Vital Elements of an Execution Plan that Optimize Success for Leaders

Execution-Plans-Todd-Nielsen-Success-ElementsMany people have a hard time with planning, or do not realize they do… It is easy to have an idea in your head and then stare at a blank piece of paper trying to figure out where to start. This is true for personal plans and also any kind of business plans, be it Annual Plans, Quarterly Plans, etc… On that same token I have seen people who think they are good at planning, and end up putting lots of notes into a document that are cryptic and hard to figure out.

Let’s talk about some needed elements that are important for creating great execution plans. There is a lot that goes into complex planning, such as business plans, annual sales plans, and annual marketing plans (to be covered in another post), but when it comes to execution planning, these are critical elements to make sure you achieve what you are aiming for.

When working on plans, you first have to know what your goals and targets are. A plan is not meant to make people busy, a plan is to move toward something. That “Something” is usually a goal. I won’t go into S.M.A.R.T., but yes goals need to follow the S.M.A.R.T format.

I’d also add that if you can make your goals sound more inspirational it will help your execution and those of your team toward that goal. For example, instead of “Add $250,000 in Sales by June 30th,” make it something like, “Improve the financial security of our company and employees by adding $250,000 in sales by June 30th.” They why behind the latter format is much more inspirational to work towards.

When you have your goals set, then it is time to create a plan. This item now, is where I have seen a lot of people fail in planning. Each goal will usually have a lot of tasks, projects, and milestones under it. These items need to be organized and prioritized into the correct order. Once you have that, you must give assignments to each task, project, and milestone. Who is going to be in charge of completing each item, needs to be determined. Additionally, it is important to add the dependencies to each item. You might have someone in charge of a project or task, but often times they are dependent on others for information. It is important to list the other dependent people that the task or project relies upon so that they can see their part of the plan from the onset.

Every item in the plan, that supports the goals, needs completion dates. A plan where every task has a completion date at the end of the period is not a plan, it’s only a hopeful list.

Before you call your plan completed, you now need to figure out if it is even possible to achieve. Especially in business when everyone has a “day job,” it’s important to weigh the plans and goals against things that could impact availability, such as:

  • People being on vacation
  • People being at conferences
  • Other projects or initiatives that are already ongoing
  • Company events
  • etc…

Great execution plans drive execution and accountability, and they produce results. Bad plans, are hard to follow, are unclear on the priorities, and cause stress, overload, and frustration. With mediocre plans, you may still accomplish a lot, but the old quotation, “Time spent in sharpening the axe may well be spared from swinging it,” is very applicable. If good plans can reduce frustration and overload, then they also help in building a positive culture that is not overworked and stressed.

Please share your questions and thoughts about planning in the comments section.

Are You a Truly Successful Leader? Here’s How to Tell!

Leadership-In-The-Home“You have two weeks to live.” The doctor closes the door and leaves you to your thoughts. As you sit there, trying to process what you’ve just heard, what are you thinking about? Seriously. What matters now? With whom will you long to spend your last moments? Doing what?  What will you wish you had done differently? What will you be so grateful you did?

One of the top regrets expressed by terminally ill patients was that they wished they hadn’t worked so hard. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” They “deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

As essential as they are, success and leadership in both community and business still pale in comparison to the consummate importance of leadership in the home. Unfortunately, many smart and talented people passionately pursue leadership at work and passively accept leadership at home. Hence, the thriving careers and businesses… and the failing families.

No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” ~David O. McKay

Even From There—My Story

My dad was gone before I was born. Step dad after step dad; each failed to rise to the role of a true leader in the home. I ended up out on my own at an early age; hurting, struggling… desperate. I vividly remember one cold, lonely Christmas Eve, sitting by myself in a very dreary, despicable place. On a night when we should be celebrating with family, I sat alone watching my breath in the frigid air. The loneliness was almost more than I could bear. That night became one of the turning points in my life.

I DECIDED I would have a family that would always be close together. A family that would be created on the highest principles and values and would be filled with love and happiness. A family that would be built with an unbreakable bond. I was determined to create a fantastic family, to be a leader in my home;  and I was ready to do whatever it required.

