Checking in, not checking up

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Been a busy few days for ye olde BadConsultant, launching DidWe.net (I’ll be posting about that in the coming days).

DidWe very much builds upon the Strengths Springboard, which I created last year. At that time, I couldn’t quite be as transparent as I generally aim to be, so it was the Strengths Springboard was something of a soft launch. Now that I’m unfettered and free, I thought I’d share some of that document here to level-set the group-tipping-point

[misused hyphens are cool]

as it really is the distillation of much of what I write about here at BadConsultant.

So, without further ado

[and definitely without annotations and formatting gorgeousness you can get at the linked PDF]

from ‘The Strengths Springboard – is your organization ready?’ I present ‘Checking in, not checking up’.

***************

Hopefully by now, I’ve managed to convince just one little corner of your thoughts that if you get a clear, specific focus on customers and the outcomes that are meaningful/critical to them, then encourage colleagues to first meet and then exceed outcome-driven performance standards, you’ll begin to create an environment where strengths-based working can flourish.

Play it right and you will see a virtuous cycle begin to form: Aspire à Succeed à Aspire à Succeed à Etc.

But that doesn’t mean that the cycle will be self-fulfilling, or maintenance free. It’s true that, in some rare organizations, a control-free culture has been created but none of us should be naïve enough to believe that a quick flip of the Strengths Springboard switch will magically change a century’s-worth of the ‘modern’ organization.

We have to change the nature of performance relationships – particularly that of the manager-colleague.

First, let’s speak openly of beliefs that are enshrined in the ‘modern’ organization: Theory X & Y. McGregor proposed this motivation theory in the 1960’s and it has become so deeply baked into subsequent theory, management science and practice to be taken for reality.

The ‘modern’ organization built its Taylorist utopia on the Theory X assumption that employees were lazy, work-avoiding, ambitionless drones that had to be energized, organized and controlled by the manager.

In Theory Y organizations, however, employees were seen as desirous of self-fulfillment, aspirational, seeking opportunities, ready to learn and… well… strengths-based, I guess.

Which leaves managers with a choice – to be either a Theory X or Y manager. The difference?

·       A Theory X manager checks-up on her direct reports (i.e. doesn’t trust them to deliver on their commitments and therefore manages their work).

·       A Theory Y manager checks-in with her direct reports (i.e. trusts them to deliver and offers support to their efforts).

The trick here is to recognize that, while managers need to be a bit of both, if you truly pursue the Strengths Springboard, the Theory Y approach will be much, much more prevalent.

Checking-in, not checking-up.

Strengths-based working benefits from strengths-based management.

That seems pretty common-sensible to me.

But this paper isn’t about strengths-based management directly – once again, I recommend Marcus Buckingham’s outstanding work on that subject. Remember the Strengths Springboard is about the organization’s belief system. How can we gear the system to help a manager see why the nuance in belief is important?

Theory X – given a chance, employees are a net drain on the organization.

Theory Y – given a chance, employees create value for the organization.

Perhaps looking at the value created by each employee will help build the case for Theory Y beliefs.

To do this, we’ll make use of GAAP data published on any publicly-listed company. Here’s the equation:

Value Created per Employee ($) =

Gross Revenue – Operating Costs

Number of Employees

What’s great about this equation is that it recognizes that there are costs associated with employees, but that for those costs there is a return on investment. It’s almost the perfect equation for symbolizing business intent.

1.     Are we growing revenue?

2.     Are we managing cost?

3.     Are we optimizing each employee?

Let’s take a look at an example using figures quoted on Yahoo!

Intel Corp

2008 Gross Revenue:                 $37.6 b

2008 Operating Expenses:                       $27.9 b

2008 Number of Employees:        82,500

2008 Value Created per Employee = $117,139

Some others:

·       Whirlpool Corporation =       $10,429

·       GE =                   $175,610

·       Google =                   $328,902

Thinking in terms of Value Created per Employee begins to position the time spent with employees not as a Theory X “get their lazy butts moving” but instead very much more along the lines of a Theory Y “I am investing in an asset that is capable and willing to grow”. Indeed, a manager of 10 direct reports at Intel in 2008 could be described as managing a value portfolio of $1.1 million.

Have you ever thought about a manager as an investment professional?

Checking-in, not checking-up. How are my investments doing? Active portfolio management. All of it comes into play once value is on the table.

Now, let’s add one more spin of the wheel in regards to checking in.

Theory X assumes that the organization owns, and is stuck with, the colleague. But remember the stats relating to Free Agent Nation that I described earlier. When 30% of the US workforce is self-employed, choosing to be freelance, how exactly does any manager or organization hope to perpetuate a Theory X belief system?

When the worker is choosing to deploy their talent, you’d better not be checking-up on delivery. When the worker knows by the very nature of the employment relationship that they are a competent, proud professional, there really is no space for pseudo-parental checking-up shenanigans. In the Free Agent scenario, it really is time for mutual respect. It really is time for Theory Y.

So, get your managers positioned as investment professionals, focused on making the performer successful and maximizing the return on investment. Teach them to be active portfolio managers. Celebrate those who increase the return on investment – measured increase in meaningful outcomes coupled to increased engagement – through an action-based approach to strengths development.

Checking-in, not checking-up.

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