The Unintended Stupidity of ‘Empowerment’

Respect

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Key Point: Well intended leaders may have unwittingly confused the heck out of many employees, and degraded customer experience with so called “empowerment.” Huh? Let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s say you want a certain standard of behavior in providing your customers a “WOW” experience. So, after eating all the leadership development “candy,” you decide to “EMPOWER” your team members to use their good judgment and just “WOW” the customer. Sounds good in theory. After all, you want to be a Level 5 service leader (or whatever). Ironically, what you will likely get is a “dog’s breakfast” of behavior from good intentions all around. Let me give you some mundane examples:

As the big boss, you want a “WOW” greeting for every customer that enters your retail stores. Your empowered guidance to store managers is; “use your head and give a great greeting.” At one store, every customer is met with eye contact and a warm welcome when they enter. Individuals make a personal connection. At another store, they do the same AND have a small, fun greeting gift for each customer. At the next store, staff interprets greeting differently because the empowered store manager believes customers should be left alone and not badgered. Etc etc. Empowerment results in mixed, varied experiences by well meaning, “engaged” employees, committed to the customer service ethos and a great customer experience. To make matters possibly worse, a customer complains about being ignored at the store where there is no greeting. So what does the top brass default to? The explanation is that the store manager doesn’t have the “DNA;” let’s replace the person with “someone who gets it.” It’s actually the top leadership that needs a shake.

Another example might be in a financial institution where expert credit adjudication scores allow for customers to receive loans or credit up to $x limit. Yet, when the data is reviewed, top leaders find out that time and again, well intended, highly engaged, “empowered” team members continuously turn down “approved” customer loans and/or underfund well below guidance. Why? Well one explanation is that empowered employees feel very protective of the institution and become very risk averse, even though experts and guidance tells them otherwise. Top leaders, while very well meaning and “evolved,” exhort loan officers and tell them they are fully empowered to make loan/credit decisions. But that “empowerment” results in consistently under performing loan portfolios and disappointed customers. Subsequently, with best intentions all around, everyone loses. The root cause is likely faulty thinking and guidance at the top.  

Leadership Moves:

  1. Leaders need to be absolutely clear and definitive on minimum acceptable experience/performance standards. There should be little if any discretion on the minimum. Inviting employees to be empowered is most effective when people are able to use judgment exceeding minimum thresholds. In that case variation can be (although not always) very constructive. In the situation above involving the financial institution, minimum loan limits ideally would be set by artificial intelligence, ever learning algorithms. NO discretion below the minimum would be allowed. It is more than ok to tell loan officers that they are NOT empowered to adjust down. Empowerment should be granted in other areas where judgment and human intervention upgrades rather than diminishes the customer experience.
  2. Be absolutely clear where you “empower” and provide meaningful autonomy. Do not burden your employees with “empowered” license when in reality you want something very specific. That’s when “empowerment” becomes an excuse for lazy leadership that has NOT done the hard work to be clear connecting purpose with very defined expectations. Do not hope empowered employees will deliver the experience you want when you primarily lead and give feedback on what you “don’t” want.

Right Empowerment in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: This reminds me of the popular fast food franchise, Chick-fil-A, and something I’ve noticed as a patron at their restaurants. All employees are empowered to have a minimum requirement for politeness. You’ll hear “please” and “thank you” from employees, but most notably: Instead of saying “you’re welcome,” you’ll always hear a Chick-fil-A employee say “my pleasure.” It’s very subtle, but this extra courtesy absolutely stands out. And this simple (and free) customer service upgrade is why Business Insider and other publications have written articles about how the average annual sales per restaurant reach $4 million, compared to the $1 million average their competitor KFC brings in.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

We’re Back!!

Abundance

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Hi Readers,

Key Point: Garrett and I have really missed sharing our collective voice with you. We took a little break and at the same time recognized it was necessary to refresh the “old” Lornerubis.com website. We had to take the site down, which made our time away a little longer than we planned. So, what’s new with Lornerubis.com?

The legacy site was six years old and outdated in content and functionality. It needed to be modernized in many ways. While we’re still working some minor bugs out, we encourage you to visit the new site and hope you find this route valuable. The site’s searchability has improved significantly, and there is a lot more informative content in addition to the blogs. At the same time, all the blogs we’ve written every week for the past six years are archived for your reference. Our Culture Cast podcasts are there too, (stay tuned for Season 2 starting in late October). Speaking of our podcasts, thank you for responding to our survey and the unanimous support for more. We asked and listened to your suggestions so we will be doing additional topics on leadership, innovation and culture with more real world insights that translate into action. We will be continuously adding new resource content to Lornerubis.com as the site and your interests evolve. And those of you who have subscribed will automatically get the blog emailed Tuesday and Friday mornings (Pacific Time) per usual.

