It’s Not All About The Money

It is time that all of us get into the 21st Century regarding motivation and driving high performance in the workplace.

Over 20 years of research regarding what motivates individuals and teams to perform at their highest levels have consistently shown that it is NOT money. Yes, it’s true.  Money is not a primary motivator for a highly engaged and high performance workplace.  There are many Organization Development, Human Resources and other professionals that understand this fact.  The research that leads us to this conclusion includes, but is not limited to:

  • Research from the Daniel Pink’s book Drive
  • 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
    2. Mastery— the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
    3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. NOT MONEY.

  • Research conducted by The Coffman Organization
  • 2011 Engagemetn study Towers Watson
  • Meta-data research study by Gallup
  • Forbes article by Katzenback & Khan
  • As a matter of fact, it is likely that the pursuit of money alone is a motivator that leads people and organizations down the wrong path (see Enron, Wall Street, Jimmy Hoffa, etc.). It could be why leaders layoff instead of innovate or employees skip safety for speed.  Is money important?  Yes, but it will not encourage those elements that turn into an organization’s strategic advantage(s).


    Money plays a factor only in that people need to be paid a fair wage.  If employees are fairly compensated for the work they do and it is clear that this is the case, it generally is not a primary motivator.  The underlying issue regarding money and pay is that people really base what they believe about pay in relationship to those around them (or in their industry).  For example, if you are paying one engineer $10 and another $100 for doing the exact same job, then money is a demotivator.  However, if everyone is equally paid, relatively speaking, then pay alone is not going to make people work harder, smarter, or produce more results.


    The solution is not as simple as pointing out that money is not a motivator to an engaged and highly productive workforce.
    There are some awesome lists of actions to take created by some excellent organizations based on heaps of research.  Do some or all of the things they suggest.

    Here are three things to keep in mind:

    1. The money cop out – Do not let managers/leaders say that the reason people don’t perform is their pay.  That is a cop out.  It is a way to say its not their fault when in fact they are the people that can create a motivating environment

    2. Meaningfulness – Make sure that every single person understands what he or she does to gain and retain customers.  They must have a clear line of sight to the end customer to understand their impact.

    3. Make sure money is not a factor – Calibrate pay against your industry and ensure that you are paying employees fairly.  

    Make that known. Do NOT ask about it on employee engagement or opinion surveys.  NO ONE thinks they are getting paid enough.

    It is NOT a differentiator between low and high performance teams.

    Once money is off the table as “the reason teams aren’t productive” or “the reason morale is low” the real work of creating a highly engaged, productive and profitable organization can begin.

    How do you deal with the question about money as a motivator?  What have you seen as factors in highly productive workplaces?  Let me know!

    Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

    Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

How To Increase The Success Of Change

Why is it that some organizations believe that employee engagement is either “a thing to do to employees” or it is “a destination” that is over once it is reached?

Employee engagement is neither of these things.

To help you understand this, take a look at the root word. Engagement is a concept or way of thinking that stems from the verb “engage.”  The idea behind engagement (employee or customer) is to get the full commitment, passion, and energy from that group toward your company, product, service or brand.

But over time, it seems that within organizations, something has gone terribly awry with this concept of engagement with the many of the people who work there.

So what happened to engaging people?

Understanding Futility

Engagement has turned into the age-old “creating a budget” exercise.  If you make a budget, you probably feel good about setting a responsible course for fiscal prudence. But unless you actually USE the budget, this is just a wasteful exercise in futility. The same thing holds true with employee engagement. Otherwise, futility reigns.

This concept started to dawn on me at the tail end of a recent conversation with a client.  The client executives were in the midst of talking about changes in the credit card business, huge losses in receivables, etc.

What should we do?” they asked.  In addition to some sound advice about process changes, the other piece of advice transpired like this:

“Ask your employees.  They are passionate and engaged.  Let them help you.”

“Our employees?  We don’t want to scare them.  And, they probably won’t understand what is going on anyway” was the Senior executive’s response.

“Really?” I asked becoming incredulous. “It seems to me that every employee can understand a simple message like we are losing money or don’t have enough new customers.”

“Now you are making it much too simple” stated the senior executive.  “We have decided to bring in a consulting company to help us figure out how to get back on track.”

If anyone has seen Office Space, you can imagine this experience.  As the many “Bob’s” walked around gathering “information,” the rumor mill was running rampant. As is the problem with many “change efforts,” the vast majority of information is misinformation.  In the absence of any communication from the organization, employees make assumptions. We, as human beings, do a great job making things up.

