Author Archives: Michael Boyes

Michael Boyes

November 27, 2019

Without meaningful work, we sense significant loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical, or other reasons, quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
~ Timothy Keller

I’ve met a lot of people who insist that they only work because they HAVE to earn a living, but that’s not true. People work because they need to work. We are meant to work. It gives us purpose. It gives us meaning in life. 

In the final years of his life, my father lamented that he was “useless.” He wanted to be productive— to be of help to other people— and it depressed him that he wasn’t. My father was not alone. A lot of people suffer through jobs that seem meaningless. Likewise, their managers suffer through dejected employees. People without purpose make miserable employees: they are directionless, unmotivated, unsatisfied, and distracted by anything that is not job-related. Responsibility for this tragedy falls at the feet of managers.

Managers organize and assign work, while leaders give people purpose and unleash human potential. With purpose, people:

  • work intelligently to solve tough problems rather than return them to their manager.
  • believe they are doing what they are meant to do, are satisfied, and experience a sense of integrity.
  • understand the importance of their work, dedicate themselves to it, become absorbed in it, and energetically attack it.

In other words, people who experience meaning in their work are more engaged in it. Consequently, the company enjoys higher productivity, quality, customer service, customer loyalty, and profitability. While those coveted outcomes go up, the unwanted outcomes go down. Absenteeism, lateness, turnover, and employee grievances all dwindle when employees experience purposefulness.

As “purposeful work” promotes everything employers and employees want, it’s leaders’ duty to ensure that jobs are meaningful and that employees grasp the meaningfulness of their work.

Here are seven ways for leaders to do that:

  1. Communicate the purpose of every role in the job description, and hire people who want to fulfill that mission. Focusing job descriptions on responsibilities and tasks only makes jobs and people small. It promotes myopia and invites people to behave like automatons. Instead, focus on the “why” and hire people who are inspired by the “why” rather than people who can do the “what” and “how.”
  • Gladly explain “why.”  People need to understand the purpose of work in order to be motivated to do it and to make good judgments about how to do it. Especially when delegating non-routine work, explain the “why.” When communicating decisions, communicate the rationale you used.
  • Show people how their work supports the mission of the team and of the company.  But don’t just do it once; do it continuously. GE turned this practice into a commercial and scored bonus points with employees and customers when they gave manufacturing employees tours of the completed planes they helped to build.
  • Show them how their work helps people. Some people are more motivated to be helpful than others, but virtually everyone finds work more meaningful and motivating when they know it is helping others.
  • Personally, connect “back-office” employees with internal and external customers to help them understand how their work is used and the importance of specification and standards.
  • Refer to your mission, vision, and values for guidance when solving problems and making decisions (in teams and individually).
  • Ensure that people are in jobs that match their values and where they get to “do what they do best.”

Purposeful Work is one just of five presents that leaders give to their followers, but in my estimation, it is the most important.  Managers are wise to remember that every person was created to live an abundant, purposeful life full of love, wonder, curiosity, and work.  Managers who connect and weave together purpose, love, and learning with work earn tremendous influence with people. They earn the title of “leader.”

Who is Accountable?

There has been a lot of talk about “Accountability” in society and in organizations for the past twenty years. In my clients’ companies, leaders and staff often lament over the lack of accountability in their organizations.

So, it seems that something is amiss. But what is it?

I’ve never encountered a vexing problem that was rooted in a single cause, so I won’t pretend to have a simple explanation. I am confidant however that I have eyes to see that many people are operating under a gross misunderstanding of “accountability.”  People talk of “holding others accountable,” but no one, except for God, can hold a person accountable. Rather, people voluntarily submit to accountability. That begs the question:

Who would voluntarily submit to you and under what circumstances?

Hidden within most conversations about accountability is the question of “who has the power to “hold a person accountable?” Most people look to the formal authorities as the keeper of accountability, but relying on the “authorities” is a sign of failure in the community and especially so in the workplace.

