Posted tagged ‘Barack Obama’

In us we trust?

October 14, 2009

From time to time, the world sends us reminders about a value or function that we need to master or at least address better. Lately, I’ve noticed a single word keeps surfacing – trust.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says that trust is the foundation of teamwork. Without trust and vulnerability, one cannot have a candid conversation. And without a candid conversation there can be no conflict, which would lead to understanding each other’s perspectives and ultimately creating commitment, accountability and results.

Healthy organizations have a culture of trust. There, trust means the ability to also believe that one can count on one another and that we each share a common purpose.

Isn’t the whole healthcare debate in Washington really about a lack of trust in the numbers, positions and beliefs of our leaders?

And a fundamental reason regional peace talks fail between countries is often because neither party trusts the other.

If we wish to rebuild our country, industries, school systems, and families, perhaps it is time to revisit this fundamental underpinning.

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How the Obama Administration Motivates Behaviors

May 26, 2009

The Time Magazine article was extremely instructive in helping us to understand the behavioral science oriented steps being taken by the Obama administration. In this post we’ll focus on a number of them. Specifically, they are:

  1. Supplying knowledge
  2. Making it easy
  3. Creating social norms
  4. Legislating the activity

According to the Time Magazine article, studies suggest that better information can help us make better choices. This information can be disseminated in the forms of public service announcements (PSA’s) or appeals from well respected figures (remember our discussion about the use of Hubs in building communities) and even serial dramas.

What this means is that aggressive rules for disclosure and clarity will likely result in people making more informed and better choices. Documenting best practices will also produce meaningful results.

The second way to influence behavior is to make it easy for those who wish to make the choice that you wish them to make. This is why default options – opt-out instead of opt-in – are very successful. The push to create an electronic health record (EHR) is one step along the path of making generic drugs our default prescription of choice.

The creation of social norms is yet another way to influence what we choose. An appeal to conformity is very effective as we are a herdlike species. If our peers are obese, we are more comfortable choosing to be that way. What works is creating a sense that choosing not to participate in an effort sets us apart from social norms and therefore, we will take steps to be in sync with our peers. This is a technique that has been used successfully even in forwarding goals that are inappropriate or morally wrong (think McCarthyism).

The last factor that the Time Magazine article addresses is what happens when a nudge is insufficient. At that point, a strategy of making something mandatory is very useful. That’s why there is interest in taxing undesirable behaviors such as cigarettes, alcohol and even trans-fats consumption and subsidizing desirable behaviors such as weatherizing a home or the purchase of fuel efficient cars.

Now, when we hear a new initiative being proposed by the Obama Administration, our awareness to the work of the behavioral scientists will be present. Let’s hope that these efforts though are used to move us in the right directions.

In the ensuing posts, we’ll look at like some of the other models and variants that allow us to influence others.

Understanding the Science of Change

May 22, 2009

I have always been a big believer that the universe has a tendency to bring ideas, concepts and even people to you when you need them to be in front of you. When that occurs in my life, after I finally recognize that it is happening – and yes, sometimes it takes me a while to notice — I begin to immerse myself in the idea or get to know that person better.

Lately, a new concept has been showing up and so over the next few posts, I’m going to write about it. I’m also going to read about it and share what I learn along the way.

In the April 13th, 2009 edition of Time Magazine, there was an article by Michael Grunwald called “How Obama is Using the Science of Change.” The article cited the work of behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini who found that that the most powerful motivator was that “people want to do what they think others will do.” Cialdini is the author of the best seller “Influence.” (For what its worth, Cialdini is the name that keeps popping up…more on that in the next few posts)

According to Time, Obama leans heavily on the work of the behavioral scientists to understand what makes people tick and then, using this knowledge, he intends to spur behavioral change throughout the country. He’s leveraging what he learned about people to move forward his agenda on the economy, healthcare and energy.

The power of these nudges is huge. For example, is there a difference in the number of people who participate in a 401 K plan if they have to sign up or would that number change if they were signed up already and had to opt out? Well, a 2001 study showed that only 36% of women joined a 401K plan when they had to sign up for it…but when they had to opt out, 86% participated.

