Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Motivation, Engagement, and Leadership

One of the hardest things about my job is maintaining engagement and motivation in my team.

I'm sure many of you are nodding in agreement.  People are the hardest part of any leadership job, and for people like me who rose through the technical ranks people are a whole lot different to engage than routers, switches, servers, and SANs.

I know everyone has a story about the temperamental server that, if ignored, would slowly fail but with a little TLC and a periodic check would run happily forever.  There may even be a lesson inside those experiences.

My CIO is one of those rarefied technology people who can actually give a sense of warmth, closeness, and caring.  You can feel that she sincerely cares about the people around her.  In our staff meetings, we make time to talk about our company and organizational culture; the company's social contract and our perspectives on what the contract is telling us.  A few weeks ago she shared this link with us and asked for our perspective:

Is Your Company Culture Affecting Your Employee Engagement?

I read this article several times, picking up on new ideas both from the article and how companies are following, or not following, the principles presented.  As I thought about this article and looked back on back to presentations from CEOs, I remembered one of Flip Flippen's mantras for The Flippen Group: No organization can rise above the constraints of its leadership.

Employee engagement is inherently limited by the personality of company leadership.  That made me think about some of the ideas I'd heard from CEOs:

"A" people hire "A" people.  "B" people hire "C" people.

This CEO explained their perspective that "A" people were the top-level performers in the organization, the 5% doing 50% of the work.  "B" people were the 9-to-5 workers, the one who punch the clock and get a paycheck, fulfilling and even excelling at their duties but generally not exceeding them.  "C" people were the one barely scraping the minimums of their duties in quantity or quality, resulting in the need for additional work to complete tasks.

The CEO's view was that "A" players wanted to be surrounded by other "A" players, focused on accomplishing goals through whatever investment needed to get there.  "B" players didn't want to be shown up, such they would hire "C" players to ensure they looked good compared to others.  "C" players were of limited to no value.

He coached his leadership team to focus on the "A" people, work to eliminate the "C" people, and limit the influence of the "B" people.

I want my leaders to be aggressive, taking business away from our competition.

This CEO expressed that his ideal leadership team was made up of highly competitive, highly aggressive leaders.  He wanted a leadership team focused on wresting away business from the competition, taking calculated risks to attack the sales positions of competition and gain favorable market share.

This leader made it a point to talk about business ethics, focusing on the need to earn and retain business based on acceptable practices, a point he recognized as necessary given the highly aggressive nature of his team as they used (almost) any means necessary to gain the upper competitive hand.

I want Type A people, self-starters who seize problems and push people to drive them to conclusion.

This CEO explained that Type A personalities were the ones that got things done.  He coached his leadership on how to be Type A, how to identify a Type A player, and how to develop and promote Type A players into leadership positions.  It was his goal to build a team full of Type A people who wouldn't pause in the pursuit of company objectives.

Type B players, by contrast, were needed to do daily work, but the lack of pure drive for accomplishment meant they were best relegated to less senior positions.  The CEO coached his leadership to help develop assertiveness and need for achievement as a requisite for advancement into leadership of the company.

So, to be honest, I'd been affected by each of these presentations.  I let myself be somewhat swept up in their (much better presented) points of view.  Organizations are all about accomplishing goals, achieving new things.  By extension, clearly things like drive, assertiveness, aggressiveness, were the traits that made such possible.

I reflected on myself and others - am I an "A" player?  Are my team "A" players?  Am I aggressive enough?  Am I Type A?

For those of you at home keeping score:
- "A" Player: Not my call, but my leadership consistently says "yes"
- Aggressive: I have a small aggressiveness pool, which I tend to only I feel backed into a corner.
- Type A: No.  I'm a Type B.  One word: reflective.

My CIO sends this article, and I start to think.  29% of workers are actively engaged.  What percentage of the population is an "A person", "Aggressive / Competitive", and "Type A" (or could coach themselves to be close)?

I bet it's less than 29%.

I bet most companies are burning the Type A wick to cover their big productivity needs; a select few companies are figuring out how to unlock the other 71%+.

The comments from those CEOs show how a leader can hold back an organization.  You can't build a team of high-drive, high-aggressive, high completion-oriented people and expect it to stick together.  Such organizations are powder kegs; the explosions can be somewhat directed to rapidly accomplish a goal, but the harm the explosions cause results in those organizations splintering and failing to produce long-term results.

Start-ups are a great example.  Sudden bang, then wholesale replacement of staff and leadership to turn rapid initial progress into long-term value.  Failure to bring in long-term, sustainable staff will reduce value to the point of either company failure or acquisition for intellectual property rather than inherent value.

No one wants to buy a company that relies solely on overworking and stressing staff to accomplish its goals.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  So it is, or should be, in business.  Sprints may deliver an initial victory - assuming the finish line is close enough - but the marathon runner will ultimately surpass the sprinter's accomplishments and deliver victories over and over again.

The article made me realize that the long-term success of a company really comes down to the diversity of its leadership, a diversity that must be as broad as the people who work for that leadership.  Each employee needs different treatment and handling to coax the best out of each of them, and only complete appreciation and understanding will accomplish that goal.

So what does this mean?

The value of an individual is not based on easy-to-define categories.  There's no single magic formula for a high-performance team, or a high-performance individual - because there's no single formula for a person or team who can transform to be high performance.

The magic is awareness.  Be aware of the strengths and limitations of each employee.  Be aware of what motivates each employee.  Be aware of how each employee reacts and responds to work, life, and circumstance.

