Other people’s money.

Gekko2Hell is not a finance meeting, some of the more technically inclined may suspect it is but they are missing out on an invaluable opportunity to assist their co-workers. As a technologist even if you have no experience with business finance your objective in any meeting where financial numbers are presented to you is to ask insightful questions.

The least financially inclined technologist should pay attention to the trinity of metrics; growth, customer sentiment and employee engagement. You will hear these numbers mentioned in isolation frequently, but they should be examined together as they represent the past, the present and the future of your business. How a product you are working on has grown, if customers are enthusiastic about it and if employees are happy to be working with one another shows you the health of your organisation.

If one of those three is under performing, or has swung to negative numbers, a focused management intervention is required. If two of the three are under performing/negative a replacement of some of the current management is required. If all three are under performing/negative a transformational leader will be required to replace the current management, replace much of the mid-level management and refocus the business on what it can do best.

Every organisational transformation, where a battered and demoralised company is rescued just before it plunges into the abyss, is a story of the warning lights of the trinity being ignored. "Good employees do not want to work here, customers did not like the products we offered, and growth evaporated." Properly measured growth, customer sentiment and employee engagement do not lie about your company’s prospects even if a bad management team does.

While the trinity will tell you if your company is on the road to greatness or the road to ruin, other financial numbers can be abstract. Inside of organisations how financial numbers are derived tends to be cloaked in secrecy. This is because finance is as much of an art as a science and if you saw the process by which the numbers are assembled you may have questions, if not objections.

A financial presentation to a meeting you are in is your chance to ask questions and, if required, to object. For someone without ongoing exposure to business finance discussions the key concept is that the value in financial numbers is only in their comparison. What is the difference between two data points of the same financial metric taken over time? Is something increasing or decreasing as time passes? What does that mean? Is it expected to continue as is, decelerate or accelerate? Why?

Observation will inform you as to what numbers more experienced attendees care about and regardless of how dense a set of financial numbers might look to you only a handful of key numbers will matter. Ask questions about these numbers and do not fear them as you cannot break them.

Looking at results you want to compare what was projected against what happened last month or last quarter. Results are in the past, you can only learn from why they are different. Discussing projections or budgetary requests involves checking assumptions about the future. Does what you know about the past or what you suspect about the future align with what the presenter is telling you? Dig into the differences.

During budgetary requests people tend to ask for money they want and not what they require. Take it upon yourself to find out what is required through questioning the requestor because each budgetary request is more of a negotiation than a statement of fact. What you are looking at should be treated as an opening offer and the information you are gathering through questioning is information to make a counter offer.

When it comes to making people offers, headcount of salaried employees is also a metric worth examining whenever the opportunity arises. Who is getting what budget to hire new employees and are those new employees being placed in growth areas? You can spot managerial empire builders when new headcount starts appearing in places that are not connected to the growth areas of the business.

The most rudimentary understanding of the financial position of your company, or your division or your product organisation will help you made better decisions about your career. That is the self interest part but when it comes to working with your team remember:

Finance is as much about people as it is about numbers, when you examine both you can help your co-workers make competent financial decisions which can benefit you all.


Real genius.

The common wisdom is to not put up with talented jerks in the workplace. Who needs to work with know it all jackasses whose behaviour is usually met with eye rolls in meetings? Yet you still find them in every organisation. There is a reason for their ongoing ubiquity and that reason is a lottery jackpot.

There are three genetic super lottery jackpots in life. Being physically more attractive to others, having a level of physical prowess beyond the ordinary or having superior cognitive ability (IQ). If a person cannot make a living from their appearance or from professional sports it is IQ that is by far the best predictor of their performance at other types of work.

In The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis (O’Boyle, Humphrey, Pollock, et. al, 2011) researchers examined more than 1000 studies to see if Emotional Intelligence (EQ) had an impact on job performance. Having examined EQ, personality traits and cognitive ability it was their conclusion an increased level of EQ did improve job performance. While their study identified interesting things about EQ, in the table below you should note the outsized performance resulting from cognitive ability, IQ, relative to what they were testing for with EQ. IMG_2537

While the social sciences are undergoing a replication crisis, studies whose results cannot be replicated correctly being tagged as being suspect at best if not out rightly fraudulent in other cases, IQ as a performance predicator replicates consistently. The higher your IQ the greater the chance you will be one of the few employees that makes a contribution so substantial to the organisation around you that it will be a lasting contribution.

