Resolutions or No Resolutions

That is the question! Every year, I debate whether to set SMART resolutions (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound) for both my personal and professional lives. And every year I do set some practical resolutions that drive me for the year ahead. Many of my peers and friends believe that resolutions are a waste of time and efforts. They might say so because they are not setting the right ones or that they give up very quickly on them at the start of the year. I consider resolutions as an opportunity to set the tone for the year ahead or to accomplish some particular objectives. On my occasions, I also set up a theme for a particular year if my resolutions are anchored around a common thread such as health or learning for example.

Resolutions are a commitment to yourself, your family and/or your business about getting some important things accomplished. If you do this seriously, they require some deep thinking so that you have a chance to start changing or transforming yourself. By deep thinking, I refer mainly to understanding your areas of needed improvement, to analyzing why you are personally resisting change, and to defining what success means to you with the specific goals. Deep thinking does not just mean throwing a number of pounds you aim to lose in the coming year. It means understanding why you let yourself go and why you struggle with food. In essence, it is about better understanding your patterns, your resistance, and your “bad” habits that control you. If you are serious about losing weight, you should be serious about changing your lifestyle and digging on the issues behind your weight issue. Life coaches and counselors can do miracles for you in getting to the bottom of this type of change. They help clients have realization about the need for change.

So I have set up some SMART resolutions for 2014. Most of them are centered around continued self-development and healthy habits. Over the past couple of years, my priorities did not allow me to stay in physical shape. So I am heading back on the cardio machines not to lose weight but to improve my overall health condition. So what are your resolutions? What keeps you up at night? What are you doing in 2014 to become a better person for yourself, for your family and for your business?

The Axis of Evil

Here is my view of what represents the axis of evil in management: bureaucracy + matrix structure + process orientation. When these three characteristics are present in a single organization, it is trouble. Generally speaking, that leads to a lack of organizational accountability and a lot of CYA (cover your ass) behaviors. Let us look at each of them individually:

1 Bureaucracy: when decisions cannot be made without several emails, meetings and approval “stamps”, then you suffer from the bureaucratic syndrome. Things have a tendency to take forever to get done and emails get lost in a black hole. The level of bureaucracy is directly correlated to the size of the business but also the leadership culture. Bureaucratic cultures indicate a lack of desire to take risks, to be accountable and to get things done. They can slow down the pace of doing business. When customers tell you “it takes forever to get a quote” or “it takes you three days to get an approval for a return”, then you are in a bureaucratic culture.

2 Matrix Structure: when not properly designed and led, a matrix organizational structure can quickly become a bunch of silos not communicating with one another. They can also become kingdoms where chiefs fight for their turf and spend most of their time and energy in political discussions protecting their “clans”. Matrix organizations are not for everyone. They require a strong and decisive CEO who is able to influence multiple stakeholders and sell them a combined vision. If it is not the case, the most influential chief will win the battle and can paralyze progress and innovation. He or she will whisper things in the CEO’s ear and will drive the organization indirectly. This is the case when people say “finance runs the show around here” or “nothing can get done without going through ….”.

3 Process Orientation: there are lots of academic studies showing the benefits of a process-oriented organization. Process management can bring discipline, innovation and excellence to an organization. Extreme process orientation can also be destructive when the process becomes more important than the content and its value to the organization. People end up in numerous meetings and conference calls that are only held to fill out spreadsheets and presentations that make the Process Owners happy. This phenomenon can destroy value for the organization, reduce employee morale, and damage the ability of teams to execute the business strategies.

If you face all three of these elements in your organization, chances are that you are frustrated. The organization moves slowly, spends most of its time internally, and resist changes. I conjecture that your ability to get things done and to meet market requirements is also challenged. In the end, it is in the C-suite that things need to change. At your level, there is Happy Hours to help you out!

Spiritual Bypass

I have always been amazed by how people bring religion into the work place. Nothing wrong with being religious. I know this is a sensitive topic. What is puzzling me is how people claim their spiritualism and wear religion on their sleeves but actually do not walk the talk on a daily basis and in their daily lives. I have witnessed bad leaders bossing people around and laying off workers without any compassion and yet they parade themselves at Church on Sundays. Recently I have heard of a technology company, managed as a faith-based organization, who laid off loyal and dedicated employees without any severance package. They just “dumped them”.

