Monthly Archives: July 2012

Can you handle your maverick@work?

He is abrasive, disruptive and a total individualist. He will not fit in with any one group. His is to challenge and push others to think differently.

She marches to her own beat, is irreverent of organizational control and cannot work as a team.

Fire them, say the bosses!

Welcome to the maverick at work, and every manager’s nightmare.

Risk taking, pundits say, is a leadership skill to be celebrated. As are independent thinking, creative problem solving, quick decision making, goal-oriented focus and execution and, yes courage under fire.

Whoa, wait a minute…Aren’t these the same traits mavericks display? So why do we slap them with unflattering labels such as unbridled indiscipline, disrespectful of team spirit or dysfunctional aggression?  And where does that place people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Ricardo Semmler et al?

I read an interesting association of mavericks to the Pareto’s Principle – mavericks tend to be 20 per cent of the most talented employees, causing 80 per cent of the organization’s problems.  Which means, if companies do not harness this talent they are likely to lose productivity and increase their liabilities.

So how do we manage a maverick?

The fundamental trick is to rewrite the rulebook – yes, sometimes individuals are more important than the team.

We need to  acknowledge that it is mutual respect and not formal authority that will create rapport. We need to be a guide to them, willing to listen and have a dialog, letting them know that we respect them. Once this is achieved, they will be more than willing to be reminded that there are organizational limits and goals that define them

Mavericks do not set out to be obstructive or obnoxious – they simply are not aware of the ripples they cause. They need to hear feedback, and will take it with the import it deserves as long as they feel that it focuses on how they are doing. And it is not just about bad behavior – keep them appreciated and valued too

The maverick is vulnerable – he does not belong to any one group, and hence is bereft of group support. As a manager, champion and support his contributions, not his bad behavior.

The essence of true talent management is to walk the tightrope of encouragement and positive restraint of wild independence to keep the employees engaged and productive. The maverick’s contribution to an organization can be in multiples of what a conventional “Exceeds Expectations” performer can! We need to have the discretionary wisdom to sift the “difficult low performer” from the “maverick high performer”. Do not exclude the maverick from talent programs because of his behavior; do not pass her up for promotion despite her expertise and ability only because she is seen to be unpredictable.

In the current climate where businesses ask their employees to do more with less, three unique traits of mavericks will be the game changers – high self esteem, confidence and dislike for failure.

S/he is willing to take the risk. Are you?

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The enigma of corporate culture

“This does not seem like the company I joined five years ago” – this is an employee viewpoint

“Change is inevitable – you have to reckon with it and adapt” – this is a management viewpoint

Both are truths at their fuzziest best. And they pertain to one of the most enigmatic words in the corporate lexicon – corporate culture. So enigmatic, that anyone can take a shot at defining it and make it stick!

What then is corporate culture?

…At its most basic, it can be termed as the personality of an organization

…At its most arrogant, it is “how things are done around here.”

…At its most structured, it is what the policy book says on core values and beliefs, ethics, and rules of behavior

…At its most earnest, it is the shared principles and values among all employees, from the bottom to the top of the corporate ladder

It is not hard to see why the first three will keep changing – it is the last that will be the glue to keep the core intact.

The question then – how does an organization and its employees feel and experience a set of core values that lead to an unshakeable and reassuring belief in each other?

Personally, I feel this hinges on whether actions and reactions in an organization are reinforced in a positive reinforcement model or on a trauma model (where members cope using defense mechanisms). We need to usher in a calming feeling of stable corporate culture, even in wildly changing times.

  • The vision, mission and value definitions of the organization must be clear at all times. This allows employees to understand the focus of the company and identify themselves with what it stands for
  • Communication to all employees must be consistent from their individual managers or leaders. Impersonal corporate communication mails have a funnily unerring way of finding their journey to junk folders
  • Employees must see genuine participatory practices to generate ideas bottom up – and visibly taken to closure. This will enhance belongingness to and positive imaging of the organization
  • Interactive sessions on key aspects of corporate vision, mission and values must happen. Such sessions need to be facilitated by leaders with high credibility equity with the respective audiences
  • The performance management program must be aptly written and practiced so that managers, supervisors, and employees know how (a) their individual objectives are interlinked (b) they are assessed on results, and (c) their strengths will be capitalized for individual progress
  • A robust reward management must be consistently executed to enhance the cultural assumption that achievements will be celebrated

Corporate culture doesn’t just happen. It needs a lot of committed time and effort and a great deal of communication. Leadership is indeed on test here, whether we like it or not. And every now and then, we may do well to take a serious look at the garbage can to see what has been trashed by our members, in addition to patting ourselves for the lines in the Book of Compliments!


A burden of responsibility

Have you felt the pleasurable burden of responsibility of helping your younger members march ahead without putting them under too much pressure?  Of creating a culture that nurtures talent?

Why does that seem like a burden? What are the challenges? And why is it easier to handle a younger boss but not quite as easy to handle youngsters downward in the hierarchy?

It all starts with a wee bit of unnecessary perception.

Many of us look for the slightest signs to form an impression (if we have not already), that young workers are irresponsible, and just want to have fun. But if we hire younger employees for the breath of fresh air we want them to bring in, and cannot handle them because they are different, the finger certainly points to us! They are here to stay – do we manage and motivate them or play a game of tug of war with them?

Maybe I got lucky, but I have found this generation energetic, creative, enthusiastic, and ready to contribute. The challenge is in handling their seeming irreverence – but what is hidden there is a swell of creativity that breaks the rules only to attempt to innovate! The trouble is they do not see themselves as breaking rules, since that is not their prime intent – but we do, habituated as we are to look at results and not the intent.

So how do we get over the wariness, apprehension, and misunderstanding? Given that we have hired well, here are a few simple tips for all seniors

  • Accept them – this is the next generation, and we need to learn to work with them rather than fight with them. Showing that you disapprove only creates conflict
  • Care for them – and let them know it. The stiff upper lip does nothing to tell them they matter. And remember, youngsters get put off as quickly with anything that seems phony, as seniors do with casualness!
  • But please do not baby them – your young member wants guidance, but also wants to be seen as an independent self-starter. If you cannot understand the logic, get to lump it as you do many other things in the corporate world. Believe me, this lump will not choke!
  • Communicate with them – tell them clearly, and document them if needed, the critical behaviors you want to see displayed at work. Youngsters may smirk at discipline, but they respect it!
  • Support them – despite their brash confidence, this is a difficult time for them. You have to motivate them to listen, and be reasonably flexible to accommodate their initial “getting-to-know” phase
  • Make work fun for them – they will remember this and make good their potential

And, most important

  • Recognize and reward them – for exceptional behavior, for ‘above-and-beyond’ attempts and achievements. And do so in a manner that they value and understand