Just as many of us do not look like models or movie stars, nor can we break sporting records, there are levels of workplace performance below extraordinary. The trick to optimising your performance is finding the best environment to do what you are good at and then do it consistently. This can be personally rewarding so long as you keep stretching yourself to do things currently just beyond your grasp.

The higher the IQ the more ambiguity you can deal with in your job and jobs with high levels of ambiguity at their frontiers pay quite well. As you move down the IQ scale it is unambiguous repetitive jobs which deliver the best workplace performance from individuals with lower IQs. Like those with higher IQs there is satisfaction from doing such jobs well, but repetitive jobs pay modestly or poorly.

Automation will decimate most repetitive jobs and there is no pathway to jobs with higher ambiguity for those of a lower cognitive ability. Last week in the US at the Dallas Fed conference executives from Fortune 500 employers admitted that they are targeting repetitive, low ambiguity jobs for elimination by automation.

Realising this means hard times for many there was mention of providing Nano-degrees to move people to higher skilled jobs, but we already have colleges pumping out as many highly skilled new graduates as the work market can absorb. Automation is the next major social problem looming on the horizon.

Now we come to the talented jerk. Books have been written as to why you should not hire super smart people with noxious personalities and those books raise good points. Jerks can wreak havoc with teams they are in and make cross team collaboration more like trench warfare rather than a mutually productive relationship. But here is the crux of it, while you cannot make substantial changes to a person's cognitive capability (IQ) you can make them much more rewarding for other people to deal with (EQ).

Properly designed coaching interventions focused on EQ have been found to improve the social and interpersonal skills of those being coached by about 25% (Peterson, D.B., Measuring change: A psychometric approach to evaluating individual coaching outcomes., 1993.) These results also replicate consistently making them science and not wishful thinking.

Accepting that a higher IQ does translate to higher workplace performance we can say that while you cannot take a talented jerk with a major psychological issue and fix them, you can take one and sand down the rough edges enough that they do not jab people when handled. Getting the talented jerk to accept the coaching is where you might need to use finesse but with those with a higher IQ demonstrably out performing others at work your EQ coaching investment today might pay off in measurable high performance for years.

Of course if the talented jerk does not acknowledge feedback from different sources telling them that change is required, does not accept the coaching or does not improve as a result of coaching they should be handed their hat and shown the door.

A tool that cannot be used effectively should be discarded, it only makes the worker harder.


Fear itself.

Not everyone who survives a layoff is grateful. Being laid off is a distasteful experience even when you know it is coming but when you have been made unemployed by a company your life changes immediately. You are no longer a member of a tribe you may have expended years of your life working to maintain, you are now a job seeker.  Pennywise


Job seekers know that their path only moves forward but towards what is unknown. If you survive a layoff you have not moved anywhere and are expected to carry out your duties like little has changed but your working life may be now dramatically worse.


You may have to pick up new work which you may or may not be suitable to carry out. Co-workers who you enjoyed working with are gone, they should be soon ready to put the company in their rear-view mirror. Eventually when they get a job, a process that now takes months and not weeks, they will be enthusiastic about the new company and their new role. This heady enthusiasm will be transmitted to the former co-workers who survived the last layoff and who will look at their own working life and ask if they are truly happy?


Happiness and contentment binds an organisation together. High performing employees want to work with people they feel make them better and more productive. Take those people away as a company goes into employee starvation mode and the result is employees who are not only unhappy but also fearful.


If you want to destroy any organisation make the people who work there afraid. Fear can be healthy; fear of professional obsolescence or fear of a competitor can serve to keep you and your organisation sharp. Bone chilling fear, a sense of absolute dread, can slowly move into the minds of employees who survive layoffs. "When will what I have just seen happen to people I enjoyed working with happen to me?"


In Downsizing and Survivor Syndrome: A Study of HR’s Perception of Survivors Responses (Sahdev and Vinnicombe, 1998), it was found that fear began spreading like a virus through people who had survived a layoff. Loyalty to immediate superiors and co-workers was observed to be unchanged but loyalty to the company plummeted. The response to the increasing sense of fear was to the see company as the opposition and co-workers as your allies.


Those who survived layoffs reported increased levels of stress, felt grief over losing valued co-workers and feared losing their jobs. They also resented the company and its leadership more, all of which are harmful to employee productivity. Waves of layoffs will do more damage to your company than many of your competitors can as waves of layoffs break the spirit of your best people.


