Thursday, September 16, 2010

Motivating For Loyalty Rather Than Performance

Marshall Goldsmith
Author Bio.BiographyMarshall Goldsmith Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, coach and author. His books include What Got You Here Won't Get You There and Mojo. His specialty is helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. ..Kelly Goldsmith
Author Bio.BiographyKelly Goldsmith Kelly Goldsmith is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Yale School of Management and a member of the faculty at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Her specialty is research in consumer decision making. ..More from Leadership
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.View more ..Almost every company — and every leader — claims to want employees to honestly express their opinions. Almost everyone claims to hate “suck-ups” who just provide hollow praise to their bosses.

It’s a puzzling situation. If everyone hates suck-ups so much, why does so much sucking-up go on? The simple answer is that people tend to create an environment where others learn to suck up to them.

You’re probably thinking, “The Goldsmiths are making a good point. I see other leaders encouraging suck-ups all the time. Of course I find this to be disgusting!” It’s incredibly easy to see other leaders encouraging suck-ups. And it’s incredibly difficult to realize that you (without meaning to) may be doing the same thing.

In teaching classes, we’ve often ask leaders, “How many of you own a dog that you love?” Invariably these leaders smile, wave their hands in the air, and share the names of their ever-faithful mutts. Next we ask, “What family member gets the most unqualified positive recognition at home?” The possible answers are: A.) my husband, wife or partner; B.) my kids; or C.) my dog. More than 80 percent of the time the clear winner is … the dog!

We then ask these same leaders if they actually love their dogs more than the other members of their families. The invariably say no (although some appear to be lying). The next question is, “Then why is the dog the family member who gets the most unqualified positive recognition?” The answers always sound the same: “The dog never talks back!” “The dog never criticizes me!” “The dog is always happy to see me!” “The dog gives me unconditional love!”

In other words, the dog is a suck-up.

Here is a simple test that may help you avoid encouraging suck-ups in your own work environment. Rank-order your direct reports (or, if you don’t have direct reports, use co-workers) in three ways:

1.How much does this person like me? (You may not know the real answer, but it doesn’t matter. How much do you think this person likes you?)
2.What is this person’s contribution to our company and our customers?
3.How much positive personal recognition do I give to this person?
If you’re honest with yourself, in some cases you may find that your recognition is more highly correlated with No. 1 (liking) than No. 2 (contribution). You may be falling into a trap that you despise in others: creating an environment where people learn to suck up to you.

Think of your own experience in observing suck-ups. The ones that we all hate are obvious or embarrassing about it. These people’s problem is not that they suck up — it’s that they’re bad at it. Subtle suck-ups who don’t obviously look like they are sucking up do much better. They’re much more skilled in their tactics.

Challenge yourself as a leader or co-worker. Make sure that when you give recognition, you’re giving it for the right reason. Don’t assume that you’re too enlightened to fall into the “encouraging suck-ups” trap. Anyone can make this mistake.

That's What Stupid Organizations Do

Most organizations are so incompetent that they’re best described as flat-out stupid. Does this label apply to the place where you work? Take the Logan Organizational Stupidity Exam (LOSE) and find out. Every time you say “Yep, that’s where I work,” give your company a point.

1. In the last five years, at least one senior manager has sent out many copies of a small business book with big type and a catchy title that is painfully devoid of thought. Now, some business books are of value. I visited a company recently where the CEO sent all employees a copy of The Essential Bennis — the antithesis of the bad business book I ranted about a couple of posts ago. He asked people to read it carefully and with personal reflection. Not surprisingly, that company is doing well. Replace Bennis’s great book with any text about cheese, and you’re at Stupid Inc.

Bonus: In a related move, if people boast about having attention deficit disorder, give your company a bonus point. Stupid thrives when people brag about not being able to have complex conversations.

2. When someone at the top royally screws up, it’s never discussed, but when someone lower down makes a mistake, it’s fodder for endless root cause analysis. Stupid is most incapacitating at the top.

3. Every executive speech follows this format: things were bad when I took over, I’ve worked hard to turn it around, and now the future is rosy. This statement is stupid for two reasons: (1) it repels any lessons from the prior regime other than it was incompetent, and (2) focuses on the action of the leader rather than the group. “I,” “me,” and “my” talk is a sure sign of organizational stupidity, and an inability to think past the tenure of the current leaders is a sign that the stupidity is here it stay.

Bonus: If the executives routinely use “we” instead of “I” but clearly mean themselves, give your company two stupid points instead of just one.

