Tag Archives: paradox

The dreaded review!

h-WOMAN-TALKING-OFFICE-628x314A leader at one of our schools remarked that when done right, performance reviews can be energizing and uplifting but when done wrong they are demoralizing. It appears that the latter is what is happening in most organizations. David Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and the “Godfather of HR” just published an article in the  latest issue of Talent Quarterly titled “Resolving the Performance Management Paradox.” He cites that 90% of HR professionals are unhappy with their review system, only 14% of CEOs believe that the review system is working and only 8% of HR executives believe that performance management makes a contribution to the success of the organization. Yet, he also cites a long history of studies that clearly indicate that accountability makes a difference. In fact one study identified that just the presence of a performance review system is the greatest predictor of success for hospitals. What can a leader do?

Ulrich recommends that regardless of the process or forms used, leaders embrace conversations:  conversations focused on what he calls “positive accountability,” conversations emphasizing learning and improvement opportunities rather than evaluating what went wrong, and conversations primarily focused on the future rather than the past. He suggests that leaders look for opportunities to engage in “real time” conversations that are ongoing and revolve around work events (projects, semester start or finish, work cycle periods, annual milestones, etc.) Leaders should focus on asking questions to discover how employees can sustain success and prepare for the future and help their people look forward to apply what they have learned and address new opportunities or challenges that arise.

A simple conversational model for leaders to use with their performance review process includes the following three steps:

  • Know Yourself – ask about and discuss each person’s strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests.
  • Action for Growth – ideas and concrete action to leverage individual strengths and interests to support success and on-going development.
  • My Value – dialogue focused on the value that each employee provides to the work unit, institution, students, stakeholders or overall organization.

By focusing less on the process and more on the conversation we can make performance reviews a more uplifting experience.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Too much authenticity?

ball_and_chain_stuck_commitment_responsibility_duty_obligation_stress_struggle_bound_determination_willpower_resolve_fotolia_23966013-100410019-primary.idgeHave you heard yourself, or other leaders, saying “I was just being me,” or “this is my style” at work? Sounds like authenticity, right? However, it can also be a warning sign of TMA, Too Much Authenticity.

Professor Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader  (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), describes the Authenticity Paradox in the January-February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.* She highlights two situations that all leaders face and how holding too firm to a self-image can derail success.

Moving into a new role.

Leaders face very different challenges as they move up the leadership pipeline. The scope of issues increase, the risks and rewards are greater and performance expectations change. What worked in the past may not work as well in the new situation. Leaders can stymie the growth and flexibility needed to succeed in their new roles if they don’t try out new responses and behaviors, even if they feel different than “who I am.”

Hearing and processing negative feedback.

Successful leaders often struggle to correctly interpret negative feedback. Not only is it hard to hear it can easily be misinterpreted as a style comment. Focusing on how well a style worked in the past can cause us to dismiss valid feedback or resist trying out new behaviors. New behaviors that may be different than “my view of myself” but important to success and growth.

What to do?

Authentic leadership and being true to yourself requires us to both know who we are and to be willing to revise who we are over time. Too much authenticity can be a code for an unwillingness to try out new behaviors. Ibarra suggests that we adopt a “playful frame of mind.” Actively try new ways of doing something, ask questions differently, work on new projects and explore what you learn about yourself. Stay true to your core values but purposely challenge your view of yourself with unfamiliar action and embrace what you learn.

Todd Thorsgaard

*Jan-Feb 2015 HBR article

 

Limits of collaboration

teamwork1 free to use“Hackman’s paradox: Groups have natural advantages: they have more resources than individuals; greater diversity of resources; more flexibility in deploying the resources; many opportunities for collective learning; and, the potential for synergy. Yet studies show that their actual performance often is subpar relative to “nominal” groups (i.e. individuals given the same task but their results are pooled.) The two most common reasons: groups are assigned work that is better done by individuals or are structured in ways that cap their full potential.”
~ Richard Hackman, Harvard professor and team expert

Wait a minute! Most of the business and leadership literature published in the last couple decades extolls the virtues of collaboration in our workplaces. And it seems that collaboration is the new mantra among leaders in higher education, with leaders admonishing staff and faculty to “move out of their silos” or “create cross-disciplinary or cross-campus partnerships.”  Yet, as Richard Hackman observed, collaboration does have its limitations.

