Three Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover

Reduce Employee Turnover

Reduce employee turnover

“Employee turnover is killing us,” Johnny told me. “We had a nearly 100 percent turnover last year. We can’t create any momentum. Projects get stalled. Our leaders get consumed in the hiring process rather than serving our clients. Our clients get upset. We cannot survive like this.”

The Problem

Employee turnover is a silent revenue-killer. Employees tend to leave organizations due to unhappiness rather than seeking better pay and benefits. Hiring and training a new manager could be as high as 50% – 200% of the position’s annual salary.

What Gives?

Employers tend to hire for talent rather than for culture. A myriad of technological tools rarely help. As a result, employers often hire people who are not a good fit for their culture. This practice can create a toxic work environment that drives away your talent. 46% of employees reportedly leave within 18 months, 89% of those due to culture.

Solutions

1) Define your ideal workplace culture (our tool can help – click HERE).

2) Align your values and workplace culture

3) Screen for qualified people that fit your workplace culture. It is much easier to train jobs skills than to change a person’s workplace habits.

Heading over a cliff

“Johnny” was a senior leader in an organization that was heading over a cliff. Employee turnover was a symptom of larger issues: a chaotic work environment, shifting priorities, and no strategy. “Winging it” had enabled the organization to seize emerging opportunities and gain some early clients. But that mode of operating had become a habit — the company was chasing cash. They were in peril.

The BIG 3

They needed help getting the 3 BIG things right: Leadership, Culture, and Strategy. This included creating a proper strategy and implementation plan, instituting some procedural discipline, and getting the culture right. The last one would be the most challenging.

The company had tried to address the problem by organizing “culture days.” They spent time doing interactive exercises to get to know one another better. They had so-called “radical candor” sessions. They argued over and selected their values. They felt good for a few days. Things seemed to get better.

Reality

Then reality struck. Within a week the same old problems and practices were back. Employees grew more disillusioned. Several quit.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Johnny told me. Even the best strategy would not overcome the culture problems the company was facing.

“How well do your values align with your workplace practices, Johnny?”

“Don’t you mean: how well do our workplace practices align with our values?”

“Is there a difference in the two statements?” I asked.

“The answer on alignment is ‘Not well.’ The way I phrased it suggests we should align our workplace practices with our values. That’s what everyone teaches. You phrased it differently — your values should align with your workplace practices. Isn’t that backwards?”

Employee turnover plunged

Their values list was heartwarming — focused on cooperation and happiness. The founder actually ran the company on creativity and agility — even if that meant a chaotic work environment. No amount of culture days would change the founder’s DNA.

Johnny understood that he needed to hire employees who could thrive given the organization’s realities. To add candor and avoid cynicism, he recognized that the company would need their values to reflect what they expected in practice.

Johnny began to hire for culture. The company had what we call an Innovative culture. They valued creativity and results over process and co-working relationships. In the hiring process, Johnny deliberately sought qualified people who could thrive in their workplace. Employee turnover plunged.

Hire for culture – deliberately

Gregg Williams, the interim Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns in the latter half of 2018, hires deliberately for culture. He emphasizes a cooperative culture: teamwork and execution over individual stats and player creativity. He starts players who show they have bought into the culture. The Browns won 5 games in the second half of the season — more than they had in the previous 3 seasons combined.

Aligning values and culture improves employee engagement and reduces turnover. Use our tool below to discover your ideal culture archetype — Cooperative, Collaborative, Authoritative or Innovative. Once you have established your ideal culture, align your values accordingly.

The bottom line

Hire qualified people who fit your company’s culture and you will reduce the costs associated with turnover and disengagement.

Uniformity Versus Diversity

Uniformity versus diversity

Uniformity Versus Diversity

What is stronger: uniformity or diversity? Pundits upset about the lack of ruthlessness in Game of Thrones’ latest episode are missing a better point about leadership.

[Spoiler alert] Episode 2 led watchers to gird themselves for the death of beloved characters. After all, who could forget season 1 in which Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark met their unexpected demise? Who would it be this time — Danaerys, Jon Snow, Tyrion, Varys, Sansa, Arya? All of them survived, winning the epic battle against the Night King.

The end of the Night King sets up a more interesting struggle between Team Targaryen and Queen Cersei. This struggle pits uniformity against diversity.

