Hug a Board Member Today

Accountability Management Organizational leadership

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Story: I’m just finishing up Module 3 of the University of Toronto’s, Rotman School of Management, highly touted ICD Directors Education program. I’m learning a great deal from a world class faculty and classmates, all current or aspiring Board members. One thing I’m quite surprised about is the number of Boards that are underperforming relative to CEO succession. That is one of the most important responsibilities of a Board of Directors, and it’s stunning to learn how many examples where that is not the case. (I’m proud to say the Board of the company I work for is an all-star group of directors. They have won prestigious Governance awards for that very reason, and are proving that as we go through our current CEO succession). Ideally, Boards oversee a CEO succession process that has at least the next 20 years covered with potential internal candidates (assuming minimum five year CEO terms). Furthermore, the Board has an obligation to ensure the company has a sustainable strategy and reviews the performance of a CEO in that context. This includes proactively planning for the new CEOs succession the first day they start. This accountability is part of the fiduciary responsibility and duty of care expected of any Board of Directors in public companies.

Key Point: Most of us will never be CEOs or Board members. Yet, we are well-served to know and understand the membership and duties of Boards in the organizations where we work. They set the tone from the top with the CEO. When you work in organizations where the culture, strategy, and results are excellent, you can be quite sure the Board and management are highly functional and well aligned. The opposite is also true. High performing Boards are exceptionally engaged, proactively lead governance, risk, audit, and all aspects of human resources including, but not limited to, the compensation framework. And fortunately, in Canada, the Board is accountable to do their best for the entire corporation, including keeping in mind the impact to employees, customers, shareholders and all other stakeholders. This is more comprehensive than simply looking after the shareholders’ interest. They do all this while being accountable for any liability that might occur. Most Board members commit because they care about the institution and its purpose. Except for a few big Boards of high profile public companies, their pay is not commensurate with the personal obligations, tremendous workload, and potential personal liability involved.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Take some time to know who the Board members are in your organization. Appreciate why they personally have been selected, what they do, and what committees they are on. Recognize that they are there to do their best in good faith, and to keep your organization thriving.
  2. Appreciate that well-run Boards go through a rigorous self-evaluation process, often including tough-minded peer review. If they aren’t performing and continuously developing, the Chair will replace them. They also undertake a very thorough review of the CEO’s performance.
  3. One of the well-used operating guides for Board members  is “nose in, hands out.” The CEO runs the company, while a great Board rigorously shepherds along the way.

Hugging Board members in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: This is a great lesson from upper management that most Millennials likely overlook. Even most team managers might have a hard time finger pointing, or naming the Board members in their organizations. Even though the action is metaphorical, it’s tough to hug someone when you can’t even pick them out from a crowd at the next company event.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Friggin’ Obvious in 1916

Accountability Books Productivity

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Story: Our Company Chair is a very wise and accomplished man, perhaps a bit of a curmudgeon, and full of insight based on years of doing the hard work of the hard work. One of his trigger points is complexity. If someone presenting to the board does so in a web of tangled nonsense, the potential of you-know-what hitting the fan is likely. As I come to know him more, I better appreciate his love of the obvious and simple. I also better understand that the Chair’s philosophical management bible is largely based on a book called Obvious Adams, by Robert Updegraff, which was first published in 1916! Wow, and why? (Obtain a free digital copy here). 

Key Point: If I critically examine my life’s work, the more simple and obvious the initiative, the better the outcome. The more complex my ideas or approach, the less accessible and effective. I wish I would have had a “simple and obvious” coach my entire career. What would the Obvious Adams book say to better guide you and me in becoming more obvious and simple?

“5 Tests of the Obvious:

  • The problem when solved will be simple, and when found will be obvious
  • Does it make sense to the simple direct and generally unsophisticated mind of the public? If you can’t easily explain it to your “mother,” it maybe too complex?
  • Put it down on “paper.” Can you write it down and explain it in plain english in three paragraphs or less?
  • Does it explode in people’s minds? People ideally say, “why didn’t I think of that?”  
  • Is the time right? Timing, like in most things in life, is so important.