Layoffs happen but cutting deep and cutting only once, while horrific at the time, is a better way of handling layoffs. It is terrible for those who are laid off, you will have a lot more job seeking competitors in a dysfunctional job market for a time, but for layoff survivors it allows their organisational leadership to look them in the eye and say "That was it. The layoffs are over and now together we must rebuild and move forward."

Until you can tell people with certainty the organisation is in rebuild mode they will be fearful and when you make them fearful you can be certain they will resent you.


So you want people to work with you?

When dealing with workplace colleagues you come into task conflict with before you settle in for a good argument about how a project should proceed..stop arguing. We all have these heated discussions and more times than not we come away with a defeat more than a victory.
 
Examining how different teams work together I was analysing some data when I noticed an interesting wrinkle. When it comes to successful team collaboration those who asked whoever
opposed their idea to explain how their counter proposal worked in practice were more likely to have a successful persuasive outcome than those who asked about the reasons for the opposition. This struck me as an interesting persuasion technique but it needed research support.
 
I found that support. Not in the research about how people work together but in the research of how we have political arguments. Fernback et al. (2013) looking at opinion polarisation with respect to political policies found that people are ridiculously overconfident about their understanding of complex public policy issues. With a high degree of self-assurance people can give reasons as to why they support or do not support high profile public policies and their self-assurance gets stronger afterwards.
 
Reasons are highly selective and this selectivity supports people's need to choose the reasons which strongly support the opinions they hold while discounting information which is inconvenient. Increasing reinforcement for any position then moving that position towards an extreme of political polarity. What the Fernback study showed was when people were asked to explain how the public policy they disagreed with worked and what about it should change respondents confronted the limitations of their understanding. Their explanations of how things should work were unconvincing even to themselves. Recognising they were incapable of explaining the policy or how they would change it for the better in a convincing way the positions of the respondents softened and moved from that of self-assurance and polarity to moderation and investigation. So much so there was a demonstrable reduction in participants usual knee-jerk political donations. Doing your own thinking is obviously bad for those fundraising for "the cause."
 
In the workplace when dealing with opposing ideas if you want to invite someone to come to your side of the table don't ask them for reasons, ask them instead to explain their idea to you so you can understand how it would work. If they are convincing perhaps you will adapt what you are looking to do to support them. Be open to that. You can be right and someone else can be more right, the people you don't want to work with are those who do not want to join a winning team just to preserve their ego.
 
If those promoting the opposing idea are unconvincing they will know it and you will too. It is an uncomfortable thing to stand in front of a whiteboard and listen to yourself spewing half baked nonsense, engineers enjoy being accurate and they enjoy being right. If you give someone the opportunity to be accurate and be right more often than not they'll take that opportunity. In any attempt to convince groups of people to work with you you need to understand who they are. Will their idea wither or bloom when moved into daylight thereby bringing them to your side or you moving to theirs? When trying to get people to work with you take their measure, plan accordingly, be optimistic in your interactions with them and then deal with the result.
 
Evolutionary survival has ensured that we are collaborative species, sometimes we just forget.

So you think you can change?

Today is “Massive Monday.” Massive Monday is what people in the hiring business refer to as the first day in the first working week of the New Year. On Massive Monday it is all about the new. All about a change. A change in lifestyle, a change in relationships and a change in jobs. Every year around the world people see this week and this day as the point where they can reset and begin again.

IMG_1553It never lasts. Refreshed and re-energised after some holiday time people decide this time it will be different, then inevitably all the stuff involved in their lives gets in the way. Change is difficult and we do need to marshal all our psychological resources to make real and substantive changes. Consider the totality of your life is it any surprise that there are things you do not get done? Your energy be it physical, spiritual or emotional is finite and is chipped away by every task clamouring for your attention.

Is this failure? Absolutely. Though it is understandable failure. That does not change the fact we all need to do better. But the doing is always harder than the saying. Very few blog posts will help you make a better life but perhaps you can be inspired to make a better change.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was at one time one of the wealthiest people in the world. Unlike the soft handed careers some of us have today Carnegie made his money in molten fire and sweat. All business is war now just imagine how ruthless one would have to be to succeed in the era of robber barons, but even Carnegie said “No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.” Carnegie had many employees but some of them were allies. The people he saw as being on Team Carnegie.

If you want to change anything in your life or in your workplace you’re going to have to do it with allies. The relationships that we forge are the most powerful levers of change we have available to us when change is required. While change usually starts from the top it is only successful when met in the middle from change initiated at the bottom.

