Completely Biased, Unscientific Learning from Potential Job Candidates

At 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 I just finished my first experience judging the #MNcollegiateDECA state competition in Mankato, MN. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. I judged six students on their ability to read a case study in the restaurant and food service management area and present their solutions to an ethical and operational dilemma facing a fictitious restaurant chain. The details of their case is not important. That students chose, at such an early hour of the morning, to let their skills be judged — that’s the important point.

When I brought Rasmussen students to the competition two years ago my focus was on the top students. I wanted to make sure my students were among the top ranked: confident, well informed, professional, able to problem solve and think on their feet. My focus is different today. I want to talk about the students who lacked confidence, need more experience, and still pepper their speech with “like” and “stuff.”

The existence of these aforementioned students at the DECA competition lead me to be hopeful for employment candidates in the future. WHAT? How can that be?

These students took a risk and opened themselves up to true feedback. By title I’m judging them, their performance, and their ability at this point in time. Asking for feedback is never easy. Asking for feedback from strangers and intending to improve from that feedback shows true commitment to growth.

As business leaders, we have something to learn. Based on the example of these inexperienced, but dedicated, potential candidates, I recommend the following actions for our personal and professional growth.

  1. Let your business and your contribution be “judged.” In DECA you are not approaching someone who will be judgmental. There is a different. Reach out to customers with whom you have the best relationships. Open yourself up to review from business peers, coaches, and mentors whom you trust to give you an accurate assessment delivered with love.
  2. Review the feedback carefully, then put it away for a day or two. Our businesses are wrapped up in our identities. It’s understandable that we’d feel defensive or emotional over the feedback we receive. Don’t reject the feedback immediately or rush to make changes. Instead, let the emotions fade for a couple of days. Then review the comments again with a trusted mentor. Really discuss the merits, opportunities, and challenges of each point.
  3. Create an action plan. What will you change, by when, and why? Make sure any changes are intentional and add value to your most important stakeholders. By the way; you are one of those stakeholders.
  4. Set your action plan side by side with your business and personal mission statements. If there are areas that don’t align one of two things may be true: 1) your mission has evolved since you’ve looked at it last and needs updating, or 2) you need to revisit your action plan.

The steps outlined here go far beyond creating a to-do list. It’s your opportunity to transform yourself and your business. How often should you go through this process? I would recommend once a year, but if your business is in a state of rapid growth you might go through the steps more often.

The bottom line: Not everyone is at the top of their game at all times. The ones that will break through to success are the ones that will put their assumptions at risk.


Solid to Liquid: Organizational Redesign

It’s not easy to move from a mechanistic business structure to the more fluid structures that are needed to compete in today’s global economy. What are the barriers and the techniques needed to get changes made?

Why do people resist?

  • Concerns over losing their jobs during restructuring
  • When you restructure, you may get a new boss or new responsibilities
  • Often the changes are not made transparently resulting and confusion and distrust
  • Contemporary structures lean toward flatter, more team based structures threaten employees’ hard earned authority
  • Incentive programs and individual performance evaluations would need to be redesigned to incorporate group goals

Don’t expect restructuring to be successful without the buy-in of your people. Structure exists only so far as it is recognized and reinforced by the people in it.

How to redesign the organization

  1. Streamline – flatten the organization and spread out decision making. One area can then be responsible for more than one strategy to increase efficiency.
  2. Start over – take a look at what is important to your customers and where your company is going in the future. From there, design a company that fits the direction from a blank slate. Of course, this will be the more costly solution, but your company will transform the organization rather than make only incremental changes. Take time planning this one as it would be smart HR planning to figure out where you can retrain employees for your new direction.
  3. Stray across boundaries—strategic alliances don’t have to be between two different companies. What about two different business units or functions? The same principle applies to bringing in strengths and innovation from another “partner.”
  4. Self –Managed Teams—become a collection of entrepreneurs by using self-management teams. All the functions of management are done within the team. Coordinating the teams becomes the role of a few executives, reducing the weight at the top.

Each of these techniques has different goals and intentions. Which is right for your organization?

Building Virtual Teams

Virtual  Teams and Global Teams: What’s the Difference?

Virtual teams or geographically dispersed teams (GDT) share commonalities with their global cousins, but there are also some significant differences that can affect the success of the team.

Similarities between the teams:
When setting up virtual teams, there are some things both domestic and global teams need to be successful.
Pick the right people: go for diversity in specializations, but remember that virtual team members will have multiple reporting lines. Virtual team members must be open to new experiences.