In the end, the client organization decided that layoffs were the best way to get back on track.  Although it has been proven that layoffs are not the best method to improve performance, they can be useful depending on the goal or desired outcome. The layoffs were not the worst part though.

The worst part was how they handled it.

Effective Engagement Examined

On the first Monday of August that year, certain employees were met by security guards around their desks.  One of them was holding a box.  The employee wasescorted to a trailer in the parking lot, asked to sign some papers, given a severance check and asked to leave the premise.

The following year, we were back with the same senior leader group talking about Employee Engagement.  Their employee engagement assessment scores (surprise!) had gone down.

“Employee Engagement has to be a focus of the organization moving forward.” the CEO   stated.  “We have to be a more focused organization.”

“Could it be that the employees are feeling like no one engaged them on recent issues, initiatives and organizational changes.” I asked.

“That’s not what engagement is about!” The CEO stated.  “It is about making this a great workplace, not asking people their opinion about how the business should be run. That is why we are here.”

You can imagine how the rest of the conversation went.

Needless to say that the company was never the same.  Not because it laid off employees, but because it did not honor the culture of the organization nor the intelligence of the folks that worked there.

The Success of Change
Here are four things that every organization needs to do to vastly increase the success of change due to performance, market erosion, etc.:

1.  Find out the state of the state
Dips in organizational performance can come at any time for many reasons.  It is vitally important that leaders, managers and employees are aware of the condition of the organization.  This is from an “are we engaged” perspective AND from a “how do the financial numbers say we are doing” perspective.

2.  Be thoughtful and thorough in communication
All the experts are adamant about communication as the key for successful organizational change.  But, companies STILL don’t do a good job in communicating in a cohesive, comprehensive, and transparent manner.  Employees don’t trust what they hear from companies because it is sanitized and word-smithed.  It is absolutely vital that PRIOR to any change being implemented that communication is planned and developed.  Be ready to tell groups what is happening and why.

3.  Engage your employees in solving the problem
Employees know that there are problems and how to solve them.  They often know before leaders because THEY ARE DOING THE WORK. When there is an issue identified or on the horizon, get employees that are involved with the issue to help figure out how to solve it.  This is engagement.  Employees engaged in solving a problem that will help the business and they have expertise in is the essence of creating an “engaged workforce.”  Let employees help solve the issues.  Outside consultants can help lead conversations, guide direction and give best practice solutions.
If you can’t trust employees to solve problems why are they working for you?

4.  Arm your managers to be successful
The front line of change initiatives is the manager.  This is where change can either be monumentally successful or a dismal failure.  Employees will go to their managers first to find out what they know.  Make sure your managers know something.  It would be preferable if they know the facts, how to present them, what not to say and are as transparent about it as possible.  If managers are not well equipped, then they will join the crowd of disengaged and drag their team down with them.

Don’t go out and do another Engagement Initiative.  Engage your employees and customers into making your organizations better by engaging them.  Ask their help to solve problems, offer ideas and drive innovation.  Doing so will honor their intelligence, support the culture and assuredly drive success.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Follies – How You Kill Possibility

I was recently sitting in a meeting watching an executive give a professional proposal for a new initiative.

The presenter, Brenda, did a great job. She was cogent, articulate, compelling, and succinct. The idea seemed plausible to me. I was optimistic that the project would be a success!

But then the winds of change began to blow. And they blew hard and swift! The decision-makers in the room began with a flurry of questions that seemed only to take the idea off the table. they fired questions like:

  • “How will we make this project work?”
  • “How will this be funded?”
  • “How will you get this done?”

With all the questions firing at the presenter, it was amazing that she could even stand.

“It’s always like this“ Brenda told me after the meeting ended.

“Always like what?” I asked.

Brenda replied, “Before we can even discuss if an idea is good, or seemingly even contemplate the idea for just a moment, it gets killed by all the focus on how are we going to get it done.”

Killing Me Softly

As I walked away from the conversation, I wondered if we kill creativity or shoot down possibility with our relentless pursuit of fitting things into what we know. After talking to a number of people far smarter than myself I found some interesting trends:

1. Most people listen to ideas based on what has worked in the past
2. In the spirit of practicality, many ideas are discarded before even being considered
3. Many of the tools we use to make us “efficient” have a tendency to limit our attention to things that don’t fit neatly into a category.

So instead of working with people when they come to us with ideas, we kill them.  Mercilessly.

Think about the last conversation you had:

  • With your teenage child about their future
  • Your spouse about a fancy vacation
  • A member of your team about a new project
  • An intern about how to make a process work better

At what point did you start dismissing the idea?  At what point did you start asking the dreaded how?