I went after it like a cheetah chases a gazelle. I read and studied voraciously, I still do. I observed and interviewed both the successful and the unsuccessful. I wanted to KNOW what it takes to be a world class husband, father and leader.

I’ve found the answers, and I’ve continued studying marriage, parenting, personal development and leadership for 18 years; and teaching it around the globe.

Today, my amazing wife and I have an incredibly blissful marriage. No lie, our marriage rocks! We have six wonderful children, with whom we love to travel the world and really enjoy life. As I write this article, I am looking out over the lush mountains below our temporary home in Costa Rica.

Happy Families

If I can climb from where I started to who I am, then you can too. Today, right now, can be a turning point in your life; the day you decide with all your heart and soul, to be a leader in your own home.

None of us need look very far to realize that leadership in the home is MIA—missing in action. Parents are so stressed out; their lives are filled with anxiety and turmoil. So many are failing to rise to their full potential as leaders in their home.

Families are falling apart. The divorce rate is pathetically high. Many of those who stay together are unhappy, and merely co-exist.  The chasm between parents and children is widening. The bonds are breaking.

The family is the fundamental unit of society and eternity, and is the basis for true happiness and fulfillment in life. The quality of your family life directly affects everything else you do!

It’s time for you to lead! What is leadership in the home?

  • It’s putting your family first, and proving it with your time and attention.
  • It’s working on yourself harder than you work on anything else. Pursue personal greatness as a spouse, parent and a leader.
  • It’s putting in the time and effort for real preparation and performance at home.

How long and hard did you study for mastery at the university level or in the work place? Does your effort and commitment for mastery in the home match or exceed that? Have you studied successful marriage and parenting even half as hard as you studied for a thesis or dissertation?

Family is the most important part of this life. Is that truth evident in your thoughts and habits? Is your quest for excellence in the home even half as passionate as the quest for material success?

No matter your past. No matter your circumstances. You can become a phenomenal leader in your home.

Children are a gift from God. One day He will ask for an accounting of this most precious stewardship. I challenge you to live in such a way, that on that day, you will be able to look up with confidence and say, “I was a leader in my home.”

Reach upward!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Leaders – Stop Pegging People into Your Hole

Leaders-Differences-International-Leadership-Todd-NielsenI’ve had the privilege of working with people from all over the world. The United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, India, Singapore, Philippines, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, England, Kenya, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand, and the list goes on and on. I don’t mention this to brag, instead I desire to state an observation about people in the world, people in your country, people in your city, and even people your office or home – THEY….ARE…..ALL…..DIFFERENT. If this is so obvious, why is it that leaders keep trying to peg people into their “Hole?”

The world is full of introverts, extroverts, and centroverts, bubbly people and serious people, thoughtful people and outgoing people. Actually that previous sentence is all wrong, sorry for leading you astray; the truth is that the world is full of… people. There is no type of person or personality that is necessarily better than another. People all have qualities that make them valuable and worthwhile, you are the same. I’m sure that most people the world over would agree more or less with that statement. Yet if that that is so true, why is it I keep seeing leaders try to form a culture that is modeled after their own personality?

The Mini-Me CulturePeople-Mini-Mes

I have seen this play out dozens of times. The outgoing extrovert CEO trying to convert everyone into mini-mes. If the world were
full of pixie-dust unicorns, and Austin Powers, we might be able to do just that, fortunately we live in a much more realistic and diverse culture.

Instead the world is full of people – all different types, different flavors, different personalities, different communication methods, different cultures, different customs and a thousand other differences. A real leader will have the intuition to recognize the value that people bring and not judge them because they are different then themselves.

In working with people from all over the world, whether from a different culture, or the same; I have found the following practices to be beneficial in communicating and relating to those you work with:

  1. Mimic – Attempt to mimic their communication styles when possible while still integrating your own in the mix. For examples in Canada and England the word “Process” is pronounced proh-ses and in the United States we say pros-es. The difference is “O” vs “AAH” in the pronunciation.
  2. Observe – Take time to observe how the other person communicates. Examine their written and verbal communications. Check out social media to see how they communicate on those channels, as the way they communicate there, often is how they feel most comfortable communicating.
  3. Research – No need to do a big report, but take a few minutes and Google the communication styles of the country, culture, or type of person you are working with to be able to understand certain idiosyncrasies. There are many differences even within a country and taking the time to understand might mean the difference between being understood or being offended.
  4. Patient – Some cultures, even some sub-cultures in the United States and other countries, move a bit slower than many executives would like. A good working relationship will require mutual trust and respect.
  5. Recognize – To have a successful working relationship, whether it is a small project or a long one, it’s important for both parties to recognize the value that the other(s) brings to the project. Recognizing the value will help one to overlook the communication differences that might be bothering to one of the parties.