  • Choose the right technology: it’s critical to recognize that work is done by people, not technology. Virtual teams are managed by people and mediated by technology, not the other way around.
  • Start the team off right: define the team’s purpose and vision, set specific processes for common understanding, and begin by building relationships before jumping into tasks. The team will need clear goals for work and productivity. Although a facilitator could be used to further these objectives, it’s important to train the team for self-facilitation for success in the long-run (Briggs, 2009).
  • Gain commitment: make sure all team members understand their roles and responsibilities. It’s important that when virtual teams work together, there is a sense of presence. Maybe using photos for the people who are online, or some video and/or audio communication. Another important factor is to ensure to align reward systems (Briggs, 2009) to the new method of work. Consider a combination of team and individual rewards for goals met.
  • Develop a rhythm of communication: the expectations of when and where to communicate provide some predictability in an otherwise unpredictable project. Communication also the primary way to build trust in virtual teams, an often difficult objective.

Developing trust is difficult when you don’t know your team mates, haven’t met them, and don’t actually see them work. Managing global teams adds another layer of complexity.

How global teams differ:
Symons and Stenzel (2007) in their article “Virtually Borderless: an examination of culture in virtual teaming” for the Journal of General Management identifies incremental challenges that global teams face.

  • Technology: considering global teams must rely on technology to mediate tasks, it’s important to be aware of the differences in technological connectivity and infrastructure in other countries. Note also that highly relationship oriented cultures (vs. task oriented like the U.S.) might first resist the use of technology to work across borders. This difference does reinforce the need to pick the right person. Even in relationship oriented cultures there may still be people that would jump at the opportunity.
  • How leadership is expressed: this factor varies among cultures as well. Cross cultural conflicts are inevitable on global teams, making the leaders, or facilitator’s ability to value diversity and show cultural competence a must on global teams. Although some leadership behaviors, like “dynamism, decisiveness, and honesty” (Stenzel, 2007, pg. 4) are common to most cultures, some attributes, like “ambition, formality, risk-taking and self-effacement are valued in some cultures but not others (Stenzel, 2007, pg. 4). The role in leadership for building trust is pivotal, so not adapting to these difference could cause team failure.
  • Intercultural Competence: when working on global teams it’s important to note that national and functional cultures are stronger than organizational cultures, however, corporate culture can predispose team members to work better cross-culturally, and therefore, place a big part in the success of global teams. It’s critical that all team members understand the dimensions of cultural difference so they are armed with strategies and self-awareness techniques to resolve intercultural conflicts.

As a final thought on what it takes to be successful in global teams, I’d like to leave you with this list from Mary Jane Westerlund (2008), a global team leader. Global team members need nine essential qualities (pg. 35):
1. Adaptation skills
2. Attitude of modesty and respect
3. Understanding of the concept of culture
4. Knowledge of the host country or other cultures
5. Relationship building
6. Self-knowledge and awareness
7. Intercultural communication
8. Organizational skills
9. Personal and professional commitment
These qualities enable team development in any realm, but definitely in global teams and team development plays a critical role in the success of virtual teams both domestically and globally.

Briggs, R. N. (2009). Principles for effective virtual teamwork. Communications of the ACM , 52 (4), 113-117.

Stenzel, C. a. (2007). Virtually borderless: an examination of culture in virtual teaming. Journal of General  Management , 32 (3), 1-17.
Westerlund, M. (2008). Superperformance in a remote global team. Process Improvement , 47 (5), 32-37.

Employee Engagement: Making Business Better

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you love w you do you’ll never work another day in your life.” Well then, you’ve heard of employee engagement. Why does it matter to you? Article after article cites employee engagement as a key element in business success. As a potential candidate in the job market knowing what engagement is, how it affects results, and how to encourage it, will set you apart.

Engagement Defined

Employee engagement goes well beyond job satisfaction. Engaged employees are passionate about their work and show a commitment to go beyond role expectations to succeed (Pickard, 2009). Engagement goes beyond simply being happy in your job; it is a complex combination of organizational culture, leadership, management, communication, and company reputation. There are multiple levels of employee engagement including: engaged employees who feel a connection to the organization, unengaged employees who are “checked out,” and actively disengaged employees who are more than unhappy but acting out their unhappiness in unproductive ways (Lockwood, 2007). An employee who is truly engaged has the opportunity to work to his/her full potential.

Business Results

According to research done by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), employees who are engaged do 20% better in their jobs and are 87% less likely to leave the organization (Lockwood, 2007). How have companies realized the benefits of these statistics? Below are some examples.

MolsonCoors: Engaged employees were less likely to have lost time safety incidents saving the company $1,721,760 in safety costs in 2002 (Lockwood, 2007).

Caterpillar: The construction-equipment maker documented $8.8 million in annual savings from decreased turnover, absenteeism, and overtime. Output from an Asian plant increased 70% in four months showing a $2 million profit increase and 34% increase rise in customer satisfaction (Lockwood, 2007).

Sainsbury: Breakthrough performance in sales, service, inventory availability, and attendance are just some results seen by England’s grocery chain. Their top 10 performing stores in engagement efforts outperformed those with the lowest engagement scores (Pickard, 2009).

From these examples alone it can be concluded that engagement has an impact on the revenue and expense side of the business.

Getting Engagement

Engagement is a simple concept to understand, but much more complex to deliver within an organization. Organizations with engaged employees have strong values, decentralized decision-making, clear communication, a culture of transparency, and strong relationships between leaders, management, and employees. In fact, the behaviors of managers that encourage engagement have commonalities. Following is a chart from the article “Employee Branding” by Jane Pickard (2009).

Behaviors of engaging managers

  • Communicates and makes clear what’s expected
  • Listens, values, and involves the team
  • Supportive, backs you and the team
  • Target focused
  • Clear strategic vision
  • Shows active interest in others
  • Good leadership skills
  • Respected

Behaviors of disengaging managers

  • Lacks empathy, interest in people
  • Fails to listen and communicate
  • Self-centered
  • Doesn’t motivate or inspire
  • Blames others, doesn’t take responsibility
  • Agressive
  • Lacks awareness
  • Doesn’t deliver

Teams who are engaged show clear sub-cultures of high performance and happiness. How engaged are you?

Works Cited

Lockwood, N. (2007). Leveraging employee engagement for competitive advantage: HR’s strategic role. SHRM Research , 1-11.

Pickard, J. (2009, November 5). Employee branding. People Management , 18-22.

Benefits of Process Interventions


Group Process: Wait…don’t groan

That’s right, another lecture about working well in groups. Why so many? It’s simple, groups done well turn to teams, and teams can get more done, and better, than a group of individuals. There are three factors of working in teams that affect the quality of performance: what the team does (task), how the team does it (process), and productivity (Herold, 1978). All three legs of the stool must be solid in order to perform at a high level that creates a strong business culture, opportunities for the business, and career success. Process interventions ensure that the team is able to realize these benefits through quality task and process alignment.

Recipe for quality teams

Empowerment: Involve team members in planning and strategizing how to get the job done. Understanding that learning must precede change, called the Universal Change Principle, is the first step in dissolving resistance to change (Lick, 2000).

Synergy: The magic that turns a group of individuals into a team is called synergy. Teams with synergy have a culture and pattern of interaction all their own. According to Lick (2000), “Members of a synergistic…[team] inspire and energize each other, and the openness and diversity of perspectives create new ideas, knowledge, and problem-solving potential” (pg. 46).

Trust: Is essential for team success. There is a fear of failure that compels teams toward success (Glassman, 1975). Trust in your teammates builds confidence in the completion of tasks, the team process, and the outcome. In other words, trust affects the quality of all three legs of the stool.

Interaction: Promoting both formal and informal opportunities for interaction encourages the development of trust and synergy and team members express their empowerment through advocating for their ideas. This ingredient, effective interaction, is often where groups struggle during when navigating more socially complex tasks (Herold, 1978). It’s a common entry point for process consultations by O.D. professionals. When teams interact and communicate well they grow and evolve to higher performance.

Derailing effective teamwork

These symptoms indicate a need for process interventions as they can derail team cohesion.

Jockeying for position: When groups lack trust and a common vision, members jockey for formal status (Glassman, 1975) preventing the formation of an effective team. Rotating leadership responsibility or restructuring the team’s reporting process might be in order.

Finding a common scapegoat: Has your group every complained about that “one person” that, if gone, would make everything better? This type of behavior indicates the group has identified a common scapegoat, or one person to blame for all the inefficiency in the group process (Glassman, 1975). Rarely is one person responsible for the group’s ills. Instead, the group’s inability to form a team can be linked to issues of empowerment, trust, and interaction.

Often different expectations between consultant and client can lead to ineffective processes. Plan your team’s workflow to include empowerment, trust, and interaction to create synergy that will make your team a source, not for groans, but for cheers.


Glassman, A. (1975). Team consultation: a revealing analysis. Academy of Management Proceedings , 116-118.

Herold, D. (1978). Improving the performance effectiveness of groups through a task-contingent slection of intervention strategies. Academy of Management Review , 3 (2), 315-325.

Lick, D. (2000). Whole faculty study groups: facilitating mentoring for school-wide change. Theory Into Practice , 39 (1), 43-49.

An Integrated Approach to Change

Victor and Franckeiss, experts in change management, introduced a model of change called “The Five Dimensions of Change” in 2002. This post is a summary of their article.

Change management does not follow a neat line from start to finish. In fact, while an organization is going through planning for change, it is also dealing with change at all management levels. Due to this dynamic environment, a cyclical model is necessary to understand and evolve toward successful change practices.

Although the model set forth by the authors is similar to the 5 stage O.D. processes discussed in module two, there is an important enhancement. The process is directed to organizations and gives them more direction on how to institute comprehensive, integrated, change.

The Five Dimensions of Change

D1 – Direct

This stage ensures the overall direction and purposes of the business. At this stage, the organization should consider their vision, mission, and value statements in relation to the external business environment. The resulting strategies should be well defined and communicated to all stakeholders to ensure they are internalized.

D2 – Describe

At this stage management is responsible for translating the aspirational statements defined in stage one into strategies (or plans of action) for achieving goals. The strategies need to be customized to the functional level, with the vision in mind. Victor and Franckeiss assert that there are four principle strategies that ensure integration of constancy of purpose and consistency of approach.

  1. Resource strategy—the design and structure of the business and HR planning
  2. Performance management strategy – ensures that all  functions, teams, and individuals understand their roles and requirements
  3. Reward strategy – pay structure, benefits, and bonuses that are in-line with the company’s vision
  4. Communications strategy – internal and external communication, employee relations, employee attitude surveys

D3 – Define

This is the part that is less glamorous, but critical to the success of change efforts. Defining involves business processes, policies and procedures that support business strategies. Clear and straightforward communication helps ensure that the organization doesn’t slide back into old ways.

D4 – Deliver

Now it’s time to deliver the change consistently as defined in the preceding sections. At this point, managing by example is essential. The management team must consistently demonstrate the behaviors expected of employees during and after the change in order to ensure them that the changes are sincere and there to stay. Any inconsistency can be exploited by those resistant to the changes. All employees must understand what behaviors are expected and successes should be defined and measured to reinforce the changes.

D5 – Develop

The fifth stage is about more than evaluating and feedback, it’s about keeping the communication system open. This stage presents the opportunity for continuous learning. Feedback should come not only from internal processes, but from the external environment through such common analyses as SWOT and PEST. If the environment warrants it, it’s time to start the process again.

As evidenced by this process, communication and leadership are critical characteristics to successful change processes.

Victor, P., & Franckeiss, A. (2002). The five dimensions of change: an integrated approach to strategic organizational change management. Strategic Change, 11(1), 35-42. doi:10.1002/jsc.567.

Name the Game Part 2: Coaching or Consulting?

In 2008 published an article that business coaching was booming ( I read this article again today, and just came upon a blog post titled, “Are you doing OD, Training, Consulting, Coaching, all of these?” ( and I got to thinking; what’s in the name?

The distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, yet a recent search on Google returned over 3 million results for Business Coach, over 4 million for Organizational Develop Consultant, and over 24 million for Organizational Training. At the core, these functions are the same; they are based on awareness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for marketing and branding. I’m an MBA in marketing after all. I’ll make the case here for describing OD’s value to the client in an authentic way. The current system of differentiating based on fine distinctions is adding a complexity to the profession that is doing more to confuse than add clarity.

Merriam Webster defines “authentic” as “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” In this case the fact that underlies training, OD consulting, and coaching is genuine awareness. The difference is not found in the stature of the profession, the results possible, or even the length of time or client relationship. The real difference is in the approach to reaching awareness and balance. Balance, then, can lead to results.

  • Training uses needs analysis to gain awareness into the knowledge gaps of employees and the company. Trainers then plan a program to close those gaps.
  • Coaches use a Socratic method to question and probe individuals to uncover areas for improvement and growth. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence reign in this approach and can lead to more dynamic leadership.
  • OD consultants use qualitative, quantitative, and process based approaches to identify “road blocks” within the organization. Although further removed than in coaching, the leadership team must be brought to an understanding, an awareness, of issues in the organization that are limiting success.

It’s not easy to face the deficiencies that may be stopping you, your group, or your organization from succeeding. There is plenty of advice on choosing a coach, a trainer, or a consultant, but at the core, I suggest you find one that can authentically bring awareness to you and your organization.

I invite your comments.