In the workplace the people you work with are intelligent, you might not think that all of the time but it is true some of the time. No matter where someone is in the organisation they have access to a level of detail that is uncommon in the upper echelons of management. Never be afraid to tap this detailed experience for all it is worth. It is the height of arrogance to believe that you know better, it is possible that you know more but impossible that you know all. Take suggestions wherever you find them evaluate them critically and adopt the good ones no matter where they came from. Change your mind. It is okay to do so, it is commendable to do so when presented with a better idea or more accurate information.

The most infuriating thing you can hear in meetings is “we tried that and it didn’t work” used as a conversation stopper. That is lazy even if it is true. There is no expectation that you attempt to reinvent the wheel or go in circles working on things with no decent outcome but get up and examine the idea. Hear someone out, you might know more than them but can they spark something new in you? Or do you have a vested interest in protecting the status quo? Are you looking for a change or are you working to prevent it? Have the self-awareness to know which side you fall on because I assure you someone else in the room has already placed you on one side or the other.

Going back to Carnegie if you want to be great at anything in life or work you have to dedicate yourself to it entirely. Carnegie believed that 75% of your effort spent on any endeavour was still too little. If you’re not willing to go all in even raw talent will not get you there. The best people in every field not only have raw talent and any required genetic traits but they also dedicate themselves entirely to their work at the expense of all others.

If that is not you whatever change you are hoping to make needs to be realistic. The concept of work life balance is anathema to performance excellence so align your level of change to the results you really should expect. Realism is difficult for many of us because we build up all these ego defences to get through the day. Real change requires realistic expectations, you can lie to everyone else but try not to do it to yourself.

Assuming you do not want to be the world’s greatest writer, its most talented painter or its most successful business person and if you’re reading this you’re far too old for sports stardom, what is the biggest change you can make in your career or even in your life in 2017? Become an amateur at something.

You probably already have a level of mastery at what you are currently doing and that is why you might feel like you need a change, go do something entirely new. I’m not saying quit your job unless you really want to quit your job but go explore something new, do something where all your visible failed attempts do not matter. Do something where you are the amateur. If you find your life lacks passion only exploration of some form will relight that fire.

On Massive Monday you have my permission to explore. Go wandering and next year see where it has taken you. If you wander far enough 2017 will look like a hill behind you in the far distance and the landscape in front of you will have new things worth seeing.

Happy New Year!


So you think you have organisational power?

What is power truly? Power is the ability to make things happen. That’s it. It really is nothing more than that. Having defined it we can show how power is lost. Power is lost when you can’t make something happen. Power is lost when you refuse to use it to make something necessary happen.

Gladiator_9Marcus Aurelius a philosopher king of the Roman Empire was a practitioner of stoicism. Stoicism, which has found popularity once again among Silicon Valley types looking to understand the nature of their ever changing and sometimes disappointing world, is quite a good philosophy for those who have power. The stoic sees that overreaction and bitterness are amongst the worst responses to life’s problems. To the stoic power waxes and wanes and there is no time for regret. You will not live for thousands of years so do the best you can with what you have now.

Before you all go running out to buy a copy of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius I’d first point out that his son, Commodus was the villain in the movie Gladiator. Proving that while with grim determination you can be accepting of life’s setbacks perhaps if you realise you have sired a debased and cruel sociopath you shouldn’t be. While Meditations is a worthy read, it might be better to find an examination of stoicism which guides you through Aurelius’s writings, instead of trying to pick your way through the decade long diary of a man living through war, pestilence, strife and awful children.

With or without stoicism how do you build your career powerbase? Your own organisational power? French and Raven writing about organisational power identified five sources of social power, that is power that can be exercised amongst people. These sources were referent, coercive, reward, legitimate and expert. Later they added two more sources of power. Informational and connectional. The French and Raven model is not comprehensive but it is close enough and as such is worth examining.

Referent power is charismatic power. People want to follow a person because they are impressed by them feel that they are successful, engaged and going somewhere. This is the power of belief where you believe in the leader that you are following. Just as you can have leadership built on charisma you can have organisations built on it too. In a referent organisation career death is in having no followers at all.

Of course, the issue with anything built on charisma is that such structures are not built to last. When the leader moves on, as charismatic leaders always do, the followers once again scatter to the wind. Can you remember a high performing team you might have wanted to be part of? Was it the team or the leader which appealed to you? If it was the leader there is a good chance that the team fell apart when that leader moved on.

Coercive power is the power to make people do as you say for fear of punishment. With the use of referent and coercive power you face the question of whether it is better to be loved or feared? Those who lack the charisma to be loved mistakenly choose to be feared. Coercive power is to be feared. It can result in sanction, loss of status and perhaps ending of employment. It also results in a lack of devotion from those around the source of coercive power.