Accept Differences, Value Others

As we roll into the 3rd Annual International Leadership Blogathon and more importantly, as we roll on with our working lives, I hope you can find and see that everyone has value, and that everyone should not be forced into an ideological “hole” that a leader believes is their culture of nirvana with multitude of mini-mes doing their bidding. Everyone has value, you have value and as leaders is it our job to discover other’s values.

I’d love to hear your comments below and please stay-tuned to a lot of great articles in this year’s 3rd Annual Leadership Blogathon, starting today!

Being a Leader Doesn’t Protect You from Addictions

Leadership-Management-AddictionsNews stories often portray how people in high-level executive positions, such as CEOs, make fateful decisions to drink and drive. These executives find out quickly that even though they are in a powerful position and know influential people, that it doesn’t protect them from alcoholism or other addictions

Take the recent Fox Sports news story about the DUI arrest of Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay. The billionaire who was instrumental in building the Colts into an AFC powerhouse was arrested after he failed roadside sobriety tests. There are others in the c-suite crowd that are guilty of similar behavior.

Leaders are Wired for Addictions

Leaders have to make great decisions as part of their job, so, why do they make such bad decisions in their personal lives? Some research suggests that the way their brains are wired, predisposes them to addiction.

According to recent research, one of the reasons why leaders can become addicts is that many of them have more psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. It’s these traits that propel these individuals into stardom, and also increases their likelihood of alcoholism.

The Pressures of Leadership

Many executives are prone to alcoholism because of job pressures. Along with pressure; obsession, a strong drive to achieve greatness, a strong desire to increase wealth and provide for their families, along with dedication – are all traits of many executives that can increase the pressure they feel. Getting a handle on the problems of pressure, before they become an even greater obstruction to your career and family, can help guide you through all the personal demons you face and can also give you alternative ways to deal with the problems that may arise, and are associated with the job.

Because of pressures, it can be easy for business executives to rely on alternative methods to stay awake, come up with fresh ideas, and maintain a high energy level. Unfortunately, the consequences of substance and alcohol abuse can become too much and lead to hazardous behaviors.

Serious Outcomes of Alcohol and Substance Abuse

There are serious consequences for those in a high management positions who abuse drugs and alcohol. Lack of concentration, slurred speech, inability to meet deadlines, and missed appointments are minor problems associated with the abuse. If you travel and entertain customers, you could also be at risk for a DUI. In addition to losing a driver’s license and facing fines and higher insurance premiums because of the conviction, you could also be at risk for jail time. If convicted, you could also lose your place of employment, because of your lack of responsibility and professionalism.

Getting a Handle on Addiction Problems

While drug and alcohol abuse can be a problem for some, it can be especially troublesome for executives in high-level positions. Quick decision-making skills, being a team leader, and taking charge of large sums of money are some of the many responsibilities of an executive. A leader can get a handle on their problems by seeking immediate treatment through a rehab program, where they’ll be taught to find root of the problem through behavioral therapy, detoxification, and counseling.  A beneficial program will also teach the executive about finding substitute solutions when things become too much to handle.

For those looking to achieve greatness, you can find alternative methods to prevent getting into an high pressure and abusive situations. Learning how to delegate job responsibilities, committing to the right balance of family and work life, and enlisting the help of an executive coach are all resolutions that can help keep you on the right path to enjoying your business success.

Please share your thoughts about leadership addictions in the comments section. 

