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Healing: The Servant Leader's Superpower

Healing: The Servant Leader's Superpower

Written by Kevan McBeth- Chief Purpose Officer

Imagine being a 7 year old foster child.

Someone who shows up at a foster home, maybe looking for a fresh start in life. A safe place for a child or youth that may have been bounced around a little. But you may not have been fully appreciated in their last environment. You are scared, nervous, and unsure about your surroundings. And, to top it all off - you are totally vulnerable. This isn't your house, these people aren't your family. You don't truly know what is going to happen next. 

Your brand new foster parent has seen your foster care file. They've read that you maybe didn't fit in at your last home. Maybe you even acted out, talked back or did something that you know you shouldn't have to show your displeasure. Maybe you weren't being treated very well. But the only thing that is in that file is the side of the foster parent or social worker that you have worked with through all the drama. Your foster parent sits down and reads you the riot act before you even get a chance to unpack your clothes in your new bedroom. They tell you this kind of behaviour isn't going to fly in this house. You're on notice before you even open your mouth to talk.

How would you feel if that happened to you? Pretty crappy I would expect.

Sadly, that scenario happens probably more often than not. But the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association Board of Directors are out to change that narrative for families and for children- they see a better way to parent, a better way to lead their organization - through servant leadership. 

This past weekend, Scott and I were lucky enough to spend a day with the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association - a small Board of individuals (all of whom are foster parents themselves), dedicated to supporting and encouraging foster familes through education and advocacy. These are people who help create healthy homes, positive environments and brighter futures for children and youth in care across the province. I have to tell you- if you can't get up early on a Saturday morning to go work with these kinds of dedicated people, check your pulse- you may not have a heartbeat. 

We were asked to come in and do a session with them on Servant Leadership, and I have to admit at times it felt like the students were leading the teachers.

These folks get it.

They understand the value of purpose, the importance of listening and empathy, and the meaning of community and stewardship. But what I found truly special was talking about their healing superpowers.

Yes. I said superpowers. 

Let me explain. 

Two things that servant leaders are fully aware of are this. One- Servant leaders are leaders who truly care for those who are in their charge, and two- there are no perfect people.

In our roles as leaders, we sometimes either inherit or hire individuals that come into our organizations who come with a history, and sometimes even a label, that follows them. They may have worked in a past environment where their Manager may not have been someone who valued them. They may not have given their whole self to their past position. They may have been in a situation that didn't match their skill set or worked with people who didn't appreciate them, and they in turn may not have appreciated them back. 

Traditional leadership philosiphy would suggest that a leader who has taken on this new individual go through their file and put appropriate perameters and expectations around. The goal here would be to ensure you don't have any issues with them in the beginning, and that they meet your expectations of them, as well as their role. You would do this through an "expectations discussion" - a firm warning to them that you are aware of their past behaviour, and those actions aren't going to be acceptable on their new team and under your leadership. 

So let me ask you- how is that ANY different than the scenario that I just painted in the above paragraph about the foster child? Why do we empathize with one and not the other? 

The truth is that we have the power and ability to heal both situations in the exact same way.

Our ability to heal as servant leaders is a superpower.

Through servant leadership principles like listening and empathy, we can understand what our people have been through and where they've come from. We can acknowledge their past and help them come to terms with it. And we can give them a fresh start. 

A start that brings forward new, consistent and intentional behaviours from their leaders that demonstrate that they have meaning and value to us- that they matter. We can write a new chapter, one that doesn't rely on history as a predictor of future success, but rather one that gives our people the potential for a clean slate- that fresh start that they were looking for in the first place. Over time, we can show them that we care about them - enough to even hold them accountable when they aren't maximizing their full potential. But we do this not for the betterment of "the team" or "the organization", but rather for themselves. 

The servant leader's superpower in all of this is that we can truly heal people. We can give them a chance to replace behaviours and memories of past situations with positive ones. Through kindness and compassion, we can literally transform the way that people value themselves, and give them the opportunity to realize their full potential in a safe, supportive environment. 

When I listened to the people around the table last weekend with the SFFA Board, I heard stories of how putting this gentle healing and teaching in place created amazing outcomes for foster children. Around that table was over 100 years of foster care experience, with countless numbers of children being cared for. And the most fulfilling part of their roles as foster parents was creating an environment for their foster children to heal and grow. 

How cool is that?! 

Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer- Affective Consulting

When we started this little boutique company, we wanted to something different. Everyone says that, I know, but we really meant it. 

