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The Devil At The Desk: Destructive Bosses

Meghan M. Biro

The onus is on leadership to improve employee engagement. It’s part of that magical workforce trifecta: a terrific candidate experience, a high level of workplace engagement, all resulting in retention. But what about when the leadership is toxic; when it’s more problem than solution? That’s a whole different ballgame.

We’ve all dealt with a boss or manager who just somehow turns everything into a losing proposition: Never satisfied, or mysteriously withholding the recognition we know that we — or our colleagues — deserve. Or do we? A certain click of engagement involves a clarifying moment when we ditch that “maybe-it-wasn’t-good-enough” naysayer on our shoulder — so much a part of working for someone. It’s replaced with a sense of self-worth. Terrific. Nothing makes us like our jobs more than when our jobs like us.

But often with toxic leadership is that gray area between our gut and clear recognition that keeps us from knowing what we’re facing. Meanwhile, morale sinks and engagement fizzles. We may do a “why should it matter” on ourselves, but we’d be wrong. It does. As a study by the Harvard Business Review pointed out, the social atmosphere created by a leader is contagious. Measuring engagement among high-level managers (HL) and mid-level managers (ML) and employees, the study found that the higher the engagement score among HL, the higher among ML and the higher among employees. And the contrary was also true: A low-performing workforce with minimal engagement could be echoed right back up the line — to the source.

A friend and colleague of mine, Shawn Murphy (the CEO/founder of the consultancy Switch + Shift), has identified the six key symptoms of destructive management.  What follows are his categories with a little bit of interpretation by yours truly. See which ones ring true for you.

Blind impact. This leader is blind to his own impact; oblivious of the effect his actions, attitude, and words have on the workplace, quashing any chance for shared optimism, consistently underestimating people’s value, and often unable to make the connection between their work and the direction of the organization.

Anti-social leadership. A leader who can’t build any sense of shared purpose or community among employees. Autocratic, possibly unable to trust people, he dictates rather than explains, withholds praise or credit, and generally makes people feel disconnected and used.

Chronic change resistance. aka the stick-in-the-mud approach. This leader is unwilling — and unable — to spearhead a change that would help teams and organizations remain relevant. Alternatively, he adopts change too late in the game that it can’t have a fully beneficial effect, which leaves everyone feeling irrelevant.

Profit myopia. Blinded by any criteria for success except for the bottom line, this leader can’t see the forest for those little green dollars. He alienates customers and employees alike trying to come up with ways to make the shareholders happy and the margin a little fatter. This is a kind of personal pettiness that, if Harvard is right, will lead to self-protective behavior on the part of employees.

Constipated inspiration. Perhaps my favorite term (and a virtual clap on the back for this one, Shawn). This one is related to leading from a position of insecurity. A leader pays little to what her employees are experiencing, and therefore can’t see what motivates and discourages them. What follows is a complete lack of connection: a leader who has no sense of clear direction and knowledge of what she stands for, and a workforce that loses the ability to care.

Silo syndrome. I remember reading a CEO’s candid admonition of his rather imperious peers: “No executive is an island,” he said. A leader who suffers from this syndrome is a non-leader: Disengaged in anything but his own role and responsibilities, and unable to view his employees as people with lives and their own expertise. No sense of optimism or collaboration can come of this.

What I appreciate so much about these breakdowns (particularly in terms of the issue of workforce and employee engagement) is that they represent a cross-section of behaviors that often go as accepted—the fussy, strange, distracted, distant, uncaring boss as a “she’s just like that.” But once identified, they no long just seem like a status quo. It’s not business as usual to prevent a workplace from being a place of engagement. Not in this day and age.

For more on this topic, join Shawn and me during my live podcast and Twitter Chat.