The benefits of collaboration are great, and can include:

  • Diversity of Perspectives: bringing people from varying disciplines and backgrounds together to work on a project can generate greater creativity and problem-solving by looking at things from different angles
  • Increased Synergy: forming collaborative teams with members who have varied expertise and clear roles and responsibilities can bring new solutions to the table
  • Balanced Decision Making: including stakeholders in decisions can reduce the occurrence biased or partisan decisions as they look at the effect of their decisions on all stakeholder groups

However, collaboration does have its limits, and if overused in an organization, can result in:

  • Group Think:  groups that work together over time can sometimes be lulled into “going along” with a persuasive member
  • Mediocre Results: involving more people in a collaboration can water down the results due to the number of compromises in the project that are made to satisfy all stakeholders
  • Slow Progress: depending on the scope of the collaboration and the size of the group, including numerous stakeholders in multiple decisions can slow down the effort

Like other paradoxes or polarities that we manage in our workplaces, like change and continuity, collaboration is best seen as one part of a polarity between competition and collaboration. Both have its own benefits and limitations. As leaders, our role is often to determine where is it most advantageous to employ collaborative efforts and where might we employ competitive efforts.

How have you managed the collaboration vs. competition paradox in your work?

Anita Rios

Managing continuity and change

Best of 2014, first published on April 14, 2014
Understanding how paradox or polarities work in organizational life is critical to effectively leading change. One paradox that I’m especially fond of is “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Put another way, a leader must actively manage BOTH change and continuity in order to be effective with any change effort. Here is a blog post from April that highlights how this paradox or polarity works. –Anita Rios

“If there is any one “secret” to an enduring great company, it is the ability to manage continuity and change—a discipline that must be consciously practiced, even by the most visionary of companies.” –Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

Sometimes in setting strategy for change efforts, it is easy to forget about what we need to do to actively manage continuity in our colleges and universities. In their classic 2004 publication of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras, identified great companies as those who had the ability to “preserve the core” by staying true to their core values and core purpose, and at the same time “stimulate progress” through cultural and operating practices and setting specific goals and strategies.

But how do we actively manage continuity, while leading change? Collins and Porras suggest that instead of asking ourselves “How should we change?,” we should be asking “What do we stand for and why do we exist?” and then feel free to change everything else.

035Last Friday, I was able to witness a university community that has clearly answered the question, “What do we stand for?” Throughout the inauguration ceremony for Dr. Connie Gores, the ninth president of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU), I heard story after story from alumni, students, faculty, and staff about the value and impact that SMSU has had on transforming lives. Born on the prairie, as a result of people who envisioned the possibilities of having a college in southwest Minnesota, SMSU has a clear identity and core purpose that was easily understood and communicated and provided a sense of pride for the community. In her inauguration speech, Dr. Gores honored the people and the accomplishments of the past by highlighting what SMSU is best known for and how it will continue to maintain continuity. At the same time, she positioned the institution for future progress through increased collaboration among institutions and partnerships with business, by focusing on possibilities. The inspirational theme for the inauguration: The People. The Prairie. The Possibilities., clearly captured this important balance of preserving the core and stimulating progress.

Here are a couple questions to consider when actively managing both continuity and change. After clarifying your core values and purpose, ask your team:

  1. How do our operating practices align with and support our core values and purpose?
  2. What new methods, new strategies, new directions would propel us forward?

What have you done to actively manage both continuity and change in your institution?

Anita Rios

Common pitfalls in leading change

pitfallIn their research on transformational change, Scott Keller and Colin Price, authors of Beyond Performance, have identified common pitfalls that organizations typically encounter on their change journey. Interestingly enough, these pitfalls are all paradoxes that people struggle with in organizational life.

For example, here are a few:

  1. Change vs. Continuity
  2. Planning vs. Piloting/Experimentation
  3. Standardization vs. Autonomous Practices
  4. Pressure for Progress vs. Discovery
  5. Independent Initiatives vs. Connected Initiatives

The key to managing any of these pitfalls is to see them not as EITHER/OR solutions, but to view them as BOTH/AND equations.  For instance:

  1. To manage change and continuity, ask:  What do we need to do to preserve the core of the excellent education we provide, but make room for leaps of innovation that will support student success?
  2. To manage planning and experimentation, ask: How do we balance our planning efforts with wise action that moves progress forward?
  3. To manage standardization and autonomy, ask: What processes would benefit from standardization across our campuses and where is it best to allow for autonomy among colleges and universities?

Well, you get the picture. But what if mere questioning doesn’t help get you unstuck when you are dealing with one of these common pitfalls? That’s when it’s helpful to do some deeper exploratory work.  Using a tool called a polarity map can be extraordinarily helpful to discover what what underlying values and mindsets are responsible for polarizing people in the organization. Most importantly, the process of polarity mapping can help you explore common ground and strategies for moving forward, so you can manage the dilemma effectively.

For resources on understanding polarities, see: Barry Johnson’s book on Polarity Management or a Managing Polarities seminar available through our Talent Management team at MnSCU.

Anita Rios