Are You Ignoring This Great Business Advice?

In my professional career, I've observed that the industries in service to the human side of business are, in many cases, complicating, over-formalizing and overriding basic business functions and human interactions beyond common sense.

Are You Ignoring This Great Business Advice?

I dedicate myself to helping my clients have the best functional, profitable business operations possible through my area of expertise. I work with the human side of the business enterprise and have done so for quite a number of years. (Yes, I'm one of those "seasoned" professionals).

In order to get the best outcomes for my clients, my work incorporates elements from a variety of industries: talent management, human resources, learning and development, organizational development, change management and leadership development.

And yes, I consider these industries--billion dollar industries, by the way. They all want their piece of the organizational pie and have a driving self-interest reflected in their professional organizations, subspecialties, tons of professional development offerings and special certifications.

And yes, I consider leadership development a thriving, profitable industry. According to Leadership Development Factbook 2012, companies spend on average $14 billion dollars annually on leadership development training (and yet incompetent, dysfunctional managers still persist in organizations). According to Deloitte, in 2015, it was $31 billion. Is leadership really improving $31 billion dollars worth from 2012? What's been your experience in your corner of the world?

Do a leadership topic search on Amazon and you'll get an overwhelming number of hits. And yet each year new leadership books are released on the topic claiming new secrets to be revealed. According to Proverbs, I'm not sure there is anything "new under the sun" since we, as a human community, have been discussing leadership for... well...since the dawn of our existence. It just means marketing is brilliant or perhaps we're easily duped.

Or it could mean there is lots of knowledge about leadership, but there is a disconnect with many leaders between knowledge and know-how. Demonstrated behavior is something altogether different than just having information in your head.

My experience with multiple industries over time has manifested interesting insights related to business operations. And it's from that, I feel compelled to share important advice and the observation from which it's derived. I expand on this and more in my latest executive briefing Show Me The Money! Take the advice and you'll save money, make money and improve your overall operations!

The Advice: Beware of Shiny New Industry Objects

At the beginning of any discovery or strategy session, I ask clients to do the following: Pretend you are in a start-up and it's just you and your key employees. With that perspective, consider how the human part of your enterprise is handled, what would you keep and what would you release?

Additionally, what has served you well and what hasn't regarding operational /organizational effectiveness (or what's been really helpful and what's not)? And finally, what would you have done differently? Or going forward, what will you do differently? (These are just a few preliminary questions).

Also, as they answer the questions, they are encouraged to refrain from using any industry buzz words, jargon or lingo! The answers must be expressed in simple human terms. In fact, explained in a way a 6th grader could understand it.

Those questions challenge decision-makers to look at their operations, both from a process and human side, in the simplest form. The goal is to help them step away for any industry trends that have infiltrated and clouded their psychology or operations in a way that's created stumbling blocks to efficiency, effectiveness, and growth. It's an attempt to awaken them, should they have fallen under the spell of any shiny new object a human performance related industry has created and to which many are susceptible. (I witness this regularly.) They are quite hypnotic!

Of course, I don't believe these industries have an intentional ill will or evil attempt at control but rather desire to be helpful. They exist primarily through passed down practices or because those casting the hypnotic spells don't know any better -- they themselves are under the same.

The Observation

And this brings me to the observation that shaped the advice. Over the many years of my professional life, I've observed that the industries in service to the human side of business enterprise (the list above) are, in many cases, complicating, over-formalizing and overriding basic business functions and human interactions beyond common sense, which then wastes money, bogs down operations and handicaps a company's growth and responsibilities of leaders and managers.'s maddening!

To follow are 3 simple examples.

Example #1 "Giving Feedback": At the beginning of any business start-up, there is typically a fluid, natural way of interacting and responding to business building activities. (I've worked for several). If formalizing or delaying feedback existed, it would have handicapped hitting needed milestones. Feedback, in the beginning, is relevant, timely and in context to a specific need, encased in an ongoing collaborative conversation. People just talked to each other.

Additionally, at the time, the phrase having formal "1 on 1s with your boss" didn't exist. Did we have private conversations, yes needed when either of us initiated.

Additionally, performance management software as many know it today did not exist...and yet, the company was so successful it made it to #1 on the INC 500 list with our CEO on the cover.

In fact, performance management was embedded in the day to day experience of business activity and if we did well, there was a profit sharing bonus for everyone...which there was for the 3 years I worked with them.

From this point of view, consider how the formalization of feedback and the use of technology via appraisals, reviews, evaluations, apps, one on ones, and other performance management activities and resources has evolved and impacted our basic human to human dynamic and basic business operations. And, depending on how they are executed, has gotten to the point of the ridiculous.