The implications of using behavioral science in our business and personal lives are huge. This notion affects sales, marketing, management, leadership and even how we lead our communities or exist within our families.

So how is the Obama Administration using what they have learned? Consider the way Americans received the $116 billion in payroll tax cuts from the stimulus package. Obama chose NOT to send one lump sum check even if that would have put the money in the hands of Americans faster. His administration was concerned that a lump sum check might be viewed as a windfall and deposited in a bank account instead of being spent to rev up the economy. Instead, the money is being released through decreased payroll withholding. Smaller amounts spread over time are more likely to be spent. The idea is to subtly nudge us to spend the extra cash.

Make no mistake – this is a radical departure from the way that we have let the free market dictate how things work. Some might call this “manipulation,” but to change our ingrained behaviors, this might be necessary. And we may discover that behavioral science is compatible with free market thinking as it may prove to be an accelerator in how we interact with the free markets.

The Time magazine article goes on to highlight several elements that help us to change behavior. And that will be the subject of the next post.

Staffing Appropriately During a Recession

March 2, 2009

With each passing day, we learn of more layoffs and furloughed employees. Today, more than ever, service and professional organizations need to determine the resources needed to complete projects so that they are staffed appropriately. Not surprisingly, there is a method by which one can accomplish this goal.

To do so, one begins by looking outward and assessing the projects that one wishes to address over a discrete period of time. Evaluate what is a priority or even an emergency project. These are the projects that absolutely must be accomplished for the well-being or growth of the business. Consider how long each project will take to complete.

Then segment the remaining projects into ones that would be nice to complete as they would add some value and then ones that are critical to the growth of the company. Your focus should be to address the priority projects, then the long term growth ones and then the “nice to haves.” By organizing the projects in this manner, the ability to address some of the longer term projects will present themselves as well.

From there, one should assess the type of staff required to complete the project. Do not think of terms of names of individuals within your company; rather, think in terms of roles. This is important because when one thinks of individuals, there is a tendency to not recognize that a particular person lacks a necessary skill or to minimize the importance of that person missing the skill. Make certain that you understand the skills required within each role.

Out of this exercise, a pattern will emerge. You will begin to discover that certain skills are required over the long term and certain skills are needed temporarily. You will also learn, based on the lengths of the projects, whether you need more than one individual with certain skills.

Once the roles have been identified, it is time to inventory the skills of your team. Do you have the right people and the right mix of professionals to complete the tasks at hand? Are their skills mature or do the lack the appropriate experience?

After completing this analysis, you will be in a better position to determine if you wish to recruit or buy additional talent, rent or have a consultant supplement your team to address a short term need, or provide additional training so that members of your team can acquire the skills.

Each of these alternatives has their place within the solution set. A short-term need or the immediate requirement for expertise and depth may necessitate that the most appropriate and economical alternative is using a consultant (the “rent” approach). A longer term or less pressing need may allow for an investment in training and augmenting the skills of your staff.  A need that you believe will be required for years to come may result in your organization pursing the recruitment or buying talent option.

In our next post, we’ll contemplate whether to recruit talent that has less experience and may be less costly or talent that has more experience and a higher price tag.

Types of Measures

February 20, 2009

There are three types of measures:

1. Activity measures

2. Output measures

3. Impact measures

Activity measures tells us how efficiently something was done. It answers questions such as:

  • How long does it take?
  • How productive is the department?
  • How many resources were used?

It focuses us on internal tasks, timing and resources but it is NOT about outcomes. As an example, profitability is an activity measure because it relates incoming revenue to internal operational costs. It measures the efficiency within which resources are utilized to produce income.

You’ll find activity measures are usually used with internal operations groups and frequently these are the measures used for multiple phases of processes

Output Measures emphasize the results of the work rather than the work activities themselves. Outputs tend to be physical products, services and communications that one group sends to another. These types of measures answers questions about what has been produced such as:

  • Does the product meet quality standards?
  • Was the product sent on time?
  • Was the product delivered on time?
  • Was the customer satisfied?