Collectively, the three of us wanted to change the way organizations manage their people. We wanted to bring back the human element to business- get leaders thinking about their people as business partners, not the assets that they seem to be these days. I mean surely we can't continue to be willing to accept the status quo, where nearly half of our people are checked-out and another quarter of them are hanging on by their fingernails while they frantically search for a way out on Indeed or LinkedIn? Can we?

We've always felt we had a duty to try to make a difference for our friends and our colleagues to change the status quo. We had to at the very least try to help influence change. 

For me, it was about a bit of a different crusade. I wanted to fix things not only for the employee, but I wanted to make things different for leaders too. I had just been through a rough change of careers, and I really felt like I failed my people in my last position. I got into a role with a system that was stacked against the way that I thought we should do things, and I hate to admit it, but I let it beat me. I bought into the importance of meetings that measured progress through data, checks and balances, and I didn't dedicate as much time as I should have to my people. It left a really sour taste in my mouth and a chip on my shoulder. I never want to have that feeling again.

We came into this thinking that we could find a way to fix broken work places, but also bring a different level of support and leadership to a group of people who may be drowning more than any other- middle managers. The more time we spend with mid-level managers in business these days, the more we realize that they are the ones, more than any other group, that are hurting. They have been left alone mostly when it comes to leadership development, and they are the ones who are getting squeezed from the top more than any other part of the organization to sacrifice their time with their people for a greater focus on the metrics. They get stuck with the accountability of managing the strategic plan while also are asked to manage people who feel under valued and under-lead. Ultimately, they end up failing at both. Awesome. 

We spent the last year of our developing our consulting business building a belief in leadership with purpose, creating a greater understanding of the need for self-awareness in our leadership ranks, and the focus on leading with empathy, compassion and vulnerability. We touted a need to get back to the human element of business and went on long tirades with anyone who would listen to us about building leadership models that were people-centered. But all of our thoughts and ideas seemed to float off into oblivion without being tied together in a more tangible package that people could understand.  

Then something really interesting happened.

We heard the words "servant leadership" uttered by a friend of ours- almost so casually that if we weren't really listening, we would have completely ignored it. But it got us curious - what does servant leadership mean? Why haven't we ever heard of it before? It might be because it's an older philosophy that has been called by a number of different name, and even blended into other styles. But when we dove deeper into it, it changed everything for us. 

Servant leadership is old school. And thats a good thing. 

Robert K Greenleaf's "the Servant as a Leader" was where the phrase "servant leadership" was first uttered, and I guarantee that you will not see it on any shelf at Chapters, because for starters it was written in 1970, and secondly it's not even a book- it's an essay. It sits there, hiding in plain sight on Amazon, waiting for you to pick it up and learn from it, but it's not something that you would expect would pack as much punch as it has for us. And thats exactly why we are so taken with it. It's common sense, no BS leadership philosophy that maybe needs a bit of modernization in parts, but the foundational belief is as solid as it gets- be good to your people. Period. Full stop. End of Story.

There were a million different things that I took away from our initial investigation into servant leadership, and now that we have become certified in the philosophy we continue to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the values and principles behind the theory. We've begun to work with organizations to implement the theory into their corporate culture, and its been exciting to see how quickly it's changed engagement levels of employees.

The three servant leadership principles that turn leadership on its head.

In total, there are 11 principles that are associarted with servant leadership, but three in particular were key in my mind to shifting the way our organizations and our people think about leadership. 

1. Servant leaders are servants first 

Seems simple enough of a concept right? But the truth is that it's an entirely different way of looking at who organizations should be targeting in their leadership development, and why paying attention to creating the right environment is such an important part of organizational design these days. 

When you think of the word servant, you think of someone who puts the needs of others befor their own, values the success of the whole rather than the few. Servant leadership proposes that those charachter traits be the foundation for identifying leaders within your organization. 

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?...Evil, stupidity, apathy, the “system” are not the enemy...The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people...In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.
— Robert K. Greenleaf

I love this quote by Greenleaf, and it jumped out at me the second I read it. Too often we are quick to blame the external circumstances for our problems, when in reality its the internal struggle that is the issue within us all. We want change, but are unwilling to step up and make the difference. And too often we see those people that are amazing servants, who would be amazing leaders, choose a different path or stay in their posts as servants because they aren't comfortable putting themselves out there in leadership roles. There is something very dissapointing and sad about that, and it needs to change.  Those individuals need to understand that they have a duty to take that leap and step up for the good of the people around them, but in the same breath, we need to encourage those stellar servants to share their gifts at a higher level of accountability too. 