Image: Shutterstock

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

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qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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3 Ways To Convince Your Workforce To Stop Fearing Digital Transformation

Paul Kurchina

Change of any kind – especially when it’s foisted on you without your commitment – can be dreadful. It may even resemble the return home from a disappointing doctor’s appointment. After shocking the doctor with high numbers across the board, your spouse replaces all of your most-loved foods (the leftover pizza from last night!) and beverages (the after-work beer and soda!) with kale, quinoa, and juice that looks like algae purged by a blender. Immediately, you resist: “How dare my loved one change my diet without my consent! I have no control! Why eat if I can’t be happy with what’s on my plate?”

That’s exactly how most employees view digital transformation initiatives. During the Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) webcast “The Only Thing to Fear Is Fear Itself: Embracing Change and Seizing the Opportunity of the Digital Transformation,” Keith R. Sturgill, CIO of Eastman Chemical Company and ASUG Board Chair, said, “in times of transformative change, great opportunities are invaluable. But, it also comes at a great cost because it’s not easy.” Sometimes the process is so daunting that we stop it, ignore it, and resume using our ingrained habits.

While technology-enabled, the real change behind digital transformation is all about people: how they work, collaborate, and make decisions. And changing people is always harder than implementing new technology. But, it’s not impossible once everyone – including leadership, employees, and partners – accepts these three realities of our digital world.

Reality check #1: Digital disruption is not just evolving. It’s already here!

Hearing from customers directly, reacting to what they want, and correcting what they don’t like at hard-to-imagine speeds is raising the bar high for every business. “Connecting people worldwide isn’t just allowing them to self-organize ideas and share opinions; it’s creating a new environment [in which] new business models can emerge. Just ask any growing business,” says Sturgill.

Just think:

  • Amazon is changing the face of retail without a single brick-and-mortar store
  • Airbnb is surpassing traditional hotels and motels without building a physical resort
  • Uber is upending the whole notion of taxi service without a single cab

However, it’s not as easy as setting up a website and creating a network of people, assets, and capital to support it. According to Sturgill, “it’s impossible to know the impact of what’s going to occur [in the future.] We can’t even begin to imagine how this is going to change the world. But without a doubt, it will be huge.”

Reality check #2: Decision making will never – and cannot – be the same

In the past, computers were set up with rules to inject automation and efficiency into business processes. Yet, they failed to support more difficult, complex problem solving such as predictions and forecasting that went beyond the scope of a predefined set of algorithms.

Our digital era is bringing about a new approach to decision making. Not just improving or accelerating decisions, but ultimately changing how they are made. Without the confines of codified decision flows, machine learning will soon consume and process an incredible amount of data to “understand” patterns and correlations. And as more data enters the systems, decisions on complex issues will likely become more improved and accurate.

“Machine learning algorithms will augment human insights, not replace them. Let people do what they do best – create, design, establish relationships and capabilities, and knit together insights to innovate with better judgment and unimaginable ideas,” advises Sturgill. “Think of your business as a decision machine.”

Reality check #3: The user experience (not technology) matters most

Like I said earlier in this blog, digital transformation is not about the technology you implement; it’s about your people. This is why the user experience will always eclipse corporate standards. From your customer to your workforce, consumer-grade technology is increasingly expected to become the norm – and it’s even happening to business-to-business (B2B) companies quicker than anyone realizes.

Most digital transformation strategies place a bright spotlight on the customer experience. By understanding what customers value and their unique preferences, B2B companies are using technology as a differentiator that gives customers a reason to engage and purchase from the business.

However, digital transformation does not end with the customer experience. “It is about people in your organization – talented, empowered, and passionate people. Employees should expect the work environment to be at least as good as their home computing environment. It should be as easy to order a new laptop at work as it is at home,” remarks Sturgill. “You need to commit to improving the work experience of your employees.”

Get your workforce engaged and passionate about digital transformation. Watch the webcast replay The Only Thing to Fear Is Fear Itself: Embracing Change and Seizing the Opportunity of the Digital Transformationin a series hosted by ASUG.

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