4. Organizational learning is seen as nirvana. With deep respect for the pioneers of organizational learning, my two year old learns a new word every day and recently figured out how to work my iPod. Learning is simply a prerequisite to thinking, and organizational thought (mass innovation) is the real key to growth. If your company aspires only to do what a two year old does naturally, it’s high on the stupid scale.

5. Managers follow standard HR advice and get in trouble if they don’t. This advice includes:

Hire for skills, not for values. Standardize interview questions to drive out any chance you might actually get to know the person.
Give out salary increases to people according to a bell-shaped curve, telling people that an extra 1% is proof that they are deeply, deeply valued.
Measure employees against pre-determined criteria rather than other results they produced. We don’t want our employees distracted by opportunities we didn’t plan for.
Bonus: The need to hew blindly to HR advice makes for a nifty-looking employee handbook that will be blessed by corporate counsel. And that will make stupid spread like mosquitoes in summer. If you have this handbook on your bookshelf or accessible over your intranet, give your company an extra point.


Organizational stupidity is more than fodder for Dilbert cartoons. It’s the reason our country is lagging behind in competitiveness and why American wages are declining. If your company scored 4+, the place you work is part of the problem.

The Richard Branson Prescription to Success

I am often asked if I have found a secret - or at least a consistent answer - to successfully building businesses over my career.

So I’ve spent some time thinking about what characterizes so many of Virgin’s successful ventures and, importantly, what went wrong when we did not get it right. Reflecting across 40 years I have come up with five “secrets.”

No. 1: Enjoy What You Are Doing.
Because starting a business is a huge amount of hard work, requiring a great deal of time, you had better enjoy it. When I started Virgin from a basement flat in West London, I did not set out to build a business empire. I set out to create something I enjoyed that would pay the bills.

There was no great plan or strategy. The name itself was thought up on the hoof. One night some friends and I were chatting over a few drinks and decided to call our group Virgin, as we were all new to business. The name stuck and had a certain ring to it.

For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives.

A businesswoman or a businessman is not unlike an artist. What you have when you start a company is a blank canvas; you have to fill it. Just as a good artist has to get every single detail right on that canvas, a businessman or businesswoman has to get every single little thing right when first setting up in business in order to succeed. However, unlike a work of art, the business is never finished. It constantly evolves.

If a businessperson sets out to make a real difference to other people’s lives, and achieves that, he or she will be able to pay the bills and have a successful business to boot.

No. 2: Create Something That Stands Out.
Whether you have a product, a service or a brand, it is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive in the modern world. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make a mark today.

Look at the most successful businesses of the past 20 years. Microsoft, Google or Apple, for example, shook up a sector by doing something that hadn’t ever been done and by continually innovating. They are now among the dominant forces.

No. 3: Create Something That Everybody Who Works for You is Really Proud of.
Businesses generally consist of a group of people, and they are your biggest assets.

No. 4: Be a Good Leader.
As a leader you have to be a really good listener. You need to know your own mind but there is no point in imposing your views on others without some debate. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice.

Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them. As a leader you’ve also got to be extremely good at praising people. Never openly criticize people; never lose your temper, and always lavish praise on your colleagues for a job well done.

People flourish if they’re praised. Usually they don’t need to be told when they’ve done wrong because most of the time they know it. If somebody is not working out, don’t automatically throw him or her out of the company. A company should genuinely be a family. So see if there’s another job within the company that suits them better. On most occasions you’ll find something for every single kind of personality.

No. 5: Be Visible.
A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk. I’ve never worked in an office - I’ve always worked from home - but I get out and about, meeting people. It seems I am traveling all the time but I always have a notebook in my back pocket to jot down questions, concerns or good ideas.

If I’m on a Virgin Atlantic plane, I make certain to get out and meet all the staff and many of the passengers. If you meet a group of Virgin Atlantic crew members, you are going to have at least 10 suggestions or ideas. If I don’t write them down, I may remember only one the next day. By writing them down, I remember all 10. Get out and shake hands with all the passengers on the plane, and again, there are going to be people who had a problem or have a suggestion. Write it down, make sure that you get their names, get their e-mail addresses, and make sure the next day that you respond to them.

Of course, I try to make sure that we appoint managing directors who have the same philosophy. That way we can run a large group of companies in the same way a small business owner runs a family business - keeping it responsive and friendly.

When you’re building a business from scratch, the key word for many years is “survival.” It’s tough to survive. In the beginning you haven’t got the time or energy to worry about saving the world. You’ve just got to fight to make sure you can look after your bank manager and be able to pay the bills. Literally, your full concentration has to be on surviving.

Obviously, if you don’t survive, just remember that most businesses fail and the best lessons are usually learned from failure. You must not get too dispirited. Just get back up and try again.