31 January 2013

Recognition Rewards and the Compliance Culture

It’s an exercise I use in leadership facilitation to illustrate the difference between organizational cultures of commitment and compliance. Imagine you’ve been invited to meet the one person in the world you’ve always dreamed of meeting. More than that, you’ve been asked to pick that person up at the airport, chauffeur them to the corporate office, host them for the day, and have dinner with them in the evening. A full day, one-on-one with your all-time hero(ine)! On the morning of that fateful day, you wake up extra early, get yourself ready with the perfect outfit, and head out to the airport. On the way… BOOM!… you have a car breakdown. What do you do? Because you are not going to spoil the day, you would likely ditch your vehicle, call a cab, meet your celebrity on schedule and have an outstanding day. A week later, since you did such a fine job with the celebrity, your boss invites you to do the same thing again but with the one person you would least like to spend even five minutes with. On the day, you hope your alarm clock fails (it doesn’t), you don’t bother to even do your hair, and on the way to the airport, car breaks down again. Do you call a cab? Do you flag down a passing motorist? No, you call in: “Sorry boss. Car broke down. Can’t make it.”

The first instance is about commitment; the second, compliance.

It’s the commitment culture to which great leaders strive. It’s that special environment in which people feel valued and appreciated, where anything is possible because everyone pitches in to make those alternative futures indeed become possible. In a commitment culture, mutual recognition and appreciation are baked in to such an extent that they are simply the ways in which individuals treat each other every day. On the other hand, in a culture of compliance, external mechanisms are required to ensure that people are compliant with what the enterprise demands of them. Unlike a commitment culture in which intrinsic motivation provides the primary impetus, compliance culture necessitates sometimes elaborate systems of carrots and sticks - extrinsic motivators - that attempt to align individuals’ actions with what are often imagined abstractions of mission-oriented behaviours.

Which brings us to recognition rewards. In some corporate cultures, it has become common practice to award tangible acknowledgement of contributions above and beyond the call of duty, as it were. Someone who works long hours on a high-profile project is given a cash bonus, or significant-valued gift card, or a company-paid night on the town with their spouse or other important-person-in-their-life. It is a way of acknowledging the extra value that the person contributed – often on their own time – to the success of something that is important to the company. What could be wrong with that?

Too often, in my experience, such recognition rewards are artefacts of an organization that has developed a highly task-oriented, compliance culture. Relationship and people-orientation has become so foreign that simple and authentic gratitude is beyond the capability of most people. Because the organization’s members are systemically incapable of expressing sincere gratitude, the recognition reward becomes a routinized, corporate surrogate for recognition of a job well done. In a dysfunctional, unhealthy culture, bribery is a proxy for true appreciation.

In the larger context, recognition rewards highlight the difference between compliance and commitment. In a culture of commitment, this bribery-recognition would not be necessary (although additional, creative forms of augmented compensation are certainly appreciated, even in a commitment culture). In a culture of compliance, such carrot-and-stick encouragement mechanisms are essential to enforcing the requisite conformity to management-dictated behaviours. In a culture of commitment, literally anything is possible.

29 January 2013

Tactility and the Inverse Performance Review

’Tis the season for Oscar announcements, breaking New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps among the most dreaded of annual rituals, the Performance Review. I wrote recently about Appreciative Performance Remediation, and here at Adler we too are setting up for our own Appreciative Performance Reflections done in the context of a 3-person reference group (rather than being reviewed by their direct supervisor or manager alone, or in the context of the now-cliché 360 appraisal).

When an organization is guided by vision, a method of evaluation and assessment that involves oversight and supervision (which literally means the same as “over” “sight”) makes some semblance of sense. Vision is a one-way sense that demands distance and separation of the viewer from what is being viewed. Objectivity is the intent, and that unfortunately necessitates that which is being viewed – that is, the employee – to become an instrumental object in the organization’s “eyes.”All of that is consistent with the instrumental consideration of employees in an Industrial-Age-informed workplace.

On the other hand, an organization that chooses tactility as its guiding sensory metaphor – navigating according to the question, whom are we going to touch and how are we going to touch them today? – has a different realization. Tactility is a two-way sense: you cannot touch without being touched. In a workplace informed and inspired by tactility, there is an opportunity to introduce a reciprocity aspect to the annual performance reflection. If the organization is going to ask its members, “how well did you accomplish what we’ve asked of you; how well were you able to bring your best to contribute to the organization’s success?” then the individual has the right to ask of the organization’s leadership, “how well did you do what was expected of you to support my success?”

Recall what 21st century leadership is about: “enabling a conducive environment where people engage to create a shared experience in which an alternative future becomes possible. In an organization informed by tactility, it is not only legitimate and appropriate, but necessary for the individual to assess the leadership, asking, “how well did you enable that engaging shared experience? How much more likely is that alternative future this year as compared to last year? How effectively were resources deployed to create an environment most conducive to enabling me to bring my best towards our collective success?”

Fair game, I say: If organizations are bent on annually reviewing the performance of its members, the members have an equal right and obligation to act appropriately in undertaking an inverse performance review.

10 January 2013

New Course: Developing and Leading High-Performing Teams

We are very pleased and excited to officially launch our first course in the new Faculty of Leadership and Organization at Adler Graduate Professional School. Beginning in February and running to the first week of May, we are offering the unique opportunity to study with one of Canada's leading academics and practitioners in the field of Developing and Leading High-Performing Teams, Dr. Marilyn Laiken.

Dr. Laiken is Professor Emerita at OISE, University of Toronto, where she served as Chair of the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology. Now a member of Adler's Faculty of Leadership and Organization, Dr. Laiken is bringing one of her most popular courses - one that she has taught to wide acclaim for over twenty years - to Adler and its students.

Developing and Leading High-Performing Teams: Theory and Practice is part of our forthcoming Certificate in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching that will be starting in September, 2013. We are providing a "sneak preview" of that certificate program by offering this course as a special, stand-alone offer for a special price running on alternate Thursdays from February 7 through May 2. Full details are on the program flyer.

As part of this special offering, we are opening registration to qualified members of the public. If you are in a leadership or managerial position, if you work with or as part of multi-disciplinary teams, or if you simply want to be more effective in workplace collaboration, this course is for you.Subject to individual graduate school requirements, this course may be eligible for graduate-level transfer credit towards a master's or doctoral degree. Please consult with your individual school registrar for eligibility requirements and documentation.

We are tremendously enthusiastic about this offering - and space is very limited because of the unique experiential dynamics of this course. To register, please email us at studentservices@adlearn.net, or call 416-923-4419 and speak to one of our Student Services representatives directly.