High performing teams are flooded with communication about their team and individual performance. Great teams seek feedback from their customers and stakeholders. But that is not all; they are busy giving each other feedback.  Team members hold each other accountable to standards they have all committed to.  People on these teams submit to accountability based on a trusty foundation built from:

  • Credibility: The person giving feedback is a position to speak knowledgeably.
  • Commitment to a common goal:  A strong desire to accomplish the very same thing.
  • Interdependence: The clear belief that they need each other to reach their goal.
  • Love: People submit to accountability when they see that the other person both knows them and cares for them.

Lack in any of these areas makes submitting to others risky.

Perhaps this explains the dearth of accountability that we experience. We don’t need formal authority to “enforce authority.” Instead, we need to clarify our common goals and pursue loving relationship with our neighbors and teammates. Under those conditions, the people around us will certainly be credible witnesses to our triumphs, our failures, and everything between.

Rather than lamenting about the absence of accountability, would should instead build relationships that invite it.

Five Presents From a Leader

It’s often said that leaders are givers – not takers.  Though most of us would reflexively endorse the sentiment, we should ask, “Just what do leaders give?”  The short answer is that they give a lot, and that is pretty much what makes them leaders.  To effectively lead in organizational contexts though, leaders must give five specific presents: Purpose, Position, Pictures, Place, and Pathways.

In this post, I introduce the Five Presents from a Leader, and in the next five I will explain each one and provide practical tips and tools for how you can give them.

Purpose

A sense of meaning, value, and direction in life are as important as air, food, and water. Work is drudgery when a person thinks their job is to complete a form versus securing another person’s ability to get a great education or ensuring that a family has a worry-free adventure.

Inspiring leaders engage people in meaningful causes, continually communicate the purpose of work, and focus people on why they labor rather than how they labor. That keeps them motivated, hopeful, and engaged.  

Why does your company or team exist?

Position

People follow leaders and their cause.  Leaders who clearly proclaim who they are and what they stand for inspire, create bonds, teach, earn trust and plant the seeds for team culture.  Leaders who lack conviction, hide their beliefs, or remain vague and non-committal don’t gather followers. They may, however, gather a few “compliers,” who do what they are told, but are not motivated and don’t take initiative to either solve problems or make improvements.

When was the last time you declared what you stand for?

Pictures

People simply can’t create what they can’t see, so leaders must paint pictures. Like artists in the park who gather an audience, leaders who captivate followers paint vivid pictures of: their ideal future for the company (vision), what constitutes success (performance), how to be successful (strategies), and their followers’ future (potential).  Concrete, detailed pictures draw people in, stirs-up their imagination, and propels them forward.

Can you give a high-definition description of what success looks like?

Place

Every person on a team needs an important job and a unique, valuable contribution to make. Their job is what they do, and their contribution is the valuable gift they give the team by virtue of who they are. Shrewd leaders of teams articulate each person’s place to the individual and to the team so everyone understands each other’s roles and value.

Can every person on your team articulate their special place— their particular role and value?

Pathways

The shortest distance between two points isn’t always a straight line; sometimes it’s the easiest way, and sometimes it’s the way you know.  People are prone to taking the easiest route.  Often that route is the way they already know because it requires the least mental, physical, and emotional energy.  Wise leaders make it obvious and easy for their followers to do what is needed.  They expend effort upfront to ensure that the pathway is well marked and easy to use so their followers are capable and motivated to perform with excellence.

How have you made pathways to success easy to see and follow?

If you are a leader of any sort, there is no doubt that you are already giving.  You are to be commended.  Now, take stock of how consistently you give these Five Leader Presents to the people in your circle of influence.  In the coming posts, I will offer some advice and tools that you can use to elevate your giving.

How Adam Got Engaged

Few companies have found the holy grail of management: High Employee Engagement. In the average company, about 32 percent of employees are actively engaged in their work, and about 20 percent actively disrupt operations. But for those who figure it out, the rewards are unmistakable. Companies who score Continue reading

The Google Boogle: Diversity without Difference

Google is back in the headlines for botching its diversity initiatives. I expect that they will be there for a long time. That’s because their thinking is all “boogled” up.

