D. Kevin Berchelmann
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Resolving Conflict--this isn't post-doctoral study, folks...

Conflict is a natural occurrence. In fact, it's frequently a really good thing, allowing organizational success by way of diverse thinking. My favorite phrase: When reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is better served.

And I believe that. Of course, I could write a treatise on the reasonably intelligent and well-intentioned qualifiers, but that's for a different posting...

Instead, I'm just going to provide some tips and tidbits for combatting unhealthy conflict. Not to silent healthy conflict, mind you; I'm referring to the other kind. The simple, three-step model for conflict resolution has always been:

  1. Get all the facts on the table,
  2. Understand the others' positions, and 
  3. Find a win-win solution.

Now, I don't know about you, but that last step seemed to take a quantum leap of faith after the first two. Here are some specifics that may help to bring that leap of faith back to something closer to a normal acceptance of logic...
  • Listen. No, not that kind of listening... really listen. Listen to understand, not refute. Listen to find common ground, not to validate your position. Listen, hard.
  • Don't interrupt. Your parents told you that--you should have listened to them (see guidance above). Keep your blankety-blank trap shut and let someone talk. You can't listen if you don't, and the very act of obvious respect may act as a conflict-resolving catalyst. Stranger things have happened. And while we're discussing interruptions... opening your mouth, shaking your head, and otherwise demonstrating your desire to speak are all interruptions, even if no noise comes out of your pie hole. Don't do it.
  • Use "I" messages. Yes, we learned that ridiculously basic, 3-part feedback technique in Communications 101 (did you take notes?). They are as useful and viable as ever, and even more so when resolving conflict. 
    • "When you..."
    • "I feel..."
    • "Because..."
          Remember, our goal is to resolve conflict--really change
          behavior--not to simply win.
  • Ask. If you really want to know "what it will take" for someone to get over a conflict situation, it may be as simple as simply asking. Give it a shot.

Conflict may be necessary for successful organizations, but unhealthy conflict is never part of that need. As leaders, we must identify it, address it, deal with it.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soccer, Leadership and the Pony Express

It’s finally over. The World Cup, soccer’s Super Bowl, is done. Germany wins. Now, back to real sports on television (kidding, kidding…).

Though, obvious by my snide comment, soccer isn't “my thing,” it clearly has a world following. Mostly because other countries don't have baseball, football--the real one :)--or basketball to watch during off-seasons, but no matter… millions watch soccer.

So, what can we learn from watching those games (assuming you did watch them)? Well, aside from “don't bet on the home team” (7-1 Brazil… seriously??), there are some leadership lessons buried within that larger-than-a-football-field arena…

1.  Winning is not a one-man game. Soccer has stars, to be sure, but the players don’t have the luxury of quarters or periods. They go flat out for 45 minutes at a time. At any given time, one or more players are “flat-out,” while others are just “running hard,” the soccer version of on-field resting. 11 players on the field for each team, and it takes all 11 to win. The German team wasn't a collection of bought-and-paid-for stars (think Miami Heat), but a well-honed team of players who needed each other (synergy) to succeed.

2.  Short-term actions, long-term view. There are 54 total matches played during the World Cup. Germany eventually won the World Cup by beating Argentina (the long-term goal), but had to win six matches (games) before that just for the opportunity. Strategy is necessary, of course, as are long-term goals. But it’s execution of the tactical that takes us to the end. In short, both are necessary for success.

3.  Stopping the reverse pony-express. Long-term development of talent leads to long-term business success. A close friend of mine derides organizations for what he calls the “reverse pony-express syndrome,” whereby we ride a horse until it nearly drops, swap riders, and start again on the same horse. Germany is a great example of not doing that. As a true team, they relied on the collective versus one standout player; so much so that the MVP was actually awarded to a losing player. We don't need the best individuals to get the best results, we need folks who play well together and look out for the common good.

So, I may not be a soccer aficionado, and I may have screwed up some jargon above due to my ignorance (forgive me, European colleagues and friends), but the lessons are solid nonetheless, proving that even in the mind-numbingly boring, we can derive pearls of wisdom.

Did I mention I prefer real football?

