First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Robert Hosking asks, “Thinking about firing an underperformer? Try this first.”

Robert Hosking

This is an article written by Robert Hosking for Talent Management magazine. To check out a wealth of other resources and sign up for a free subscription, please click here.

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Even the best managers sometimes face an unfortunate reality: employees who consistently underperform. For some, the failure to meet expectations can be tied to the prolonged downturn and a lack of motivation. Others show little or no improvement despite repeated attempts to provide the training and resources they need to succeed.

Regardless of the reason, it’s critical for managers to find out why an employee isn’t performing up to expectations and how they can work with the individual to resolve the situation.

Working with an employee to correct a performance issue often can pay dividends for the manager as well as the organization. When given the chance, many professionals are able to meet expectations. With the right approach, managers may find that an underperforming worker eventually becomes a valued member of the team again.

Touch base right away.

A manager’s first step should be to check in with the underperforming employee and discuss concerns with him or her. While the conversation doesn’t have to be formal or lengthy, the goal is to clearly communicate to the staff member early on that expectations are not being met. Waiting to approach the worker can be a major mistake. Not only could the situation grow worse, but there is also the risk of harming morale throughout the entire department, as other employees may wonder why one member of the team is not pulling his or her weight. Providing immediate feedback is also important because employees will likely interpret a lack of intervention as an implicit sign that they’re doing just fine.

It’s important for the manager to arrange the meeting in a private location, such as his or her office or a conference room. The staff member must feel comfortable sharing his or her candid thoughts, and the conversation must not be overheard by others.
During the discussion, the manager’s goal should be to understand why the employee is falling short of expectations, not to vent frustrations or place blame. Managers must avoid asking accusatory questions, such as, “You’ve missed a lot of deadlines lately; what’s wrong with you?” Instead, they must try to keep the tone conversational and allow for a two-way discussion: “You’ve missed several deadlines over the past couple of weeks. Is there anything I should know about that’s preventing you from meeting them?”

Reflect on how you might improve.

Having a conversation with the employee can oftentimes alert the manager to things he or she may or may not be doing that could be contributing to the person’s performance issues. Consider this scenario: There’s an experienced employee with a strong record of accomplishment, but her quality of work has been fading in recent months. The decline could be caused by burnout. The manager can reflect on whether the company has been leaning on her more because it is short-staffed or if the employee’s workload is too demanding and she hasn’t been provided the support she needs.

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Robert Hosking
is executive director of OfficeTeam, the world’s largest specialized temporary staffing service for administrative professionals. In this role, he manages operations for the 325 OfficeTeam locations worldwide, which place tens of thousands of highly skilled candidates each year into positions ranging from executive and administrative assistant to receptionist and customer service specialist.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Starfish and the Spider – and the Tea Party

Andrew Sullivan wrote about this here.

The book The Starfish and the Spider has cropped up a few times on this blog.  And I have already written about the Tea Party’s use of both this book and the Saul Alinsky classic, Rules for Radicals, in this post: Saul Alinsky + The Starfish and The Spider – Wisdom for a New Generation, on both sides of the Aisle.

Sullivan includes this video from Jonathan Rauch of the National Review.  Though this is primarily a political observation, it is certainly filled with insight for building networks in this new era of the “leaderless” organization.

Take a look. It’s short, and very descriptive.  (I’ve tried to embed it in this post, and have not succeeded.  You’ll need to click on over.  It is right at 2 1/2 minutes — and worth the time . Click here.).

Thursday, September 16, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sylvia Ann Hewlett on why, when threatened by scandal, women also need support

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Sylvia Ann Hewlett for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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Just one month after Hewlett Packard ousted Mark Hurd for expense report improprieties in his relationship with a female company contractor, the ex-CEO is riding high. Last week, Hurd landed the job of co-president at Oracle [click here] thanks to his tennis buddy and Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison.

You could say it’s business as usual at Oracle. Hurd replaces Charles Phillips, Jr., whose own extra-marital imbroglio went public in a big way earlier this year when his inamorata advertised their affair on billboards in San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York’s Times Square [click here]. Hurd may have had his knuckles rapped quite roundly by HP — instead of signing a $100 million three-year contract, he left with a relatively paltry severance package — but last week’s events go a long way toward soothing the smarts.

Watching the Old Boys’ Network in action in Silicon Valley is an in-your-face reminder that, for men at least, friends in high places can open doors and salvage careers. For women, however, versions of the Mark Hurd story have been accompanied by the sound of those same doors being slammed shut.

New research from the Center for Work-Life Policy [click here] — to be published as a Harvard Business Review Research Report later this year — shows that women suffer a disproportionate amount of damage in the fallout from illicit relationships between a male boss and a female subordinate. According to the data, the majority of women anticipate some sort of professional backlash after having an affair: 70 percent of female respondents believe that when a workplace romance breaks up, a junior woman is more likely than a senior man to face punitive measures.

But it’s not just those involved whose careers suffer. The women left in the workplace also get hurt, because the fear of scandal turns to fear of sponsorship.