Good fiction prompts us to question conventional wisdom. The upcoming struggle gives us an opportunity to explore the limits of uniformity and diversity.

There is no “I” in Targaryen

Team Targaryen represents diversity — there is no “I” in Targaryen. Daenerys has encouraged debate among her counselors, permitted them to challenge her thinking, and empowered some questionable leaders who have unexpectedly risen to the occasion.

The coalition fought as one against the Night King, but that epic threat masked an emerging leadership struggle as the North refuses to bow to Daenerys and will only follow Jon Snow. The latter’s revelation as the last surviving male Targaryen complicates questions of power and authority.

The Symbol of Uniformity

Cersei, meanwhile, is the symbol of uniformity. It’s her way or the highway. Even her brother and lover, Jamie, left for Team Targaryen when Cersei’s demands became too much to stomach. She is systematically shedding all naysayers and anyone not fully prepared to obey.
After seeing the seven kingdoms tear each other apart, Cersei sees strength in uniformity. She believes they can act faster and strike more decisively than the Targaryen coalition and hold together in the face of adversity.

Team Targaryen

I’ll be watching to see how Team Targaryen’s leader team adjusts in the face of diverging interests. Jon Snow’s ability as a Reconciler in keeping the coalition together and gaining consensus on a shared vision and strategy will be essential for success. Can Daenerys set aside fears of being displaced and empower Jon to play that role? Team Targaryen will also need the ideas of Tyrion (Maverick) and the systematic thinking a Varys (Operator) to create blind spots for Cersei and exploit them.

Team Cersei

I’ll also be watching to see how Cersei (Maverick) attempts to create and exploit fissures within Team Targaryen. Her best strategy is to get her opponents to paralyze themselves. Cersei is brilliant, but can she anticipate and neutralize her opponent’s creativity while acting decisively faster than they can? Will she listen to wise counsel that challenges her thinking?

More broadly, well-crafted fiction can help us explore the conditions that can turn diversity into unity and prevent uniformity from blindness and insensitivity.

What to learn

Want to learn more about balanced leader teams and ways to turn diversity into a strength? Take our “Which Team Targaryen Leader Are You” quiz. Find out which Game of Thrones leader leads like you and how to bring out the best in yourself and others.

3 Ways to Tell if Your Culture is Killing Your Organization

  1. Is your annual turnover higher than 20 percent? Hiring a new employee could cost as much as 50% to 200% of their annual salary.
  2. Do you have toxic leaders or employees? Workplace incivility costs an estimated $14,000 per affected employee.
  3. Is your workplace culture out of step with your strategy? If so, your team is underperforming. This is part of the reason most strategies are never executed.
Workplace Culture Economics

Culture eats talent for breakfast

“Culture,” the late management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “eats strategy for breakfast.” I like to see them as two essential courses, along with leadership, of a 3-course meal. Two out of three is not good enough. A poor culture will undermine a good strategy and drive out good leaders. Poor leadership will damage a solid culture and strategy. A bad strategy will impede the growth of a well-led team.

Culture eats talent for breakfast … and spits out anything it does not like. Talent that matches culture becomes part of the organization. Talent that does not fit gets rejected.

Here’s the trick: your workplace culture is not the same as your workplace values. The culture is defined by what actually occurs at work — hour-by-hour, day in and day out.

Organizations that focus their hiring practices on talent tend to have workplace cultures that grow organically — regardless of the official values that hang on the walls. Hire competitive talent and you will get a competitive culture, even if your official values champion cooperation and collaboration. Hire cooperative talent and your push for a competitive workplace will find resistance. Hire talent that is at odds with your values and you will eventually have a toxic culture.

One former client, James Cook Media, was experiencing an annual turnover of around 100 percent. This fast-paced, innovative company, was hiring highly talented people. The problem was that the new hires expected a steady rather than dynamic work environment. The revolving door was a massive drain on revenues that were bankrupting the company.

We help define culture.  We get results.

We helped them define their culture and the types of employees that would best fit. They began making culture fit their top priority. This dramatically reduced turnover and helped save the company from bankruptcy.

The American Association of Suicidology was experiencing declining revenues. Their dedicated employees had low levels of engagement due to poor strategic direction. When Colleen Creighton took over as the Executive Director in 2017, she recognized the need for a proper strategy. We worked together on this with the board of directors. Once approved, we coached the staff to develop a business plan to implement the new strategy. In effect, the staff was creating their own work-plans for the year.