Reward power is derived from the belief that if the follower accepts what the leader wants they may be rewarded. Do as I say and I will reward you for doing it correctly. Nothing much more to be said on reward power. It’s a profit deal.

Legitimate power is dependent on the belief that the request being made is being made by someone with the legal right to do so. This feeds back into coercive power if you refuse the requests.

Expert power, typically a technical employee power, is where power flows from the expertise and the specialist ability of the person making the decisions. It is the depth of knowledge a person has and the deference that brings from others which gives the expert their power. Reputation matters a lot with expert power and building a good reputation early in your career can grow that source of power later.

Informational power involves knowing more about what is going on than other people. In organisational structures which heavily rely on a need to know information distribution strategy it is incredibly difficult to win an argument with someone who has more facts than you do. People practicing informational power place themselves at the intersections of many different strands of information so they can gain a clearer view of the overall picture. These people tend to win the arguments on strategy and structural development of an organisation not because their ideas are better or any good but because they know more of what is currently going on.

Connectional power is the power of who you know and who people think you might know. That someone believes if they do not work with you it will get back to someone more powerful than them is connectional power at work. Connectional power can be a mirage and sometimes that is enough. The illusion of sanction motivating people to assist you.

Out of the above it is useful to reflect on where your power comes from and how it could be developed further. Do you need to switch sources or cultivate additional sources? Like any other time now is a good time to develop your sources of power no matter how great or how small they might be.  

I opened with one of the classics and I’ll end with another. Machiavelli writing in “The Prince” uses the analogy of the fox and the lion. To be the fox is to be clever. It is to recognise and navigate around traps placed for you by the circumstances you find yourself in or opponents you may face. A fox cannot defend itself from wolves but a lion can. To be the lion is to be fearless and visible to any who can see. When surrounded by wolves it is best to be the lion. When surrounded by traps it is best to be the fox. The optimum survival strategy for anyone who has power in an organisation is to recognise traps like a fox and fight off wolves like a lion.

The tragedy of power is that having spent your career to accrue it eventually you will lose it. All of it. Circumstances change, popular leaders rise and fall, ideas come into and go out of fashion but when given a choice be the fox. Be as clever as you can for as long as you can and eventually when your power wanes be the stoic. Your time on earth is limited just do the best you can.


Get yourself to OK first. Then worry about everyone else.

Sitting in a coffee shop with a large warm cup of tea as tense Christmas shoppers navigate around one another on the crowded street outside I find myself reflecting on the events of the past week at work. What power looks like and how it operates inside an organisation is a post for a different time. Lots of applied research going on now for the observant. How people feel about it all interests me. Again, a different post for a different time but feelings at work is a worthwhile topic to examine.  

  

Peoples feelings at work is very well researched and I have always liked Franklyn Ernst’s model. It is simple and good simple takes a lot of smart design and even more elbow grease to do well. Ernst’s OK Corral model examines how people feel about themselves and others during interactions. To the four combinations below I will add some personal commentary but I encourage you to study the model for yourself as it is deeper than it appears.   

 

1: I'm okay with me. I'm not okay with you.

 

Welcome to anger. The other person has pissed you off and you want your pound of flesh. This is where grudges are nursed. Get over it. Easier for me to type than to do but understanding the effect this other person has on you is the first step in doing something to change how it makes you feel.

 

That something should not involve brake cables and wire cutters.

 

There are more than a few skulls I want to claim, polish and display at the office but the people involved are rarely worth the mental effort one might expend on them. Never let anyone treat you poorly without them realising that behaviour is unacceptable but do not tie your happiness to their unhappiness. 

 

See yourself as being detached from the situation if their chaos ever spills over into your life. You are spectator to the ongoing dumpster fire they are living. You are not going to fix them or make them better people but if you ignore them it probably will drive them nuts. Petty. But funny!

 

2: I'm not okay with me. I'm okay with you.

 

Hello imposter syndrome! You will give the other party what they ask for but you will think you're a piece of shit while doing so. Why? Go figure out why you think you are a piece of shit. Is it rational? Fix it. Is it irrational? Fix that too.

 

No one is coming to save you and the world does not owe you a thing. Get busy being okay with you.

 

3: I'm okay with me. I'm okay with you.