The new theme of the refreshed website is Personal Leadership. It is based on the premise that the gateway to effectively leading others always starts with each of us first. While the Character Triangle consisting of the values of Self-Accountability, Respect and Abundance will always be foundational, the scope of the website content will focus on the full range of material driving transformative leadership and cultural advancement. We hope to challenge, inspire, provoke, enrich, and meaningfully contribute to your personal leadership journey. Like we often state, “You’re worth it!”

Thanks for being part of our community and helping us to continue improving our voice.

Lorne

P.S. Special thanks to the great web team at ATB who took this web re-design on as an extra project. This was WAY beyond and added to an already very heavy work load for all of them. You can see their professional work in the design. I cannot express my appreciation adequately.

One Millennial View: I’m absolutely thrilled to be back in the saddle for the new installment of Lornerubis.com. The update looks amazing, and I too would like to thank the efforts of the ATB team that designed the awesome new site. I know we’re both pumped that it’s making a big comeback, especially at a point where Personal Leadership is a topic that’s very important for me to focus on. I look forward to continuing to share a Millennial View with all of our great readers! Thanks for sticking around!

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘You Better Read This or I’ll Kick Your A**’

Be Respectful Culture Management Respect

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Key Point: Being sustainably exponential and transformative does not have to include being mean spirited, disrespectful, and culturally conflicted. The title of this blog was in the opening paragraph of Uber’s then CEO, Travis Kalanick’s, now infamous “Miami letter,” sent to 400 plus employees celebrating Uber’s rollout to its 50th city in 2013. I will refer back to the content of the letter, perhaps some foreshadowing as to where Uber is now. 

As of June 2017, Uber has officially started a total rebuilding of its culture after what’s been by most measures, a disastrous first half of the year. As part of the overhaul, the CEO has announced he’s taking a leave of absence and allowing a group of executives to lead the company through the implementation of sweeping changes. The following summary of Uber’s cultural status is noted below, as reported by PitchBook:

“In an all-hands meeting Tuesday, the company presented employees with recommendations from Covington & Burling, the law firm that conducted an independent investigation into the company after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing unchecked sexual harassment during her tenure. Uber’s board of directors had committed to instituting all the recommendations during a board meeting a few days earlier… The Covington report proposes many remedial measures for the $68 billion company, from changes in upper management to better board oversight to cultural changes such as earlier on-site dinners and options to work remotely. Uber has already implemented some changes from a separate internal probe, including the termination of 20 employees who were let go after investigations into sexual harassment, bullying and other types of claims. 

In a statement, HR chief Liane Hornsey wrote, ‘Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.’ The 13-page Covington report can be accessed here.”

I specifically want to refer to the following recommendation regarding culture, as per PitchBook:

“Even before Fowler published her scathing blog post, Uber was widely known as an aggressive place to work. The Covington report suggests reworking the company’s values. Specifically, the report proposes letting go of values that have been used to justify poor behavior, including ‘Let Builders Build,’ ‘Always Be Hustlin’’ and ‘Toe-Stepping.’ One example of a symbolic cultural change is the re-naming of a conference room from the War Room to the Peace Room, per a Bloomberg report.”

And to help understand why Uber needs to culturally reframe, the following is an extract from Kalanick’s 2013 Miami Letter noted above:

“DON’Ts:

1) No lives should begin or end at 九

2) We do not have a budget to bail anyone out of jail. Don’t be that guy. #CLM

3) Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.

4) Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML

5) Drugs and narcotics will not be tolerated unless you have the appropriate medicinal licensing.

6) There will be a $200 puke charge for any public displays on the Shore Club premises. Shore Club will be required to send pictures as proof.

7) DO NOT TALK TO PRESS. Send all press inquiries to Andrew – anoyes@uber.com Additionally, stay vigilant about making sure people don’t infiltrate our event. If and when you find yourself talking to a non-Uber (look for the wristband), keep confidential stuff confidential… no rev figures, driver figures, trip figures… don’t talk about internal process, and don’t talk about initiatives that have not already launched.

