Archive for May, 2008

Servant Leadership

As a software development company, most of our leadership comes and continues to be farmed from the best ranks of engineers. The benefit of this is that those taking on the responsibility of leadership also understand the many technical requirements and processes involved in our development life-cycle. However, what is missing and probably has been missed throughout the various careers of many of our great engineering/leadership minds is real leadership learning.

Traditionally, we learn leadership from those we follow. Rare is it, for those of us who lead, to have had formal leadership training or good leadership role models during our careers. Basically, we just “wing it”. We go with our gut, common sense, and lead as we have been led. But are our instincts and assumptions right? Do they produce the results we really want?

Today we hear more and more about the “new” concept of servant leadership. Actually, it is not really new at all. Servant leadership has roots going back to the beginning of man. I’ll spare you the biblical history lesson for now. The idea of servant leadership is that of leaders doing what it takes to help employees succeed. It also involves, among many other practices, including those we lead in the goals and future success of the organization. The servant leader asks, “what can I do to help you succeed in your job, or reach your goals.

The top down leader dictates commands and sets goals in his or her own leadership vacuum. Examples of the dictator style, or more accurately, Theory X style (Douglas McGregor’s Theory X & Theory Y) of leadership can be found throughout history on the battle field and in the preparation for those great battles fighting for the causes of tyranny or liberty. The heat of battle dictates commands be given and commands be carried out without question as there is not time for a participatory management style when others are trying to kill you or sack your city.

But in the workplace, we as leaders should continually ask ourselves and learn why people come here to work. Then, we should trust them to do good work, to be creative, innovative, and make good decisions for the good of the organization. Will mistakes happen? You bet. Will we recover from them? I believe we almost always will when they are mistakes made with good intent for the organization, its customers, and the employees we serve. Should we hold people accountable for these mistakes? Of course, but we should also be careful not to confuse control with accountability. What you control too tightly, you kill. What you encourage and measure, you grow. So if you have been winging it or over the years of your leadership career or you have been duplicating the poor to mediocre leadership practices of others, you should ask next, “How do I become more learned in the best practices in leadership?

The answer for now:

  1. Read a book on leadership every month
  2. Learn more about servant leadership and why it works in the corporate world
  3. Find a servant leadership roll-model, mentor, or coach
  4. Begin to take more interest in the employees you serve
  5. And, continue to read The Spoon and stay tuned for future, leadership learning opportunities.
Categories: leadership

Ask Yourself, "Am I Too Tactical?"

Survey: Many Leadership Development Programs Too Tactical
By Pamela Babcock, published in 05/27/08

If your leadership development training does little more than fill your head with minutiae about plodding through pesky performance issues, handling workplace conflict and other tactical initiatives, you’re not alone.

Most development programs focus narrowly on day-to-day operational issues and are woefully lacking in ways to instill in business leaders more strategic skills such as how to communicate vision or delegate responsibility, according to a recent study by Boston-based global consulting firm Novations Group.

“The findings point to the biggest challenge facing career-minded managers, [which is] how to move beyond being the expert to becoming a true leader,” says Novations CEO and President Mike Hyter. “This isn’t just a shift in skills, but a fundamental change in perspective—delegating with care, but taking the department, or division or organization in a clear direction.”
When asked which areas are addressed by their company’s leadership development program, top responses were coaching a performance problem (71.9 percent); communicating performance standards (69.1 percent); coaching a development opportunity (68.7 percent); conducting a performance appraisal (66.8 percent); and handling conflict situations (65.9 percent).

More strategic areas were among those least focused on. Those areas include change management (45.2 percent); acting on feedback (44.7 percent); teaching a skill and delegating responsibility (39.6 percent); and influencing internal resources (34.6 percent).
For the study, an Internet survey of 2,556 senior HR and training and development executives throughout the U.S. and Canada was conducted in December 2007.

Strategic Thinking Doesn’t Happen Overnight
It turns out that not only can leadership development training be focused too much on routine rather than strategic issues—it also can be too generic.
A 2007 study by The Forum Corp., a Boston-based company that works with Fortune 1000 companies to develop leaders’ strategic abilities, found that most leaders weren’t equipped with the skills needed to execute their companies’ growth strategies.
Forum Corp.’s research found that the skill development needed depends on the strategy being pursued.

“While there is a core group of leadership skills, there are also specific skills that leaders should use when leading an organic growth strategy that are significantly different than those they should use when they’re leading a [merger and acquisition] growth strategy,” says Ed Boswell, chief executive officer of The Forum Corp. The problem, he notes, is that most companies don’t account for these distinctions and therefore leaders are ill-equipped.

Aarti Thapar, managing consultant for PA Consulting Group’s Business Transformation Practice in New York, says it’s key to get the business basics down before you can focus effectively on the strategic elements. “If the business units [don’t believe] that operational elements are being effectively conducted, it will be hard to get credibility to focus on the strategic aspects,” she says.
She recommends using business partner training to build strategic capabilities in organizational diagnosis; influencing, coaching and facilitation; transformational change management; commercial management; and technical capabilities such as employee relations, rewards and talent development.

Sometimes, business partners need to be convinced that a leader is ready to take on strategic, rather than tactical, roles. Jean Houston Shore, a management consultant with Business Resource Group in Roswell, Ga., says an organization she worked with was able to build its HR leader’s strategic skills by renegotiating and enforcing boundaries with other departments. The leader was constantly being pulled into meetings to manage tactical issues when processes were already in place to handle those issues at a different level.

“The leader realized that he needed to build up the subordinate employees’ reputations within the company so that outside departments wouldn’t feel they had to involve him in order to get things resolved,” Shore explains. “He began to actively promote the capabilities of his department to others and vowed to stop getting in the way of the work. It took time, but some of the fire-fighting went away and morale in his department improved.”

Shore says one way HR and other business leaders can learn to think strategically is to verbalize multiple options and points of view.

“Habitually recognizing the various stakeholders in any situation and being flexible enough to see many perspectives develops the leader’s ability to back away from problems at hand,” she says. “The big picture then becomes clearer.”

Several other habits separate strategic thinkers from tactical ones, says Kaihan Krippendorff, a former McKinsey & Co., consultant and New York-based author who has worked to build strategic thinking skills with HR professionals at Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Fidelity.

• They spend more time discussing possible solutions rather than discussing problems. “While more novice strategists will hold conversations filled with comments like ‘what is wrong with our shipping time?’, experienced strategists move more quickly to comments like ‘maybe we should outsource shipping,’ ” Krippendorff says.
• They think strategically about the dynamics behind getting buy-in. That means figuring out whom they should convince of their idea first, who they should get on board second, and so on “so that by the time she presents her idea everyone has already bought in,” he says.
• They tell memorable stories that influence listeners. “Wrap your strategy in a compelling story that draws people in and pushes the right buttons so that they cannot resist supporting you,” Krippendorff says.

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

Postscript: One of our goals in employee development at Double-Take will be to help leaders learn to move more to strategic leadership and empower and delegate to others to more of tactical.

Categories: leadership

You Mean I Have to Talk to Them?

Press Release, found in Inside Edge, Inside Indiana Business eNewsletter 05/19/08

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Keeping workers happy is an issue many employers struggle with, but a Purdue University professor says creating a harmonious workplace starts with good communication.

“The number one cause of employee turnover is a lack of organizational commitment, and the way you establish commitment is through effective communication,” says Rodney Vandeveer, an associate professor of organizational leadership and supervision. “When people are informed, they feel connected and valued and want to invest more effort into the company.”
He says a recent study found that 62 percent of employees don’t feel that they are well-informed by management, 64 percent said management does not involve them in the communication process and 68 percent don’t believe the information they are being told.
“When workers aren’t informed completely and consistently, it makes them feel insecure,” Vandeveer says. “That makes for unhappy employees who don’t trust management, and these workers are much more likely to leave the organization.”

Vandeveer, who has more than 30 years of experience in industry working as a plant manager and director of human resources, says to improve communication in an organization managers should do the following:

Make sure the lines of communication are open. He says in top-down organizational structures, people feel intimidated talking to managers, but in an effective workplace, employers sincerely listen to all concerns. “You have to really care about people. It has to be genuine. The interaction you have with workers could make or break the company.”

Make yourself visible. That includes getting out of your office to talk with workers, not just about work issues but also about personal subjects. “Shake hands, put people’s anniversaries on your calendar, take the time to congratulate them and simply create positive relationships.”

Create a balance between ensuring a task gets done and friendmaking. Vandeveer says it is important to maintain a managerial relationship and not become too much of a buddy because workers will have a tough time taking direction from a friend. “But finding the right balance helps workers have commitment to the organization, which helps the bottom line. People will even work for less money if the commitment to the company is present.”

Source: Purdue University

Categories: communication, teams

Who’s the Best Company to Work for in Indiana? We Are!

Ok. The event was rigged. How do I know this, you say? Well, for one there was no valet parking. Yes, the event was at the infamous Indiana Roof Ballroom at the IRT but I didn’t know I would need to park on the roof of the parking garage. Another indicator—our table, which we sponsored, was way off in the corner, not by ourselves, but not in the mix of all the other big sponsors either. Maybe we need to be at least a Silver Sponsor instead of just a table sponsor to get the better seats. Seriously though, I am just kidding about it being rigged. It is a fine event and great recognition for Indiana and its best companies. I am very glad that we were able to be a part of it.

We did have a lot of fun poking fun at some of the other companies and their claims as to why they too area a great place to work along with my smart a** comments. I was also impressed though by some of the things that other companies do to foster a great place to work. Here are just a few of those high-lights silly or not-so-silly perks.

  • Gumball machine in the break room with free gum in it! (Where do I sign up?)
  • $50 towards continuing education (annually)
  • Company meetings with the CEO (Yawn. I thought everybody did that)
  • Chili cook-offs (Hey, we do that—Thanks to Garth!)
  • Half day off to go holiday shopping (Figures–this was from a downtown law firm. Simon Malls is probably their biggest account)
  • Bring your pet to work (And bring a lint roller)
  • Tickets to the State Fair (More content for State Fair Bingo maybe)
  • A nap room (I can hear the accountants from here,” Does anyone do any work around here?)
  • A bank says that they have their employees call the CEO by his first name. (Wow!!)
  • Knitting & Crocheting Club (Sounds like a carpal tunnel trap)
  • Fitness Rooms and showers (We do that, too!)
  • A suggestion box (Did any of you see the episode of the office when Michael Scott decides to break out the suggestion box?
  • A lidded travel mug for all employees so they don’t spill.
  • Indoor basketball court for b-ball and dodge ball (Now that’s cool!)
  • A free lunch (who said there was no such thing?)
  • Interest free employee loans (And this company is not even a bank! How do they do that?)

Now, having mentioned these perks, I need to confess that I must have failed to recognize on our initial application which section would be used in the program. The section that was included for us and which was read by Gerry Dick the emcee, failed to truly describe our perks and cool company culture. Instead it went into great detail about our employee bonus plan. Don’t get me wrong, money speaks louder than words (most of the time) and it is certainly nice to see that all important slide that Dean likes to show us every quarter. You know the one—the “only one that we care about, right?”

So, not to be upstaged by free bubble gum in the break room, I thought I would also list some of our cool benefits, perks, and why I think we are the Best Company to Work for in Indiana, even if the judges think we are 31st.

  • Free donuts on Fridays (beat feet to the break room as they don’t last long)
  • 30 cent pop (It’s cold, too!)
  • Yellow break room to un-dilate the pupils
  • Flexible work schedules (where the business supports it. Thanks sales, customer service and tech support folks!)
  • Tuition reimbursement (Just don’t take basket weaving 101 or an equivalent course)
  • Excellent benefits with comparatively low costs of insurance premiums.
  • Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs)
  • Flexible Spending Account
  • Matching 401K
  • Stock Options (yeah!)
  • Carb Day!
  • Trick or Treat in the office with your kids
  • Chili cook-off
  • Casual dress code (You can wear shorts in the winter time…Just ask Brian Christman)
  • Bike to work (And people will only laugh behind your back when they see you in your cycling clown suit)
  • Innovative technology & innovative, bright minds
  • We used to have a book shelf in the rest room. I think I am going to bring that back.
  • Data protection software is cool!
  • Entrepreneurial work culture
  • ClusterFunk Rocks! (What other company has a company band?…Especially one where the CEO is the bass player)
  • Growth company!

It is important to also remember as we recap the 31st place award that we did place ahead of several other software companies in Indianapolis (Aprimo, ExactTarget, T2Systems, and Fusion Alliance). Also, the data that we received from the employee survey (remember it is anonymous) is excellent information showing several very encouraging numbers in regards to how we value employees. We have also learned and confirmed understanding of the areas where we can improve. All in all, we had a great time, a lot of laughs, and some good food. We even passed around the extra deserts from empty seats at our table because of a couple of last minute cancellations. I know, it’s tough getting a date/baby sitter on a weeknight.

I have included the picture from the award. Not pictured are the two Double-Take software engineers at our table who were too shy to go up on stage. They will remain nameless. Next year.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Anderson

Categories: fun 'n games

Seven Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing

Inside INdiana Business contributor Scott Flood says whether you consider yourself to be a skilled writer or you dread reaching for the keyboard, writing probably plays a critical role in your daily work. You may not be authoring articles for professional journals, but you probably have to create emails, memos, reports, and other items that require some writing skill.
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Categories: communication