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Egalitarian folly

I recently read a blog posting from someone holding themselves out as a "contrarian" HR professional (consultant, of course).

I recently read a blog posting from someone holding themselves out as a "contrarian" HR professional (consultant, of course).

Now, I consider myself something of a contrarian myself, as many have used words like that (and sometimes even MORE colorful) to describe my rants, thinkings, and positions on various issues, and I'm OK with that.

This particular blog entry, however, brought a couple of things to light...

1. Can you really call yourself a contrarian? Isn't that for others to determine? Kind of like calling yourself "easy to get along with." Yeah, maybe... but who says??

Someone else, that's who.

2. The specific "contrarian" issue was about performance evaluations and pay. We can argue for hours about the concepts and ideas surrounding this, but the most significant (I'm guessing "contrarian") comment was:
"I am an advocate of 'when the team wins, we all win.' In my opinion when you reward individuals for their individual effort you can unconsciously promote a zero sum game where I win at another employee’s or the company’s expense."
Huh?? "When the team wins, we all win?" Maybe, but what if that "team" is being carried by just one or two super-performers? And of course employee pay is a zero-sum game; dollars (including payroll dollars) are fungible, not infinite. Dollars spent in one direction are potentially at the expense of another direction. Not everyone can be a star employee, and those who are should be rewarded -- those who aren't, well, shouldn't.

Let's not dumb-down performance management -- and subsequent pay initiatives -- to the lowest denominator. We should manage performance responsibly, and pay appropriately for the results and accountability defined.

This isn't rocket science. But it's not "everyone is the same" either.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Monday, May 5, 2014

Adam Silver… Good decision, mediocre leadership

The NBA’s Adam Silver is no demonstrably exceptional leader. At least given the recent example of decision-making without discernment. At best, he could be a negative example… something to hold up as a “kids, don’t do this” sort of thing.

Now, before everyone gets all huffy, hear me out; Donald Sterling is a moronic jerk. I can’t say for certain whether he’s a racist, though I can say that, assuming the recordings are valid and in context, he’s said some things that sure sounded racist. He damned sure needed to be punished, no question. I don't question Silver's decision, merely make a case that the decision was virtually faite accompli, and not representative of the type of lofty leadership with which others are giving credit.

Here’s the thing: making a reactionary decision, based on extraordinary public outcry on behavior that by all accounts was nothing new (numerous accounts of Sterling saying these things before) is far from an exhibition in leadership. It shows no vision (the behavior wasn't new) and it (forcing sale) wasn't even his decision to make. He simply decided to ask the owners to make that decision.

He’s being held up as courageous, in part, for making a decision to ask someone else to make a decision.

Corporate sponsors were bailing out, players (even the Clippers’) were talking boycott, and the media frenzy was threatening to sully the entire sport. Donald Sterling didn't “do” anything special (this time) except say something to a single person that was recorded. This entire hoopla is not based on Sterling’s previously well-known racist behaviors (e.g., discriminatory slumlord) or any such atrocity. This became an issue because dollars started being effected

In my view, Silver had no choice, and no-choice decisions--like bankruptcy, financial layoffs, closures, paying required taxes and making payroll on payday--are not “leadership,” no matter how necessary. In fact, they frequently represent quite the opposite.

Like all decisions, there are two camps in the aftermath. Those who believe a given decision was correct hail the decision-maker as smart and decisive; those who do not, see the decision as a poor one made in the heat of the moment without benefit of due consideration. I’m not weighing in behind either camp—I’m simply saying that this particular decision, though potentially necessary—was no specific indicator of leadership acumen and values.

Sort of like the optimist/pessimist argument: pessimists say the glass is half empty, optimists say the glass is half full. I’m a consultant; all I know is that you've got too much glass.

Now, to add insult to injury, Dennis Hof has banned Sterling from the Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. And he did it proactively, unwilling to jeopardize current clientele who might be present when Sterling paid a visit, using known evidence and incomplete information and without any media or public pressure.

Just something to think about.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Troops Eat First

The troops eat first.

In earlier times, this was a simple axiom, borne of logic: First came the horses, then the troops (foot soldiers), then the officers. Over time, it was shortened to simply, "the troops eat first."