Be aware of how your statements and actions influence your employees; in other words, be aware of how your leadership may be inhibiting the growth and future of your employees.

Stay engaged with your team.  Build a means to communicate.  Use that opportunity to give feedback, good and constructive.  Use each individual's strengths to help them grow, adapt to manage their vulnerabilities to limit their impact on the future.

And don't be part of their problem.  No organization can rise above the constraints of its leader, and no member of a team can rise above the constraints of their organization.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BMW Drivers Suck

That's right.  BMW drivers suck.  All of you.

I was riding with our normal Tuesday/Thursday group south on White Chapel Boulevard near Bob Jones Park.  Our group is pretty orderly (well, usually), and that day we were riding downright politely.  We had a nice single-file line moving up the road, with the lead rider pulling off to the left in a slow rotation.

If you're not familiar with this area, which many of you probably are not, this section of White Chapel Boulevard is a 30mph two-lane country road with 2-6" of shoulder right of the white line.  It provides access to neighborhoods north of TX114 near the south side of Lake Grapevine.  Since these neighborhoods do provide access back to the south, it's not technically dead-end, but the road is only useful as access to those neighborhoods.

It has a huge park with ballfields and soccer fields (football, for the rest of the world), playground, a dog park, and miles of lakeside hiking trails.  It has two schools along it, horse farms, and lots of open space.

In other words, a perfect road for bicyclists.  Out of the way, quiet, pretty, and lined with facilities that encourage outdoor sports and activities.

So we're riding this road, as we do every Tuesday and Thursday.  There's a mean little hill that rises out of a creek bottom perhaps a quarter mile from the elementary school.  There's always south wind in Texas, and this is a southbound section of road.  It's not a big climb (this is Texas), but it's punishing and we tend to ramp up the effort to make up for the lack of pitch or length.

I'm leading the single-file pack up this hill.  I've hit my limit for suffering, so I wheel off to the left, letting the next rider continue the push as I slide backwards relative to the line to find an open spot.

We're probably only doing 20mph or so.  We may be quick, but we're not world class.

I get about 3 wheels back when a BMW 760LI blows by me, engine roaring as the driver accelerates hard.

When I say he blow by me - and I assume it was a "he", it's a typically male car, being driving in an escalated-testosterone-level way - I mean he passes me with inches to spare.

And when I said inches, I mean precious few inches.

I have the image of the passenger mirror missing my handlebars by such a small margin that I had cognitive dissonance - I was still upright, but my conscious was curiously thinking I was flying through the air.  The blast of air of the 50mph car (in the aforementioned 30mph zone) probably augmented the reality.

As I say: BMW drivers suck.  All of them.

Sadly (and, perhaps, funny at the same time), many of my cycling friends are nodding their heads in agreement.  There's no doubt that the, shall we say, "more financially endowed classes" are more likely to treat vulnerable road users (like cyclists) like scum.

(Transparency: My wife and I just bought a Mercedes-Benz.  A *used* MB.  6 years old, because we can't afford a new one.  And we hope it doesn't break down because we can barely afford to fix this one.)

But that's an aside; not just a statement about BMWs, but a statement about many premium brand owners.  I'm talking about BMW owners.  They suck.


Of course not.  There's clearly at least one BMW driver that sucks.  One BMW driver that has no respect for other's life or well-being.  One BMW driver defines all BMW drivers.

Unfortunately, like most people, cyclists tend to unfairly lump people into groups.  I've done it at least twice in this post, and I'm about to let loose with a little bit of our little "club's" prejudices.

Our perspective is different from most, which makes for interesting conversation.

I've had fewer little problems with people who are in the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.  For whatever reason, those drivers tend to make room and be in less of a rush.  This seems to cut across almost every race and creed.

There are a lot of Mexicans and Central Americans in Texas, and from a cycling perspective I'm glad.  There's no doubt that some look at me funny, but they are absolutely respectful on the roads.  When I see them working as landscaping / lawn crews, they go so far as pause work and slow their weed-whackers, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers so I don't get a blast of clippings as I pass.  (That happened again last night - some people are awesome.)

Don't worry.  The local Caucasians make up for it - except for country folk.

I have few problems when riding around the country.  If anything, country folk are the people I enjoy riding around the most, aside from their absolute passivity when driving.  I've had farmers and ranchers sit 100' off my wheel for minutes waiting for a passing opportunity delivered on a golden platter accompanied by light from the heavens and angels singing.

That does not apply to certain groups of rednecks, however, who seem to relish the opportunity to throw objects, buzz, or belch fume-laden diesel smoke on anyone that triggers their feelings of inadequacy.

Rock haulers are downright scary.  I think drivers would agree with me.  Frac trucks aren't much better.

I have never once had a negative encounter with anyone remotely resembling a Muslim.  Never.  Every single case has been respectful.

But with that in mind, there are places where I feel more in control of my survival during rush hour than I do on Sunday mornings before church.  Between the relatively poor driving of older folk (which I'm rapidly becoming) and some "God will be PISSED if I don't run down this cyclist who could make me late to church!" mentality, certain roads can be downright dangerous.

That's right.  Practicing Christians are part of the problem.

And that brings it back full circle to our BMW driver.  BMW drivers suck.

I know it's not fair, and perhaps that's precisely the point.  If you don't like how you, or your "group", are perceived, change it.  If you don't like how you're lumped into a "group", don't do it yourself.

And, please, don't drive like an asshole.  Thanks.