Monday, July 29, 2013

Real Employee Engagement Survey Comments

The following 10 comments are a sampling of hundreds of real comments made on an employee engagement survey.   For anyone familiar with the Behavioral Advantage methods, this list is astounding.

  • Sometimes external and internal customers have unrealistic expectations of what I can do.
  • My colleagues do not plan ahead and force a short deadline that could have been put in the queue earlier.
  • In terms of managing priorities, the priorities I start the week with get shifted, so I need more open communication with supervisor.
  • We are under-resourced.  Sometimes we work on a proposal when we know we cannot win it.  Also there seems to be no downside consequence for not doing something that is needed.
  • Always there are lots of roadblocks to getting tools that would be useful.
  • When I seek help from others in the business I think their attitude is better than their follow-thru, colleagues have too much on their plates too.
  • We have piled up initiatives and this creates a ripple effect and causes bottlenecks.
  • I am not empowered to be proactive.
  • I lack communication of what others on the team are working on.
  • My only suggestion would be that my job satisfaction would increase if I were participating in building something meaningful and recognized as a valuable participant.

It’s astounding because none of the comments would make any sense to members of a Behavioral Advantage team.  The thing that makes this list inconceivable is the Behavioral Advantage structure around a weekly meeting.  The meeting is designed to prevent issues like these from having more than a one week half-life.  Employee do not let an issue like communication, priorities, or empowerment go unresolved for more than 4 1/2 business days.  It just doesn’t happen.

Behavioral Advantage teams are all about getting stuff done now.  Any obstacles get removed right away through the team’s peer-to-peer accountability disciplines.

If you want this level of performance in your teams let us come in and demo the methodology with one of your tougher teams.  You will see a remarkable change in individual and team performance, guaranteed.

Send me an email

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A dilemma is a problem that has nothing but disagreeable
solutions.  The fun in a dilemma is found in the challenge to redefine the underlying problem such that a new solution emerges.  When you do that successfully, it feels wonderful!

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's a Good Employee Worth?

I was talking with a serial CEO the other day about difference between the worker who’s a Hundred Percenter and the worker who’s the Plus Two Hundred and Forty Percenter and the CEO told me this story:

“A woman worked for me, I’ll call her Mary, who was one of the most dependable people I’ve ever had work for me.  She delivered almost everything ahead of deadline, she anticipated what I might need, she met every goal I ever set for her, and she had great expertise in our business.  Mary was a joy to work with.

At the same time I had a fellow working for me, I’ll call Steve, who was a pain in the you-know-what.  I’d ask him where he was on a project I’d assigned and he hadn’t started it yet, he’d been busy working on something else.  Or I’d tell him how I wanted something done and he’d argue with me that it was a dumb thing to be doing.  Or he’d come into my office with some idea he had and wanted me to interrupt my day to listen to his idea.  Often they were just things we weren’t going to do.  He didn’t miss deadlines but sometimes I’d wished he’d been more ahead of the game.  Plus his social skills left something to be desired.  Without intending to, in almost every meeting he managed to offend someone.   He eventually left.

We paid these two people about the same.  However, looking back on it now I see that the business got far more value out of one of these employees than the other.  

Mary was what you call a 'Hundred Percenter'.  She was completely reliable, an expert in her job, and did her assignments extremely well.  She was terrific.

Steve was what you would call a 'Plus Two Hundred and Forty Percenter'.  (Note: The 240% comes from a Gallup study that showed the most engaged worker is worth 240% more than the person who gives you the 100%.)  In Steve’s case he gave the business far more than an incremental 240%.  

Part of the reason he was a pain in the you-know-what is that he constantly wanted to change things.  One time the head of IT came into my office fuming over something Steve had done with his PC.  Steve had taught himself C and had written a small program that could do in seconds what took the technology group an overnight batch process to accomplish.  The head of IT wanted to know why Steve was writing computer code, where was that part of Steve’s responsibility he wanted to know.

Steve originated lots of little changes that boosted our margins.  But he also came up with some completely new ways to look at customer problems.  Often I found myself arguing with him, dismissing his idea, only to find myself embracing the idea a few weeks later.  His ideas changed how we service customers. He came up with a valuable new product we could offer customers. One year he came up with a change for customers that solved a big problem they had.  At the time I was not very supportive because I saw it as revenue neutral to us.  But, looking back on it I realize it built great customer loyalty.