In August, James Damore’s screed on Google’s botched diversity efforts went viral. Soon thereafter, he was fired for violating an unspecified company policy. Seeking to clarify their action, Google said that Damore was “spreading false assumptions about genders.”

Now Mr. Damore is suing Google for discriminating against people who are “perceived to have conservative political beliefs.” At the same time, Google is facing two lawsuits for paying women less than men. It seems that the US Department of Labor found evidence of an “extreme” gender pay gap. How ironic!

Diversity is a sensitive and complicated issue. So it’s not surprising to learn that Google “presumably” pays women less while aggressively enforcing norms against politically incorrect speech. It seems to me, however, that Google’s woes are due as much to “boogled” thinking as to the complexity of the issue.

James Damore points out a number of well-documented differences between men and women in areas such as openness to feelings, neuroticism, and math scores. Despite the body of research supporting Damore’s observations, Google labeled Damore’s observations: “false assumptions.” Meanwhile, Google has affirmative action goals for women, but pays them less when they get there. So, Google denies differences between men and women, promotes women as “diverse,” and pays them less. Perhaps this is as crazy as it sounds-or maybe Google is just interested in anatomical diversity.

Instead of dealing with the plain truth, Google exercises convoluted thinking that can only lead to failure. How can they reconcile policies that give favor to women on the basis of their differences while denying that they are different than men? We can neither honor people nor capitalize on our diversity by acting like we are all the same. James Damore is right. Google is oblivious to their biases. Their irrational attachment to liberal orthodoxy is bound to frustrate them from attaining an otherwise noble pursuit. They are all “boogled”-up.

It’s a shame. Mr. Damore handed Google a chance to practice what it preaches. He gave them an opportunity to demonstrate openness to different ways of thinking and to learn from people who disagree with them. By firing him rather than engaging him, Google made Damore an outcast and invited their people to label him ignorant, backwards, and sexist.

They didn’t just miss an opportunity, they contradicted an espoused value and failed to address the real flaws in Damore’s arguments.

Because of their greater warmth, openness to feelings, and concern for relationships, women make highly desirable Google team members. Programming and engineering are stereotypically introverted activities, but they are also creative endeavors. Since creativity thrives in collaborative teams, women can be strong candidates for leading greater creativity and innovation in Google. While it is true that there once was a large gap in math test scores between the sexes, women have all but closed that gap. At the end of things, Mr. Damore had his facts right, but his analysis was flawed as was his judgment. That is the picture Google should have seen, but they didn’t. Instead, they saw a sexist who threatened their diversity canon.

Google is a diversity mess; it’s a ball of contradictions protected by liberal dogma. They would do well to break from the pack and face reality. If not with the pack, where should they be?

Diversity matters when and because people are different. Men and women think and behave differently due to variances in their genetic code and their life experiences. So, awareness of the systematic differences among people in personality, abilities, perspectives, culture, assumptions, communication styles, etc. is fundamental to any diversity initiative. It is also necessary to equip people with effective communication and relational skills so they can build real relationships and address differences person to person. Forums and procedures for relational reconciliation without the threat of punishment are also important. People behave defensively when they fear punitive action, so why not create reconciliation offices rather than grievance offices?

Each of these things: acceptance of truth, knowledge of differences, interpersonal savvy, and a concern for reconciliation are vital to realizing the hopeful vision of a diverse workforce. Still, they are not enough. Without love for your teammates, it all fails. No knowledge or skill imbues compassion, let alone the desire to honor others. Only love does that, and that is the truth.

I’d like to see how Google handles that!

Not the Creative Type? How Then Will You keep Up?

Oh no, not me; I’m not really the creative type.