DOs:

1) Have a great fucking time. This is a celebration! We’ve all earned it.

2) Share good music. Digital DJs are encouraged to share their beats poolside.

3) Go out of your way to meet as many of your fellow uberettos as you can.

4) If you haven’t figured it out yet, Miami’s transportation sucks ass. #Slang as many Miamians, drivers, influencers as you can as passionately as you can and let them know why Uber will make this great city an even better place. Every slang matters. #MiamiNeedsUber…

5) If someone asks to meet the CEO and Founder of Uber, kindly introduce him to Max Crowley.”

Character Moves:

  1. The CEO and leadership set the tone. My belief is that being truly exponential  includes a deep commitment to advancing humankind inside and outside the organization. Values like speed, adaptability, disruption can and should co-exist with inclusiveness, respect, accountability and abundance. Yes, we humans are imperfect AND we still can achieve 10x performance without bullying and harassment. Do not let so called “start-up values” justify lousy behavior. What values need to be revisited and/or are missing in your culture? How will you influence that?
  2. Commit to advancing humankind as a key element in 10x thinking. What good is disruption if it is harmful? We want modern companies to be about more than just money… And that applies to Uber, otherwise, I’d rather take a taxi. 

Read this in The Triangle,

Lorne Rubis

One Millennial View: I wasn’t aware of this 2013 “Miami letter” or Uber’s recent Q1/Q2 struggles, but I have heard rumors of shady play in that company. You can sort of tell this Kalanick guy probably thought he was pretty cool after sending that email: A rebel rousing, foul-mouthed executive turned “man of the people.” A real “CEO chum” that can still be everyone’s bud. I think we can learn that when it might come across as inappropriate, it probably will and likely come back and bite. There’s just a fine line… No one really wants to work for an out of touch Puritan, but you want someone who knows where the edge is. In Kalanick’s words, “Don’t be that guy.”

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Are You an Inspirational Self-Boss?

Be Accountable

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Key Point: Are you an inspirational or demotivating boss, to yourself? If we lead ourselves then we can assume we are responsible for our personal level of engagement. There is a ton of evidence suggesting that the most effective leaders show personal care for their employees. They thoughtfully coach and build on their strengths, cultivate strong working relationships, and instill a sense of purpose and hope. There is an abundance of research that shows employees quit their bosses, not their jobs. Most ineffective leaders overload employees with responsibilities, then micromanage, do not connect at a personal level, communicate poorly, and fail to inspire a sense of purpose. 

So, if you (as your own boss) treat yourself with appropriate care and support, will you be positive and engaged? And conversely, if you (as your own boss) treat yourself with disdain and negativity, will you be totally disengaged? Will you essentially quit on yourself?  

Leading Yourself Begins With Self-Talk

I really like the argument on this matter put forth by psychologist, Brett Steenbarger, in a recent “Self-Leadership and Respect” Forbes post.

“Think of the stream of conscious thought as a conversation: It is our way of talking to ourselves. Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves; it is also our way of managing ourselves. This perspective leads to an interesting question: Would you want your boss to talk to you the way you speak to yourself?

All too often, our self-talk is filled with frustration (‘How can I possibly get this done?’); disgust (‘I can’t wait to get through this!’); pessimism (‘Nothing works out!’); and apathy (‘Whatever!’). Think of the self-talk of the perfectionist: Nothing is ever good enough and any falling short of (lofty) goals is failure. Some of the most damaging self-talk I’ve heard is from perfectionists: ‘I’m such an idiot!’ and ‘I can’t do anything right!’.

Of course, none of us would want to hear such things from a supervisor. Exposed to that verbal abuse and negativity daily, we would quickly disengage from the workplace and start to look for new employment. But what if we are our own bosses and that is how we talk to ourselves? The result is not so different: We disengage… When we talk to ourselves in ways that leave us disengaged, the loss of energy and optimism is palpable. Conversely, when we challenge ourselves constructively and immerse ourselves in meaningful activity, we become spiritually and emotionally charged.”

Psychologists refer to positive self-engagement as moral elevation while negative self talk leads to moral deflation. And our propensity to treat and talk to ourselves in certain ways may manifest in our daily experience:

*  Emotionally – As optimism versus. Pessimism.

*  Socially – As attachment versus. Detachment.

*  Physically – As vitality versus. Fatigue.

As Steenbarger notes, “Across the board, positive self-management is energizing; self-management grounded in negative self-talk robs us of energy. In many ways, the state of our bodies reflects our mind state.” 