Thermostats and Thermometers – Effective Leadership Changes the Climate

Thermostats-and-Thermometers-Effective-Leadership-Change-the-Climate-Todd-NielsenOften paraphrased as “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mohandas Gandhi actually wrote:“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” (Vol. 13, Ch. 153, page 241)

Put another way, we might say that leadership is concerned not with being a thermometer, but with being a thermostat. Our primary interest is not just reporting the temperature – but in exerting influence and encouragement in order to change the temperature.

Just as a thermostat must have an accurate thermometer, a leader must be able to honestly assess the current state of the organization in order to make corrections to the environment. However like a thermostat, a leader must also outline the steps necessary to change the climate of the organization toward the preferred future.

As leaders, it’s important that our own attitudes, actions, and words are consistent with this preferred vision of the future. Even though the preferred future is not yet reality, we must live as though it is coming true day by day. As we do this, team members begin to catch the vision, and it not only guides our future – but the present as well. Rarely does this happen all at once, and the wise leader learns to celebrate each baby step toward the goal.

Consequently, change within an organization begins at the top. A leader must not only see the current state of the organization, but have the vision to see the desired future. With that vision in mind, the leader executes the steps necessary to change the culture, and begins to communicate expectations to the team members.

A leader must not only see the current state of the organization, but have the vision to see the desired future. ~ Tweet this!

Instead of merely mirroring the status quo, or getting caught up in the negative aspects of the environment, wise leaders take to heart those words of Gandhi, that by changing oneself – we thereby change the attitudes of the world around us.

What are some of the ways you have seen a leader move from being a thermometer to being a thermostat? What are some of the steps you take toward changing the culture of your organization?

4 Games That Leaders Play

4-Games-That-Leaders-Play-Dan-ForbesAre you a true leader, or are you a game player? Some leaders are examples to follow, others are examples to avoid. Bad leaders play games with their people.  Good leaders inspire and lead the way.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – The Apostle Paul

Four childhood games teach us valuable leadership lessons.

King of the Hill

I remember when a friend’s Dad dug a pond on his property and by doing so created a mountainous pile of dirt.  It was perfect for a game of King of the Hill.

We would race-climb up the hill, shoving and pushing other kids aside.  The first one to reach the top became King of the Hill. To maintain his position he would push and shove down any kid who tried to take his place.

King of the Hill is a nice kid’s game, but it’s a game leaders shouldn’t play. We all know the positional leader who shoved others aside to ascend to his position, and then protects his turf by pushing others down.

Bad leaders put others down. Good leaders pull others up.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about pushing others down, it’s about pulling them up. (Tweet This)

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up” – Booker T. Washington

Follow the Leader

Another childhood game we played was Follow the Leader. One kid was the leader, the rest of us were the followers. The object of the game was for the leader to make following as difficult as possible.

The Leader would go under things, over things, through things, around things, making it hard to follow.  The followers would become exhausted, disoriented, and finally give up.

We all know leaders who are difficult to follow. Perhaps they lack integrity, empathy, people skills, or vision. We don’t want to follow them.

Bad leaders are hard to follow. Good leaders make following easy.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about making following a chore, it’s about inspiring others to want to follow you. (Tweet This)

“Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way” – John Maxwell

Hide and Seek

I can still remember leaning against a tree, counting out loud “one, two, three…one hundred,” as the other kids ran and hid.  It was a game of Hide and Seek.

The object of this game was to become the best one at hiding and the last one to be found. The last one found won the game.

Hide and Seek is a nice game for children, but when leaders play it, the organization suffers. We all know leaders who are not good at handling conflict or challenges. These are the leaders who rather than face a challenge head on, instead go into hiding.

That’s not good leadership. Bad leaders hide when the going gets tough.  Good leaders are accessible.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about hiding during challenging times, it’s about leading from the front. (Tweet This)

“In business, as in war, the best leaders are those who lead from the front lines–who commit themselves fully to the mission…and…the common goal” – Justin Moore

Blind Man’s Bluff

We usually played this game in the big backyard of my Grandparent’s house. On kid was selected to be the “blind man.” We’d tie a bandana over his eyes so that he couldn’t see, spin him around a few times, and then, while hiding in plain sight, challenge him to catch us.

The object of the game was for the “blind man” to grope around trying to touch the other players. They would avoid the “blind man” while teasing him and tempting him to change direction.