 

Companies spend fortunes trying to get their people here. It is a quiet land and a contented people collaborating on shared goals. It is not going to be harmonious all the time. The place will feel like Genghis Khan’s armies rode through every now and then. Apart from that Okay me – Okay you is the aspirational end state that funds organisational development efforts in companies and has people reading the latest pop psychology books on motivation and happiness.

 

Strive for this. This is your destination in the work place. You will never see this consistently in your lifetime but that does not mean it is not worth working at. Here is where mutual fulfilment is.  

 

4: I'm not okay with me. I'm not okay with you.

 

If you are here and it is your job that is the cause, look for a different job.

 

If you are here and it is your boss that is the cause, fire your boss and go work for someone else.

 

Most managers like most employees or most executives are just about competent at what they do on their very best day. Anyone promoted above their level of ability becomes damaging to their employees and their organisation. Leave them. Leave them now and do so without regret.

 

Not okay me – Not okay you damages your soul. It is the feeling you are in a bad relationship. That bad relationship being where you are trapped in a barrel and every now and then someone opens the lid and dumps acid on you.

 

Not being okay with yourself in this position is fear, self-loathing all the ugly imperfections of being human. But you are human. Maybe if the stress is getting to you cut yourself a break. You cannot do it all so delegate some of what you are doing and dump the rest of it.

 

If work stress is not getting to you do you even care anymore? No. You have become one of those lifeless workplace zombies who can get to the office exactly on time and leave exactly on time and have a completely unmotivated and unfulfilling day watching the clock. This life of despair strikes the young as well as the old and must be a miserable existence. If you are a workplace zombie in Not okay - Not okay let me tell you that existence alone is not enough. Save yourself and select out. I am begging you to go be brilliant elsewhere where what you do matters to you. You can contribute but not where you are now.

 

People spend so much of their life at work they need to try and make it worthwhile. It can be frustrating, people are dumb and most of those you work with may never recognise your wit, insight, brilliance and amazing contribution but you will just have to take satisfaction that you recognise it. Hopefully at least one other person recognises it too.

 

In the end being okay with you begins and ends with you.


You do not have to work for a lunatic.

The difference between toxic co-workers and toxic people is that you can choose to not associate with toxic people. At some stage anyone in employment ends up working with, or for, a toxic co-worker.

When I write “toxic” I do not mean an under performer, the person who asks the same questions in meetings, or someone who is set in their ways and refuses to embrace any new ideas.

I am writing about people with diminished empathy and thin, brittle, self-esteem.

They could be your co-workers, they could be your manager, but they are common in large organisations and they will do you harm.

In an excellent article published in 2004, Harvard’s Dr. Roy Lubit, covers four types of toxic managers. Narcissistic, aggressive, rigid and impaired.

The thing about a toxic manager or a toxic VP is that they were once a toxic employee. The system failed to protect co-workers and subordinates from their rise and now those working alongside them or those working under them are subject to their atrocious, pitiless, self-aggrandising behaviour.

We will focus on the most dangerous as they tend to gather the most power over other people, narcissists. Narcissists love comparing head count sizes. It is a numbers game they can win at.

Narcissistic managers and co-workers only value the illusion of competence they show to superiors. Superiors are envied and despised by narcissists in equal measure. They envy the status and the perceived power but they despise the fact someone else has it.  

To the narcissist their greatest effort is making those above them believe they are talented. This is never the actual case but people who climb high in an organisation begin to believe their judgment is more accurate than it is and fail to look deeper.

The narcissist knows how to alter how they are perceived just enough that those who can grant them power believe they are making the right choice by giving it to them.

“Look at their track record. That they keep telling me about! And the empire building. That they always do at the expense of their peers! This person must be talented. Because they keep telling me how great a boss I am!”

Are you seeing true talent? Or, is there a group of talented employees, usually two, under the narcissist who are doing all the real work?

If you have ever sat in a meeting watching a narcissist present to an audience you may suffer a feeling of déjà vu had you previously sat through a presentation by one those acolytes who prop them up. Knowing where the work came from you will then find yourself looking deeper at the person.

How much credit do they keep coming back for?

When they promote an employee’s achievement are they perfectly placed to bask in its reflected glory?

What type of people have been leaving their organisation?

Do you know or care how the results they are showing were achieved?

Does the environment you work in reward narcissistic managers?

It could.

Some organisations promote sicknesses because they see themselves as “results oriented.” This is an excuse to hide the dysfunction everywhere else in the organisation which they cannot fix. That is not leadership. Leaders provide guidance, develop the talent of the company and foster collaboration across the organisation.

If you do not do any of that you are not a leader. I promise you that your followers are holding out for a better offer to come along.

