tell him what to do.

After hearing about the servant, the advisor told the king, "Sire, I think the solution is for your servant to join the 99 Club. Tonight, leave 99 gold coins in a bag at the servant's door and watch what happens."

The king did as he was told.

That night, when the servant came home, he saw the bag and took it into his house.

When he opened the bag and counted the 99 coins, he let out a great shout of joy.

But almost at once he wondered what had happened to the last gold coin, for surely nobody would leave just 99 coins instead of 100.

From that moment on, the servant's life changed. Feeling compelled to complete his fortune, he overworked, became grumpy at his loss, and felt incomplete. He soon stopped singing at his work.

The next time the king and his advisor saw the servant, the advisor smiled and said, "Your Majesty, your servant has now joined the 99 Club."

I love this story because it reflects how many of us feel, and are made to feel, about the things in our lives that are not perfect and, instead of rejoicing in the 99% that are complete and wonderful, focus on the 1% that is not.

Now, every time I see my overlapping wallpaper, my dodgy border, and my mis-matched carpet, I remember the 99 Club, smile to myself, and breathe a deep sigh of contentment.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

"Compliment the Thing, not the Person"

Paying compliments is an important way to build rapport with others, whether they are colleagues, customers, or casual contacts.

But there is a right way to do it; and a wrong way.

The wrong way is to pay a compliment as an excuse to suck up, smarm, and seduce. People usually see through such compliments and dismiss the compliment as meaningless and you as a fake.

The right way is, first, to mean it; secondly, to deliver it in a way that doesn't embarrass the other person; and, thirdly, to explain the effect it has on you and others.

One of the ways you can do this is to focus on a thing you admire about the other person, rather than on the person themselves. For example, "Jude, you're the best secretary in the world", might well be received with a disbelieving "yeah, yeah" and a roll of the eyes to heaven.

But, tell her, "Jude, Bill in Accounts told me that that report of yours really made him sit up and think", and you will be praising the report and, by association, your secretary too.

In "Business as a Game", Albert Carr relates the story of a speech given by a chief executive. The man was not an accomplished speaker and knew it. Nevertheless, shortly after he had sat down, he was approached by one of his department managers. "Mr Rossen, that was a terrific speech. A great performance. Churchill couldn't have done better!"

The chief replied amiably: "Thank you, Larry. Glad you liked it."

A few days later, another manager came up to the chief during lunch and said: "Mr Rossen, I've been thinking about what you said the other night. It's got me thinking about some changes we could make in our department. Would you mind if I sent you my thoughts?"

"Not at all, Bill," said the chief. "I'm glad the speech got you thinking."

It's not difficult to work out which compliment mattered most.

All of us love compliments. Few of us love flattery.

If you can deliver a compliment in a way that is honest, sincere, and focuses on the effect people have on others, then you will make people feel good, open them up and light up their day.