The CWLP research shows that sponsorship is the critical promotional lever for women stuck just below the top layer of management. However, fear of being even suspected of an illicit sexual liaison causes 64 percent of senior men to pull back from one-on-one contact with junior women; conversely, for the same reason, 50 percent of junior women are hesitant to have one-on-one contact with senior men.

These fears are often well founded. As mentioned in my previous post, illicit relationships (between a boss and a subordinate) wreak havoc in teams. That this topic hits a sensitive nerve was demonstrated by the extraordinary response to my recent post [click here], which was amplified on the Huffington Post and Jezebel websites.

For example, one comment stated, “Many male execs struggle since they know that trying to advance a woman’s career can involve backlash as people ASSUME that sexual favors are being granted.” Women struggle too; one reported, “Especially when I was single, I was very self-conscious of how I interacted with my male bosses, even when I knew they were happily married men who were not at all interested in me.”

More disturbing are the implications underlying a comment that concluded, “An older male partner taking a younger female associate under his wing necessarily leads to inappropriate speculation.” Necessarily? What does this say about a work environment in which envy of a junior woman’s fruitful association with a senior man is allowed to be transmuted into prurient perceptions and openly corrosive comments?

It gets worse. Fear that mentoring a female subordinate will automatically lead to suspicions of canoodling is, in certain cases, even shutting women out of job opportunities entirely. “My husband is very anxious about hiring younger female staff as he doesn’t want people to gossip about him,” wrote a respondent — and with good reason. “His last few partners DID in fact have affairs with other women in the office and it put everyone on edge.”

Some respondents suggested that the sanest way to avoid such insanity is to forbid relationships between people in unequal positions of power and to punish the senior person involved. Such policies are routine in universities and the military where even people in power answer to a higher authority. But in too many workplaces, the boss is the higher authority. Perhaps it’s naïve to assume that HR can carry a big enough stick to enforce these policies when the CEO is waving an even bigger one.

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett
is an economist and the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy. She is the author of eight books, including Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down (Memo to CEO Series) published by Harvard Business Press (2009).

Thursday, September 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Together Effort” Really Does Trump “By Myself Effort” – Insight From Drucker, Tharp, Lennon/Mccartney, Eisner, and Anderson

Let’s talk about teamwork – or collaboration – or connections — or “together effort” instead of “by myself effort.”

A lot seems to be cropping up on my own radar about this idea of “together work.” And it is true – we can do more than meWe are smarter, more capable, more able to reach breakthrough ideas and even develop the next level of skills when we, somehow, tackle “together effort.”

In this post, I will share quite a few excerpts from different sources, then I will make a few of my own observations.

Peter Drucker saw this coming.  Here are excerpts from his article, published in The Atlantic, November, 1994, The Age of Social TransformationA survey of the epoch that began early in this century, and an analysis of its latest manifestations: an economic order in which knowledge, not labor or raw material or capital, is the key resource; a social order in which inequality based on knowledge is a major challenge; and a polity in which government cannot be looked to for solving social and economic problems:

There is a great deal of talk these days about “teams” and “teamwork.” Most of it starts out with the wrong assumption–namely, that we have never before worked in teams. Actually people have always worked in teams; very few people ever could work effectively by themselves. The farmer had to have a wife, and the farm wife had to have a husband. The two worked as a team. And both worked as a team with their employees, the hired hands. The craftsman also had to have a wife, with whom he worked as a team–he took care of the craft work, and she took care of the customers, the apprentices, and the business altogether. And both worked as a team with journeymen and apprentices. Much discussion today assumes that there is only one kind of team. Actually there are quite a few. But until now the emphasis has been on the individual worker and not on the team. With knowledge work growing increasingly effective as it is increasingly specialized, teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.

The team that is being touted now–I call it the “jazz combo” team–is only one kind of team. It is actually the most difficult kind of team both to assemble and to make work effectively, and the kind that requires the longest time to gain performance capacity. We will have to learn to use different kinds of teams for different purposes. We will have to learn to understand teams–and this is something to which, so far, very little attention has been paid. The understanding of teams, the performance capacities of different kinds of teams, their strengths and limitations, and the trade-offs between various kinds of teams will thus become central concerns in the management of people.

Recently, I read The Collaborative Habit:  Life Lessons for Working Together by Twyla Tharp.

I define collaboration as people working together – sometimes by choice, sometimes not.  Sometimes we collaborate to jump-start creativity; other times the focus is simply on getting things done.  In each case, people in a good collaboration accomplish more than the group’s most talented members could achieve on their own.

And Ms. Tharp warns against “by myself effort:”

Most of us grew up in a culture that applauded only individual achievement.  We are, each of us, generals in an ego-driven “army of one,” each the center of an absurd cosmos, taking such happiness as we can find.

In, there is a terrific article about one of the true world-class collaborations in my lifetime.  This is from Inside the Lennon/McCartney Connection, Part 2 by Joshua Wolf Shenk:

At the top of their music sheets, they would write, “Another Lennon/McCartney original.” They collapsed the space between them—not even an “and” would divide their names, just a slash.