Employee engagement rose from about 40 to 80 percent — with significant impacts on greater revenue, lower costs, and higher levels of initiative.

Here are three quick ways to check if your culture is damaging your organization:

  1. Is your annual turnover higher than 20%?
  2. Do employees report workplace toxicity?
  3. Are your culture and strategy aligned?

According to one study, poor culture fit accounted for 89 percent of hires let go within 18 months.  

Use our workplace culture quiz to help you identify the ideal culture for your organization, so you can specify values that make sense and improve your hiring practices.

 

what's the difference between a strategy and a plan?

What’s the difference between a Strategy and a Plan?

Here are three things you need to know.

What’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?

We were executing our plan perfectly. All of our metrics indicated that we were on an upward trajectory. We were working hard, creating efficiencies, and consistently improving. We felt very good about our performance.

And yet, we were not succeeding.

That was exactly how I felt after the first 60 days as a commander in Afghanistan. I learned that while successful organizations perform at a high level, the reverse is not necessarily true.

When we begin talking, many of my clients express the unsettling feeling that something is missing – and that missing “something” is creating a gap between high performance and success.

The normal approach to this problem is to stay on the trajectory but work harder, in the belief that this will lead to incremental progress and greater efficiency.  

The problem, however, is that high performance does not necessarily equal success.

This is a difficult truth to swallow, especially for leaders. To admit that is to recognize that the plan is flawed. What we are directing our employees to do, what we are prioritizing, and what we are measuring may all be off-target.

Leaders excessively concerned with execution can begin to drink their own Kool-Aid, believing that blips in performance are leading toward success. This can reinforce the blinders and refuel the desire to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. The technical term for this is confirmation bias.

This is where strategy comes in.

Strategy helps you expose disconnects between success and performance, ask the right questions, and adjust as the marketplace shifts under your feet.

Here are three critical differences between a strategy and a plan:

  1. A strategy faces outward, first. A plan faces inward
  2. A strategy orients on factors you don’t control; a plan focuses on what you do control
  3. A strategy measures success; a plan measures performance

Let’s break these down.

A strategy faces outward, first. A plan faces inward

A sound strategy begins with a diagnosis of the current marketplace and your place within it. This establishes the context in which you will advance your vision and mission.

This context is always dynamic. The marketplace is in a constant state of flux, influenced by factors like technology, social and political changes, government policy, competitor choices, and so forth. Your strategy should identify those factors most likely to affect your outcomes. How you believe they will unfold and shape the future become your assumptions.

Once you have outlined the context, you can develop your theory of success. This expresses what you intend to do to succeed. A good strategy process will develop and evaluate more than one theory of success, so you can choose the one you think is best.

Your plan faces inward. It focuses on how to execute the course of action delineated in your strategy. A good plan ensures these tasks are integrated and properly resourced.  

*PRO-TIP: THIS 5-D PROCESS HELPS YOU DEVELOP A STRATEGY

What's the difference between a Strategy and a Plan?

A strategy orients on factors you don’t control; a plan directs what you do control

As outlined above, a wide range of factors will impact the environment within which your business exists and may potentially impact how successful you can be within a given context. You cannot simply wish them away. But what you can do is develop a tool that monitors and addresses these external drivers of change. That tool is your strategy.

A strategy is not a crystal ball that foretells how your organization can move toward a desired end-state. Nor is it a blueprint of the bridge from the present to the future. These analogies are too deterministic and too self-centered for a dynamic and uncertain marketplace.

A strategy is a hypothesis based on your diagnosis and chosen theory of success. It is a best guess that relies on assumptions about the future and factors you so not control. A proper strategy is explicit about these assumptions, allowing you to monitor them as the future unfolds.

Revising your assumptions later on is not a sign that you were wrong, but a reflection that you have been sensitive to the salient changes in the environment. When you revise your assumptions, you may need to modify your strategy.

*PRO-TIP: DISCUSS THE STRENGTH OF YOUR ASSUMPTIONS DURING YOUR QUARTERLY BOARD MEETINGS

Now that your strategy outlines how everything fits, you can make an implementation plan to direct the activities under your control. These activities should be properly resourced and integrated, and then broken down into team and individual workplans.