  • How you get a job?
  • How will I get the time off?
  • How will we get this past the review committee
  • How can that be done given our current political environment?

Now, let us not be naive.  We must think about how to get things done, but only after we explore the idea, uncover the hidden, be a little idealistic, take our time.

The Same Same

Do you ever wonder why everything seems to look the same nowadays?  Really, take a look at your town.  If you drive from one city to another in almost any country, they have started to all look the same, have the same restaurants, and people all dress the same.

Why has everything become so homogeneous?

This is because we have figured out what works and what sells and just replicate it.  Over and over.  When we look at the world around us, our wish to be practical and efficient have turned us all into leadership lemmings.

Don’t believe me?  Well, think about the trends in the past few years – Who Moved My Cheese, Good to Great, Paradigm Shift, and the list goes on and on.

So what can we do?

Being More Creative
Author Peter Block provides some great insights in his book The Answer to How is Yes on how using creativity in creative ways can help get better organization results.

Here are some highlights:

1. Be more idealistic
Look to act on what really matters. Compassion, justice, etc.  Don’t get caught up in the “do this because I get or will get.” It tends to make the project or task very mercenary.

2. Work towards more intimacy
Talk to people, work with people.  Try to do it face to face or at least in real time.  Don’t rely on email, text and instant messaging. Working with people has a tendency to increase the reliance on values or idealism.

3. Act with more depth
In the effort to increase speed and make things more efficient, reflecting on what is good, different or interesting is lost.

4. Create a plan of action
Once you have teased out the idea, create a solid plan of action. When the idea or project has been allowed to formulate, then a plan can be put in place.  Now those how questions can be very valuable.

Allowing ideas to be discussed and debated can produce magical, creative, fun ideas that will move people to action.  It will draw out passion and be evident to customers.

Tired of a rehash of the same ideas and problems coming up over and over?  Try amixture of idealism, intimacy and depth to create a solution that addresses problems once and for all.

Leadership Follies – Avoiding The Customer At All Costs

“What does it matter? If I get it done by Monday, that’s not going to make or break us.”

In the hyper-competitive world of work, it does not seem logical that anyone would not feel a sense of panic or anxiety when it comes to customers.  Based on the recent economic downturn, people should see the costs of not paying attention to the customer.

And yet, the notion of understanding the impact that each employee has on gaining and/or retaining customers is foreign to many.

But why?

Although I am not a trained Harvard or University of Chicago economist, I feel it is same to assume that the key to business success is gaining more new customers and retaining more customers than your competition.

But in a recent studies, the evidence is:

  • 50% of professionals survey felt like retaining customers was not part of their job and;
  • over 75% of those same professionals indicated that gaining customers was not their job.

Everybody’s Job

So the question is, whose job is it?

Companies have dedicated sales and customer service departments, so that must be the answer, right?  Not so fast, if it is true that the most important aspects of business is to gain and keep customers, how can it not be everyone’s job?

Many highly successful companies know this to be true.  Every person in an organization must take the customer into account when completing tasks, developing projects, giving evaluations, etc.  Why?  If employees are clear about how they impact the customer, they will be inclined to drive towards high performance AND hold others within the organization to a higher standard.

How do you get people to see that?

That is the $64,000,000 question.  Over the years executives have stated concerns about getting employees into the conversation about how to gain/keep customers if they are not directly involved with them.  Hogwash.  It has been shown that employees that feel as if their work is meaningful are more productive and actively increase organizational profitability.  Employees want to make a difference, they want to work hard to produce results.  There are two tactics to unlocking this potential and make sure employees see their impact on the customer.

Line of Sight
Line of sight is the straight line that each employee has to gaining and retaining customers.  Regardless of the role, each employee needs to see that impact.  Understanding the impact their role has on the customer adds context to their actions and decisions.

Think about it like this:


Great managers not only tell their team a task/project that needs to be done.  They tell them why it should be done at all. What is the greater overall impact, how will if affect other teams and ultimately the customer. Knowing the purpose ensure that employees don’t feel like just another cog in the machine, but an important part of the overall strategy.


Great Leaders provide role clarity to the folks on their teams.  It is not enough to simply be clear about what a team provides to other teams, but how they impact the customer.  Whether a janitor, programmer or marketing executive each person plays a role in gaining and retaining customers.  Some roles are more direct than others, but all have an impact.  It may mean that leaders need to do some digging themselves and determine  that path.  But each person needs to see it.  Understanding the impact on the customer will add meaning and credibility to their role and the tasks associated with it.


Once teams (and employees) are clear about their path to the customer and the purpose of their roles it is time to turn them loose.  In Daniel Pink’s latest book Drive, he states shows how Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose enables huge positive impact on organizational outcomes.  Since purpose has already been discussed,  let’s spend just a moment on Autonomy and Mastery.


Within reasonable boundaries, employees should be able to carry out their roles (tasks and projects) in the best way to support gaining and retaining customers.  Creativity stems from the autonomy to develop, think and sometimes fail.  When held to outcomes, specifically those related to gaining and retaining customers, employees will strive to do more.

Therefore, it is better to allow employees to try, experiment and possibly fail than do the same thing that has worked (or not) for the past number of years.  It s vital to get work done, but unless you are working on an assembly line, they is probably a number of different and valid ways to get things done.


Employees should be pushed to pursue mastery in their role.  Mastery is all about engagement. It is immersing oneself into a particular role, task or project.  Although mastery of anything is nearly impossible, the journey towards it is enlightening and enlivening.

Now what?

As a leader, there are three steps to providing line of sight for your teams and employees:

1. Learn and explain the purpose of each project and task as it relates to the customer.  Link actions back to impact on the customer.  This may take a bit longer and may mean a little digging, but it is well worth it in the end.

2. Understand the link between what your team does and the customer.  Present that to the team and discuss what that means.  How will that impact their actions?  Make it a visual that can be seen by everyone on the team.  Start to ask the question – “How will this action impact the customer?” or  “How will this help in gaining and retaining customers?”

3. Stress outcomes.  Evaluate performance on outcomes.  In the context of supporting gaining and retaining customers, people will generally do the right thing.  Focus on what they accomplish and not on the steps taken to get there.  Allowing for autonomy and focusing on gaining mastery will enable teams to do what is best for the customer in the long run.

4. Encourage employees to talk about how they impact the customer.  Employees need to understand the link between what they do and the customer.  Encouraging them to find out on their own increases the likelihood of it sticking with them and informing their future actions.

Companies that don’t focus on gaining and retaining customers are doomed to not have to worry about either sooner than they think.  How are you going to clarify the line of sight for your teams?  What other actions can you take?  Please let me know.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Preparing For Meetings, Going To Meetings, And Getting Coffee

“Being a high-performance organization!”

“Doing more with less.”

In the hallways and meeting rooms in organizations around the globe, people use phrases like these to imply that they are working toward hyper-performance.  Sure, there is a lot of hyperbole, but what really happens at work?  Is an increase in productivity really occurring?

The short answer is no.  Companies seem like they are getting more out of their current workforce.  But, if customers are buying less, fewer employees can do more of the work.  The recent rise in productivity is masking this dirty little secret.

A great deal of employee’s time is spent doing one of three tasks:

1. Preparing for meetings
2. Going to meetings
3. Getting coffee/snacks/etc.

Working for a Living?

Research says that many employees manufacture work to make themselves look better, look busy and look important. But what does this type of behavior do for the bottom line? How can that energy be turned toward something good?

The problem is a result of two issues:
1. Companies knock the creativity out of employees
2. Employees don’t act like owners

Kicking the creative habit

After consulting with a number of great organizations over the last many years, one constant has become clear to me:

The culture of organizations both drives success and drives people crazy.

New employees are generally hired because of their experience, enthusiasm, drive, and new ideas.  There is a great deal of fanfare when the new employees arrive until they start sharing ways to make the organization more effective. However, something different actually happens when most new employees arrive in their new spot. Each time they bring a new idea, they are essentially told to “sit down and shut up.” After too much of this type of treatment, they reach the point of frustration and “go native.”

Going native is:

To act and do as the members of the tribe, town, environment an individual finds themselves in as to blend in and be accepted.

Then, lo and behold, the very creativity and spark that was the reason that the employees were hired is snuffed out like the torch at tribal council on “Survivor.”

I just work here…

But, employees are not blameless.  As Sisyphus can attest, pushing a rock up a hill can be very difficult.  However, successful employees (and people) are folks that take responsibility and pride in their roles.  As a wise mentor once told me,

“I act like this little part of the company is mine.  I run it as if it were my own, making sure to be careful with money, look for opportunities to improve and fight the status quo.”

Too often, employees work hard to distance themselves from an organization. Many people feel like they are not going to be at a company long-term so why should they invest themselves.  It leads to a very “quick-fix” mentality.  Companies certainly don’t help themselves by using layoffs as a method to meet quarterly profit goals.  As the old saying goes, you can’t go into a marriage expecting divorce.  That is a recipe for disaster.