Output measures are about products NOT about production. They gauge quality, timeliness and evaluation by the CUSTOMER or USERS and therefore the measuring source is usually outside of the group producing the output.

Customer satisfaction is an output measure that requires obtaining feedback from outside the organization (this can be a customer internal or external to the organization.) Most output measures are using internal standards. These measures are useful when you are interested in whether the results meet certain standards.

My personal favorite is the last of our set and the one the President and our legislative leaders truly want to cause.

Impact measures ALWAYS require feedback or customer research to develop meaningful measures. So what is the difference between customer satisfaction measures and impact measures?

Customer satisfaction measures what the customer likes. Impact measures what the product does for the customer. It is all about value.

Impact measures answers questions such as:

  • Does the product make the customer more productive?
  • More successful?
  • Do the services make the customer more effective?
  • More influential?
  • Do the products help the customers reach their goals?

These measures require serious examination of the customer because there is no other way to get information about the customer’s productivity, success measures or goals without their input and evaluation.

Most important it shifts the focus to “What do you need from us to help you succeed on your own measures of success?” This type of measure alters relationships and makes what you achieve more valuable.

It makes you realize exactly what is the point of what we do.

Keeping Your Balance

February 16, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it appears that President Obama is getting quite an education from both the Democrats and the Republicans. This type of education will hopefully result in the President learning how to keep his balance.

The life of a leader is always a balancing act but never more so than during a transition. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be crippling. One does not know what one does not know. Keeping one’s balance is a key transition challenge.

It is essential that the new leader avoid these seven traps.

1)      Riding off in all directions. You must focus yourself on what is important.

2)      Undefended Boundaries. It is important to establish boundaries around what you are willing and not willing to do. Otherwise bosses, peers, and direct reports will take all that you have to give.

3)      Brittleness. The uncertainty inherent in transitions breeds rigidity and defensiveness, especially in new leaders with a high need for control. The likely result will be over commitment to a failing course of action.

4)      Isolation. Isolation can occur because you do not take the time to make the right connections, perhaps by relying on a few people, on “official” information or, by discouraging people from sharing bad news with you.

5)      Biased Judgment. This difficulty manifests itself as over commitment to a failing course of action because of ego and credibility issues, confirmation bias (the tendency to focus on information that confirms your beliefs and filter out that which does not), self-serving illusions (a tendency for your personal stake in a situation to cloud your judgment), and optimistic overconfidence or underestimation of the difficulties associated with your preferred course of action. Vulnerability to these biases increases in high stakes, uncertain, ambiguous situations in which emotions can run high.

6)      Work Avoidance. The leader avoids making a tough call by choosing to bury him or herself in other work. This causes tougher problems to become even tougher.

7)      Going over the top. All these traps can generate dangerous levels of stress. When stress is too high it becomes counterproductive.

To avoid these traps the author recommends following the leadership transition program outlined in this document, creating and enforcing personal disciplines, and building support systems at home and at work that help you maintain balance.

Personal disciplines that should be considered are

  • Planning to Plan
  • Deferring Commitments until you are certain that you have time to fulfill the commitment
  • Setting aside time for hard work by prioritizing and eliminating distractions so as to concentrate on what needs to be done
  • “Going to the balcony” and allowing yourself to step out and distance yourself so that the problem may be perceived in a different light
  • Focusing on the process of influencing others through consultation
  • Checking in with yourself to privately reflect on the situation.
  • Recognizing when to take a break in order to reenergize yourself.

Building your Support Systems means getting your personal office set-up, stabilizing the home front as your spouse and family are transitioning too, and building your advice and counsel network. This network should include people who can guide you on technical issues, such as expert analysis of technologies, markets and strategies; cultural interpreters who will help you understand the culture; and political counselors who will help you deal with political relationships.