*PRO-TIP: HAVE THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR EXECUTING THE PLANS DRAW THEM UP.  MORE OWNERSHIP LEADS TO BETTER EXECUTION

Strategy measures success; a plan measures performance

Your strategy should outline your mission, vision, values, and goals. Your goals should focus on the impact and outcomes you seek to achieve. These become your strategic measures.

Your plan outlines the critical tasks you selected as important to implementing your strategy. Measuring performance enables you to assess the strength of the execution.

Keep your impact and outcome measures separate from your performance measures. This is because impact and outcomes are influenced by factors you cannot control.

High performance on your implementation tasks coupled with low achievement on your strategic goals is an indication that factors outside your control are undermining your ability to advance your mission and vision.

You need to understand these factors and adjust your strategy and plan accordingly.

*PRO-TIP: MINDING THE GAP BETWEEN SUCCESS AND PERFORMANCE WILL HELP YOU ADJUST FASTER THAN YOUR COMPETITORS 

Getting the strategy right enabled our team of paratroopers to succeed in Afghanistan. A sound strategy helps our clients to create sustainable growth and impact.

To learn more about the difference between a strategy and a plan (and why a “strategic plan” tends to be a reverse Goldilocks), see our short video “Strategy versus Strategic Plan.”

Creating a winning culture: the Cleveland Browns

CREATING A WINNING CULTURe

3 Things You Can Learn From The Cleveland Browns

What I learned talking with the team before their big win on Sunday.

Changing the culture

The Cleveland Browns won big on Sunday – their first road win since 2015 and first back-to-back win since 2014.

What’s changed recently? The coaching staff, now led by interim Head Coach Gregg Williams, is creating a winning culture based on Discipline, Accountability, and Focus. The team is starting to believe.

His assessment of what had been undermining the Browns’ performance: it’s not the talent, it’s the culture that needed to be fixed.

I see many small businesses and nonprofits grapple with culture challenges, too. Gregg’s approach is very practical and effective.

Discipline, Accountability, and Focus have been his watchwords.

Gregg asked me to talk to the team about creating a winning culture on November 24th, the day before meeting their in-state rival in Cincinnati.

Discipline, Accountability, and Focus

I told the story of how Bulldog Troop went from being our most troubled team in 2005 to our best by 2007. This was thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Captains Nathan Springer and Tom Bostick.

Both of them believed in Discipline, Accountability, and Focus.

  1. Discipline: doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.
  2. Accountability: holding one another to the highest standard.
  3. Focus: every repetition, drill, decision matters. Make each one count.
Creating a winning culture

Do this 1-60-24. Make each 1 count, every minute, every hour. Turn these winning hours into winning days. Turn winning days into winning weeks. Turn winning weeks into winning months. That’s how an organization builds a winning culture.

And that’s exactly what Nathan Springer and Tom Bostick did.

This culture of winning was tested in Afghanistan, under dire circumstances. On July 27, 2007, Tom Bostick was killed in action leading his paratroopers during a massive firefight.

So many times, the loss of the leader in combat leads to a unit disintegrating. But not for B Troop. The lieutenants and sergeants took charge and continued taking the fight to the enemy. Their willingness to step up, believe in themselves and their training, and finish the fight saved many lives that day.

Joey Hutto continued this culture of winning when he took command of the Bulldogs. Based on what we learned, we adapted our strategy and began to win over the people. The result: a large insurgent group stopped fighting and eventually joined the Afghan government.

The insurgent leader and his men are now fighting on the side of the government against the Taliban. This outcome may be the biggest win since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

The Cleveland Browns could see themselves in this story. Their response was overwhelming. It gave them one more reason to believe their instincts: Discipline, Accountability, and Focus – 1-60-24 – is how teams create a winning culture.

The Browns are doing just that. It’s a long and bumpy road requiring persistence and hiring people who fit the culture.

Small businesses and nonprofits

How does this affect small businesses and nonprofits?

The words may be a little different, but the concept is the same.

  • Set clear expectations about performance and values (discipline)
  • Hold employees accountable to meet them
  • Be held accountable to your team for setting expectations, strategy, and development
  • Make every task and decision purposeful and make them count (focus)

Do that 1-60-24 and you will get a winning culture.