We all know leaders who are like the blind leading the blind. Leaders without vision and without a clear direction. These leaders are constantly changing course.  They are weak and easily influenced by people and issues calling for their attention.

Bad leaders have no vision. Good leaders know where they are going and how to take their people there.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t simply activity and being busy, it’s having a clear vision which excites and compels others to follow.

 “Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs

There you have it.  Leadership is pulling people up, it’s inspiring others to want to follow you, it’s leading from the front, it’s having a vision that excites and compels others to follow. Good leaders don’t play games.

Molding Future Leaders: 4 Tips for Mentoring Young Professionals

Leadership-Mentoring-Young-Leaders Here on, we often discuss how we can develop leadership qualities within ourselves and within organizations. Established leaders, also have an obligation to pass the baton and help develop leadership in others. This, more than anything, is the hallmark of good leadership. Just as John Quincy Adams once noted, “If your actions inspire others to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” If you have young people in either your professional or personal life, lift them up and in so doing, inspire an entire generation of future leaders. Here’s how:

1. Impress upon your young charges the importance of constantly learning.

Perhaps the most important key to future success and personal fulfillment is developing a desire to constantly learn new things. If you are an employer and you supervise young people, give them tasks that require learning and applying new skills. Encourage them to learn outside of work, to learn for its own sake and enjoyment.

2. Put them in situations in which they have to make serious decisions.

Good decision-making skills are another important element in leadership. Of course, you can talk all day about the qualities inherent in strong leaders, but it’s important to put young people to the test so they can actually begin practicing leadership skills. If the young people in question are your employees, put them in a situation in which they make serious business decisions. Guide them through the process of decision-making, and show them how each decision requires compromise and give-and-take.

3. Emphasize loyalty and humility over personal gain.

If there’s one thing that many leaders in the financial industry learned, it’s that greed trumps responsibility to your clients and the common good. We often talk about ethics in leadership, but we all too often only pay it lip service. Talk to your young future leaders about the importance of loyalty and service. Financial greed never pays off, doing the right thing does.

4. Be the best example you can be. Actions speak louder than words.

Being a good example is the most effective way to mentor young professionals. That means always being aware that you are being watched by young people who look up to you. Never take shortcuts, own up to your mistakes and otherwise be the person you want others to see you as.

Inspiring leadership in younger people is by no means easy. But as a current leader, you must develop a vision for long-haul sustainability for your current enterprise and society as a whole. This can only be done by investing in young people. Soon enough, they’ll be running the world.

“Being a good example is the most effective way to mentor young professionals.” Tweet this!

Have you led young professionals? What tips do you have? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Leadership Gold Nuggets From Around The World – Part 7 – 12 of 27

Leadership Gold NuggetsThis is the second of a multi-part article on the wisdom and insights gained from the 2012 International Leadership Blogathon.  The first part is located here: Leadership Gold Nuggets From Around The World – Parts 1 – 6 of 27

The blogathon brought many great minds together. And while this summary does not do justice to the complete articles, it provides a glimpse into the great collection of international leadership insights. Let’s continue with the gold nuggets.

Article 7 – John Wenger from New Zealand
Leaders Hold The Power to Engage

“People want to spend eight hours of their day deriving some kind of meaning and genuine satisfaction from their work.  They want to enjoy their relationships with others and be part of a workplace culture that values connection.  They also want opportunities to learn and grow; not just technical expertise that enables them to be better at their jobs, but also learning experiences that enhance their lives.”

“The time has come for us to look at our world through a systems thinking lens.”

“To take a systems thinking perspective means we stop looking at phenomena through a narrow zoom lens, but we use the wide-angle lens and take account of the many factors that influence engagement at work.”

“There are ways to generate greater engagement and it is not simply by raising salaries: it is by investing in developing leaders.”

“…employment is not simply a transaction.”

“…in order to ensure that recruitment and retention strategies have any chance of success, they must sit alongside action on leader development.”

“Leadership emerges when leaders at all levels of organisations provide a compelling story and vision that is worth signing up to.”

“…integrity comes about when people see managers and leaders act consistently and line with a clear set of values.”