5 Creative Approaches to the Obvious:

  • What is the simplest possible way of doing it?
  • Supposed the whole process/thing were reversed?
  • What would the public’s vote on it be?
  • What opportunity is being overlooked because no one has bothered to develop it?
  • What are the special needs of the situation?”

Today we have so much cool, breakthrough technology, arguably way more brain power, and certainly more knowledge than in 1916. Still, the great inventions or reimagined work are often so darn simple, and in retrospect, very obvious. Take Uber, Airbnb, and even Snapchat as current examples. Yet, in organizations I often see problems addressed with total complexity. And while I believe management concepts like Lean, Agile, etc. are helpful, they can also become counterproductive when process and taxonomy overwhelm common sense. People get so hung up on form they can forget to ask the best questions, like those published in 1916.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Be confident and humble enough to fiercely challenge, based on the concepts of simple and obvious. (Does not mean simplistic).
  2. If your or my idea takes a long winded slide deck or PowerPoint to explain it, be self-critical and suspicious as to whether we have done enough work on it.
  3. Be wary of fancy language, overly technical jargon and/or so called solutions that seem to make the audience feel stupid. If you and I can’t understand it, we know what’s stupid… And it’s not us.
  4. Get a “simplicity coach.” P.S. – It might be your mother.

Simply Obvious in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I remember in journalism school we were encouraged to write as simply and briefly as possible, because studies showed that the average media consumer read at about a 6th grade level. That might be surprising to those who like to dive into academic journals. Simple, concise, and to the point is statistically what people want. A strict and great professor of mine once told me, “if an article is more than 800 words, it better f*!$ing sing.” How’s that for obvious and simple advice?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

FUD Yourself!

Abundance Authenticity Organizational culture

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Story: The picture of the guy I’m hanging with above is Michael Katchen, the co-founder and CEO of Wealthsimple. He is one of Canada’s scintillating young leaders: Top 40 under 40, MBA, McKinsey alum, instrumental leader at Ancestry.com, and now heading one of the hottest robo-financial advising firms in North America and the UK. He has done a lot to build a very modern company and culture. I heard him speak about Wealthsimple’s inspiring purpose and values at the Great Place to Work conference I had the honor of hosting in Toronto this week. He noted almost as a “throw away idea,” that once a week he has “FUD Day” for the entire company. What is FUD Day? And why does Michael do it?

Key Point: More than ever, emotional/psychological safety is taking on much greater importance and focus within leading organizations. This is understandable in that work/life is becoming more integrated than ever, and exponential change/disruption has enveloped us all. There is just more volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) in the world. So, what is emotional or psychological safety? The definition according to one eminent scholar, William Kahn, is: “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as ‘being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.’”

In psychologically safe teams, members feel accepted and respected. Creating conditions for emotional safety does NOT invite complacency or entitlement. On the contrary, it is fundamental for meaningful inclusion, a sense of belonging, and an environment of sustainable innovation. No less than four current research based works I am aware of, (although I know there are many more), reinforce the vital nature of intentionally establishing the foundation of emotional safety and well-being: Google’s extensive study on teams, Daniel Coyle’s work in his recent, excellent book, “The Culture Code,” the Great Place to Work For All, research as emphasized in their analysis with well known behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and in Tasha Eurich’s terrific, “Insight.” All the data, which makes total intuitive sense, reinforces the idea that if people are fearful, they just can’t do their best. Yet, my experience is that many leaders have not given sufficient attention to this matter. I think that executives have become more anxious/pressured to increase performance through bringing in the right DNA (aka replace “underperforming” people more often), and also because I’m not sure they know what else to do to get results. The long standing idea to counter workplace anxiety, is that we tell the “survivors” that they’re “ok” after a round of firings. I actually believe, that while well intended, this is disingenuous. We all know this year’s super stars, including each of us, might be replaced next year for whatever reason. Furthermore, creating an emotionally safe culture goes way beyond the concept of job security. We all know that there is no such thing as pure job security, and that’s part of the issue. So what can we do about intentionally taking steps to create conditions for greater emotional safety in our organizations?

At a minimum, we need to consciously recognize that people at all levels, must be able to work in an environment where they are invited to openly express their views in a supportive, accepting atmosphere. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re all in agreement on things. However, respectful listening and frank dialogue are BOTH necessary ingredients. The conversation is indeed the relationship.

And now back to FUD. At Wealthsimple, it stands for Fear, Uncertainty or Doubt. On FUD Day, Katchen simply reads out any FUD he has received (which he intentionally invites to be sent directly to him beforehand) to the entire company. He encourages transparency ,and that people self-identify. Anonymous FUDS are also accepted. What’s unique about this process is that neither he nor anyone answers or offers a solution to the FUD at the time of disclosure. It is simply read out, a momentary pause is taken after each one, and they move to the next. Just the idea that one is invited to express a FUD and that ALL people openly hear it, adds to the emotional stability of the company. The CEO admits some are hard to read, and that he has to bite his tongue occasionally. Still, that’s the key, a non-judgmental acceptance of any FUD. It’s a great example of one small step for creating a more emotionally healthy atmosphere.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Learn/read more about the role both leadership and team members have in creating a truly emotional/psychological/physically safe environment.
  2. Why not try applying a FUD process? I am going to try it.
  3. Ask for feedback first! Lead the way. The very act of asking sets an example.
  4. Think of increasing the use of “YES, AND,” rather than “NO, BUT.”  
  5. Celebrate well intended failures with authenticity.

Addressing FUD in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think this is an outstanding concept. It makes sense that anyone in a workplace has plenty of fears, uncertainties and doubts, and if we’re able to just “rip the band-aid” off by addressing them from the top, then how great is that? I just would hope that FUD Day doesn’t turn into “Why does George in Accounting have to eat tuna and hard boiled eggs at his desk every day?”

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

My Company. Want to Join?

Accountability Organizational culture Purpose

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Story: So how are we doing in terms of creating great places to work? The following are stats for the U.S. as of 2017. (Let’s assume for the purpose of this blog, that the numbers for Canada and Europe are in the same ballpark).

51 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged (Gallup).

Disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion dollars annually (The Engagement Institute).

16 percent of employees said they felt “connected and engaged” by employers (EmployeeChannel).

There’s a lot more data, and little of it is sterling in terms of really positive trends. We don’t seem to be making much progress creating great workplaces.

Key Point: Most organizations are still struggling to create workplaces where participants are treated as fully functional, self-accountable, highly capable, trustworthy, well-intended adults. When one stand backs and looks at most institutional structures and processes, you realize they were built for an industrial era rather than modern one. How would you like to work for an organization that had the following attributes? 

  1. Purpose matters most. You join because you want to make the purpose more true everyday. Not just for a job. WHY the company exists, is clear, inspirational, and advances humankind. 
  2. Three values drive every part of the company; Self Accountability, Respect and Abundance. Every day starts for all with a quick reflection on the purpose and values.
  3. The business model constantly evolves to achieve the purpose. People are always first AND focused totally on how everything they do impacts the customer experience.
  4. Jobs and roles are fluid. Expectations are clear at both the individual and team level. Work constantly pivots to get the right stuff done for the customer.
  5. Every development conversation is aimed at helping people do what they’re good at, passionate about, and how value is created.
  6. Each leader is publicly rated by all, daily. The results are transparent and there for everyone to see. The same goes for each team member. There are NO stupid annual performance reviews. Results and behaviors are transparent, respectful, candid and deeply appreciated. When trends are negative, people are expected to reach out for help. All team members need to help and move the trend in a positive direction. Peer coaching in the context of work, is an everyday practice.
  7. Anyone can leave the company with a fair, pre-determined severance package at any time. Every team member has total control. The organization can also remove anyone at anytime with the same formula. No any one person can hire or fire (unless an egregious act of disrespect requires an immediate firing). Both hiring and firing is done after careful data-driven assessments by a small panel of team members.
  8. Pay and compensation benefits are fully transparent, and on a platform designed for a person of one, based on individual changing needs. 10 percent of all compensation is added for personal learning investment determined by each employee at their discretion. 
  9. Personal Time Off and vacation is determined by each person. Take what you need, when. Of course, the company values are thoughtfully applied. Employees are considerate and keep the impact to team members, customers and results in mind.
  10. Health care is aimed totally at keeping people healthy in every way. No designated sick time off. Take what’s needed. Stay as healthy as possible.
  11. Work where, when, and how you need to for the best results. Dress code is what helps you get stuff done.
  12. There is an annual profit share open and transparent to all. The more profit, the more everyone wins.
  13. Don’t be an ass.
  14. Ensure the customer becomes your best advertiser. 