“The discipline has been great,” veteran center JC Tretter told the media Monday. “It’s something we desperately needed…[Williams] has reined everybody in and gotten everybody focused on one single goal.”

The level of clarity Gregg Williams achieves with his message of Discipline, Accountability, and Focus has given his team confidence and on-field competence. They are beginning to believe in themselves.

Your team can do the same.

 

How sustainable is your business or nonprofit? This chart will help

Is your business or nonprofit a zombie or a volcano?

Use this Simple Chart to find out and learn what to do about it.

Zombie or Volcano?

By the end of this article, you’ll be better positioned to answer three crucial strategic questions for your business or nonprofit:

  1. Is my organization sustainable?
  2. How can I realistically assess the situation and avoid confirmation bias?
  3. How can I frame my strategic options so that I make the best decisions?

Just about every small business owner and nonprofit leader I know is incredibly busy. You are so passionate that your work stops feeling like work and becomes a part of you. You love what you do and do what you love. But is there a downside?

As a matter of fact, there is. Leaders can get so caught up in their product, service, or cause that they become blind to the first strategic question: how sustainable is my business or nonprofit? Ignoring or avoiding this question can lead an organization to become a zombie (sleepwalking to failure) or a volcano (suffering catastrophic growth on the way to failure).

A zombie is an organization that is no longer increasing its revenue or expanding its impact. It is merely paying the bills and keeping the lights on until the money runs out. The problem, of course, is the drain of talent and resources entailed by clinging to the status quo. Zombies do not fail fast—they linger.

A volcano, on the other hand, is an organization that grows faster than it can manage. Often, leaders fail to recognize the problem until too late. They get distracted by the euphoria of success and drawn into the chaos that they fail to develop their leaders and systems to handle it. At some point, growth becomes unmanageable. A major crisis or scandal often breaks the organization.  

There are simple and common reasons for these problems.

Confirmation bias is one of them. This refers to the tendency to place excessive weight on data that conforms to our existing beliefs and to discount information that does not. Confirmation bias can help explain why nonprofits cling to causes that too few donors will support, and why businesses fixate on products and services too few customers want to buy.

It gets worse. Those with confirmation bias tend to dig-in their heels when confronted with disconfirming facts and information. Highly-selective data drives their decision-making. Like the sooth-sayers of old, people invested in the status quo may be at higher risk of searching the entrails for hidden messages that everything is fine.

The result: 50 percent of businesses are no longer around after five years and only 28 percent of nonprofits report any financial activity after ten years.

A disciplined look at the big picture may help leaders make better decisions.

This simple quad chart could be useful. The north-south axis depicts profitability: the + direction means revenues exceed expenses. The east-west axis is for impact. The + direction denotes the tangible impact on your cause or mission.  

Is Your Business or Nonprofit a Zombie or a Volcano?

Four strategic directions emerge from this quad chart. The upper right quadrant is the ☺ place. Solid revenues and clear impact give your organization a strong foundation for growth. The danger in this situation is growth beyond your ability to manage it – catastrophic growth.

To avoid that problem, you will need the right team in place and a sound strategy.

Within the upper left space is a situation in which revenues are ahead of expenses, but the actual impact of the product or service is unclear. This is a dangerous position because you may be tempted to hire more staff and commit more resources. If, after some time, you cannot clearly articulate your impact, then revenues are very likely to dwindle. This means layoffs and possible bankruptcy. One of my clients found himself in exactly this situation; saving and repositioning the business was painful but ultimately successful.

A sound strategy in this situation is to maintain your current scope and scale but fix how you measure and explain your impact of the mission or cause.

If that becomes impossible, then merge with another organization. The ideal time to do so is when you can bring substantial resources to bear. This gives you leverage and influence. Too many organizations make this decision too late and have little bargaining power.

The lower right is where many organizations turn into zombies. Your team is making an impact, you believe, but your revenues are insufficient. This may be the result of one or more problems. The way you are measuring and explaining impact, for instance, might not be convincing. Your strategy could be causing you to miss important shifts in the marketplace, or your business plan could be wasting time and resources on activities that are no longer valued.

Again, you have two options. First, try to fix what is impeding your progress. Get a comprehensive and thorough strategy review and organizational assessment to determine if the required changes are feasible. If yes, give yourself a decision-point for knowing when to move to the second strategy option: merge.

If you decide that your organization is unlikely to recover, your best option is to merge.

The lower left quadrant is the place – insufficient resources and impact. Your best option here is to harvest: shut down, learn from the experience, and begin again with something different. Failing fast successfully requires you to measure your revenues and impact from the very beginning and to set a decision-date to establish whether your business is viable.

This chart should be a part of every business or nonprofit strategy. It is a constant reminder to determine the compelling impact you are trying to make, measure it, and explain it clearly to your customers or donors. The aim is to create a virtuous cycle: compelling impact results in positive revenues and greater revenues lead to higher impact. When one or both of these elements is flatlining or declining, you need to diagnose the problem quickly and decide whether to improve your organization or close it down.

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business Leaders?

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business and Nonprofit Leaders?

Dear Business and Nonprofit Leaders,

Your instincts are right: many so-called battlefield lessons are useless for you and your team. Stories of hardship, heroism, and sacrifice might be inspiring, but their practical utility is often minimal. This is because those lessons haven’t been tailored to your organization’s needs.

Those of us offering insights from a military perspective must work harder to understand issues through your lens and present feasible, practical, and implementable ideas. Our failure to customize military leadership lessons to your needs has, understandably, resulted in waning enthusiasm. If the trend continues, the pendulum may complete its swing toward the view that military experience is interesting but irrelevant.

But battlefield lessons are useful to non-military contexts; the right framing just hasn’t been applied to them. Let’s take a few common examples and provide some simple ways to make them more relevant to you.

Staff Rides and Battlefield Tours.

Militaries have long used staff rides as part of leader education; I used them several times in my commands. A group of leaders or students studies a particular battle in advance and then takes a trip to the actual grounds to discuss what happened there, why it happened, and what lessons they can learn. Done correctly, staff rides can have a tremendous impact.

Battlefield tours for business leaders are less useful because they normally devolve into sightseeing. In most cases, the military tour guide explains in great detail what happened at each point in the battle and then challenges the audience to determine how to build agile leaders, good decision-makers, expert planners, and so forth. The absence of context and a clear connection to the audience’s contemporary challenges undermine the business utility of this leader development experience.

What to look for.

Find programs that focus on learning about you before offering advice. The best ones begin with an assessment that helps you and your leaders see your salient challenges and opportunities. Next, they should coordinate learning objectives and preparation work, such as readings and individual research. On the battlefield or historical site, the emphasis needs to be on linking key lessons to your business challenges.

Boot camps.

For the military, boot camps and other forms of initial entry training are essential parts of transforming civilians into soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. These intensive courses last several weeks and are often followed up by additional training before the service members arrive at their first organization. The development of military skills and values are essential for them to be able to function effectively in their first assignment. My initial training as an officer lasted nearly a year. Few businesses and nonprofits, of course, could devote even a fraction of that time for new employee education and training.

Leadership boot camps run by former service members may promise the same transformational results but in record time. Some leadership boot camps promise that a 3-day experience will result in a “quantum leap” in a leader’s performance. You know this is unlikely. Improvement is a long-term process that relies heavily on self-development: leaders sort through a wide array of concepts and ideas to determine what is most meaningful to them and then work on those attributes.

What to look for.

Assess what each workshop and boot camp is offering, and use common sense to determine its likely utility. These kinds of programs can be helpful, but anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Workshops can play an important role in your team’s development. The best programs customize their workshops to your organization’s particular needs and objectives. Doing these as a team can have a much higher payoff than individual leader’s programs.

The boot camp analogy can be very useful in discussions about culture, too. Boot camps are part of the military’s onboarding process; how your organization onboards new employees is equally essential to sustaining your culture. Programs that help you define your culture, hire talented people who fit, onboard to set them up for success and continue their development on the job are likely to help you achieve high levels of employee engagement. [Did you know, according to Gallup, that nearly 2 of every 3 employees in America reports being unengaged at work?]

Strategic Planning.

“Plans are nothing, planning is everything” World War II Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower famously remarked. Good commanders drive their staff to identify possible contingencies, threats, and opportunities, and have branch plans or sequels to address each one of them. The planning process, in
military parlance, is never completed. Commanders often get detailed playbooks that aid decision-making for every permutation a creative staff (the strategic planners) can possibly think of in the time they are given to think. The results are often impressive.