I would suggest that it's just as relevant today as then, though for different reasons.

In leadership effectiveness, it simply means, "Take care of your people -- especially the good ones -- so they won't have to do it themselves." I often tell C-level managers that "someone has to look after the well-being of your solid performers." If you don't do it yourself, the employee has to. Usually with the help of an outside friend, headhunter, or someone with influence and priorities other than yours.

Make sure they are "fed." Developed, mentored, given ample opportunity. Not necessarily a big, cumbersome, formal effort, but something that clearly shows them that, "Hey, I'm looking out for you -- no need to look elsewhere for development & growth."

The troops eat first, el generale...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hey, Where'd Everybody Go?? Poaching back in vogue...

I've had several clients and colleagues ask about impending staffing challenges; more specifically, what happens when opportunities for key performers are appearing in ready form?

We are staring down the barrel of impending poaching opportunities. Most efforts at reorganization and such have distilled talent down to key performers; Now, other firms are going after them. 

It's coming...  What to do? Some things to consider:

1.  Anybody who tells you money doesn't matter... well, they'll lie about other things as well.  Money isn't a prime motivator for most; it's seldom even a satisfier, but it can be a dissatisfier... People expect to be paid what they are worth, and if another, reasonable organization offers them 25% more, your pay is the issue. 

Fix it now.  Get market lines on your compensation, and act proactively - it's simply too late after they've received an offer.

Once and employee receives an offer, you're on borrowed time.  Even if you convince them to stay for the moment.

2.  YOU know they're good, but do THEY know that YOU know??  Top performers know they are top performers.  Not necessarily egotistic, they do, however, have solid self-awareness.  The question most have is, "do you recognize the value that I bring to this organization??"   "Do you give me the recognition that value deserves??" 

And not just money; there's personal recognition, peer recognition, intangible rewards, and professional development investments.  All of these tell top performers that you know they are top performers..

3.  Ask Them!  To quote Tom Peters, "This company had a unique way of communicating; they talked to each other!"  Want to know what those top performers really need?  Do something really whacko and ask them.  That's right, plain, simple English.  "Say, Top Performer, I've been wondering.  You do such a good job around here (remember, s/he knows this already), I wanted to make sure we were taking care of you properly.  What can we do so you will continue to really, really like working here for us?" 

Top performers are generally reasonable; you won't hear "double my salary," or "give me 10 weeks of vacation."  You may hear, "Well, I'd like to spend some time working in R&D;" or "I was hoping to start my MBA, but I'm not sure if the schedule will work..."

Then, to coin a line from Picard, "Make it so."

Keeping top performers isn't nearly as difficult as we sometimes think it is.  It's a function of being aware of their value, and ensuring that THEY are aware of our knowledge of their value.  Then, do right by them.  That's your best bet in immunizing them against the coming poaching epidemic...

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Those Who Can't Do... TEACH!

An article in a recent Wall Street Journal once again extols the virtues of getting rid of performance reviews. It's written, of course, by a career academic and author who fancies himself a consultant as well.

Therein lies the problem. I have no problem with academics, per se. I just want them to remain in academia. It's when they venture out into the real world that their distorted perceptions and laboratory theories fall apart.

Someone need to lock those guys up, before they do real damage to some unsuspecting company.

In summary, this gown-wearing, tasseled professor believes that performance reviews have no impact on measurement, pay, development or, in fact, performance.

And perhaps, given his limited, myopic experience, that's been true. And I'm certainly not one to claim that all performance reviews are of great value. Some aren't. Sometimes managers, untrained and unprepared, fail at the effort. Sometimes, we don't communicate regularly enough to prepare them for success.

But to paint all performance management with the same "ineffective" brush is, well, just plain stupid. Well-trained managers, managing performance in a well-thought process, can create a higher-performing organization than would ever occur if we were all left to our own devices.

You would, of course, have to spend some time in the real world to know that. The real reason for this article in the WSJ? The proposed alternative: 

                           "Performance Previews" 

That's right, an entry piece to introduce--in all likelihood--this pointy-haired ivory-tower resident's new book. Didn't see that coming.