2. Its not a tool. its not a template. its not a model. its a philosophy.

And thats what I love about it. When you attend training sessions these days, you learn about models, formulas, tools that are supposed to help you become a better leader- a more effective leader. Problem is, it's like that cool pair of ripped jeans that you bought at the store with the hip-hop music bumpin' and the twenty-somethings who work there telling you that you look good, but then you never wear them because you don't go to the club anymore. Because you're 40. They just don't work in real-life situations when you try to fit into them. 

Servant leadership is adaptable, and therefore scaleable in almost any work environment that you can think of. And its that way because it's only dependant on one thing....

3. Servant leadership is about personal accountability.

If there's one thing that I love about servant leadership is that it's about accountability. Accountability for your actions as well as your accountability for others that are in your charge. Only you, and you alone, as leaders can determine the type of environment you want to create for your people and the culture you want your organization to thrive in. Those people in the corner who are disengaged are there because you didn't engage them. Your organizational culture is only as good as the behaviour you are willing to tolerate, and that includes your own. 

In the same breath, your accountability according to Greenleaf extends to those who you serve- your employees. Its is your accountability to ensure that your employees are given the necessary tools, training and support to allow them to be the best that they can be, and your sole purpose in your leadership journey is ensuring those who you are responsible for grow and develop to the fullest of their potential. When they aren't reaching their full capability, its your duty to hold them accountable for their actions, and push them to be better- not because you want to squeeze every last ounce of production out of them, but rather because they aren't realizing the potential that they have. 

Imagine how differently a productivity conversation would be with an employee if it came from a place of trust and caring about their individual potential rather than meeting a performance level.....

This feels right to us. 

its not rocket science by a long shot- its a simple re-focusing of what is important in leadership and some solid principles and values that you need to be diligent in practicing in order to realize the potential of the philosophy. Is it hard? Yep. Will it take time to implement? Absolutely. Will you see improvement in the engagement of your people? Uh, definately. So what's holding us back again? Nothing. 

Its time to make a change and build a better mouse trap when it comes to taking care of our people and leading our organizations the right way. We need to stop focusing on the numbers and start re-focusing on our people. There's a better path for us out there, and call it servant leadership, or ethical leadership or blue ocean leadership- what ever you call it, just make it happen. But it has to start with a committment to being a better, more people-focused leader. And the only person you'll need to authorize that request is you. 

So let's do this. 




What We All Can Do to Stop Men's Violence Against Women

What We All Can Do to Stop Men's Violence Against Women

By Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

A good friend of mine, and fellow change-agent, Tracy Knutson offered me an opportunity this week that I couldn’t pass up- an opportunity to be a part of a men’s leadership session with Dr. Jackson Katz, a world -renowned subject matter expert on the issue of men’s violence against women. If you haven’t had a chance to check out his TED Talk on-line, you need to take 15 minutes and watch him, as nearly 2 million others have, share his views on why domestic violence is a man’s issue.

When I was asked to participate in the session with Dr. Katz, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see what he had to say, and wanted to learn about his philosophy about Domestic Violence being a man’s issue. I’d seen his YouTube video a few times before meeting him and knew about some of the messages that he would bring to the discussion, but there were also a few things that surprised me when we started to talk about why it was important to have 30 male business leaders come together for a leadership session on addressing Domestic Violence.

The biggest surprise was that Saskatchewan leads the country with the highest rate of police –reported family violence amongst the provinces. It’s also near the top when it comes to self-reported family violence according to a recent Stats Canada report, released earlier this year. This blows my mind. As someone who hasn’t been exposed to domestic violence, I can’t imagine that these numbers would be accurate. I don’t know of anyone that has been a victim of domestic violence. My family wasn’t affected by domestic violence. I don’t know of any of my friends that have been impacted by domestic or family violence.

But in a way, that’s the whole point isn’t it? Most family and domestic violence isn’t reported. It’s not something that people really talk about, and even worse yet- it’s not something that generally others see. It happens in the home, with the doors locked and the shutters pulled down so nobody can see what men do to abuse their spouses. So how WOULD we know if this horrible thing is happening around us? And if we aren’t connected in some way, shape or form, why would we get involved?

But IT IS happening. All around us. Whether we see it or not. 

If we don’t get involved in reversing the trend, changing the culture and lending our voice to social change – it’s going to keep happening. The stories of rape culture that we see on television on University campuses, the vicious attacks on Aboriginal women who all to often even go missing or murdered, the stories of women being drugged or abused when they are too incapacitated to consent- all things that we watch on our TV screens on read about on-line and think “what the hell is going on in this world?!”. But we take a wholly passive approach. And if we want change, we need to take greater responsibility. We need to own the issue. All of us. And here’s how we are going to do it.

Change our language about men’s violence against women.

Dr. Katz talked about the passive language that we use when we talk about men’s violence against women, like "Sue was a victim of violence". The way that the majority of domestic violence is presented to the masses rarely even mentions the aggressor (overwhelmingly the aggressor is a man by the way) and even speaks of the event as past tense, as if to say “its in the past and what’s done is done”. The ownership of the action is placed squarely on the victim. It’s a cheap parlour trick to take your eyes off of the issue at hand, but an effective trick none the less.

We need to start talking about men’s violence against women in a way that includes the aggressor and as the catalyst and OWNER of the action. Women are the victims of the violence and the act of violence is not something that they “experience” – it’s an act of dominance through abuse and violence in an attempt to control their partner. 

Start to have open and honest conversations.

If you want to change a culture, you have to start to talk about the issues that you wish to see altered or modified. It’s got to be open and honest, and in a space where people feel safe and trusted. MOST people seek to understand, but tend to stay silent out of fear that there will be repercussions if they say something stupid. But this is too important an issue to let that stand in the way.

I was really appreciative of Dr. Katz’s approach yesterday in that he created an environment for the men in the room to ask questions, be engaged and try to understand the issue in a way that they never have before. Stories were told rather than stats, bringing us closer to the issue and real-life examples were presented to bring the issue to life for us all.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that I like that says “Once you see, you cannot un-see”. To me, this is one of the critical pieces of understanding this issue. Once you know that men’s violence against women exists, and how our current social norms accept existing actions that support the violence, only then can you engage people in the desire to shift the culture.

We all have a role to play.

Dr. Katz spoke about the bystander effect, of which he is one of the architects of in the men’s violence against women movement. This mirrors the approach that I tried to take with the I Am Stronger campaign back in the day when I ran the anti-bullying campaign through the SaskTel Corporate Social Responsibility Department.

The idea is that we all have a part to play in the issue. This isn’t just about the two people that are involved in the act, but also everyone around them. The approach that we took through I Am Stronger was more about being able to stand up and speak up at the time of the actual act of bullying, but that isn’t necessarily the same situation for men’s violence against women, due to the fact that most men’s violence against women happens outside of the public eye. What isn’t different however, is the role that bystanders can play in influencing social change.

When someone in your circle speaks about women in a sexist or pejorative way or if there is a scenario you witness a situation where men degrade women in any way, you need to understand that your silence is consent.  Engaging bystanders in the process opens up the accountability and the responsibility of us all to act on influencing the social norms that contribute to men’s violence against women.

One of the other reasons that I absolutely love the bystander approach to dealing with social issues is that the bystanders hold the power to change things, and change things quickly- all they need to do is stand up and be counted, and lend their voice to the cause. The real challenge is creating a compelling enough story for them to get involved and be willing to stand up and challenge the status quo.

Leadership (and more importantly leadership from men) is vital.

Influencing social change and creating an environment that rejects men’s violence against women is one thing, but if the behaviours that we wish to see aren’t modelled by those in leadership roles, then the intent of the culture change becomes lost or at the very least less powerful. It’s up to the leaders of organizations and our communities to speak loudly and model the behaviours that they wish to see changed in their culture for things to truly change.

Want to see what speaking out looks like at it’s finest – check out this video that was played at the conference featuring the second in command of the Australian Army Chief Lieutenant David Morrison address inappropriate behaviour within the ranks.


Now, am I suggesting that you go to the extremes of Chief Lieutenant Morrison goes in the video? I guess if the shoe fits…..

But what I do think you have an opportunity to do, what we all have an opportunity to do, is to speak up and say “that’s not right” when something, well, isn’t right. To call out behaviours, teach our children and reinforce positives when they happen in our world. If you are more comfortable with “clicktavism”, then share some posts of positive stories of people standing up against violence on social media. We all need to act at a level that we are comfortable with, so do what you can – just don’t do "nothing" anymore.

Men need to lead that charge for change. 

Dr. Katz spoke about the idea that exists today in which men are not seen as the current owners of the issue of men’s violence against women. Let’s take advantage of the lack of understanding use it to our benefit.  We can build an army of male leaders who we can educate on the issues of domestic violence (once they see......), and help influence social change.