I don’t remember all the changes he came up with but I sat down to put a value around what he delivered.  Based only on those things where it’s easy to calculate the value, in seven years Steve’s ideas delivered over $33 million to the company.  I suspect the real number is double that.  

Here is the frightening thing for the owner of the business.  If the owner of the business had come to me at the time and said I had to lay-off either Mary or Steve, I would have kept Mary.  She was predictable and never asked me to take a risk, and she was easy to manage.  I also realize now that the owner would never have noticed the difference although the value of his business would have been far less. It would have been a mistake on my part, but I could see myself doing it.

So, Bill, the work you’re doing around taking Mary and turning her into a Plus Two Hundred and Forty Percenter is the right thing to be doing and I think you’ve actually figured out how to do that.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Problem of Empowerment

To get employees to give you their discretionary thinking and deliver ideas that boost margin, you must empower them to implement their ideas.   Empowerment is about giving employees the ‘power’ to deliver changes.  Empowered employees are authorized and enabled to do what they determine is needed to achieve company goals.  

For a CEO this can be scary stuff.  What happens if an employee gets an idea to build a perpetual motion machine which violates the laws of physics!  Do you let that employee pursue an obviously flawed idea?  The answer to that question is the marketing answer: “It depends!”  Sometimes the by-product of a crazy idea is a great idea.  As you’ll see in a moment, we do put a governor on ideas, which makes it less likely that truly stupid ideas will be pursued. 

Explicit empowerment is key. At Gore “teams organize around opportunities and leaders emerge.” We’ve seen that 3M pioneered the idea of giving employees the ability to set aside time to work on special projects. Google gives its engineers 20 percent time, so that they’re free to work on what they’re really passionate about.  Likewise, Toyota did this with the employees in the famous NUMMI assembly plant.  And today, Morning Star employees clearly enjoy this level of empowerment. 

Unfortunately, lots of large companies use stage-gate processes to control ideas. Stage-gate processes are about reducing risk, but they can kill innovation.  Many of the most interesting innovations of the past century would never have made it through the stage-gate decision process.  

A key to allowing people to pursue ideas is to establish a flexible Risk-gate™ process. This process facilitates the least expensive, but best use of resources to pass an idea through primary risks. The basic purpose of the flexible Risk-gate™ process is to vet the idea in terms of what knowledge is missing.  Select the next easiest, cheapest, but meaningful risk to resolve and come up with a strategy to remove that risk. Such risks could be about what form factor a product should have,  or will customers accept the product,—or perhaps a prototype is needed; or perhaps a manufacturing step is needed that’s never been done before—find a way to test the step or develop alternatives; or perhaps you don’t know if the technology will work when it’s put together with other parts—test building a working model. 

This leaves the issue of deciding which ideas to pursue.  The best way to do this is to implement a method that removes management from the decision altogether.  Asking management for permission is equivalent to asking for a ‘no’.  Managers often have no motivation for taking on the risk and employees often will get an answer like “We already tried that and it didn’t work.”    

Chris Galvin, the former CEO of Motorola, described how he and his father would deal with this kind of question.  If someone came to him with an idea that had already been tried, the Motorola CEO wouldn’t say, “We already tried that.”  Instead, he would encourage the innovator to pursue the idea and give some guidance where to look first.  If the reason the idea didn’t work the first time was valid, the innovator would see the problem fairly soon, report the issue back to Galvin, and then go off to pursue some other idea.   

If you just shoot an idea down with “we already tried that,” then you make it very difficult for that person to move off that idea and onto a new one.  They will keep thinking about it, believing the people that went before them just didn’t see the problem right, or perhaps made some error.   They will waste a lot more time thinking about this problem than they would have if they’d been allowed to work on it.  A side problem is that you also diminish their level of engagement. 

 You can take out the need for management decisions by establishing a flexible Risk-gate™ funding pool.  We provide a simple computer program to manage this activity (eMail

The governor here is that no-one can get funding without getting at least one other employee to sign onto the idea.   You limit the number of ideas any individual can sign onto in a six month period.  Employees will only sign onto projects which they deem worthy, thus you build in a certain level of control.  Will you have ideas that fail? Of course you will.  But just letting the employee pursue the idea is a far better factor of engagement than paying an annual bonus, and far cheaper.   