In the case of appraisals, for example, some are functionally irrelevant. No wonder they are so commonly disliked. you really need an app to tell someone how much you appreciate their contribution? #justaskin

Example #2 "Employee Engagement": One of the coolest elements of my start-up experience was the sense of shared mission. We were and felt connected to each other. Anything and everything we did had an immediate impact on the progress of the company and colleagues. We were all in it together, we were tightly bound and there was great camaraderie. Trust me -- we were all "engaged". No engagement survey needed there. If we weren't "engaged", the business couldn't run and the leaders were failing in their role. Period.

By the way, in my experience, engagement is as much about relationship connections with peers and a direct report as it is about job participation and satisfaction. And, I know, as a career coach, that satisfaction and meaning are included in the engagement equation. And so it is useful to have tools and resources to help employees take responsibility for and manage those needs.

Engagement is interesting industry lingo. I think the industry inflates the term. Either folks are working or they are not, they are either executing the job description or they're not, they are either producing needed results or they are not. They are either working at, below or above expectations. And if they are not contributing as needed (my common sense word for engagement and the bottom line) it's a management, direct report, leadership issue, not an HR department issue.

Additionally, when viewing engagement from a human experience point of view, satisfaction, meaning, to name a few elements, are moving target and can vary from day to day or task to task. Is anyone ever always completely engaged with their job? I don't think so. Degrees and dimensions of the heart and emotions are difficult to measure.

They are also personal elements of spirituality and emotional intelligence. As a former career coach, engagement is ultimately up to the employee. You can read more about this perspective here: Employee Engagement

I find it fascinating that a company will spend a ton of money on an engagement survey, and yet spend very little on management training and development. Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? How about spending the money on effective management development, which is a "twofer"... grow competent leaders while learning to engage talent for needed results. Remember, for many years the most popular reason why someone leaves a job is not because they are disengaged, it's because of a boss.

In my view, the term employee engagement is an example of an industry generated point of view or human experience characterization (one of many) that has taken on a life of its own, creating new revenue streams from training to diagnostics etc., but which ultimately distracts and substantially overshadows the core issue - ineffective management and or someone who is not the best fit for a particular role. Beware of the shiny new object.

Which brings me to example #3 - Leadership/Management Training: Let's say there is an employee motivation need and therefore there's a workshop, seminar or e-learning module created. What will be the strategic plan to integrate it into the day-to-day activities of the leader, with the intent that in doing so, the leader will better meet operational objectives? Usually, there is none.

Companies will spend thousands of dollars on how to have the best instructional design or LMS (learning the management system), with virtually no investment or plan for application, accountability and integration support...let alone establish a clear connection to business objectives.

And therefore, without tying it to strategic objectives, establishing operational value, it’s treated as an independent function and seen as a nice thing to do, without any meaningful connection. Subsequently, its seen as a cost vs. an investment. This point of view sabotages needed investment for talent development and ultimately company growth.

Talent growth is company growth!

Additionally, a one-day seminar, workshop, or e-learning module is not developmental, it's a learning activity and doesn't automatically create new skills. I love when you read a marketing brochure from a training company and it says, "...and you'll learn these skills". No, you won't!

In reality what it should say, "You will learn about these be developed when you leave." Learning about a skill, does not create a skill. And yet millions of dollars are spent every year expecting people to automatically have new skills, in fact, generate major behavior change because they attended a one or 2 day workshop or a seminar without any application or follow-up accountability.

The word skill is one of the most misused in all of the corporate human performance industries.

In my 20 years in the human development profession, this kind of thinking is still very prominent today. The target skill is typically called "soft skills", but in fact they are and can be very hard to develop -- skill development takes time.

The 3 examples I shared are just a tiny slice of the actions, thinking, and practices that defy common sense and ultimately undermine profits. Yet they are regularly promoted within many human performance industries.

The elements themselves are not bad or right or wrong -- it's about how they're seen, promoted, used and what value or usefulness they bring to an operation. Clearly, for example, more formalized performance management may be needed in a growing company, but when a practice, procedure or tool does not serve our operation, we've got to take a hard look at its role. Otherwise, we become enslaved to it rather than it serving us.

I wish for every reader what I wish for every client -- the best functional, profitable business operations possible.

So before any plans are made, any money spent, go back to the start-up exercise and ask... how can we keep it simple, what's the best approach, what's the real issue and why are we doing that? What's the best outcome needed and how can we achieve it? Does it really serve our operational needs or are we doing it "just because"?

These should be the running mantras for any decision-makers and their HR counterparts, "Just because we can, doesn't mean we should." ...and "Just because it's popular doesn't mean it has real value".

Thoughtfully manage your use and integration of industry buzz words and concepts -- they can be hypnotic, trance-inducing distractions that can cloud your ability to identify and address real needs.

Stay true to your core operations -- keep it clean and clutter free. And from my side of the enterprise, keep it simple and human, to achieve the best results.