Like it or not, when it comes to dealing with issues that require others to see the world through another communities eyes (whether it is Aboriginal issues, disability issues etc.), the message is almost always more clearly understood when it is presented by someone from outside that community. The thought that there is an ally outside of the given community somehow creates the belief that the information shared is presented without secondary agenda. Sad, but true. 

In this case – men addressing the issue is against the norm of what the majority of the public have seen, and that helps drive home the message of male ownership of men’s violence against women.

The last thing that I will say on this subject is that the leadership event I went to was organized entirely by women- smart passionate and visionary women who understand that getting men to start to talk about this issue is exactly the kind of push for social change necessary for this issue. 

Now what? 

Where do we start? What do we do?

We get involved. Make small changes. Push the envelope. We become willing to take risks to change behaviours. We teach our kids and our friends what men's violence against women is and how to treat each other with empathy and compassion. We take responsibility. We start to change things. Together. We be human. 

That time I met Bill Clinton and he taught me about leading with empathy

That time I met Bill Clinton and he taught me about leading with empathy

Written by Kevan McBeth - Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

I have been a very lucky person over the years to have met some amazing people who have mold me into a better person and a better leader.

One of my brushes with greatness came as a chance to meet Former President Bill Clinton when he passed through Regina in 2006. I had written his foundation a letter about the work that I was doing at the time to engage and inspire vulnerable youth, and was shocked when his people actually called and invited us to bring some of the students to his event and meet him prior to the show. It was an amazing experience and we got a chance to get up close and personal with the man (I even shared a brief chat at the urinal with him, but that’s a whole other story!).  The one thing that I have always remembered from the presentation he gave was a story about treating others with dignity and respect.

Three amazing words: I. See. You. 

His closing remarks that day were about the work that he was doing in Southern and Northern Afirca through the Clinton Foundation. He spoke of how the African people were always so happy, yet had so little. He explained that he learned a social nuance about the people in Northern Africa that amazed him.  In Northern Africa,  people passing each other in the mountains  acknowledge each other, not by saying “how are you” or "hello" as we might.  Instead, they say “I See You”.

“Think about that for a second,” said Clinton. “It confers dignity. Think about all the people you never see. The people that turned on the lights here, arrange the sound equipment- those who will clean this place up after we walk out. Just think about it.” He paused and then went on to explain “I am convinced that if we truly see each other the way we now only do in a moment of common understanding over heartbreak, if we could do that on a daily basis, the 21st Century will be far more peaceful and prosperous than the last one was, and these young people will grow up in the most exciting time in human history.”

I didn’t know it then, but those words would stick with me for the next ten years (really- it’s been 10 years since this happened?!), and shape the way that I think about leading others. Although President Clinton was speaking far more globally about world issues, I internalized his words and tried to connect them to my ability to contribute and “see people” in my community and workplace.

How "I see you" changed the way I lead others

Over the next ten years, I built my leadership style around the need to “see” the people around me and acknowledge their hard work. I invested more time in listening to others, working to find different solutions to issues rather than saying “can’t be done”. I even helped people transition out of the workplace for the good of themselves as well of the organization in a dignified way, because their role didn’t match the goals they had for themselves. I aimed to bring a more authentic, human approach to work and home, and I truly believe it’s made me a better leader. I learned to lead with empathy, passion and kindness for others. 

Let's try to see each other more often

Let’s all make sure we take the time to see the people in our lives more often, and acknowledge them for their contributions as often as possible. Together, we can strive to make our workplaces, homes and communities more dignified and receptive to each other’s skills and abilities. Let's strive to create an understanding that we all have a role to play and we all matter. Let’s change the way that our organization’s think about our people and their ability to contribute, and create more engaging and meaningful work environments.

Let’s invest time and energy into better supporting our team members so they are able to contribute to our organizational success, and let’s just “see” where this takes us…..

This is a great visual about inclusion. But it's wrong....

This is a great visual about inclusion. But it's wrong....

Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

I have come across this really great visual a few times over the last several months (most recently on the Saskatchewan Disability Strategy Facebook site) , and although it very beautifully demonstrates the difference between inclusion, exclusion, integration and segregation, there’s been something about it that bugs me.

The differnce between inclusion, exclusion, segregation and integration

After really thinking about it, I started to realized that there are a couple of things that could be changed/ edited to make this a better representation of what true inclusion is all about.

The green dots should be different.

I get it. the green dots are supposed to represent those who are “typical” - those of us who are able bodied, caucasian and without barriers. And that is fine- it’s a reality that we should acknowledge. But when we talk about true inclusion, we are talking about creating a culture that strives for equity and embraces, respects, accepts, and values difference.

And that isn’t just about the differences in the blue and red dots. That’s also about the green dots too- we are all unique individuals with a rich and wide level of diversity as well, so why shouldn’t this be acknowledged in the visual as well? In fact it’s a critical piece of the definition.

The red and blue dots need to be different too.

If we are using a people first philosiphy, and moving beyond the idea that you as an individual are your physical or cognitive ability, or the colour of your skin, or your sexual orientation is something that inclusion is all about. The colours are vital to the overall visual, but by just using colours, you are potentially continuing to reinforce the labelling of individuals and not taking into account who they are beyond the visual differences that you naturally identify when you see someone who isn’t just like you.

By changing the size of the dots, you are making a distinction that everyone is different, while at the same time connecting the different coloured dots to green coloured dots - afterall, we may look different, but we may also share experiences, religious beliefs, backgrounds, opinions and more. These parts of who we are make us uniquely us, but also give us the chance to connect with others through common connections.

The inclusion circle needs to “pop”!

My biggest issue with the diagram above is this - it just doesn’t represent the incredible impact that an inclusive culture truly is!

Inclusion isn’t just about bringing different people into the center and making their lives better- if it’s done properly, it actually makes everyone’s lives better. It creates a culture of understanding, empathy and belonging. It makes people more open and caring. It reinforces our natural instincts to be kinder to each other.

I am not an educator, and I know that inclusion has it’s supporters and detractors when it comes to classrooms. But consider this- outside of the obvious benefits for children with disabilities who have been given the opportunity to develop prosocial skills and be a part of their natural peer group, typical students in an inclusive environment are not adversley affected, but rather in general experience positive academic outcomes for students overall.

And when it comes to businesses developing a more inclusive environment, I think I will leave that to this amazing video of Mark Wafer, a Tim Horton’s owner who believes in the business case for inclusion to make that case for me.

My version of the inclusion graphic.

My thoughts and views are my own, so I encourage you to take this or leave it - or better yet, in the spirit of inclusion, send me a note and tell me how it could be better! I would love to generate greater discussion on inclusion, and if you have a suggestion for me on how this could be a better representation of such an important topic for us all, I would love to hear from you.

Isn't this better?

Can you do me a favour?

Can you do me a favour?

A simple change in your language can turn a directive into an employee engagement exercise. 

HR Doesn't Need Big Data - It Needs Adaptive Design

HR Doesn't Need Big Data - It Needs Adaptive Design

Written by Kevan McBeth - Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

I have been reading a lot of blogs and articles lately that have been touting the next great thing in HR Strategy- integrating big data into the overall strategic planning process. Many even go as far as to suggest the need for HR professionals to improve their skills in defining and collecting an increased number of data points, as a way for HR departments to better inform the overall decision making process for corporations far and wide. The idea, according to one blog I read this morning, is that HR drives critical initiatives that improve the overall productivity and effectiveness of the organization as a whole. Therefore, as a reliable business partner it needs to provide data to other departments to allow them to work efficiently and smoothly.

And while I agree whole heartedly with the idea that HR is a critical business partner, capable of supporting (and even driving) organizational productivity through a highly engaged, skilled and optimized workforce, let’s pump the brakes on this whole “HR needs Big Data” talk. 

There is a fundamental flaw that organizations have been making for some time now. Organizations today are driven almost entirely by the need for analytics. Whether used to support decision making or appease and impress shareholders, measures that fit nicely into corporate scorecards or dashboards carry considerable weight in the overall decision making process. But trying to boil down your people and HR practices into a series of data points is steering your organization in the wrong direction. 

Stop treating your people like numbers. 

 I get it. In a number of other areas of business, information from a multiple number of data points within your organization is a way to track and predict your overall success. If an area of your organization is under performing, you adjust inputs to create a more improved outcome. Why wouldn't a similar set of measures and standards be successful for HR practices? 
But it doesn’t work that way with people. No indicator you can extract can show you how to make people more productive if the environment that they work in is one that doesn’t inspire them. No number will show you how many of your people are motivated to do their best every day, or work for their organization with purpose because they are buying into their workplace leadership philosophy. 
Big Data- type analytics are nothing new in HR- we’ve been using employee engagement surveys, workforce planning analytics and other “predictive” types of data for years now. So why is it that in the 2014 AON Employee Engagement Survey, only 61% of worldwide workers said they feel engaged at their jobs, and the Conference Board of Canada states that less than half (48.3 percent) of US workers are satisfied with their jobs in 2015. We’ve had data like this for years- so if data allows us to alter the outcomes and predict a higher level of productivity in the outcome, why aren’t the numbers higher? 