John and Paul constantly pulled away from each other—and moved closer at the same time. Their competition actually enhanced their individual differences, even as it brought them into a relationship that was itself a third entity, the space where two circles overlap.

And just yesterday, I heard an interview with Michael Eisner on the Diane Rehm show on NPR (go here for links to the audio and transcript).  He has the author of the new book Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.  Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

And the point was that throughout my career, I have noticed that strong partnerships like I had with Frank result in better products, more ethical behavior, more fun. And at the end of the day, those people that have them are happier. And I would include a spouse in that — in that (unintelligible).

And I think you’d be more successful with a partner, it’s much more fun. And by the way, the conclusion that I come to in this book as my overall conclusion are partners are happier. All the people I interviewed are happier. That Harvard longitudal study over 70 years kinda proved that. Sole practitioners do not have the fun of the ups and the downs. You know, when you do badly — like in my life, if a film doesn’t open, then my wife, who was a great partner, who asked me why I made that film in the first place, but other than that, your partner and you can kinda sit there and say, well, next movie will survive…

And in Chris Anderson’s latest presentation at TED, Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation, he has graphic descriptions of how the web, and TED itself, is raisng the bar.  In other words, in the unofficial collaboration available because of the web, and in the exposure to other speakers at TED, everyone is pushed to “get better.”  Two of his primary illustrations are the improvements and breakthroughs made by many dancers because of dancers who put their dance moves on Youtube, and then, the overall improvement of speakers simply from exposure to other TED speakers.  Fascinating!  The official TED link is here, but I’ve embedded the video from Youtube.


A few observations:

#1 – You can keep getting better.  Paying attention to others, learning from others, working with others, you see the greater possibilities —  and then you stretch to tackle new challenges, to learn and adapt, to get better in every part of your work life.

#2 – “Together Effort” is what naturally flows from the technological tools of the era.  And Knowledge Workers rely on the knowledge of others, many others — and “together possibilities” expand greatly, over and over again.

#3 – A bad “partnership” can be, and usually is, devastating to your own energy level, your own morale, your own future.  BUT – A good partnership is energizing, and multiplying in its effects.

#4 – Collaboration is working together – kind of “short-term partnerships.”  These can lead to longer-lasting partnerships, that then tackle collaboration after collaboration.  In other words, life is a series of collaborations that are, in reality, one long pursuit of the right partner/partners.

#5 – Thus, when a collaboration “clicks,” grab on to the collaborator(s) and build longer-lasting partnerships.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A second interview of Roger Martin by Bob Morris

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He was appointed to a seven-year term beginning in September 1998 and re-appointed to a further five-year term effective July 2005. He is also a professor of strategic management at the Rotman School. A Canadian from Wallenstein, Ontario, he was formerly a director of Monitor Company, a global strategy consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his 13 years with Monitor, he founded and chaired Monitor University, the firm’s educational arm, served as co-head of the firm for two years, and founded the Canadian office. His research interests lie in the areas of global competitiveness, integrative thinking, business design and corporate citizenship.  His published works include The Responsibility Virus: How Control Freaks, Shrinking Violets And the Rest of Us Can Harness the Power of True Partnership (Basic Books, 2002), The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future, with Mihnea Moldoveanu (Oxford University Press, 2008), and most recently, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

Morris: A great deal has (and hasn’t) happened in the global business world since our last conversation. In your opinion, what has been the single most significant change and why do you think so?

Martin: To me what is most interesting is that we had a giant stock market meltdown in 2001 and an economic recession following and then made a number of regulatory changes that were designed to make sure such a thing never happened again.  Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way!  Within seven years we had an even worse stock market blow-out and an even worse recession. Last time it took 70 years between crashes.  This time it was only 7 years. It is time to take a more critical look at the theories behind our regulatory fixes that failed so horribly in 2008-9.

Morris: To what extent (if any) have the values, goals, concerns, and issues of your MBA candidates changed in recent years?

Martin: Environmental sustainability has moved from the fringes of the MBA student mind to its very center.  Today’s students really care about sustainability and are going to bring that concern into their jobs.  I am really encouraged by what I see on that front.  These students really want to make a difference on the sustainability front. The other thing that is evident is that more of them are interested in immediate post-MBA careers in the not-for-profit sector.  It used to be that many students imagined that they might move to that sector sometime later in his career.  But now more are interested in that right away.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single area in which even the most prestigious business schools are in greatest need of improvement? What specifically do you suggest?

Martin: It is in helping students solve real business problems of the sort they will face in the world into which they will graduate.  Business schools still teach them to solve stylized problems that fit nicely into course boxes.  I understand why.  It is easier to teach this way and there is more robust theory for narrowly-defined problems. But these aren’t the kind of problems that graduates will face when they enter the business world.  It would be nice if they would be, but they simply aren’t.  Business schools need to teach students to think integratively or they will be seen increasingly as teaching technocrats not managers.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment



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