Character Moves: 

  1. Do you like what your self-boss is saying about you? Are you an engaging, inspirational self-boss or are you disengaged and looking for new “employment?” 
  2. The challenge with being a very negative self-boss is that when you quit and become disengaged, your self-boss is still there… Yup, that’s you!  
  3. As always, engagement comes from leadership. In this case, how are you leading yourself? Take the simple test: Are you optimistic? Attached? Vital? If not, your self-boss can get better with intentional help and practice.
  4. If you need to help your self-boss, don’t be afraid to get him/her a coach (in some cases a therapist) so they might learn. You and your self-boss are both (hopefully without sounding schizophrenic) worth it. 

Your self-boss in The Triangle,

Lorne  

One Millennial View: Millennials might be some of the best self-bosses out there. I’ve seen self-bosses my age switch careers, follow opportunities, relocate, start businesses, and even say, “screw this, I’m traveling to Fiji and I don’t have a return flight yet.” It seems we’re our worst self-bosses when we’re stuck, hesitant, or without ANY plan. I like to remind myself that these are my “no wife, no dog, no mortgage” years… My self-boss is never going to be able to have as much corporate freedom as he does right now, might as well make the best of it, and be positive. But my “company” (me) has to be in a good enough place to offer those benefits.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Change Agents in the Spirit of Mandela

Generosity Kindness Respect

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“I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change” – Nelson Mandela at the launch of The Elders on July 18, 2007.

Key Point: Though Mandela’s health was failing for the past few years, his recent death was still met with an emotional response throughout the world. Tata, or “Father” as Mandela was also known, will be remembered as a true leader and human of incredible greatness and justice. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us—he belongs to the ages,” said President Barack Obama in a speech following Mandela’s passing.

Over the last few days I have read and listened to what people who knew Mandela have been saying in tribute. So many adjectives apply, but the one word that seems to be at or near the top of every list is KINDNESS. It was unconditional love that allowed him to save and transform South Africa after it easily could have burned to the ground during the dangerous transition from apartheid.

Mandela teaches us that the truest freedoms and the greatest liberation are deeply connected to an endless love for humanity. In his own words, as seen in the above quote, “in the end it is kindness.”

There are so many examples of how Mandela lived kindness and how he lit up a room with it. The following story exemplifies this value in a very basic way:

Eddie Daniels was a close friend of Mandela, and he served a 15-year prison sentence on Robben Island while Mandela was incarcerated there. Shortly after Daniels arrived at the prison, he was assigned a duty to empty the chamber pots, or “buckets” of other prisoners. Daniels, a man who was skilled at disabling electrical power grids and thus was considered a dangerous terrorist by the apartheid government, could not bring himself to accept toilet duty. Daniels was desperately struggling with his situation. That’s when Mandela, who did not know Daniels at the time, walked over to the newly arrived prisoner, put an arm around him and told him that he would help him perform the duty. Daniels said he could only marvel and stand in awe at the gesture. Mandela understood his angst and anger. But he also understood the valuable role that Daniels had played in the fight for freedom for black and colored South Africans. Mandela came to his rescue and in this basic act revealed KINDNESS, compassion – and love.” As Mandela notes, this is perhaps the most powerful form of LEADERSHIP.

Character Moves:

  1. How about you and I just work a little more at acting with intentional kindness on a daily basis? We can get so caught up self-judging whether we are really getting the results of a life worth living, etc… We can forget that every day provides so much opportunity for our KIND behavior to contribute. As Marshall McLuhan so aptly said, “the medium is the message.”
  2. Rather than limit ourselves to thinking about acting kindly as a “cute and cuddly” discretionary approach for those attracted to mush headed soft skills, or for people who like websites and YouTube videos involving kittens, how about applying KIND behavior as a catalyst for REAL CHANGE? Kind does NOT mean weak or soft. It is a constructive weapon for change agents.
  3. Do you and I light up a room because people know that we are naturally kind and well intentioned? Do we behave with kindness because that is part of our life’s purpose rather than thinking about it as an “event?” Hey, our individual chances of impacting the world like Mandela are unlikely, but if we collectively breathe in his spirit? Well that is how sustainable change happens.

Mandela is The Triangle (and more),

Lorne

P.S. On the notion of kindness and Respect, Mandela was affectionately known as Madiba by family, close friends, and dedicated South African supporters.