Creating Coalitions

February 11, 2009

Anyone who has been observing the stimulus bill negotiations surely has become much more cognizant of President Obama’s need to build coalitions and the early lessons he is learning. To paraphrase his comments last evening, “old habits die hard.”

In order to exert influence without authority to require that people take certain actions, one needs to create coalitions to get things done. Influence networks – informal bonds among colleagues – can help you marshal backing for your ideas among colleagues. However, to do so, one needs to create an influence strategy. This means figuring out whom you must influence, pinpointing who is likely to support and resist your key initiatives, and persuading “swing voters.” .

Many new leaders make the mistake of focusing on the vertical dimension of influence, i.e., direct reports and supervisors, and not enough to the horizontal dimension, namely peers and external constituencies.  Think about who might be critical to your success and whether you have engaged and enrolled them.

Start by identifying the key interfaces between your group and others. Customers and suppliers, within the business and outside, are natural focal points for relationship building. Another strategy is to get your boss to connect you. Request a list of ten key people outside your group whom s/he thinks you should get to know. Then set up  meetings with them. (This strategy should be employed for your direct reports as well. Create priority relationship lists for them and help them to make contact.)

Another productive approach is to diagnose informal networks of influence. Observe the interactions at meetings including who defers to whom on crucial issues. Identify who is sought after for advice, who shares what information and news, and who is owed favors.

Identify the sources of power that give people influence such as expertise, access to information, status, control of resources (such as budgets and rewards), and personal loyalty. Talk to former employees and people who did business with the organization in the past. Seek out the natural historians.

Eventually, you will identify the opinion leaders. If these vital individuals align behind your A-item priorities, broader acceptance of your ideas is likely to follow.

There is a diagramming tool known as an influence map that will help you identify who influences whom. An influence map will help you identify supporters, opponents, and “convinceables,” people who can be persuaded.

Potential supporters typically share your vision of the future, are quietly working for change on a small scale, or are new to the company and have not yet become acculturated to its mode of operation. You must solidify and nurture this support. It is not a given.

Opponents will oppose you no matter what you do. They may believe that you are wrong. They may be comfortable with the status quo, have a fear of looking incompetent, see you as a threat to a value that they hold dear or to their power, or that your arrival will have negative consequences for people that they care about.

When you meet resistance, try to grasp the reason behind it. This will allow you to counter arguments and you may be able to convert some early opponents.

“Convinceables” are the swing voters who are either indifferent to change, undecided, or may be appealed to based on their interests. Take the time to try to figure out what their interests may be. Ask them or engage them in dialogue about the situation. Ask if there are competing forces that prevent these people from listening to you.

Now you are ready to think about persuasion strategies. People tend to weigh status quo vs. change. People will more likely gravitate to the status quo unless remaining with the status quo is perceived as a future threat or if there is a reward for change. If the leader has earned sufficient credibility, merely asking people to try something new is sufficient. These persuasive appeals can be based on logic and data or on values and the emotions that values elicit, or some combination of both.

There are action-forcing events that require change. Review meetings in which people must discuss progress publicly are one such event. These meetings encourage action and enforce accountability.

If people are unable to move at once, a leader may employ strategies to allow people to make incremental steps towards change called “entanglement strategies.” For example, getting people to participate in an initial meeting may cause them to participate later on. Entanglement works because each step creates a new psychological reference point for deciding whether to take the next small step.

Another way to do this is to get people to participate in data gathering. Once the person recognizes the problem, have them participate in refining the problem definition. From there it is a small step to solution planning and then, to implementation.

Finally, if you get people to change behaviors, right attitudes often follow. This is because people look for consistency between their behaviors and beliefs.

This all leads to a concept called “sequencing strategy.” By getting individual influencer’s alignment and support, group actions follow. If you approach the right people first, you can set in motion a virtuous cycle. Approach people in the following sequence:

  • Individuals with whom you have supportive relationships first
  • People whose interests are strongly compatible with yours
  • People who have the critical resources to make your agenda succeed
  • People with important connections who can recruit more supporters

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