Employees must step up and take ownership of their role and tasks.

Solution Center

So now what do we do about it?

Care for creativity.

It almost goes without saying that creativity and enthusiasm are the lifeblood of any organization/team.  These are characteristics that should be nurtured.  Creativity comes in all disciplines.  It has been shown that innovation comes from an engaged and motivated workforce. Determine how engaged folks are now and give your managers the tools they need to increase it, all the time.

Figure out what you want to be.

Teams/organizations need a purpose that drives them to act.  Innovation comes from the need to fulfill that purpose. Make sure that the purpose is well-known and that actions are aligned to meeting it.  Focused effort naturally eliminates waste, increases clarity, and actually makes work more fun.  It is a powerful incentive to know where you are going, why you need to get there and what happens if you don’t.

Reward ownership.

Do whatever you can to notice, recognize and reward employees when they act like owners.  Owners don’t waste; they go the extra mile, take risks and are unwilling to smooth things over.  As a business owner, the drive is to be successful now and even more successful in the future.  Relationships are nurtured because they are important over the long haul.

Be an owner.

As an employee at any level, treat the organization you are in as if you are an owner.  It makes work much more satisfying if you are doing the extra work to benefit you.  It seems like semantics, but ownership allows for responsibility and gives latitude to be bold both in action and in protection of the organization.  Even if you think that the job is temporary, an ownership mentality will provide some clarity of decision and perspective.

But what about meetings?

Meetings are actually a powerful method to communicate and get work done.  However, they have been used and abused making them seem ridiculous.  If organizations actively protect creativity and encourage an ownership mentalitythey will naturally be more effective.  Time won’t be wasted on preparing for or attending meaningless meeting.  However, they will need a good cup of “joe”.

What are your experiences of acting like an owner?  Have you seen what happens when an organization promotes an ownership mentality?  Where might this be effective?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Follow The Yellow Brick U-Turn


Sometimes it’s just a nip at the ankle.

Other times, reality bites your hand.

And other times it jumps up and bites us in the back side.

One way that reality bites is when plans should go one way, but somehow take a detour and go another way in a totally wrong direction that leads to a dead-end. When this happens, we scratch our heads and wonder if somehow we woke up in the middle of “Opposite Day.”


When organizations get into trouble with their businesses, the job of the leaders is to recognize what is happening and make the necessary changes to get things back on course. They need to be able to understand their current conditions and seewhat steps need to be taken by creating effective plans and strategies. Leaders should use all the resources at their disposal to execute their planning so that they have the best shot at correcting their course.

Using both internal talents and outside consultants, the leaders responsibility is to get the best plan at the most reasonable cost.

As a business consultant who works with organizations on developing plans for them, I am called upon to help create effective plans that implement positive changes. After working hard to develop a plan for a client, I recently “got bitten by reality.” The reality was that a client who clearly needed to change course “decided not to decide” on my new plan.

They loved the plan that I created and agreed that it would work, but they took a detour into no-man’s land. Even after an exhaustive search for potential vendors to create a plan to help them change course, the decision was made to…make no decision.

They were headed down the yellow brick road to a better place, but somehow got off track and took a detour.


The client loved the plan, but didn’t want to use it. What is that all about, I wondered?

To get my answers as to why the client “decided not to decide” to change, I did what all good consultants do; I did a Google search and asked my peers for the answer.  Here is what I found:

  • Companies take, on average 15% longer to come to decisions about vendors, strategy and organizational changes (2009 Right Management Survey)
  • 20% of companies, on average, decide that the best course of action is no action when deciding on strategy, vendors and organizational changes
  • Internal decision-making processes add, on average, 10 to 20% more time tocomplete contracts, negotiations, etc.

Discovering this information made me even more curious.  Why would that be?  What could be the cause of this institutional analysis paralysis?  After some more conversation, research, and interviews I found some more fascinating facts:

Fear Factor

It seems natural that companies are hesitant to make decisions because there is a lack of trust in (and for) the organization. In addition, the very people tasked to make decisions are too scared of making the wrong one.

Here are 6 ways to help your organization become more effective in making decisions.

1.  86 the process
It is often said that nothing kills creativity like a good process.  Approval processes can be vital to success for large organizations.  They can help to manage cost and ensure accountability.  But, once a process is in place it tendsto take on a life of its own.

At times the process becomes so burdensome, that it is easier to just keep the status quo rather than bucking the system. It is important that questions like “Why are we doing this?” be asked on a regular basis.  There should be no process that isn’t scrutinized.