Going to Church on Sundays is a good thing as well as long as you walk the talk from Monday to Friday.
Another company in the South puts people in their corporate values but the shareholders tolerate a tyrant President who is a micro manager and manipulate people for his own interest and for power. These leaders go to Church on Sundays and pretend to live a religious life. May be it helps them feel better about themselves and managed the guilt. I call this spiritual bypass. I know no one is perfect. But being in leadership brings responsibility. Organizations are managed by humans which inherently requires leaders to embrace human and spiritual intelligence. Emotional intelligence is no longer enough. Managing humans at work requires compassion, care and the communication of hope. It is all about creating communities, providing a living for families, making a difference in people’s life and leaving behind a positive legacy. When led with spiritual intelligence, businesses can become agents of hope and peace. They can make a real different in communities. You may argue that business is business. But there are things Leaders can do to treat people with respect and compassion. If you do have to lay off in times of crisis, do it with care and respect. Laying off a dedicated employee with 18 years of service and giving him 2 week severance is disrespectful and disgraceful. If your company is doing well, donate time and resources to support veterans, cancer research or some other cause. When employees go the extra mile, send them a real thank you card. If you are having a tough time as a Leader, show vulnerability and ask for help with your shortcomings. I do not go to church on Sundays. And I am far from being perfect. I have also made many mistakes in my life. But I am a humanist. I truly believe that spirituality is about loving and helping others anytime and anywhere. How you lead reflect your true spirituality. Going to Church on Sundays is a good thing as well as long as you walk the talk from Monday to Friday.

“Meeting-itis” is a Disease

Meetings are a critical part of doing business. They are the forum for discussion to make sure things progress, problems are solved, decision are made, and information is communicated. In a way, they are a necessary evil to manage and run businesses. But too many meetings can also have create problems for organizations. They are addictive, can be non-productive, and can actually destroy value for the business. Too many meetings and very long meetings can have negative effect on employee productivity and organizational morale. I do not have scientific data supporting my claims but, over the past few months, I have met with countless professionals who have openly complained to me about their company “meeting-itis”. These people run from meetings to meetings and are not able to get things accomplished in between them. Some of them actually have to allocate time for nature breaks and for the time necessary to run to the next meeting. This can have devastating consequences for the business and its ability to get things done. Meetings and group interactions are necessary but they can quickly turn into a disease that strongly impacts productivity and the ability of a business to execute.

MeetingsThe root causes of too many meetings? 1) management style; 2) culture of over-collaboration and decisions made only with consensus; 3) “analysis paralysis” and the need to review everything in groups prior to making decisions; 4)poor time management skills; 5) inadequate meeting preparation; 6) process-orientation and lots of process documents to fill out in teams; 7) management insecurity using meetings as a coping mechanism. There are more causes for sure. Besides getting roller blades to go from meeting to meeting, what can you do if you are caught in a vicious case of “meeting-itis”?
  1. Establish a rule of clear goals and objective for the meetings. Avoid the warm-up chat and go straight to the point as a meeting moderator.
  2. Conduct training on how to conduct productive meetings? Volunteer to do that training!
  3. Ban food and drinks in meetings! People love to be fed and accept meetings just for that reason.
  4. Only schedule for 30mn meetings and make that clear in the introduction of the meeting? Source
  5. Ask yourself the question: “am I creating value in this meeting?”. Block some time in your calendar called “productive work” so that you cannot be invited if people have access to your calendar.
  6. Jump on the band-wagon of companies starting to allow meeting-free time slots or days. It is becoming popular and you might want to recommend this to top management.  Source
If you have management power, I highly recommend you tackle this meeting culture head on and give some free time to your teams to produce and create. Set some rules and guidelines and work with your worst offenders. You know who they are…unless you are one of them.  

Extreme Dedication

Throughout my career, I have seen lots of people giving all they have to their employers. They go the extra mile. They are extremely loyal. The put their firm before themselves and sometimes before their family. This is extreme dedication. At the same time, I have seen their employers taking advantage of this high level of dedication by entering in minimalist behaviors: no or small raises, little training, asking for sacrifices, asking for more without rewarding for it. Here are the issues I see with this pattern: 1) Most extremely loyal people forget themselves, their identity and their personal priorities. They are loyal to the point that they might sacrifice their career and their future career potential; 2) They forget to prepare for plan B, to get appropriate training and to network. As a result they may end up losing their job and find themselves “butt-naked”; 3) Finally, they misjudge the level of loyalty the employers have towards them. Business is business. Loyalty goes so far!

It is perfectly respectable to be loyal to employers. But loyalty cannot go one way. I have known many loyal executives who got laid off after a long dedicated career and who found themselves with no plan, an outdated resume, and no network at all. In the current economic climate, it is delusional to think that any job is secure. Things happen. So it is imperative to prepare contingency plans, to engage in networking activities, and to get new skills. It is also important to recognize when employers use their traditional techniques to avoid rewarding employees, to ask for more with less, and most of all to play the “loyalty guilt” trip with their loyal employees. I have recently helped two of my peers in this situation. After 20 and 14 years in their respective firm, they have been shown the door in a less than mindful fashion. They forgot that the next job is found by networking while still employed. They did not refresh their skills and certification adequately. They are disoriented and do not know what to do next.

So if you read this and it resonates with you, ask yourself these questions: am I doing enough to network and get my name out there?; am I doing enough to refresh my skills and get new skills that may help in the future?; am I staying too long in my current role and is it time for a change? Is my loyalty being truly noticed and appreciated or am I just employee 1288 who is dispensable?

When you are in a job, prepare for the next one. At least prepare for the worst. Put yourself first. Put your family first. Then be loyal to your employer.

Contact Stephan

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