Article 8 – Kimberly Bordonero from the USA
The Leadership Brand: How to Discover Your Personal Brand Persona

{Comment by Todd Nielsen} – Kimberly’s article was the most read article of the blogathon at the time this article was published.  She identified 12 personal branding archetypes for leaders. The article is best read in its entirety. Click the link above to read the full story. Below are a few more tidbits of wisdom from her article.

“As a leader in your field, it’s particularly important to create an authentic personal brand.”

“…the need to define and differentiate your personal brand, knows no international boundaries.”

Article 9 -Oscar Capote Agudo from Spain
The People Will All Say, “We did this ourselves!”

“Leadership is the process of defining a vision and then guiding and inspiring others to reach that vision.”

“We, as humans, do not change simply from gaining information, people change because they support and trust their leaders.”

“To get the best results from your team or from a group of people, a leader has to care about excellence.”

“To deliver the highest quality results, a leader has to set high standards and live up to them.”

“Leaders, establish direction, align people and motivate and inspire people to complete the vision despite any obstacles they may face along the way.”

Article 10 – Paul S. Allen from New Zealand
Leadership: It is not about you! Get over it.

“Leadership is not just a title; and a leadership title, does not necessarily make someone a leader.”

“What a leader needs to remember is that they are not the most important person in the organisation.”

“A great leader is more concerned with the vision and cause of the organisation than their own position.”

“A great leader does not want or need people to think like them, but rather to be able to freely think for themselves.”

“Failure to train, empower, and trust up-and-coming leaders within the organisation will ultimately lead to the failure of it to set or achieve long term societal changing goals.”

“The role of the leader is to see that it happens. When the leader forgets about the cause to focus on the position then it is like a ship out of control heading for danger.”

“For the leader to be so engrossed in their own stature and direction that they forget to listen to and trust subordinates is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“For there to be great decisions made, great debate must take place.”

Article 11 – Janne Ohtonen from Finland
Achieving Success with Personal Leadership

“The world is full of recipes for success, but many times we forget that success comes from within ourselves…”

Questions that Janne proposes you ask on your journey to personal success:

  • Am I sure that those I love, feel loved by me? 
  • Do I feel grateful every day for having whatever I have or get today?
  • Have I done my best to avoid unkind acts and words?
  • What can I do today to make the world better place?
  • Have I helped anyone less fortunate?
  • Have I done and reviewed my personal success plan?
  • What worthwhile I have yet to accomplish?
  • What wonderful memories do I have?
  • Does my integrity hold as well in public as in privacy?

“When you have the right attitude, you focus on the right things, obstacles are there to overcome, you feel better, and work more efficiently.”

Article 12 – Amy Beth Miller from the USA
5 Ways Leaders Botch Communication – Without Saying a Word

“Leaders who focus only on what they say to employees—through speeches and written words—overlook one of the most powerful ways they communicate: their actions.”

“To be a trusted, respected and effective leader, pay as much attention to what you aren’t saying as you do to your speeches and memos.”

The 5 Communication Mistakes that Leaders Make:

  • Failing to communicate.
  • Blindsiding employees with change.
  • Sending them on goose chases.
  • Ignoring what employees say.
  • Failing to keep commitments.
{Comment by Todd Nielsen} – This was one of the most popular articles of the blogathon and is worth reading in its entirety. Click the link above to read the full article. 


Each of these writers would love to hear your comments and connect with you. You can do so on each of the pages above. Please share below any additional nuggets of wisdom that I might have overlooked.

Leaders Hold The Power to Engage

Engaged LeaderLeaders Hold The Power to Engage: I recently came across an article in my local newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, entitled 70% of Workers Thinking of Quitting.  In it, a local recruitment company quotes a study they carried out with 10,000 employees in Australia and New Zealand in which 70% of employees say that they are considering moving jobs.  About 60% of respondents also say they feel they deserve a salary increase. The article seems to hint that employee salary expectations and thoughts about changing jobs are linked.  Accompanying the article, the NZ Herald put an online poll, for which the question was “How do you feel about your salary?”  I couldn’t help thinking there was something missing.

For many years, I have read articles and studies that consistently show that salary is not the #1 factor in job satisfaction, nor employee retention.  People want to spend eight hours of their day deriving some kind of meaning and genuine satisfaction from their work.  They want to enjoy their relationships with others and be part of a workplace culture that values connection.  They also want opportunities to learn and grow; not just technical expertise that enables them to be better at their jobs, but also learning experiences that enhance their lives.