As Lubit points out, if for any reason you challenge a narcissistic manager you had better be ready for a furious response. A challenge is ill advised if you are a sub-ordinate. Crushing you is a crushing a challenge to their fragile self-esteem. They will use every personal, political and procedural weapon at their disposal to make you suffer. Better to make yourself invisible and leave their organisation at the first opportunity.

If dealing with a narcissistic peer a challenge is somewhat risky what with all the trash talking they might do about you during and after the conflict. Keep an accurate account of how you both ended up at this point. The game of “your word against theirs” means you lose if their “word” means nothing to them.

If you are a superior to a narcissist it is your job to challenge them when required. You might not be able to prevent toxic people from getting into the company but you can limit the rise of those who are fatally flawed. You can prevent them from driving away truly talented people.

If you notice good people leaving at a rate higher than natural attrition you need to start your problem diagnosis at a leadership level and then drill down. Do not go looking to pin a problem on someone but do not fail to confront it if you find one.

It is better to start from a position of trust when dealing with people at work, unless someone has shown you not to trust them. It is not weakness to take people at their word until their actions show you that is a bad idea. If you put anyone under a light and look hard enough all of their flaws start to look immense but some flaws will destroy morale, impact productivity and ruin your business much more than others.

Be aware of those flaws. In yourself and in others.

To anyone stuck working under a narcissist and is suffering for it, leave and go work for a real leader. You might just do great things together.

(And without malice, be sure to tell your network of work friends what you saw when the mask of the toxic employee slipped. They will thank you for it. You might not be able to repair any organisational damage but you can help other people navigate around it.)


Workin'. Why you'll stay. Why you'll leave.

Why do you stay with your current employer?

Do you like the company its people and believe in its shared values? Would there be an economic cost to you if you left and went elsewhere? Does your place of employment just happen to be convenient for you at the moment?

Are you committed or are you involved?

Researching commitment, Dr. Natalie Allen and Dr. John P. Meyer analysed what they saw as three components of workplace commitment, a psychological state which binds an employee to an organisation. All three components might be present in every employee, it is the intensity of each component which decides the productivity outcome.

The affective component is strongest in true believers. These are employees who remain with the organisation through thick and thin because of an emotional attachment to the organisation. An identification at a deep personal level with the organisation's goals driving them to put in extra discretionary effort in the workplace.

The continuance component is strongest in people who believe leaving would be too costly for them. An unacceptable loss of accumulated benefits and organisational seniority if they started working elsewhere keeping them where they are. They climbed up the corporate ladder with their teeth when required. They are not starting from the bottom somewhere else.

The normative commitment is a sense of loyalty one might feel for an employer who has treated you well. Or treated you poorly. The normative component reacts to circumstances and is transactional. You get back that which was put in.

Let us say if what you have been putting in is not coming back out and has not been for a while? As useful as it is to identify why people stay, it is as useful to discuss why even true believers should leave an organisation.

If you have walked around inside some different companies you can detect the rot. It is when different kinds of rot occur together that even the true believer should make plans to leave.

What does the rot look like?

Quality decreasing as complaints increase is always a warning sign for anyone who is committed to an organisation. If you are of a disposition where your affective component is intense this will be a psychologically painful situation for you.

If you see quality decreasing and it is not an aberration which can be resolved with elbow grease, you now need to start listening to who is complaining about cash. Is someone up the org chart showing photos of their new boat to anyone passing while your customers and suppliers grumble about slow order deliveries and payments that are not coming?

You now have the humiliation of your blood and sweat not only being attached to poorly made products, but people are also angry at you because the products they have paid for are not being delivered or the goods they sold you are not being paid for.

Then we come to the elevator drop, stomach churning moment faced by anyone who has ever worked in a dying company. When you ask leadership a direct question about the future of the organisation and the answer you get is so incoherent you may as well have asked a complete stranger sitting next to you on an airplane.

Quality in free fall, no money, senior leadership living it up like the great depression starts tomorrow morning and the future of the company is just random words a moron is stringing together? I expect anyone who has reached that point to yell “BINGO” make finger gun noises, then walk out of the meeting as it is in progress and go look for a job somewhere else.

So if you lead people, are responsible for their wellbeing and want to retain them what should you be doing in your organisation?

The 2004 Corporate Leadership Survey performed quantitive analysis on 50,000 employees from companies worldwide and has some very interesting findings.