The desire to bring the military-planning process to a business context is understandable. There’s one problem: very few businesses in the world can afford to have highly-skilled people spending all their time making detailed plans about things that will probably never happen. In fact, most businesses and nonprofits outsource their strategic planning. Here’s what you normally get: highly detailed plans that few employees have time to read. There is little to no sense of ownership. Even worse, your situation may be so dynamic that detailed plans soon become irrelevant. It is no wonder then that, according to one estimate, 90 percent of business plans are not executed. They gather dust. This might not be a big problem for the military, but it is for you.

What to look for.

Businesses and nonprofits that want to grow sustainably need both a strategy and a plan. A strategy helps you understand your situation, select a way forward to meet your goals, and manage a dynamic environment—to know when to stay on course and when to change. A plan helps you coordinate the activities of your team to implement your chosen way forward. With the right guidance, the best plans are ones written by your own team. If they have authorship over the plan, they are more likely to own and execute it.

Bottom line: the strategic plan can be counterproductive – a sort of reverse Goldilocks: not quite a strategy, not quite a plan, just plain ignored. Develop a sensible strategy and then put together an implementation plan that your team owns.

Is military experience useless for businesses and nonprofits?

Not at all. In fact, they can become an essential tool for organizations that feel stuck, want to implement change, or are trying to manage unexpected growth. Breakthrough insights, many leaders find, come from looking at your challenges from different points of view. Battlefield lessons can expand your perspective – your mental framework – and enable you to connect ideas from a different context that help your team grow sustainably.

Self-awareness

PODCAST:

Self-Awareness – Where Leadership Begins


Self Awareness

“Know thyself.’ The ancient Greeks were telling themselves and can tell us today, that by knowing ourselves, we get to know our natural inclinations and our natural strengths so that we can put ourselves in a position to succeed. And at the same time have the humility to recognize that others have different inclinations and strengths. By putting together the right combinations of people, that are tied together by a common purpose, that is what leads to the best results.”

Why Is Self-Awareness Important?

“When you know yourself, there are a number of things that awareness empowers you to do. First of all, it empowers you to put the right people around you. I, for instance, need detail people around me, and those are the first people that I seek out. With the right people, you can amplify your strengths or natural inclinations, and you can also cover your blind spots.”

What Are the Key Lessons?

1. Through self-awareness, you get to know your natural inclinations and natural strengths so that you can put yourself in a position to succeed.

2. Put your top talent in positions that best suit their inclinations and they are going to make the biggest impact on the business.

3. Surround yourself with the right people and you can amplify your strengths, your natural inclinations, and you can also cover your blind spots.

4. When hiring someone, more important than their skills are how they fit within the company culture. You can teach people skills, but what you can’t train is culture.

Listen to Chris’s Entire Podcast

bullying in the workplace

Respect: It’s time to talk at work about bullying and assault

Respect

I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback to my story about being bullied by peers and sexually assaulted by priests as a teenager.

Several women shared their own harrowing and heartbreaking memories. A number of men came forward, too. Some shared their realities of being violated by people in positions of power or authority, others by peers and teammates.

My list is full of extraordinary leaders – veterans, diplomats, scholars, caregivers, advocates, reporters, humanitarians, nonprofit and business leaders, moms and dads, sons and daughters –  too many of whom had experiences like I did. If you would like to hear me talk in more depth about my personal experience, listen to episode 712 of Don Hutcheson’s Discover Your Talent podcast.

Those who responded with their own stories discussed the inner struggles they faced. They told of the triggers that brought forward the searing memories (the Penn State Sandusky scandal was one of mine) and the helpful and unhelpful ways they tried to deal with them. Each one of them found solace in writing things out.  

I was struck, particularly, by just how pervasive and underreported the abuse has been.

Leaders need to have the emotional courage to address bullying and sexual assault. This means doing something more meaningful and impactful than issuing policy letters and having people undergo sensitivity training. Addressing sexual harassment, according to one study, is the #1 workplace trend for 2017.

It means walking the talk. While this does not require sharing personal anguish, leaders need to convey clearly and personally their commitment to respect.