Start treating your employees like customers.

What is needed is not greater, or even better data. What's needed in organzations is a shift back to a leadership philosiphy that meets the needs of the next generation of employees. But more often than not, and despite their best of intentions, most leaders haven’t bought in to making the changes that are critical to moving the dial on employee engagement. They have yet to make the shift in organizational philosophy between seeing workers as servants of the company they work for and deserving the same level of attention, diginity, and respect that is traditionally reserved for their highly valued customers. 

"Leaders who are able to create sustainable, high-performance cultures over the long term see their primary purpose as serving the employees on their teams—not just the other way around," said Matt Tenney, author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons From A Prison, A Monastery, And A Boardroom. "These 'servant leaders' realize that when people know we truly care about them—and not just about what we can get out of them—they tend to go the extra mile."

Predictive Design is the next great thing for your customers. And your employees.

So if big data isn’t the right direction for HR, then what is? Good question. One area of business I have started to pay more attention to is marketing, and the trends coming from many of the larger marketing firms across the globe. This is a great way to better understand what they see as up-and-coming consumer trends. It's an opportunity to explore trends for possible cross-over into the HR world. After all, if we as consumers are looking for a certain level of experience as customers from organizations, why would we be expecting anything less from those same companies as employees? 

I came across a fantastic presentation recently from Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE- a global marketing and design collective that works with the big boys like Nike and MTV. Aaron was presenting his take on the next level of market design, which he called anticipatory design at the Acquia Engage Conference in California back in October. 

Aaron’s presentation outlined the need for a number of shifts to occur in the way that we leverage technology, and the need for organizations to begin to better understand their client’s needs. The next generation of marketing is actually not going to be about more choice, but far less. In fact, what Aaron sees is marketing technology that modifies consumer choice down to a few simple choices- based on what organizations know about you and your interests, your needs and even your schedule. In short, when brands better understand you, they will present you their best match for your request rather than giving you a million options for you to sift through, and potentially risk your indecision or neutrality resulting in a lost sale. 




In my mind, there are huge (no pun intended) lessons here for us as HR leaders. By being more in tune with our employees, and fully understanding who they are and what they need to be their best self, we can create opportunities to put our people in the best possible position for success. Organizations need to be adaptive, nimble and open to positioning individuals in places where they can be the most successful. Where they can be most engaged. 

But to do that, we need to gather a different kind of data than what Big Data can provide. We need leaders who engage with their employees – connect with them on a more personal level. Find out what makes them tick, what gets them up in the morning and what energizes them.

These kinds of data won't show up on a spreadsheet, but if you truly want to improve the overall productivity and effectiveness of the organization as a whole- this is the kind of data you should seek to better understand. 

Scribblenauts and Supported Employment

Scribblenauts and Supported Employment

Written by Kevan McBeth, Founding Partner - Affective Consulting 

My 6 year-old son crawled up on my lap a few weeks ago and asked me to help him play this new game he’d found on the iPad, called Scribblenauts. For those of you who are in the same age bracket as I am, who grew up with dot matrix printers and Commodore 64’s (don’t judge!), the easiest way I can explain Scribblenauts is it’s an old-school text based adventure game (like Zork) on Steroids. Instead of typing in “Hit troll with axe”, now all you do is type “axe” into the field at the top of the Scribblenauts game, and an axe appears which you can arm your character with- so you can now watch him hit the troll with the axe instead of imagining it (How fun!).

The reason why my son came to me in the first place was that he needed me to help him with a scenario in the game. He had his character and a companion at the edge of a body of water that they needed to cross. In the water was a blood thirsty shark, patrolling the waters and seemingly removing any chance of the two characters safely crossing the channel by swimming. He needed an alternate way to get across the water, and thought I could help. I typed “bridge”. But the bridge was too short to fit across the body of water. I typed “boat”, but when we loaded the two characters on the boat, the boat sank from their weight. I typed in “snorkel” thinking that I could maybe try to masterfully steer the two characters to safety across the water with some fancy swimming and timing of the shark’s moves.