More consultant-speak and fads. Yes, that's what we need...


But that's just me.


Kevin Berchelmann 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Training--Avoiding a Train-Wreck

Training is essential for success—always has been, always will be. But like everything else, not all training is created equally. Nor is there one-size fits all when it comes to employee training (leadership, technical, interpersonal, whatever). Some things to consider...

1. Don’t dump into training. In the short term, an employee will only rise as high as his or her trainer. Put an idiot in charge of training, and don’t be surprised when you’ve got intellectually challenged drones rolling off the assembly-line.

2. Segment or modularize training. It’s true that “the brain can only absorb what the butt can endure.” Thinking you can sit a plebe in a classroom setting (or technical training scenario) for five straight days and them actually learn anything, well, that even sounds stupid. Create useable, absorbable chunks of homogeneous learning. Send ‘em out, and let them try it on for size. Bring ‘em back and try some more...

3. Don’t train on anything unless you’re certain it’s a training opportunity. If an employee’s job is to press the big red button when the big black dial reaches “10,” and they don’t, it’s likely not a training challenge. We frequently confuse training needs with corrective actions, and sometimes even discipline. They are neither. Training is for—and only for—demonstrated skills shortfalls.

Olympic athletes need training; professional actors and musicians need training. Even the best professional sports players in the world need training. It’s only in business where we think, “...nah, she’ll be ok. She can just learn by watching Bob.”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Talent Management Strategy MUST Match Business Goals...

If you really believe you'll succeed, why aren't you planning?

So, you spend time, effort, and money on charting a viable SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats). Flip charts and laptops everywhere, you determine you've got a great grasp on reality in your company and industry.

Next, your smart minds put their heads together and create a future that Orson Welles would be proud of -- one that is actually visionary, and takes real data and information into account.

You trend financials, benchmark with other, equally astute and successful companies and industries. In the end, you bless it, print it, bind it, and distribute it. If you are in the top 5% of firms, you even create a mission that supports it, and an execution plan that appears to match that incredible vision.

You work your plan.

Then, 6 months later, sitting around that same conference table in those same, familiar chairs, you lament to a group of like-minded talented executives that, "We're doing it guys -- we're kicking butt. Now, if only we had the management talent, we could really make this work."


Did you not believe your research, SWOT, or strategy? Did you feel uncomfortable in your comparison benchmarks? Did you not really trust that $250K of McKinsey consultant's input?? (sorry, had to throw that in...)

Why on earth would we spend the effort required to create viable strategy and subsequent plans for product, service, and marketing results, and not spend that same effort analyzing, identifying, and creating leadership talent we will need when we get there?

Because we're still not making Talent Management an integral part of our strategy.

And folks, I'm not saying "Human Resources," per se, I'm saying Talent Management. We need to make that same effort -- SWOT analysis, current state identification, desired outcomes, competitive benchmarks -- in identifying the supporting talent management strategy, for 2 reasons: First, to make sure we have the horsepower to carry out those grandiose plans and execution items toward our vision, and as importantly, in case we actually achieve our results.

Don't get caught unprepared. Spend the same effort ensuring you have the leadership and management talent available -- sourced and/or developed -- when launching any viable business strategy and execution effort.

You can't get there without it... but then, you already knew that.

But that's just me...

Kevin Berchelmann

Friday, December 20, 2013

How to Pay... and to WHOM??

I recently had a discussion with a client about "merit" pay increases. Never mind the current concerns over giving ANY pay increases; we were discussing how to divvy up the dollars. She asked me how, if we budget for across-the-board adjustments, do we also recognize performance...?

Also recognize performance??

Therein lies the problem.

If ALL employees (presumably even low performers) get a pay increase, then your high performers are diluted. Your contentment scale is reversed; lower performers are thrilled to see a pay raise -- ANY pay raise -- and high performers are ticked off, since there's only a 1-2% delta between them and the slugs.

My recommendation is always to take care of the people who take care of you (company) FIRST. The remaining money becomes the pool for "all others." You don't scrape around for dollars to also recognize performance... you recognize performance first, then you "scrape around for dollars" for all the rest.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann