Explaining the Action Logic Framework through the lens of AFL football

diagramIn my practice, I apply the Harthill Action Logic framework as a key teaching tool to help leaders better understand how and why they see and interact with the world in the way that they do.  The Action Logic is not well known in Australia, but it should be.  Developed by David Rooke and William Torbert in the 1990’s, the Action Logic doesn’t predict or measure behaviour as most tools do.  It is not a 360 degree assessment. What it does is inform the individual about how they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. When used in leadership coaching, it can help the leader transition to later stages of personal insight and tap into ways of bringing about business, personal or social transformations.

Which brings me to Paul Roos, soon to be ex-Melbourne Football Club coach.  The two year Odyssey between Roos and the Demons is all but complete and many are starting to ask whether he has actually achieved anything of significance in his time at the helm.

In terms of the Action Logic, most AFL coaches would be firmly placed in the Achiever category.  When Melbourne sought a replacement for Mark Neeld in 2013, it made sure it got their man in Roos, whom they could have assumed was the ultimate Achiever, based on his record.

What Melbourne didn’t bank on, was that they got far more than they bargained for in selecting Roos.  Neeld, by the way, is a classic Achiever, but Melbourne, as a club, was not.  It is an indictment on the club that it had slipped back so far in organisational maturity, but that meant that when a replacement was sought, they had to be very careful about their next appointment.

Roos, you see, is more advanced in organisational development terms than your average Achiever.  He is a post-conventional guy, who, in Action Logic terms is at least a Strategist and maybe, if he were assessed, could be one of the top 2% of the population who score as Alchemists.  That’s not to say he doesn’t have Achiever characteristics.  He does.  In fact he brings that and far more besides.

He is a multi-faceted individual who can integrate multiple perspectives and is mostly several steps ahead of his players and peers.  Based on his type, he can simultaneously coach an AFL team, meaningfully contribute to game development Australia wide and globally, perform as a media personality and probably much more that we never see.

The Achiever’s greatest enemy is time.  There is never enough of it.  Roos the Strategist/Alchemist seamlessly integrates time as one of many factors that he contemplates.  Time and short term success to Roos are artificial constructs.  Because he can see what others don’t, he is less prone to the pressures of Win/Loss than most of his peers.

For some of these types, they can appear on different wavelengths to their players, who struggle to adapt to their different approach.  Players are used to being driven by Achievers and when they get a more sophisticated message, they can struggle to adapt and respond effectively.

Melbourne, a club that hasn’t tasted success since 1964, is also moving through its organisational development cycle and is just coming to terms with what is required for it to become an Achiever organisation.  It is not quite there yet, but is now emerging.  Whilst many would have felt more comfortable with an Achiever coach, the Board and administration should be congratulated for taking the leap of faith.

Roos’ legacy will only become apparent once he has left.  This is also typical of transformational leaders.  He has laid the foundations for Simon Goodwin to succeed him and reap the benefits.  Melbourne is emerging as an early Achiever club and looks destined to be matched with a hungry Achiever coach.

When, in 2016, Melbourne emerges from the darkness and makes a charge for the top 8, just remember that the foundations were laid by their post-conventional coach of 2014-15.

If you want to know more about the Action Logic tool, check the Harthill website or contact me directly.

performance review

Making performance feedback work for both of you

Giving or receiving performance feedback when an outcome has been below the standard required is an uncomfortable thing to do.

For many of us, we recognise the discomfort and we genuinely don’t want to offend or hurt our employee’s feelings. So we end up circling around the issue, giving non-specific or generalised feedback resulting in them walking away confused. So what are we doing wrong, and how can we adjust our approach so that the conversation becomes a genuine coaching and learning opportunity?

Firstly, let’s step back and look at the system we operate in. Management doctrines are about achieving outcomes. Assigning KPI’s to tell us whether an outcome has been achieved is a practical but often harsh way of assessing an employee’s performance. As leaders, we know that there are hundreds of things that can go wrong along the way, many of which the employee has little or no control over, which can make achieving the KPI impossible. In these circumstances, we need to be able to provide effective feedback that keeps our employee engaged and feeling like there is something in this for them.

Consider the following feedback model, which has its origins in professional team sports coaching. In this world, players face the minute to minute challenge of overcoming setbacks in the pursuit of victory. Ultimately, only one team can be successful. Therefore, if we judge performance purely on win-loss, then most players in most competitions would be crushed by the inevitability of impending defeat. But that’s not how it is coached. The end outcome is often quite immaterial in the performance feedback.

In professional sport, like in business, what is important are the many micro steps, processes and decisions that are made along the way.

If we assess the process steps taken in combination with the interference or setbacks that occur along the way, we show our employees that we have been taking notice and we understand their struggle. Reviewing how the employee chose to overcome setbacks is where the opportunity for coaching and growth exists.

What behaviours did you observe? And what is your advice to your employee about making different choices next time, particularly decisions about their behaviour in these moments.

If you set it out as a sequence, as illustrated in the model, and engage in a genuine two way exchange of ideas, leading to you giving final coaching instructions for ‘next time’, then important transformations can occur:

  1. It teaches employees about developing strategy to achieve their goals.
  2. It teaches employees about the difference between strategy and tactics. That is, we employee tactics to overcome setbacks and remain on track to achieve strategy.
  3. It helps employees learn decision making, with particular emphasis on making smart decisions when under stress.
  4. It develops your leadership skills because you pay more attention to those ‘moments of truth’ along the way. Over time, the leader develops a better feel for when to intervene and when to let their employee work through their own decision making struggles. And finally,
  5. It builds better relationships between managers and their employees because the relationship becomes more about coaching and mentoring than command and control.



Transparency of courage

The courage of transparency

It happens in every business, at some point. A manager oversteps the mark and the robustness of the internal complaints system is tested. It might be that murky area when legitimate performance management action becomes workplace bullying or perhaps one of the several forms of discrimination. What happens next reveal insights into leadership and culture in that workplace. Hopefully, the policies and procedures are clear and up to date. We also need to trust that those governing the system are trained, experienced and know their roles.

Over coming weeks, everything is done by the book. Tension might be high, but the system works and the case against the errant manager is proven. Penalties are applied, including perhaps a termination of employment. This is the way it should be. Justice has to be done and be seen to be done. We then typically move on as quickly as possible.

When these incidents occur (and your next one may be only days away) how many of us undertake any form of post investigation review to understand the origins or wider impacts of this behaviour. How many were aware of the behaviour and looked the other way? Why did it take a courageous victim to subject themselves to the formal process before anybody acted?

People in organisations who behave inappropriately, particularly those who behave aggressively, understand that the likelihood of them being called to account is low. Sometimes they imitate behaviour that they have witnessed in the workplace previously. Critically, when post incident reviews are conducted, we find that too many people knew what was happening but chose not to act. Unfortunately, some of those who looked away will have been in positions of seniority. And that signals an organisational culture that is in deep trouble.

Australian corporate culture is a reflection of wider Australian culture. We like to give people a ‘fair go’; we don’t like ‘dobbers’. Much of this is deeply connected to our colonial history. But this backward looking justification for poor behaviour has no place in the 21st century workplace.

Businesses need their employees to be as productive as possible as often as possible. If a workplace aggressor roams the office unchecked and unchallenged, then the short term impact on productivity and long term impact on organisational culture is disastrous. Waiting for them to transgress to a point of no return is a sure fire way to drive away great employees.

Organisational leaders carry a reasonable expectation that employees are productive and achievement focused. To achieve this, the support they provide to their employees in times of high anxiety must be demonstrative. The conclusion of an investigation into inappropriate workplace behaviour (regardless of the outcome) is one of these times and should be the trigger for an open and transparent review of what is really going on out on the shop floor.

Don’t miss your moment.

HR Essentials

Five key factors that determine organisational culture

From the beginning of time, human behaviour has remained very predictable.  One of the most predictable aspects of human behaviour is that tension and conflict inevitably arise when two or more people are required to work together to achieve an outcome.  That is a good thing.  Tension and conflict are necessary conditions to achieve a heightened sense of purpose and when constructively harnessed, spectacular results are possible.

At an organisational level, culture is a factor of the interactions between the people in that workplace.  Our collective ability to constructively manage workplace relationships, particularly in the face of inevitable tension and conflict, defines our organisational culture.

In the end, organisational culture has next to nothing to do with what type of work is performed, but how effectively we consciously and unconsciously resolve internal tension and the impact that this leaves on all involved.  When managed well, the good will and trust that develops, positions an organisation and its people for greatness.

Therefore, when I am looking for clues to uncover what an organisation’s culture is really like, I am drawn to those things which are most likely to cause conflict in the organisation.  Like a theatre production unfolding before you, if you sit back and watch how well or how clumsily, how aggressively or passively people manage organisational tension, then much will be revealed.

But what should you look for?  After many years of trial and error, I settled on five main factors of organisational life that I try to observe and understand.

1. Leadership

How important is status in the organisation?  How close or removed are top management from the shop floor?  What gets rewarded and recognised by leaders? How do leaders communicate with their employees? How trusted are leaders?

2. Workload

To be clear, this is not an observation of the work itself, but of the expectations of how much of a load employees are expected to carry.  Is the workload distribution equitable? Is it predictable?  When an employee arrives for work today, will she know what lies ahead during the day? Is the workload shared and what happens to the work when they take leave?

3. Capability

How well are people trained to do their jobs?  How long does it take for an employee to reach a level of job mastery? Is the approach to learning and to training structured so that employees can expect to reach a level where they can function in an autonomous way?

4. Relationships

Does the workplace support and encourage relationship building?  What are the social norms of the workplace?  What happens if somebody steps outside the social norms?  Do employees trust the organisational complaint or grievance systems? How dependent are employees on one another in being able to achieve success?

5. Controls

What job controls exist to guide the work?  How closely are people supervised?  Is their work checked, approved or randomly sampled?  Can an employee expect to receive regular feedback on their performance from a line supervisor?


Culutre Model branded

These five categories are at the centre of the majority of organisational conflict.  Interestingly, they align with the SCARF Model, developed by Dr David Rock, the pioneer of Neuroleadership.  The five domains of the SCARF model are listed on the Leading Culture Model.

Invariably, there will be conflict around one of more of leadership, workload, capability, relationships or controls.  At any time, there may be several people in the organisation who are in conflict around these factors.  The manner in which employees are able to express their feelings of irritation and the desire and capability of the organisation to resolve issues in a way that demonstrates genuine concern and respect for the importance of these factors has a large bearing on determining its culture.  Organisations that engage constructively and invest in each of these factors report far more productive cultures than those who do not.

Surrounding the Leading Culture Model are additional aspects of organisational life which are also relevant, but play a more static role in culture, rather than the dynamic role experienced by the five key factors.  The tools, accommodation, remuneration, organisational governance and its commitment to adherence to legal compliance also play a significant contributory role, but only really become factors in influencing organisational culture when they are sub-optimal.  To this end, I describe these as cultural hygiene factors.

Organisational culture is a complex issue.  Leaders who develop mature work systems and model constructive behaviour around the five key factors will find that organisational culture becomes a much simpler issue to understand and master.

Diversity is the First Casualty of Productivity Improvement

Near death experiences tend to change people’s behaviour.  They see things differently and begin to behave in ways that they never thought would have been possible prior to the life changing event.

For businesses in the disability sector, the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is an organisational version of the ‘near death experience’. Consequently, organisations across Australia are making changes that they never would have previously contemplated.  It is more than coincidental that many long serving and highly respected sector CEO’s are quietly exiting.  They understand that there are decisions that they will be required to make now and into the future, which so deeply cut across their values that they would rather leave the industry than be forced to implement them.  A new breed is moving in, who have richer commercial experience, but often lack the sensitivity and empathy which characterised the sector in days past.

The equation for most disability sector businesses is simple, yet the answer is incredibly complex.  Regardless of who controls the funding, the overall mix is lower and as a result, services must either be cut back, or substantial efficiencies must be found to continue to deliver the types of outcomes that have made these businesses successful.  In some businesses, services will contract in addition to efficiencies being delivered.

The macro economists tell us that this is simply industry reform working through a tried and tested cycle and that in time things will settle.  Too many players, poor productivity and now a de-regulated market with the purchasing power moving to the client.  So many industries have experienced versions of this before and the disability sector is just the latest. Mergers will occur, the weakest and smallest will disappear and in a decade a more mature disability sector will have emerged.

This is not an essay on the merit or ethics of the change, but an acknowledgement that such change has happened to others before.  Consequently, there are lessons of history that should be considered as your business embarks on its productivity improvement program.

  1. Diversity is the first casualty

When chasing major and urgent productivity improvements, employees are asked to change their work behaviours and complete tasks faster, with fewer errors and often carry higher caseloads.  People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and those who have physical or cognitive disabilities or impairments can take longer to adjust to changed work environments, particularly when tighter performance expectations are implemented.  This sector has a larger proportion of these people than any other in Australia.  When we add the pressure of needing to downsize a workforce at the same time, it is little wonder that these employees are over-represented as downsizing statistics.  If you have a team of ten and next year’s budget enables only a team of eight, how will you decide who stays and who goes? It is relatively straightforward to manage the downsizing in accordance with workplace relations laws, but far trickier to do it in a way that leaves the remaining workforce feeling that management has acted with decency.  Trust is eroded at this step if downsizing is handled in a clumsy way.

  1. Change is a threat and a reward

Not everybody inside your organisation is going to view these changes as a threat.  Poorly designed change programs fall for the trap of treating change as a threat, which has to be overcome.  When organisational change occurs, there are a silent but influential group who view what is happening as long overdue and an opportunity to refresh and renew the business.  To this group, the change is their reward for loyalty.  Find them, engage them and harness them as your change champions.

  1. New leadership skills will be required

Even if the same people remain, new skills will be needed to ensure that the business thrives.  Cost cutting and headcount reductions are short term fixes, which will soon unravel if the same leadership approach remains.  Employees at all levels in disability organisations will benefit from carefully facilitated workshops that help everybody understand the new business paradigm. Discussing and laying the ground rules about greater levels of accountability will help to maximise the chance of employees buying in and not feeling ambushed.  Organisational leaders in particular, must develop a laser focus on what success looks like in the new organisation, including adjusting performance management expectations to lock in productivity gains.

This sector is changing fast.  History tells us that the early adopters will thrive, so get busy working on your change plans and seize the initiative while control remains in your hands.

Germanwings tragedy reveals lack of understanding about mental illness

In the days following the tragic Germanwings disaster, where it appears that Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder by steering his airliner into the French Alps, authorities have been quick to release their discovery that he suffered from depression and may have hidden this illness from his employer.

In response to these revelations, media worldwide have been quick to conclude that depression was the reason for the vile act, enabling them to neatly conclude their news cycle and move on. My fear is that this shallow examination of the incident will lead to a destructive response in workplaces, resulting in people with various forms of mental illness being further stigmatised and far less likely to reveal their struggle or to seek help.

SANE Australia records the incidence of mental illness in the Australian community at around 20% of the population every year, with depression making up approximately 6% of that figure. Beyond Blue estimate that in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.