2. Encourage or Force Choice
This is tricky.  This requires managers and leaders to allow employees to make decisions or select new ways to doing things and rewarding them for doing so. This is not the norm for many organizations, departments, or teams.  Reward employees for making decisions.  Support them. Use the decision-making process as a learning opportunity. It will become a practiced skill that they will gain expertise the more they do it.

3. Take Actions To Increase Trust
Every effort should be made to increase trust on a regular basis.  Patrick Lencioni, the author of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, has shown that the foundation of every successful team is trust.  But, it is often the first area where many teams fail.  There is not an emphasis on trust at organizations where it vanishes so quickly. In order to create high performance organizations building trust is paramount.

4.  Keep Changing
A great lesson can be learned from Ingar Skaug.  He was the CEO of Wilh. Wilhelmsen Lines, ASA a major ship building company.  Through tragedy he helped his company transform itself.  Although very successful ASA had become stagnant and resistant to change.  Skaug knew that this would be its downfall.  He encouraged decision-making that lead to change.

5. Align Culture to Strategy
Lack of decision and indecisiveness comes from being unclear on the path.  The decision of whether to go right or left can be paralyzing, if you do not know what the best path to take.  Leaders have to make sure that they are uncovering the dimensions of their culture and working towards aligning that to the organizational strategy.  Of course, it is necessary to have a strategy first.  It does not have to be a “we will change the world” strategy, but something that tells people where you intend to go.  This should inform every action and be the arbiter of decisions.

6. Have Fun
“Hardly a day goes by without reading an interview with a prominent executive or hearing a knowledgeable observer suggest that having fun at work is important for employee morale and productivity” ~ Robert C. Ford

People are relaxed when they are having fun.  They are confident and more willing to make decisions.  Not to say that it should be party, but fun.  Iron-clad, rule oriented organizations stay stagnant.

Taking these small actions at every level of the organization will increase the speed and ability to make decisions.  It is not a guarantee of perfect decisions.  That is notand should not be the goal.  People in organizations need to be good at deciding and acting.  The old child’s tale about the tortoise and the hare misses the point. The hare was fast but unfocused. If the hare had been intent on winning, the tortoise would have been left in the dust.

Don’t you wish your organization was the nimble hare? Do you want to help your leaders and teams be more decisive. Are you building a culture of trust, reward, and risk-tolerance that allows for healthy decision-making? What are some others ways that you can help keep your teams on the yellow-brick road to a better place?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Follies: Blamestorming


The act of an organization, or portion thereof, blaming other parts of the organization when there is a failure with a customer. Instead of finding or creation a solution for the customer they try to focus on why things happened.  Coming up with reason after reason for the failure but no resolution.

Business Case

“We spend all of our time trying to figure out who or what is to blame and none of it trying to fix the problem”, said the senior leader.  She was trying to figure out why the new “Focus on the Customer” strategy was not taking hold.  I had seen it too often – a great idea or strategy to improve business performance that actually decreases it.

Or organizations spend all their time looking for heads to roll –

“The board of directors was exhausted after a four hour blamestorming session which finally resulted in two names for the chopping block.” —Gab Halasz, Merriam Webster

Why does this happen?

It is as if organizations are built on the principles of self preservation….wait, they are.  Like any other organism, organizations actively work to survive.  Unfortunately in business, sometimes survival is the enemy of exceptional or superior performance.

The major thrust of Jim Collin’s exceptional book “Good to Great” was the chasm between the good and the great.  It is even evidenced recently.

The rash of companies that have failed in the past decade due to the “circling the wagon” mentality – Toyota, Goldman Sachs, BP and many more – or have lost market share because they can’t implement new strategies vital to their business’s success (think record labels dealing with the internet or US Steel Mills unable to deal with globalization). Clearly, there were efforts in all those companies to pull the organization towards a solution, but somehow it fell short.

It is almost understandable that a company would try to block or repel accusations of failure, but why would that happen internally? All the company’s departments are working towards the same goal, right?

Anyone that has worked in a company with more than one person knows that eventually people lose sight of the common goal. – Henry Ford

The storm clouds gather.

At some point in every employee’s career, they go from caring about the company to caring about themselves. Just like an individual organizations start out focused, driven and building solutions for their customer’s success.  But, companies too fall into the trap of caring more about their survival than the people or process that brought them success.

Chance of inclement weather and disaster

When companies reach the point that they do more “fixing the process” than solving customer problems, than blamestorming has taken over.  It is easy to see when this happens:

Once a company starts to go down the blamestorming path, these are the things that can happen:

  • Increase in internal bureaucracy
  • Lower employee morale
  • Decrease in new ideas coming from employees, lower organizational creativity
  • Lots of CYB (cover your butt) action like documenting every single interaction
  • Increase in Customer attrition
  • Overall lower organizational efficiency

When does the storm end?

Blamestorming is an organizational issue, but it can be addressed at many layers within the organization.

At the team level

Focus on the problem and solve it.

Sounds simple, right?  It is not as simple as it seems.  The idea is that the long term solution will come from solving the problem presented.  Once the problem is solvedcompletely take the solution and analyze it.

  • Why did the solution work?
  • How can it be used again?
  • Where can we leverage this solution?

Don’t focus on the process but the people
Process is important. It lends to organizational consistency, but once it is done for the sake of the process it is failing.  This is evidenced when leaders want employees to follow process over action or impact.  It is important that when solving a problem that individuals are taken into account.  Make sure that the people are taken care of while solving the problem.  All the people involved – customers, employees, vendors, etc. In the end people will make or break your process and the success of your company (just ask Jerry Reinsdorf how that went when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, etc. left the Bulls)

At the macro (organizational) level

Mine for solutions
Organizations can foster a sense of pride and build creativity by promoting/highlighting solutions.  This is not collecting best practices.  Best practices have become “formulaic” and don’t allow for creativity.  It is showcasing solutions.  Promoting, as an organization, looking for and creating solutions.

Align to Strategy
This is going to sound a little bi-polar.  On one had organizations need to promote a solution focus.  That requires some freedom of thought and action where the primary objective is to solve organizational issues (customer problems, etc.) On the other hand there needs to be some focus on the focus.  That is there needs to be some direction or boundaries to the problems being solved.  Actions taken within the organization and to forward the organization should be taken towards a common end or strategy.  This will increase the overall organizational effectiveness. (quote and link here)

Why do something about it now?

A logical question might be, “Why should we worry about this now?”  Organizations that don’t will go the way to horse carriage makers, US Watch makers, etc.  These organizations did not see that they were not solving customer issues but holding on to a way to doing business or even product that wasn’t needed.

Does your organization focus on pointing the finger of blame rather than solving problems?  What does that cost you?  What has been done to interrupt that way of being?  I’d be curious to know!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Follies: Cutting Through The Meat

Why is most training not effective for very long? There is a lot of time and effort put into training? Does behavior really change because of training?

As performance improvement tools go, training is extremely effective.  But unless it is used on the job it is a waste of time.   

I learned early in my consulting career that good training is like teaching your kids to cut meat.  When done correctly, children learn to be self sufficient.  The alternative is cutting the kid’s meat or watching them eat like a barbarian. 

Great Training?

My wife and I were talking about the training that I just conducted for a client.  She asked me how the training went.  I told her it was magical.  The participants in the course were:

  • engaged,
  • laughing,
  • asking great questions
  • and taking notes!

“Wow”, she said.  “What happens when you leave?” she asked.

“Umm, well, they go back to work.” I eloquently stated.

“Really, do they put what you taught to use?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”  I replied “Honestly, I am a consultant and I can’t control what the client does when I leave.”

“Oh, that seems like a waste of time then.”  My not so subtle wife stated.

What is the real impact?

I was stunned and hurt.  But wondered if that were true.  Was it a waste of time?  Did all of my hard work go for naught? 

Were my clients guilty of training for the sake of doing it with little thought to the follow through?  I decided that I would call some of the participants in my class in a couple of weeks and see what magic they were creating.   

Exactly two weeks from the end of my class, I called each person that attended.  The results were less than stellar.  Of the 22 people attending:

  • 13 had not looked at any of the material, done any of the post class work, etc.  None of their leaders asked them about the training. All of them thought I was great though.
  • 2 did not remember what we worked on, but remember the funny story I told about my father and the parking garage.  None of their leaders asked them about the training.
  • 3 said that they tried some of their new knowledge once at work and never tried it again.  They liked me during the course, but don’t think I gave them practical solutions.  None of their leaders did not ask them about the training.
  • 4 had implemented most of the learning and were excited with the results.  They liked me, but thought my jokes were old and tired.  Their managers inquired about the training, asked them to share their post training work and made it a topic during their status conversations.

I learned 3 things from these calls:

1. People like me
2. Training is great when people put it into action
3. People only put it into action consistently over time when prompted by their leader.
I thought that sounded ridiculously simple and therefore believed that could not be the answer.  Of course, that night my wife proved that it was. 

What could you do differently?