The amount of funding available depends on the nature of the business.  For some businesses it might be $5,000 for others $500.  If more money is needed as risks are eliminated, then more people must join the project.   If you got $500 when two people joined perhaps you fund an additional $500 when a third signs on and an additional 1,000 when a fourth joins, and so on.   

A flexible risk gate process enables you to establish project-specific milestones while remaining flexible about what those milestones are and who needs to be involved. The employees involved identify what the next critical risk factor is, and determine what they must overcome and which approach has the smallest possible investment. Some ideas need a couple of hundred dollars to move to the next stage, but others may need thousands. The mantra for all employees is to preserve cash and look for creative ways to move an idea along without creating an unnecessary financial risk. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Special Offer to Lift Operating Margin from THNK

Can you guess: 
What causes operating margin to leap up by 20% of sales?  
  1. Cost cutting?
  2. Outsourcing?
  3. Raising prices?
  4. Discontinuing lower margin products?
  5. Replacing old technology with new technology?
  6. Improving resource utilization?
  7. None of the above?

Answer: None of the above.

Most CEOs would say they’ve already done these things.  In fact, many CEOs would find it hard to believe there is more margin to be found.  But there is.  The 20% lift is still ‘out-there’.  Often it is bigger than 20% of sales!  And, the source is not on the list above.  

When Toyota first started building cars in the US they brought in engineers to set-up the plant as perfectly as they could.  Toyota had engineers with tremendous expertise in the field.  The engineers did a great job of setting up the plant.  Despite the good work of their expert engineers, Toyota understood that under normal circumstances the people who knew the assembly line best, were the line workers themselves.   However, in this case they were hiring union workers whom GM had dubbed the worst workforce in America.  If fact, GM had fired all these people.  So how many margin improvements did these ‘worst’ workers make to the nearly perfectly engineered assembly line?  In the first year, and every year thereafter these 3,000 workers implemented about 10,000 changes.  How did that impact operating margin?  When compared with a similar GM plant, the Toyota managed plant had a 57% stronger operating margin with much higher quality!

Accept this as a fact: the opportunity for margin growth is much larger than you currently imagine it is.  Believe it or not, the big delta will come from your employees!  It is the hundred and thousands of little improvement that your workers would like to make that will drive this leap for you.

Right now we are offering a special free and risk-less program that enables us to prove to you the value you can get from boosting your workforce to the level Toyota enjoys.  We will take an existing team of your people, implement Behavioral Advantage with them and you will see results before the training is complete. (This is not Lean or Six Sigma)

Call me and I will tell you exactly what we are going to do, and what you can expect as a result.  If you’re not in a position to do this yourself but know someone who is, we happily pay a generous referral bonus upon a successful engagement.  847-984-0976

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Identity and Meaning and NPR

Yesterday, Saturday July 7th on WBEZ in Chicago the NPR radio show The Moth: True Stories Told Live, aired a story called “Jen Lee - Targeted”.   As you’ll see it had a particular resonance for us.

The story was about how a devoted evangelist and Mary Kay® cosmetics salesperson hit the wall when it came to faith in both ‘religions’.   The meaning had gone out of both for her.  Her church was focussed on marketing their desire to save souls, and Mary Kay’s promise that everyone could get what they wanted no longer seemed real.  

In the piece, Jen Lee pointed out that in walking away from these two was personally costly in four ways:
  1. She was giving up her income as a successful Mary Kay® salesperson.  Money represents the appetites part of our motivational model.
  2. She was losing two important parts of her identity - she’d been a very good Mary Kay® salesperson, and a devoted evangelist.  
  3. She was losing much of the meaning she got out of her life; making women feel beautiful and saving souls.  Actually, this loss of meaning is what drove her to “save” herself from this, now, meaningless life.  
  4. And she would no longer “belong” in the two social groups in which she thrived whose relationships would be drowned - her family was a pyramid of Mary Kay® salespersons, and she was walking away from her friends in the church.  She and her husband moved away.

In the book Behave! how to get 100% of your workers fully engaged we use a motivational model called A.I.M.S.  It’s an acronym which stands for Appetites, Identity, Meaning, and Sex (but it’s not really Sex, its really relationships).  In the book we say that a business must provide for all four of these if they want to keep employees fully engaged.  We focus on the two most powerful of these, Identity and Meaning.   This young woman managed to figure this out for herself and that is quite remarkable.