The focus on salary in that recruitment survey seemed a little one-dimensional and the link between the two questions seems specious to me.  It is like the person who, when asked why they keep wearing those old hole-y socks replies that it keeps the elephants away and when told there are no elephants around, says, “See? They work.”

The Executive General Manager of the recruitment company who carried out the study suggests that businesses “fine-tune their recruitment strategies to find and retain high-performers who can make the biggest difference to the bottom line.”  All good advice, and to my mind, recruiting and retaining excellent staff is not just about the $$ figure attached to a position.  He goes on to say, “There’s also an opportunity for smart employers to think beyond just the salary and offer attractive, tailored remuneration packages to individual employees.”  Again, to my mind, still something missing.  I don’t want to say that the survey was wrong in its findings, I simply want to suggest that there is lots of information missing before we can come to a categorical conclusion about the reasons for people wanting to jump ship.  To my mind, thinking about keeping staff on board is not purely about money, nor about “creative remuneration packages”.  They certainly help, but they are only part of the big picture and I believe that, even if people have an acceptable salary and are given free car parks and gym memberships as sweeteners, poor management will be a far more influential factor in staff turnover and low engagement.

As I read that NZ Herald article, another study, by Dr. Rhema Vaitianathan of Auckland University’s Business School, sprang to mind.  Dr. Vaitianathan produced a comprehensive study in 2011 in which she found that NZ managers were amongst the worst in the world for retaining and promoting good staff.  Her results focused on the leadership failings of NZ managers.  While her study showed NZ managers as being particularly lacking in effectiveness and leadership skills, I note from this article in Human Capital Online that talent management company DDI carried out an international study showing that bosses right round the world are seen as poor leaders.

The director of DDI UK and one of the authors of the report says, “Workers report that managers fail to ask for their ideas and input, are poor at work related conversations and do not provide sufficient feedback on their performance, so it’s no wonder employee engagement levels are low. Leaders remain stubbornly poor at these fundamental basics of good leadership that have little to do with the current challenging business climate.”  Just as I thought, it’s the world over, not just in New Zealand.

The time has come for us to look at our world through a systems thinking lens.  I think if you ask people, “Is your salary enough?” most would probably say no.  It is too narrow a focus, however, to say that employee engagement is therefore linked to salary expectations.  To take a systems thinking perspective means we stop looking at phenomena through a narrow zoom lens, but we use the wide-angle lens and take account of the many factors that influence engagement at work.  Systems thinkers don’t just focus on one dot and try to make meaning of it; they look at the many dots and connect them.  Systems thinkers know that events and phenomena are rarely one-off or disconnected and look for patterns within the whole system, not just one part of it.  So with the issue of retention, a systems thinker will look for other reasons why 70% of staff are thinking of changing jobs, not solely remuneration.

When study after study around the world indicates that, on average, about 20% of a workforce is actively engaged and 20% is actively disengaged (actively bad-mouthing their workplaces), there is enormous potential to tap into the remaining 60% who are not engaged but could be.  As I said, salary is one component, but it is only part of a wider system.  For many managers and organisations, this can come as a bit of a relief in these times of economic austerity.  Even though salary and bonuses are probably the most expensive ways to increase retention, they are sadly the first and only things that many managers default to.  There are ways to generate greater engagement and it is not simply by raising salaries: it is by investing in developing leaders.

In a 2009 study on employee engagement for the UK government, Will Hutton, Executive Vice Chair of the Work Foundation is quoted, “We think of organisations as a network of transactions. They are of course also a social network. Ignoring the people dimension, treating people as simply cogs in the machine, results in the full contribution they can make being lost.”  To me, it follows that employment is not simply a transaction.  To think of a recruitment or retention strategy solely in terms of financial reward is too mechanistic, too transactional.  Employment is a relationship, not a transaction.

