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April 2010

Work-Life Balance? Not in this case!

We hear a lot about work-life balance. It is a popular topic for employees and employers alike and is a major concern for employers who are looking to build employee engagement.

For me, the term work-life balance invokes mixed feelings. The concept behind it cannot be faulted but the phrase itself is unfortunate. It implies that you only really start to live outside of your work and thus creates a segregation that is totally inappropriate. Jim Rohn once said, "Here's the goal of the human adventure: the full development of all your potential." Given that most of us spend close to 50% of our waking life at work, work thus has to be a major contributor to our fulfilling our potential. You cannot hope to achieve this if you regard work as something that is separate from life. 

In order to have a more fulfilling life, your work has to be something that allows you to develop both as an individual and as a social contributor. Only then can you really begin to come close to fulfilling your potential and "making a difference" that enables you to feel that your life is worthwhile.

So just check out the following tragic story of someone who got it totally wrong. The story is literally incredible, and as you read it you ask yourself, "How could this have happened?"  Yet it appears to be totally true. And as you reflect on the tragedy of his personal life, you find yourself asking further questions, like:

  • What sort of organisation is this?
  • How can people work there?
  • What kind of people do work there?
  • Did nobody care for this poor fellow?
  • In our regimented, working lives have we lost all other primary senses (such as the sense of smell?)

It definitely does not sound like a contender for "best company to work for" and for me as a passionate believer in the organisation as a team it is anathema. But it shows just how soulless work can become and how easy it is to get the balance wrong. Let it be a lesson to us all! We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our successors to change the workplace so things like this never happen again!    

   Dying on the job

Leading Without a Title

Round table meeting Never under-estimate the power of your own thinking and how it shapes your experience. It is the root of synchronicity. Let me share a personal example.

A couple of weeks ago I challenged the statement "Strong leadership is dependent on employee engagement." It seemed to me that it put the cart before the horse. Certainly employee engagement is dependent on strong leadership but the opposite? Well, both my own thinking and some of the responses in the various forums where I posed the question, showed that it depended on the definition of leadership. Despite my fundamental philosophy I had fallen into the trap of equating leadership with authority! 

If people are taking responsibility for their own lives then they are showing leadership and this is certainly dependent on their engagement. That is why it is called "distributed leadership" when everyone in an organisational shows such initiative, and why employee engagement is such a hot issue. And creating distributed leadership and employee engagement is of course what Zealise is all about. So it was extremely galling to realise that I had been guilty of such a limited view of leadership. All I can say in my defence is that it shows just how deeply embedded in our psyche this concept of leaders as figures of authority is. So how do we break out of it?

Well for me part of the answer came in a book, "The Leader Who Had No Title" by Robin Sharma. I do not propose to write a review of the book here. Suffice to say that I found it totally inspiring and something that I would heartily recommend to anyone - and everyone! Perhaps quoting a few of the statements that struck such chord with me will help you understand. 

"Personal energy is the single most valuable asset in business today."

"Potential unrealised turns to pain"

"Being extraordinary in your work is one of the key secrets of happiness."   

"Life is too big to play small."

"Being great at business is all about a glorious focus on people."

"An unbeatable organisation is really nothing more than a series of great relationships."

"An excellent organisation is really just a cluster of people showing personal excellence in all they do."

However, the statement that sums it all up best is probably this one: "There's only one way a business will win in this new world we're in ... growing and developing the leadership talent of every person throughout the organisation faster than the competition."

Of course you're not surprised that this resonates with me. After all it is my perpetual theme. You may, however, be wondering where the synchronicity comes in? Well if there isn't enough for you in the timing of this book, how about this article in Think BIg magazine "Work as Self Expression" which landed on my desk only this morning? Clearly this is an idea whose time has come and we are not alone in trying to create a workplace that better meets the world's needs.   

Leader or Boss (Manager)

Short and sweet today! Just check out this link for something that says a leader does not need a title so much better than I ever could! Perhaps then you could share examples of the leader versus manager contrasts you have experienced in your life, and the difference they made in the way you felt and how you responded. Or give us your definition of a true leader, and explain why you believe that is what constitutes true leadership.

The Employee Engagement/Leadership Link

"Strong leadership, as studied by Goleman and Boyatzis et al, is dependent on effective employee engagement." This statement, published in HR Magazine yesterday, stopped me in my tracks. 

As a result, I have posted it in a number of forums to see what others make of it. 

Certainly it seems to me that the dependency here has been completely inverted. Surely employee engagement is the consequence rather than the cause of effective leadership (rather than "strong leadership")? Is it not? I just cannot imagine the quality of leadership improving because people are more engaged. Can you?  Now, I wouldn't for a moment argue with anyone who told me that the quality of leadership had an effect on employee engagement and hence on results but this is just the opposite.

The only way the statement can be true is if the word leadership is used in a wider, more liberal context to refer to the collective leadership that happens when everyone in the organisation is empowered to use their own discretion. Please tell me that is the case! Because if not, the HR profession is promoting and buying into empty solutions. And if that is so, the problem of employee engagement is never going to be solved. 

Talent Management: An Urgent Need for a Strategic Rethink!

The October 2009 Towers Perrin report, "Managing Talent in Tough Times: A Tipping Point for Talent Management?" makes for very interesting reading. For starters the first exhibit shows the main strategic actions planned over the next 18 months. The list makes for interesting reading and identifies the major strategies as being:

  • Significant expense reduction (74%)
  • Small-scale targeted reduction in workforce (64%)
  • Expansion into new product/service lines (57%)
  • Expansion into new geographic markets (53%)
  • Significant change in organisational structure (45%)
  • Medium or small-scale merger or acquisition (39%)
  • Major shift in business strategy 21%
  • Significant outsourcing/offshoring of operations (16%)
  • Large scale merger or acquisition (14%)
  • Large scale work-force reduction (12%)

Of course every one of these impacts on employees and depends on their committed support for success. Yet there is nothing in these strategic actions to suggest that this is being addressed, and that despite the fact that employee engagement is recognised to be one of the major management challenges you currently face.

And if talent management is being held up as the answer, then it certainly looks like it is one that is doomed to failure - at least in its current guise. Why? Well for starters there seems to be no clearly agreed definition of who or what talent actually is. This is explicitly stated in a paragraph entitled "Who is Talent" that states, "As the workplace becomes more diverse and the workforce more mobile, the definition of talent is broadening well beyond the traditional focus on top management."

In fact the survey identifies the following employee segments as talent:

  • Senior Leadership (66%)
  • Those with leadership potential at mid-level (62%)
  • Higher performers (58%)
  • Key contributors/technical experts (49%)
  • Roles critical to delivering the business strategy (46%)
  • Those with skills in short supply and high demand (42%)
  • The entire workforce (36%)
  • Those with leadership potential at entry level (33%)

Particularly interesting is the fact that 36% of the respondents consider talent to be "the entire workforce." This demands an entirely different management approach to the more narrow definitions. The latter effectively divides the workforce into two distinct classes: those who are talented and those who are not. This will inevitably breed an innate apartheid that will undermine all efforts to improve employee engagement and subtly sabotage performance.

This has to be recognised AND immediate strategic action taken to embed it into the organisational culture. That is the only way to address the employee engagement issue and ensure sustainability and strategic success.