Here are some practical ways to do that:

  • Start a professional reading program that includes articles or books that address these issues. First of all, employees and supervisors overwhelmingly note that such programs, if done authentically and consistently, are 1) valuable to their professional development; 2) make them more effective at work; and 3) show that the organization cares about them. Second, reading the experiences of others can give people safe ways of thinking about and discussing sensitive topics, and also help increase empathy.
  • Hire people who will advance your culture of respect. It’s safe to assume that everyone is going to be nice during an interview. Few people are likely to list as references people they bullied. But did you notice how the candidate treated the janitor? Did the candidate pick up towels on the bathroom floor or leave them? How people treat others, especially those who the person believes can do nothing for them professionally, speaks volumes. How an individual demonstrates care (or lack thereof) for common areas is also telling.
  • Zero-tolerance for bullies and bigots. We have zero tolerance policies for problems like corruption, lying, stealing, malpractice, and malfeasance. Expand that to include disrespect. Employers who look the other way often find that the price of tolerating a bully or bigot was too high.

Our short video on leadership principles Trustworthiness, Respect, and Stewardship provides a good gateway into the discussion.

Good character is developed over time through habituation—the traits that make us who we are come from habits we’ve acquired. The same is true for bad character. Leaders need to take a stand early on by calling out bad behavior and preventing that from becoming the norm.

Moreover, by shining a light on issues like bullying and assault, leaders can create a culture within which individuals feel empowered to report abuse and potential predators know the severe consequences they will face if they hurt others.

 

RESPECT:
No one should have to learn perseverance from being assaulted or bullied

Chris Kolenda and Jeh Johnson

Respect

Respect is the conviction, reflected in action, that each person is equal and deserves to be treated with dignity. People may differ in their capabilities, limitations, experiences, and contributions, but no person is more or less worthy than another.

Many Americans were transfixed by the searing testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh on September 27. Politics aside, I hope we can agree that no one should be subjected to sexual assault, bullying, or other predatory or indecent behavior.

I was a scrawny, awkward, and shy high schooler. I was bullied relentlessly and was sexually assaulted by two priests. I vowed that I would never let that happen again. Much of my professional life has been subconsciously driven by this need to empower myself and protect others.

Listen to my full podcast interview

For the most part, this drive has been meaningful, productive, and impactful. The Army was a place I could thrive. I learned how to protect myself. I took on the toughest demands. Sometimes, as a sophomore at West Point, I was a jerk. I said and did plenty of dumb things. But I learned there that bringing the best out in people does not come from berating them; it comes from good leadership.

Being a good leader begins with being trustworthy and respectful. Only when a leader acts on those values will people be willing to follow.

Life lesson

A leader can be tough and have high standards without being a jerk.

People can sense respect, or lack of it, right away. Among the best examples in my life are former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (pictured above), West Exec Co-Founder Michèle Flournoy, and General Stanley McChrystal. Each of these leaders gives their undivided attention to the people they speak with. In years of interactions, I’ve never seen them multi-task while talking with someone – no checking phones, reading papers or whispering to aides.

This act of focused attention subtly conveys that they value the other person.

Sexual harassment, misogyny, racism, bigotry, and the like are anathema to a culture of respect. They lead to a toxic work environment. Such treatment can have devastating effects on people. Think about the worst leaders you have ever known. Yes, we remember the awful ones for the rest of our lives. There is a good chance that these were people who treated you and others disrespectfully.

The workplace effects can be highly damaging, too. Uber lost roughly $30 billion in valuation after reports of sexual harassment, bullying, and other problems became public. Oxfam’s reputation and donor support took major hits when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Too often, leaders rationalize abusive leadership as necessary to get results. These examples show the flaws in that thinking. It’s like taking drugs that may boost some aspects of performance but ultimately kill you.

Lack of respect leads to high rates of employee disengagement and turnover. According to Gallup, roughly 67 percent of employees surveyed reported being unengaged at work. That means two out of every three employees is physically present but not contributing to the mission and vision.

Turnover leads to greater costs in hiring and training new employees. The revolving door impedes momentum and impact.

Action points

Put away the smartphone and give your employees, clients, and others your undivided attention.

When hiring, look for cues that communicate whether the candidate treats people respectfully. You can train skills but not character.

Get toxic leaders out of your organization. Some may get you short-term results, but they are likely to hurt your team and organization in the long-term.