In that 2009 study, the authors, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, state very clearly, the “joint and consequential failure of leadership and management is the main cause of poor employee engagement”.  So in order to ensure that recruitment and retention strategies have any chance of success, they must sit alongside action on leader development.  It’s not a cliché for nothing that people join good organisations and leave bad managers.  MacLeod and Clarke point to four key factors that can contribute to increased engagement: leadership, engaging managers, voice and integrity.  Leadership emerges when leaders at all levels of organisations provide a compelling story and vision that is worth signing up to.  Engaging mangers are those who have developed themselves sufficiently to be able to empathise with staff, provide useful ongoing feedback and are available to provide guidance to people.  Voice is important because in the modern workplace, people want to be heard.  Managers who listen well and regularly act on what they hear have a major impact on morale, and people who feel listened to will also feel valued and trusted.  Finally, integrity comes about when people see managers and leaders act consistently and line with a clear set of values.  They will come to trust managers who do this and trust engenders commitment.

Being mindful of my call to think systemically about things, I am sure that there are other factors that I’m missing and which are also influential in ensuring the further recruitment and retention of good people.  Accordingly, I look forward to hearing from others who wish to add in and expand this conversation.

Connect with John Wenger : Website |  Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn

Leaders in Beta: Testing What Works

Leadership BetaLeaders in Beta: Most likely as a leader, you use one or more online services that are ‘in beta’: the service is available for use whilst still in development. These user experiences during the beta phase provides invaluable feedback for the developers to improve the product, and further enhance the user’s experience. They test what works, and then build from there, and continue to improve the product.

Authors like Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod and Derek Sivers have also embraced this idea from a marketing perspective, i.e. not waiting to ‘ship’ creative ideas until the final version, but they start small and continuously improve upon the feedback from their fans.

Due to the complex challenges we face in the world right now, leaders would benefit tremendously by embracing a ‘beta mindset’ by not only having a clear, long-term vision of where they want to go, but also being able to adapt quickly, by continually collaborating with those that are affected by their leadership.

Lessons From Generation Y Leaders

The idea of leaders being in ‘beta’ is already being practiced globally by a breed of young leaders. Millennials, also called Generation Y, are accustomed to continuously getting immediate feedbackby being tuned in to their social network. These young leaders bring this outlook on life with them in their professional and entrepreneurial endeavors. They seem to have embraced a natural beta mindset .

This generation has a strong faith in their own skills while still being open -even eager- to receive feedback from others for improvement. They collaborate  easily with others, because they understand that is the only way to reach their big goals. The do this without a need to protect position or status. These leaders have a vivid imagination of a better future, whilst presently taking baby steps and doing the work that needs to be done at the moment. They know, in the end, it is not about themselves, but about the impact of their actions on the people they serve.

Keys to Creating a ‘Leaders in Beta’ Mindset

Leaders in beta is a mixture of ambition with humility. For the leader, it requires the understanding that it is ok not to know everything. That it is a great gift to get honest feedback because it helps you to improve your performance. It starts with accepting that you yourself, as a leader, are in perpetual beta mode. Everyday, there’s a new you, ready to do what is necessary while pursuing the long term perspective.

For many of those online services we use every day, we accept their beta status. We don’t mind paying for the service, and we accept a responsibility for improving the product as long as we get enough added value for the fee we pay.

In the current context, accepting the beta status for leaders is imperative for change. There’s an urgent need for a complete re-design of society, of the economy, institutions and communities, to better serve the common good. This challenge needs inclusive and collaborative leaders, ambitious, and humble enough to see their main task to test what does work and what does not, on our way to a better future.

It doesn’t stop there. As we follow those other leaders, it’s our responsibility to provide feedback whilst following their leadership. The time of “consumption only” is gone, which is a good thing; deep down, we all want to have a meaningful contribution to the world around us …that’s human nature. Talking about nature, nature itself is built around the beta concept, it’s called evolution. Life on this planet as we know it has always been in beta status. It’s the species most adaptable to change that survive, and the leaders living the beta mindset that thrive. There is no need for radical changes, we must start small, step by step – testing what works, and making changes.

Lets keep the conversation going. What “updates” will you install today to enhance your internal operating system? What user feedback offers valuable insights for your performance? How can your leadership service get better by embracing collaboration with your users? Are you ready to launch yourself as a leader in beta?

Please leave a comment below.

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