Let’s just say it didn’t go well.

Finally, my son said “Hey! I know! Dad- type in “Lightning”!! I looked at him strangely. Lightning?! Really?! How would lightning help us?? I reluctantly typed in lightning. Carter then placed his little finger on the lightning bolt and brought it down to the water and released. The lightning bolt electrified the water, killing the shark. He then instructed me to type in “scuba” as we did before, and he placed the scuba gear on his two characters. They swam leisurely across the water and onto the other shore.

Level cleared. Problem solved.

I sat there for a few minutes and marvelled at the genius and simplicity of my son’s solution. It was staring us right in the face the whole time, I just didn’t see it. Because I wasn’t being creative. I was thinking logically, but I didn’t explore the idea of doing things differently to remove the single barrier (the shark) from getting us to our goal on the other side of the water.

To me, this is the perfect analogy for supported employment. As Human Resource professionals, managers and business owners, we get caught up in trying to make our systems and approaches to employment fit the situation of employing an individual who may need job customization or natural supports to be a part of the workplace. If the bridge is too short, or the boat can’t hold us all, we stay stuck on the shore. Issues like “there needs to be enough work to be full time”, “they need to meet the full qualifications of a position to work”, “our workplace is too small to have a supported employee” or “the work we could find for someone isn’t enough to be meaningful” are all short-bridge solutions we try to apply to the situation. Because those are all we tend to know.

Supported employment isn’t about trying to find work for an employee with a disability, its more about our inability to think creatively about what meaningful work really is.

But if we aren’t able to think outside the box, and allow ourselves to see the creative solutions, we miss an opportunity that could lead to developing a meaningful work opportunity for an employee with a disability. Someone who may love to come to work for you for 4 hours a week. Someone who could take that little extra bit of work off the plates of your employees, allowing them to focus on their core work responsibilities and duties. Someone who could bring energy and passion to your workplace on a daily or weekly basis.

Why Corporate Culture is Like Spaghetti Sauce

Why Corporate Culture is Like Spaghetti Sauce

Written by Kevan McBeth, Founding Partner - Affective Consulting

Defining a corporate culture is a tough task to take on. No matter whether you are working in a 100 year old organization or a start-up, the statements that are created by stakeholders define your corporate identity- which is no small feat. Once you’ve created a series of beliefs and principles that all can live with, that's when the real fun starts – you now have to operationalize your cultural behaviours to ensure your company is consistently living them.

This can be the toughest part of the overall implementation of a corporate culture program. Getting everyone on the same page to agree on statements is one thing- getting them to live it and implement it into policy and process is entirely another. But here’s something to consider as you move into this next phase of implementation:

Corporate culture is like spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti sauce comes in all different flavours to meet the needs of a variety of different tastes, but in the end – it’s still all spaghetti sauce, with generally the same main ingredients.

In any organization, there are also a variety of “flavours” of corporate culture. What works in one department or location (let’s say HR at corporate head office) is not going to translate exactly to another location and situation (like ops or front line sales). The trick with corporate culture is to allow for flexibility in the behaviours within your organization, so that they are translatable within different areas of your organization, but still relate to the overall guiding principles of your overall culture statements. The truth is that you don’t have one corporate culture, but a series of smaller departmental cultures.

When developing your cultural statements, guiding principles and behaviours, there is a fine line to be drawn between being specific enough in your statement to clearly define your expected outcome, and leaving statements and behaviours general enough to allow for individual department interpretation. In the end, it’s important to allow for some ambiguity, especially in the expected behavioural outcomes, to allow for each of the guiding principles to be operationalized. In short, you gotta make sure that there is still tomato sauce in the jar, but you can’t restrict others in deciding what tastes best for their teams.

For example, outstanding customer service could mean an external customer purchasing a product or service for front line Customer Service Agents, but for those working in Human Resources or IT, their customer experience may revolve around an internal customer that they are supporting. Behaviours like “when we make a mistake, we fix it and make it right.” May mean something completely different to those two groups when trying to operationalize them, but they are still staying consistent with the overall intent of your culture.

In some instances, the translation from department to department can look wildly different, or even emphasize one set of guiding principles over another, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Not all departments can have Customer Experience as their driving force behind their departmental culture – they just have to recognize it as a key ingredient in their version of spaghetti sauce.

Allowing different departments and areas the flexibility to play around with the overall recipe of your cultural sauce is something that will increase buy-in, build a greater sense of ownership and allow a wider level of understanding and recognition within your organization.