The most compelling factor in these statistics is are the typical behaviours associated with these illnesses. In the case of depression, the typical presenting behaviours include

  • withdrawing from social engagement, including distancing oneself from family and close friends
  • not getting things done at work or school
  • retreating to alcohol and sedatives as a coping mechanism
  • inability to focus or concentrate

Research has shown no reliable links between depression and the act of physically harming other people. What is well accepted is that sufferers of depression are far more likely to self-harm. The alleged crime committed by Lubitz, which resulted in the deaths of 149 innocent victims was therefore not an act likely to have been driven from depression. He may have suffered from other, undiagnosed (or at this time unreported) disorders, but to attribute this crime to depression is a lazy and unhelpful response. Who knows what evil or tragic madness beset this man and drove him to do something so unthinkable?

If anything constructive can emerge from this tragedy, then surely it is to begin to normalise the conversation about the most common forms of mental illness – depression and anxiety.

Only once we accept that depression and anxiety are normal workplace issues that need to be integrated into our management systems and leadership development programs, will we begin to offer appropriate support.

Here is a comparison to what ‘normal’ should look like. Many of us have been approached by an employee and advised that they have been diagnosed with cancer of some kind. Others will know first-hand of the fear of this diagnosis when confronted with it. I don’t know of any leader, when faced with this grim news, who has not thrown their full support around their employee and done whatever they can to assist. Indeed, I know of many stories of support that are truly inspirational. This year in Australia, approximately 130,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer. At the same time (based on SANE figures) more than one million Australians will experience depression and more than three million will experience an anxiety disorder. Most will suffer in silence and many will be targeted for disciplinary action from their employers who fail to recognise the signs and who do not have workplace programs and education in place to assist in constructively discussing this issue. Posters on the lunch room wall advertising Employee Assistance Programs are a start, but are no substitute for taking a genuine interest in employees and creating a supportive environment where dialogue on mental illness can occur.

In the absence of education and support, please keep a careful eye out in workplaces over the coming weeks for uninformed statements being made about depression and other mental illness in relation to the Germanwings tragedy.

If you are experiencing symptoms described in this article and wish to seek support, please call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE. Online chat with a SANE Helpline advisor is available Mon –Fri between 9:00am and 5:00pm AEST by visiting

Generation Z

Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce – Generation Z

They are beginning to enter the workforce. The oldest amongst this group are just 20 years of age. If you thought GenY were a handful in the workplace, then you might be surprised about the emergence of Generation Z. It is entirely possible that you haven’t even heard of GenZ, so let’s put some parameters around this generation. The eldest GenZ have just turned 20 and the youngest are just starting school, at 5 years of age. So as a workplace cohort, they are yet to make any impression at all, but they soon will. By total numbers, GenZ are the largest generation ever, comprising around 20% or 4.5 million of Australia’s population. Consequently, they will dominate the workforce within 15 years.

As discussed previously, the way each generation sees and interacts with the world is shaped by their experiences, particularly as early teenagers. Based on this, at least half of GenZ are yet to have their world view fully formed. The major social, political and economic events of the next decade will define this generation.

There are however, some features of GenZ which are already well defined. This is the social media generation. They are true digital natives for whom digital technology is ubiquitous. They are living digital and virtual lives. Their world is an entirely connected world. Whether it is streaming friends on the other side of the world into tonight’s dorm party, or simply playing FIFA Football with a cousin in Belgium or Brazil, their virtual relationships are as natural and up to date as if they travel and chat on the bus with these people every day.

What may be of some surprise is the likelihood of GenZ being relatively conservative. Compared to the freewheeling GenY, they will look positively boring; more often content to stay home and engage via their devices. This generation are the children of GenX, so their conservatism is partly environmental, but also being shaped by the events occurring around them. The GenZ world is a world of global terrorism, Ebola and extremes of poverty and wealth; all streamed directly to their screens, with minute to minute updates on body counts, climate catastrophes and Kim Kardashian’s butt status. That reality is re-enforced by ‘told you so’ GenX parents.

One upside is that GenZ are going to be savers. In a return to habits of times that seemed long gone, GenZ will show the way by actually saving their own money to purchase goods and services. They will exercise an economic balance that older generations seemed incapable of finding.

They will enter the workforce fully expecting to work until well into their 70’s, so cannot visualise what retirement may look like. Demographers tell us that any child born in Australia since 2000 has a 50% probability of living until 100. That is reassuring to GenZ, who are prepared to take things as they come, knowing there will be many more tomorrows.

But most notably, GenZ care for the environment and climate. It is more than a sentiment. It is THE issue that will define this generation. GenZ are environmental activists and may just reverse many of the global climate crises in the nick of time.

So what can we expect of GenZ at work? Anything less than fully digital workplaces will repel GenZ. Virtual work and telecommuting will be their norm. They do not understand the need for face to face meetings that do not add significant value and they will not put up with such nonsense.

GenZ will be attracted to ‘results-only’ workplaces, of which there are very few today, although many more will emerge over the next 10 years. This will complement their experience of ‘results-only’ universities. Getting a degree is a serious business to GenZ. They have a “Get in, get out” attitude and if it can be done on-line, then all the better. Yes, they will have fun, but their experience of university will be very different from generations before.

Businesses that demonstrate their environmental credentials and walk the talk will become highly sought after as places for GenZ to be associated with.

Many GenZ will balance two and three jobs simultaneously, able to manage the loads through their mastery of emerging digital and yet to be developed technologies.

GenZ are a surprising and refreshing generation. The oldest are quietly joining your workforce today. Unless you can meet their very new and different needs, they will quietly disappear and join somebody who can.

Work Culture

Starting Culture Conversations

We never speak about workplace culture when things are going well. Typically, we feel the need to improve culture when the recent past has been rocky or the future looks bleak. Revenues are sliding, costs are rising disproportionately, customer complaints are trending upward or industry regulations have changed and we don’t know how to respond. Maybe you detected an internal fraud or serious misconduct issue that would have seemed impossible to have occurred only a couple of years ago.

So much is written about culture today. Much of what I read sits at the conceptual level, offering very little practical advice. The success stories are interesting to read, but for the most part they focus on major multi-nationals who invested millions. My clients find much of this difficult to translate to their own experience and immediate challenges.

Dealing with organisational culture starts with courage to have difficult conversations around the management table. The trouble is, when we discuss organisational culture the conversation naturally and quickly flows to leadership, or at least it should. These discussions can quickly start to feel deeply threatening for management teams. We therefore speak in generalities, not prepared to name or own the real issues at play. We don’t want to offend and we definitely don’t want the focus to turn to our own department.

Management teams are inherently conflicted in these situations. There is a power imbalance with the CEO sitting at the table. Inevitably, whatever the CEO says carries far more weight than any other person in the room. Once the CEO speaks, boundaries are created around what is discussed and emphasised from that point onward.

Each person around the table is massively invested in keeping their jobs, so is unlikely to suggest anything radical that might destabilise their own position. The default response is to turn attention and the blow torch to middle managers or front line supervisors and staff. Phew….Crisis averted! And by playing out this charade, which occurs time and time again, you guarantee that the top team has just sabotaged any real chance of developing a constructive response to improving culture.

Some practical tips on getting a conversation started on culture:

  1. The top team must acknowledge that workplace culture starts with them. Poor workplace culture is a leadership problem and changing culture requires a change in leadership behaviour.
  2. Get an expert facilitator involved in framing culture conversations. The CEO should not lead the early discussions. Too heavy a shadow is cast over the group by the CEO leading the conversation. The facilitator must model the constructive yet direct approach that the group needs to learn and hold them true to any behavioural commitments that they make. If the facilitator becomes too chummy with members of the group, then it’s time for a new facilitator.
  3. Over time, the facilitator fades away and the CEO assumes the facilitation role, but that is only after new rules of senior team engagement have been developed, practiced and reviewed.
  4. Senior leaders should replicate what happens in the top team with their own businesses or departments. Whether the General Manager likes it or not, they have to learn and practice exactly the same skills that the CEO is attempting to master. Later, middle managers and team leaders must learn these skills and apply in their own contexts.
  5. The early facilitation process must include the team agreeing on a way of tabling and constructively discussing difficult issues which inhibit the delivery of your strategy. It is not a forum for pet peeves.
  6. Agree on the information that the top team needs to see on a regular basis that gives a holistic picture of culture across the company. It is usually a mosaic of data across multiple domains.
  7. Find a way to measure culture. Until it is measured and reported, then it risks remaining an esoteric subject and will be abandoned when things get tough.

An experienced and high profile business leader once told me that you can look in every corner of the organisation for the clues to improving culture, but of all the things that must change “it’s probably you”. That remains a very good place to start a culture conversation.

Generation Y

Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce – Generation Y

Generation Y. The Millennials. Their impact on the workforce created generational debate like none before.  You’ve heard the stereotypes.  The 22 year old graduate telling the General Manager on Day 2 how to do his job better and was bored and looking for a transfer to a more stimulating department by Week 3, perhaps one that wouldn’t be limiting his career advancement so much.

So who are GenY and are they really any different to the preceding generations?

If you were born from about 1980 to the mid 1990’s you proudly wear the label of Generation Y or Millennial.  And yes, they are different to their older work colleagues.  In many ways.

This is the generation that grew up at the same time as the emergence of the internet and social media.  Older GenY can just remember a time when there wasn’t such a thing as being ‘on-line’, although that was when they were in primary school, so the memory is foggy.  By the time they were teenagers the information revolution had arrived.  GenY access and use online information in ways that are very different to those older than them.  Most GenX and Baby Boomers use their technology to do the same things they used to do in the pre-technology era, only more efficiently.  GenY are different. They have a totally new paradigm when it comes to information and technology. They are tribal and use their devices to manage the eco-system of their tribe.

GenY went to university as the default setting after completing high school and have emerged as the generation with huge debt, firstly from university fees and more recently with staggeringly high mortgages.  If your GenY leaves you for a job paying only a few thousand dollars more, it really often is because of the money, to alleviate some of the mortgage stress.

Like other generations, GenY sees the world based on their experiences during their teenage years.  As teenagers during the 90’s and early 2000’s they saw the world at its most unpredictable.  Over this period Nelson Mandela was freed and became President of South Africa, the Soviet Union and Communism collapsed, the first Gulf War occurred, the internet and tech bubble expanded before spectacularly exploding and sending the world’s tech entrepreneurs broke. They laughed out loud at our irrational and over the top response to the Y2K bug.  Then, most notably of all, 9/11 happened and the world changed forever.

How did these extraordinary events shape GenY?  Overwhelmingly, they have seared into their consciousness that the world is an unpredictable place. But unlike older generations, GenY are not scared of the unpredictability.  In fact, they embraced it from a young age because CNN and other 24 hour news channels de-mystified much of what was going on around them.  GenY perfected the gap year and took off travelling. To them, the world is a very small and totally connected place.

They are not scared of difference in the ways older generations are.  GenY are comfortable with and ready to accept others as they are and interested to learn from people of difference and diversity.  Gender inequality totally confuses them and they are appalled at many of the behaviours they see in the workplace. The GenY sexes mix equally and comfortably which should be celebrated.

At work they are confident in their own abilities.  They are better educated than many of their managers and take seriously the messages they see and hear about their rights.  Too often they are let down by poor management systems that pay lip service to things like workplace bullying and without proper recourse to effective HR systems, they instead take to social media to amplify their grievances.

When Baby Boomers and GenX were let down by poor management or cynical workplace systems, they tended to internalise their complaints, knowing that their options were limited.  GenY believe the world is their oyster, so vote with their feet and via Twitter when their value or belief systems are compromised.

Never forget, this is the Xbox, Play Station and on-line shopping generation.  Their brains are hard-wired to expect instant gratification when they press the right buttons.  Place them into situations where there is no regular recognition or reward for what they do and you will lose them very quickly.  They want stimulus, variety and an opportunity to constantly learn new skills.  Cutting off their internet access at work or barring certain websites is akin to caveman management.  You may as well light a fire in the middle of the office and spit roast a woolly mammoth.

Do not believe the nonsense that is pedalled about GenY being lazy.  Like every other group, they exhibit the full range of workplace behaviours.  As a cohort however, when they are energised around a cause and inspired by authentic leadership and supportive culture, they have an extraordinarily high work output.  Most GenY have already thought of better, more efficient ways to get their work done than via the inflexible systems that exist in their offices today.  But they are waiting for the quid pro quo before offering the solution to their GenX or Baby Boomer boss.  If you fail to provide the type of workplace that inspires them, not only will they quit, but you might just find yourself in direct competition with that same GenY who had the courage to start up their own micro business. Possibly they’ve already done so, while still working for you.

GenY have a way of making life very uncomfortable for bad bosses and tired workplaces.  But if you think they are tough, just wait for GenZ who are finishing high school and entering the workforce now.

Employee Engagement

The trouble with employee engagement

It is a familiar scene. The Head of HR is presenting engagement results to the Board and the numbers look pretty good. 65% of the workforce are ‘engaged’, 20% are neutral and 15% are ‘disengaged’. Like every good HR Professional, she has done her homework and pre-empted the questions. How does this compare with external benchmarks? Isn’t the 35% of neutrals and negatives a bad sign? How can we move these numbers further upward?

The answers are batted back with ease.

65% positive engagement is a great sign and places us in the top quartile for our industry…..You will never get the bottom 20%, that’s just human nature…..We are adjusting our recruitment program to ensure we hire people whose personal values are in alignment with the company values…..etc

Everybody around the table pauses for hearty congratulations. Thanks, we’ll see you next year!

The trouble with this scene, so often repeated, is that it is a complete nonsense! Typically there are questions which should get asked at a time like this, but never do. Every company has sacred cows and they are alive and well when it comes to employee engagement.

Why don’t we ask “If employee engagement is so high, why are this quarter’s results so poor?” “If employee engagement is so great, how come people are so miserable out on the floor?” “The engagement score is interesting, but what are they engaged with?”

Employee engagement as an isolated indicator, tells you next to nothing about the motivation and connectedness of the employees to the company mission or how well they deliver value to your customers.

In fact, high engagement scores, in the absence of a holistic approach to leadership, culture, performance management and organisational learning are likely to be a red flag. Poor performers, who are not closely managed and who have a loose connection to the mission of the company and the needs of their customers are likely to report as being highly engaged. They report for work each day and leave their brains at the door. What further disguises the problem in these environments, is that the voluntary turnover rate is usually low. Why would I leave? Poor performers tend to expand to fill the space that they are allowed. If you are one of them, the workplace experience is comfortable. Admittedly, there is a fair amount of avoidance and conformance behaviour and plenty of petty bitching about Con and Emily, who never pull their weight. But otherwise people get left alone and find their level of mediocrity.

When the annual staff survey comes around, people are not trying to pull the wool over the eyes of management. They are telling their version of the truth. Typically, they are left to come up with their own definition of ‘engagement’ and in the moment tend to respond positively. In the Australian context, employees also admit ‘off the record’ that they intuitively know that nothing good comes from complaining in the annual survey.

A worthwhile engagement survey sets the context and builds to a series of questions that are quite specific to the individual experience.   For example, here is the company mission, here are the strategic goals, this is the operational plan and here are the performance and behavioural expectations we have of you. Now, on a range of factors, how are we performing as a company and how strongly connected are you to each of the factors. Finally, an opportunity to feed back what is not working at a granular level, can deliver gold nuggets.

Boards love getting results that are distilled to a single number. That way they can track trends over time and stay above the detail. Employee engagement is not a number, but an ongoing conversation. Setting a clear context and asking the right questions can provide the basis for leadership and culture work for the next year but demands a grown up approach to human resource management.

If you want to explore this further, contact me at