For leaders the things which strengthen commitment and increase discretionary effort, affective component effort, are in demonstrating that you are open to new ideas. That you care deeply about employees and their success. That you make employee development opportunities a priority and that you are committed to job creation.

Employees like to see new life springing up around them. New life is new co-workers.

Not surprisingly because of what we have covered in previous blog posts the top three drivers for increased effort come from understanding how your work is part of the organizational strategy, how important your work is to the organisation’s success and how the projects you are working on should get completed.

People leave workplaces for a variety of reasons. Some are rational reasons others are emotional reasons but people who stay and are productive all stay for the same reason.

Commitment.

If you can increase commitment in your corner of the organisation people will work with you for longer periods of time and do more with you while they are around.

(And if you are ever living the nightmare and think it’ll be too embarrassing to walk out of an all hands meeting to the sound of finger guns as you quit your job at a crummy firm, call me and I’ll do it over speaker phone for you as you leave.

You’re welcome.)


There is never a good time to make a tough choice.

Given that we are supposed to live in a data driven world and there is always data to point in any direction you would like to go, why are decisions not made? Surely there is an algorithm for that?

Have you ever sat in a meeting where a decision, probably major, has to be made and it is not? It probably was not made because it was tied to an emotion. Every decision you make is tied to an emotion.

No matter how much we try and human proof the decision making process, books written about unconscious bias and tools you should use to “take the person out of the situation,” your feelings will continue to drive your decision making process.

Neurologist Anotine Bechara set out to examine the role of emotion in decision making with patients who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Injury which impaired their emotional response range.

Not-sure-if-i-should-cut-the-red-wire-or-the-blueBuilding on the work of behavioural economists he targeted three classes of decision choices to study. Choice under certainty, choice under risk and choice under uncertainty.  If you have ever sat in a meeting where a decision was not made it was one of the latter two classes of decisions.

What Bechara found was where there was even a memory of an emotion in respect to a decision to be made, that memory was involved in the cognitive decision making process of the patients. That pale distant experience of an emotion in a person who might not be able to feel it anymore, counted.

When it comes to organisational decisions it is the most comfortable thing in the world to let things carry on as they are, until something outside of the organisation makes the choice for you. But there is something to keep in mind with regard to uncertain, high risk choices. Their full outcomes are unknowable.

You do not know what unintended consequences will occur even if you select the "best" option.

The minicomputer era ending, Digital Equipment Corporation found itself under siege from all sides. 32 Bit personal computers, Open Systems and cheap(er) networking technologies forming a wave that was drowning DEC. CEO, Ken Olsen, threw his most intellectually vigorous executives into a room and told them they needed to come up with a plan for DEC’s future and it needed to be supported by consensus. Days turned to weeks and the executives hardened around the choice of focusing on servers, solutions or semiconductors. When Olson turned up the heat for a decision his top brass crumbled, no decision made. Hand waving platitudes about doing it all and doing it the best. There was probably a corporate memo and a new vision statement to deliver the non-news.

Bob Palmer, a chip guy to the bone, came rocking up and replaced Olsen. Palmer went with semiconductors. He did not look for consensus because he knew he was rolling the dice. DEC died anyway.

Did Palmer make the wrong choice?

With perfect hindsight we know that DEC could not have succeeded in servers, in solutions or in semiconductors. It was not the leader in any of those categories and faced battles against more established and better equipped competitors in each segment. If anyone in Olsen’s pressure cooker knew that they did not pass it upwards. They did not make a decision.

When you consider the Execs had all the information about the company they required and the knowledge that other companies in different industries have faced a similar type of major realignment requirement, it does show you that you have to be willing to stick your neck out to commit to something. Palmer stuck his neck out and made an uncomfortable call, that it did not work does not take away from the fact he had the grit to do so.

Your decision might be wrong. Though you probably will not have all the information required to know why that is until later. As a decision maker it is your job to quantify unquantifiable information to the best of your ability. No other system involved can.

People might leave because of a decision you make. They might. Or they might stay and continue to work with you. You have no ownership over co-workers or employees and while you do have a responsibility not to drive them away you have a greater responsibility to create value for the business. Your decision might ensure everyone involved can make their mortgage payments for the near future as much as it might not. You do not know and will not know for a while to come. For any employee who may leave because of a strategic decision you make, if you have provide them with interesting work and have made sure they are paid enough that they do not feel exploited you have done all you can.

There is never a good time to make a tough choice. No matter the data you have or the tools you use eventually you have to step into the unknown. This will generate an emotional response.

That discomfort you are feeling is there to make sure you are committed to the outcome.