Leadership Moves:

  1. Seriously consider the framework and rules behind the way you work. Do they make sense? Would you work for a company with the above framework? Why? Why not?

Loving and advancing humans everyday,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think everyone can be extremely attracted to the autonomy, freedoms, and values that this company offers. We Millennials, especially, would need to keep in mind that this also requires a ton of discipline, transparency and honesty. Perhaps at a more extreme level than we’re used to. How long till answering No. 6 above just turns into a “yeah yeah, everyone’s performing great,” when maybe they’re not? How long till that negatively affects No. 12? This is an inspiring system, but is human nature ready for it? If not, let’s individually ask ourselves what we need to do so we can be. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Homegrown Feelings, TRUST & Great Organizations

Accountability Organizational culture Teamwork

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Story: Last week I sat with nearly 40 people, each of whom run a small business in towns across southern Alberta, Canada. We gathered in a circle, and each participant shared a story about their beautiful little communities. They lovingly described the way people are mostly there for each other, how neighbors TRUST, put each other first, often greet with a hug, and personally connect before any business is transacted. Of course, not everything is perfect in small town life. People know each others’ business, small town politics, etc. Their stories made me a little homesick for these “homegrown” feelings. Coincidentally, I concluded the week visiting one of our smallest bank branches in the wonderful town of Daysland (pop. 824 people), where I also ran into a teammate from my college football days. For 40 years, he was the town pharmacist and proudly showed me around his former store and the world class medical clinic he was generously instrumental in developing for the greater good of the community. This overall experience made me pause… What did it teach me about expectations we might have for aspiring organizations?

Key Point: Great companies and institutions are often like the very best of these outstanding little towns. Yes, people are there for themselves, yet they thrive with meaningful purpose in advancing the community at large.

During the same week, I sat on a panel with the CEO of Edelman Canada, a leading journalist, several other execs, and a host of invited leaders to discuss the results of Edelman’s (world’s largest PR agency) annual Trust Barometer (33k respondents in 28 world markets). The Trust index conclusions are fascinating and concerning. To sum it up, trust is eroding amongst all institutions in most western democracies (a startling drop of 23 points in America). More than ever, especially in Canada, the US and Europe, there is a vacuum inviting business to urgently step up in leadership, while advancing trust amongst ALL stakeholders, not just shareholders. 

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. If you’re an executive leader, you must have the courage to create an organization purpose that really matters because living it clearly advances humankind. Additionally, you must create a sense of TRUST throughout the entire organization community and its ecosystem. Decisions about who fairly continues to be a member or not, is part of the hard work in maintaining that trust.
  2. If you’re an organization participant, not just a formal leader, you have a responsibility to be part of creating an environment of trust as well. Each of us is a vital part of the “village.” Ideally, going to work feels somewhat like living in a great little town… We feel at home.

P.S. You may enjoy listening to the Zac Brown song titled “Homegrown.” For me, it captures some of this feeling.

Homegrown in Personal Leadership,

Lorne  

One Millennial View: I completely agree that humans perform best when working in small tribes. That’s kind of what thousands of years of evolution has ingrained in us. There should be as much diversity, opposing views, different backgrounds, various upbringings and experiences as can be in these groups, but common values and purpose are what small towns really thrive on. And that’s what I want in an organization too. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis