Leaders – Don’t call the PoPo

Verb Phrase: Call the PoPo

Origin: Black American cultural/ political expression

Context: Organizational

Definition – A leader who (ab)uses the power or privilege vested in him/her by the organization to consciously or unconsciously discriminate against or to sully the reputation of or to belittle or to harm or to incriminate a person with less power/ privilege within his team or the wider organization.

Examples
1) Mr Smith called the PoPo when he berated the people who were laughing at the water cooler.  He explained,  “ This is an office. Laughter suggests that they are not working.”

2) Sandra is exhausted, she’s been up 3 consecutive nights with her sick baby. Her manager is aware and empathetic. She puts her head down for a moment. Mrs Jones calls the PoPo as she says to Sandra’s manager ”I cannot have Sandra on the  the special assignment. She’s lazy, she’s sleeping on the job”

3) John’s kids eyes grew wide with astonishment as they watched Mrs Knight shout loudly and say mean things to their father. As John averted their eyes, he and his kids shared the deep knowledge that Mrs Knight was calling the PoPo on John.

Have you as a leader ever called the popo on your team members? What could you have done differently? What other examples of leaders calling the PoPo have you witnessed? Please share them

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(image by ODOBESTI)

Starbucks – Time to do the hard thing

There was an outcry over the recent actions of Starbucks team members. In one instance the barista called the police on two men who were waiting for a friend and in the other case the barista refused to issue the bathroom key to a man. In both instances, the men were identified as black.
Starbucks immediately responded. The leadership apologised and shortly thereafter team members from 8,000 stores attended racial bias training.

From these events I conclude Starbucks leadership empowers frontline staff. They trust the staff to make decisions and to act on decisions made, without seeking permission. As a result, the baristas made decisions about who were allowed access and who were not. Why? Because that is the way that Starbucks does things. It is its culture.

By extension, I conclude that if two separate employees can authoritatively discriminate against two different black males, with no fear of recourse, in two distinct circumstances, then at Starbucks, this is the way that black males are treated. It is its culture.

Company culture is reflected in what is done and deemed acceptable at the very lowest levels of an organisation. Culture is demonstrated by the actions of the persons whom are away from the mikes, away from the glitz and glamour and who will never grace the cover of the Forbes and Fortune 500. These are the people who tell the world exactly what your company stands for and its core values.

A well written apology in sincere tones and  racial bias training sessions are great first steps for the leaders to say to staff that this is not whom we are. Yet we know that words have no meaning without context, and that if leaders do not reinforce the training then it goes to naught.

Starbucks’ leaders have done the right thing, now Starbucks’ leaders need to do the hard thing. Leaders at all levels of the organisation need to self reflect, to be honest in admitting the current culture and to determine how the company should move forward. Whatever the decision, leaders need to ensure that the operations are realigned to actively support what is espoused.

I offer Starbucks leaders the following questions to begin the process:

  • Where are black males In Starbucks?
  • How do we treat with black males in the Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are not said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What sort of jokes are made about black males ?
  • What is the our policy and procedure for reporting discrimination?
  • What does the data from these policies indicate to us?
  • Are we satisfied that the policies work or are easy to use or are being used?
  • How do we discourage micro-aggression?
  • How do we educate non- POC (people of color) about micro-aggression?
  • What are the black voices within Starbucks saying on this matter?
  • What conversations do we have on race?

For the rest of us leaders, the the lesson is clear – Culture is what our staff does. What  our staff does tells the world what our culture is..

What is your company’s culture? What does your staff do that isn’t aligned to your culture? What are you going to do about it?
If you want to change your company culture and ensure that staff behaviours are aligned to your core values then drop me a line. I can help.

(photo credits :Trinichow)

Five reasons to fire a client

I fired a client today and my soul rejoiced.
I was hired to complete a project that was stalled for two years. This was a good contract. The work was challenging, the duration was to year end and the contract price would comfortably cover all my expenses well into the new year. It seemed serendipitous since I declared the week before that I needed a client to see me through the end of the year. Like a lot of good things in my life, this contract was effortlessly attained. A third party introduced us, the client, his staff and I had several meetings, I submitted a proposal, we signed a contract and I started to work.
When the work started, I started observing the client’s behaviour, listening to the staff and seeing patterns emerge. Slowly, I became aware that this was not the client for me, not did I want to serve the client, he was just not the client for me. As I reflect on the experience I realised that there were signs all along that shouted at me, even though I took a few weeks to listen to the messages.

Client has a pattern of changing consultants– When I reviewed the artefacts left behind by the previous consultants, I noticed that the client half-answered or evaded questions about the the same dubious practices. When I reviewed the files, I noticed that there were several references and recommendations about the same issues, which voided the argument that the client’s practices were due to ignorance.

The client’s business partners are not your type – Even though I was not directly doing business with the client’s partners, they were not people that I wanted to associate with or be associated with. Professional circles are small and the client notified several of his external stakeholders about my involvement in the project. Therefore by association I would be seen as dealing with the same characters as my client was.

Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde – My client presented a squeaky clean image, spoke a lot about God, and was polite and reverent in his responses to me. Yet the documents and his dealings with staff told a different story. The data did not line up with the client’s version of the truth, and the staff told tales of a short tempered man, who was harsh in his criticisms. The staff confessed that they were only staying for the duration of the project since they believed that they would benefit from interacting with me.

You bring the client home – When my sister confronted me and said, “ You talk about him a lot,” I realised that even though I was not complaining, the client, the staff and the staff’s tales were weighing heavily on my mind. I was not happy with the situation.

Forget about the money – Ah the money. It’s hard to ignore the lure of a pay-cheque when you’re not seeing another to replace it. I had to instruct myself “ Pretend that there is no money. Will you want to work with the client?” When I answered a resounding, “No”. I knew that it was time to remove myself from that equation.

It’s not about me – It is hard for me to walk away from a client, because I’ve been trained to complete what I have started, and to give service when it is needed. I sincerely believe that the collective intelligence and creativity (of me and my clients) are enough to solve almost any problem and that most people want to do better, and will do better once shown how.  This client reminded me that it’s not just about me. Regardless of my principles , my vision and my purpose I have to accept that people are entitled to their own agendas. Therefore when the client’s agenda does not mesh with mine I can make some choices – change my agenda to mesh with his, stay and promote my agenda or leave. In this case I chose to leave.

What clients do you need to fire? What would you do differently if the money was not part of your decision?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

Shadows vs Mirrors – Leadership Paradox

When I was a kid, I loved playing with my shadow. With my back to the sun, I casted my shadow over everything, fascinated by the way it grew and diminished according to the placement of the sun.
As a teenager, I walked in others’ shadows to learn the ropes, to understand the best paths to walk and to easily fit in. By adulthood, I accepted that to grow I had to forge my own path, take what I learnt in the safety of the shadows and convert it to my truth as I exposed myself to the sun.
Larry Senn, in his 1970 doctoral thesis popularised the idea of “shadow of a leader.” His research showed that organisations often become shadows of their leaders.
People want to emulate leaders even without being bullied or coerced (to do so). Staff mimic the language, the style and the behaviour of the leaders as they try to understand the culture, to fit in, to negotiate and manoeuvre their way through the organisation, and to be promoted.
Whether intentional or not, leaders set the culture of the organisation by their expressions of personal likes or dislikes, their personal traits and characteristics and their behaviour.
They stand with their backs to the sun casting long shadows over the organisation. No doubt that Senn was onto something but should we as leaders some 47 years later, be casting shadows in our organisations?
We want our teams to have the same core values and to be aligned to organisational vision, but does this translate to staff being “a chip off the old block?”
Yes we want the stability that homogeneity brings, but how does that serve us in times of change?
We are all human, therefore by design we have flaws. Consequently, as leaders there are times when we are flawed in our thoughts, words and deeds. What if the shadows we cast include our flaws? What if as leaders we project shadows that conjure shadow puppets (changing fingers and hands to wonderful sights) – that are miles from the truth?

When I determined how I wanted to lead and decided the reasons why I wanted to lead I was no longer interested in having mini-mes on my team. While team members and I needed to be on the same page with respect to core values, vision and how we wanted to work, it was important that each team member bring who (s)he was to the workplace. In this way, we created a team of diverse opinions and skills, we challenged each other, we provided different opinions and thoughts and in this way we each grew.
I often held up a mirror to myself to see what I needed to change. I also held that mirror up for team members so that they could see themselves and autocorrect as they needed to. At times, I had to hold the mirror up for the team and determine what qualities were missing in the team, then decide to adopt and encourage others to adopt the relevant behaviour.

Leaders can consider being a mirror in and for the organisations in which we work. We can model the organisational culture that we want, even when it bucks the prevalent culture. We can reflect another way of working that invites meaningful conflict which may be suppressed when all staff sing off the same hymn sheet. We can promote the growth and development of individuals so that they display their full intelligence. We can create environments for risk taking that invite creativity. We can harness the variety and diversity that team members bring to spur our organisations forward.

To look in the mirror, we have to step out of the shadows, become aware, take responsibility and determine with team members what actions need to be taken to achieve our agreed destination.

Whose shadow are you walking in? What shadows are you casting on your team?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win.  She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations.  She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational  Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

And the survey says….

The Human Resources Manager hosted a Town Hall to share the results of the recently concluded  #EmployeeEngagementSurvey. He entered the room with great flair and seemed just as excited as we, since it was the first time that such a survey was conducted. My excitement waned after his opening remarks, “I’ve heard complaints about the company, but the survey says…”
As he shared the scores, he told the audience that the survey results placed the complainers in the minority, and  perceived problems were not supported by the survey results. As I squirmed in my chair, I noticed that my colleagues seemed equally uncomfortable with his performance.  After the meeting, we huddled and were left with two questions:

  1. How were the results tabulated?
  2. What do the results mean?

How were the results tabulated?
How would you interpret the results for the question:

Do you understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on your job?

The survey scores questions on a range of 1 – 5.  ( 5 being the highest score for the question asked and 1 being the lowest.) The results:

  • 40% of staff answer with a 5 – which means that they understand,
  • 10% of staff answer with a 1 – which means that they do not understand
  • 50% of staff respond with a 3 – which means that they understand to some extent

The results can be interpreted as:

  • 90% of staff understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on the job. or
  • 40% of the staff understand the impact of strategy, 60% do not.

Which of the interpretations accurately reflect the situation?

I caution against the use of  median results to buffer and tabulate better engagement scores. These scores are often not positive indicators of engagement – they may represent neutrality or ambivalence or lack of interest about the 2017 strategy, or a feeling that the strategy is separate from my job or some other meaning. Unless there is shared meaning about median scores, these cannot be seen as positive purveyors of engagement

What do the results mean?
Survey results communicate the level of #EmployeeEngagement to the company. Though the numbers provide data, there is need for a shared understanding of what the scores reflect.

I always meet with staff – by departments/ teams – after the survey results, to understand what the results mean.  At these meetings, I aim to spend 95% of the time listening to staff explain the reasons behind the scores and clarifying what is shared. I have heard the reasons for high scores as:

  • I understand the strategy,
  • I did not want to rock the boat,
  • I don’t believe the survey is anonymous/or I fear retribution,
  • I did not want to seem stupid.

Low scores may also reflect – that

  • The strategy is not understood,
  • A different interpretation of the questions,
  • The impact of a recent event,
  • Misunderstandings of past situations
  • A lack of interest in the question
  • The question is not seen as relevant

While these meetings do not change the scores, they give good insight into:

  • The meaning of the scores,
  • What needs to be addressed to change the score,
  • Pointers to address with staff before the next engagement survey
  • How some questions may need to be restated at the next survey.

Even though companies with a longer tradition of performing engagement surveys have less interpretation problems with the survey questions, the need to understand what is behind the scores remains the same.

While the score itself is important, it becomes even more relevant, when everyone clearly understands the thinking behind the scores.

As I reflect on the Town Hall, I am still left with the image of the gleeful HR Manager juxtaposed with the staff shuffling out of the meeting room. The results were seen as a validation of Employee Engagement efforts even though no attempts were made to understand what the results meant.  The high scores (which may have included middle scores) were enough for him.

What does your company do after the engagement survey results have been tabulated?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017, Kapok Hotel. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

Measuring Employee Engagement

If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” Lord Kelvin

At times, we are only aware that our weight has shifted when we put on our clothes.  Whether it’s a looseness or tightness, we conclude that our weight has changed. If we want to know exactly how our weight has shifted, we get on a scale for an accurate evaluation, then we  decide, do nothing, or change the way we eat or exercise to return to the way we like our clothes to fit.
So too with #EmployeeEngagement. (See this article for a definition)  As leaders, we may unaware of the level of employee engagement.  While the reactions, the behaviours or the utterances of staff may be strong indicators of their level of engagement, the only way that leaders can determine if employees are engaged and the extent of their engagement, is to measure it, via an employee engagement survey.
Why do  you measure anything? Why do you measure your weight?
Measurements assist us to :

  • Establish where we are and have a common understanding- I weigh x pounds. I am over/ under or at a comfortable  weight.
  • Understand what is needed or not needed- I do not need to do anything. I need to lose/ gain weight.
  • Establish what is considered normal/ standard – For my weight, age, height and lifestyle I need to stay the same, gain/ lose weight.
  • Predict outcomes – If I maintain/ change my diet and exercise routine, I will stay the same/ gain/ lose weight
  • Indicate what we need to fix  – I don’t need to fix anything, I need to eat more/ less.

The same with the #EmployeeEngagementSurvey.  The #EngagementSurvey is a measuring tool whose results:

  • 
Provide an objective evaluation of engagement
  • Communicate the employee’s emotional and mental involvement
  • Give clues about what is needed to further engage employees.
  • Indicate how well the business outcomes are being met

Surveys can be internally designed and conducted, though some companies prefer to use a third party.
Regardless of who is designing the survey, the company needs to establish:

How does your company measure employee engagement?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

Laptops vs Desktops

When I presented a paper on strategy in Jamaica, I showed a picture of an old man using a lap top sitting next to a young boy peering over a large newspaper. The audience laughed until I asked, “Is this happening in your organization?”
This picture reminded me of many organizations that I have worked in – there is often a disparity between the level of technology that managers and staff can access, yet we are all expected to pull our weight in the same way.
Take a walk around your office tomorrow and tell me what you see. Look at what people are working on and tell me what you notice. From large multinationals to small mom and pop operations, there seems to be an unspoken rule – Managers are assigned laptops and staff will be assigned desktops.
Think of the insane benefits that the organization is missing out on because a large majority of our staff are not equipped to work from remote locations. Work stops every time an employee has to wait on the plumber who is never on time, or be at home because the babysitter is ill. What would it be like if all our employees had the option to work remotely?
P.S. I worked at a large multinational where all staff were allowed to “work from home “ one day a month, even though most of the clerical staff worked on desktops.
What disparities exist in your organization?