I meet people who say they aren’t that sort of person – you know the “creative type,” and I get concerned for them. As I look around, I see that our economy favors people and businesses who see problems in new ways and who find novel ways to solve them. Who knew that people needed Recharge clothing to reduce fatigue and soreness after a workout?

Personally, I just feel bad for the “not creative type” people. Where is the fun in that? I want to tell them “Take that wool off your eyes and go knit a sweater!” We are all the creative type! It’s in our design, and our lives prove it out. We make up games, stories, rules, policies, computer programs, laws, and on and on.

According to a 2015 Accenture Survey, 96% of executives believe that innovation drives their company’s success. In that same year, Forbes magazine published a list of the world’s most innovative companies simply because innovation is such as powerful driver of business success.

Imagine for now that you are one of those executives, that you are serious about innovation and that you expect it from everyone in your company. What would you do to encourage innovation in your company?  You could start by investing in your only creative resource – people.

Hire the Right People

Though we are all creative, some people are more naturally disposed to it than others.  Two qualities in particular are consistently linked with highly creativity: intelligence and the personality trait “openness to experience.” So smarter and more open people tend to be more creative than others.

The implication is clear: hire smart, “open” people. That begs the question, “How can I reliably identify these people.” For that you would be wise to find a trained psychologist to help you find an appropriate test and a robust personality instrument.  Even then, your lawyer is likely to counsel you against any form of intelligence tests since they are highly controversial and a bit tricky for most employers. That leaves you to focus on openness to experience (OE).

People high in OE are intellectually curious, prefer novelty, and seek adventure and variety. This trait, which as has also been called “intellect,” is readily assessed using personality measures, like the NEO-IR, and through well-structured behavioral interviews. So, it’s relatively easy to hire people based on OE. As a smart executive however, you know innovation doesn’t stem from just a few special people: everyone needs to bring their creativity to the table. Inciting change one new hire at a time just won’t work. It’s a good thing that everyone can learn skills that amplify their natural talent, and that’s where training comes in.

Training

While we can’t fully explain intelligence or personality, we can observe pieces of them. Intelligence is observed in cognitive strategies that people use, and personality is observed in their patterns of behavior.  Since psychologist have studied both intensively, we know that strategies known as “inhibiting,” “shifting” and “switching” enhance new idea generation, and that high OE people are prone to play, explore, experiment, and eschew conventional ideas. Those same strategies and behaviors can be transferred to others through training built into the innovation process. That’s why I am partnering with Ken Kinard, my WorkWise podcast cohost, to bring Creativity Labs programs to the world of business.

Our Creativity Labs Workshops teach teams strategies and tools that boost personal and team creativity. We rely heavily on experiential group learning techniques that promote personal experimentation, discovery, and feedback all of which stimulate novel ideas for improving your business.

For example we:

  • teach practical strategies for exploring ideas, including the disparaged arts of dialogue and debate over controversial ideas. Proficiency in this form of communication enables honest, fruitful discussions, promotes trust, and results in more novel ideas.
  • equip participants with feedback skills and guide them through creative team challenges, because teams have more creative power than individuals.
  • apply “The Thinking Box” which is a useful and fun tool that deconstruct and recombine ideas in new ways. What’s more, it is an analytic tool that fits nicely into corporate culture, and that gives people the comfort to introduce this idea-building tool to others.
  • Practice using several reflection tools that help people to employ updating to open their minds and refresh their beliefs and assumptions.

If you are that executive, then you know that the social environment is changing rapidly and that your company must adapt to it. The business climate so demands continual learning, creativity, innovation, and collaboration that they can no longer be relegated to the moldy pile of “best practices.” Instead, they must be exalted as values and become part of company culture.

Today, there is a lot less room for people and companies who limit innovation with faulty perceptions about creativity. Tomorrow, there will be still less room. That reality has led me to make some changes in my business over the last year.

How about you? Are you ready to get started on building a culture marked by creativity and innovation? If you are, we are ready to help you now. If not, we’ll be ready to help you later when you are ready.