At the time, my daughter was not very good using a fork and knife.  She struggled particularly with cutting.  For some reason she thought it was easier to push down with a knife than saw back and forth.  She would struggle mightily and when frustrated would ask her Dad to cut it.  My wife took half the dinner to show Alex how to use a knife.   Over the next couple of days, my wife had my daughter practice cutting with her knife, talk about how to use her knife and praising her.  By the end of the third day, my daughter was a knife welding pro. 
It did not end with knowing the skill.  My wife worked with Alex every day to drive the learning home.  Although it took my wife extra time for a couple of days, we never had to cut Alex’s meat again.  My wife showed me that training is only the beginning.  Follow through enables real lasting learning. 

Since then, all of the training I deliver does not end with class.  It ends when the participant’s leader has made the learning a priority.  It is up to the participant to take in the lessons and bring back the knowledge.  It is up to the leader to help the participant put that learning to use every day until there is a change in behavior or skill. 

Are you making sure that training is acted on?  What steps are you taking to make sure that there is follow through after training?  Do you encourage people to use knowledge from recent training?  How do you make sure that training is being put to use?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Development Program Epic Fail

Every year in organizations globally there are billions of dollars spent on developing leaders.

It’s estimated that $60 billion is spent annually by corporate America on learning and development programs. Over 20 percent—about $12 billion—is spent on programs specifically for executives and managers. – Jack Zenger

But, for the most part they don’t seem to get the return on investment that’s intended?  According to a recent McKinsey study:

“When upward of 500 executives were asked to rank their top three human-capital priorities, leadership development was included as both a current and a future priority. Almost two-thirds of the respondents identified leadership development as their number-one concern.2 Only 7 percent of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively,3 and around 30 percent of US companies admit that they have failed to exploit their international business opportunities fully because they lack enough leaders with the right capabilities.”



In numerous companies, leadership-development efforts are not aligned with strategic goals.- Douglas A. Ready and Jay A. Conger

As with any other “people” related program, the only way to drive long term involvement is to connect it directly to business outcomes.  Unfortunately, too often this link isn’t made explicitly.  Therefore, the learning doesn’t help business leaders make decisions that affect issues that are important to business now.  In addition, if there is no link to business outcomes then it is easy to eliminate during economic downturns because it’s a “nice to have” not a necessity.

This takes effort and money – and our research shows that this investment, when done well, pays off handsomely. Companies that don’t take the time and effort to align leadership with their business strategy (Yahoo is a great example) suffer in the market. – Josh Bersin

Actively connect leadership development to one or more business goals.  Whether it is decreasing errors or increasing productivity, make a connection that is real, important and visible.  That way it can be reported and measured. Of course measurement isn’t everything, but it can help to make improvements on the program over time.
Far too often, there is no objective or measurable outcome related to leadership development programs.  They are put in place because “they should be” or as a result of survey or a senior leadership mandate.  Anecdotally, everyone knows that leadership development is important.  Research done by Josh Bersin, the Blanchard Companies and many others have shown that leadership development can be a competitive advantage.  But, without an outcome there is no guiding principle or direction for the development.  Development for development’s sake is good, but not sustainable.

Although it’s not always true that only what’s measured matters, in this case it is important to have some outcomes that people can align on achieving.  This will drive the type of learning that is chosen, the modality, etc.  Without some agreed upon outcomes there will also be no way to measure if the program is successful, needs to be improved, etc.

Because there is often not a link between leadership development and business outcomes, leaders that don’t promote or exhibit the skills/competencies/tendencies taught are not held accountable.  They are allowed to continue their bad behavior and be a walking reminder of the program’s lack of teeth.  Those people will undermine the uptake of the principles taught in it. 

Remember the saying “Shadow of a Leader”.  It sounds easier than it is.  If an organization wants to create a particular culture, then it has to enforce the mores and norms of it.  That includes getting tough with bad leaders.  Reward the behavior that you want emulated.

Many leadership development programs are based in delivering a series of courses and weaving in some role playing or case studies.  The theory is delivered and then the implementation of that theory is left to the leadership development participants to put into practice.  The problem is:

1. There is little time for leaders/managers to implement new ideas
2. There is no one that can help them implement them in the best way
3. There is no feedback loop for them regarding their new skills

It’s likely that classroom learning will always have a place in leadership development.  It is a good place to introduce new concepts and provides a safe place for experimentation.  But for leadership development to really take hold, it has to enable people to put learning into action and feedback/coaching regularly on how they did regularly.

Integrate leadership development into the work itself. This is the ideal environment, where the learning and the work are seamless. – Peter Bregman

Without the practical implementation aspect of leadership development the learning never gets past “that’s a good theory” stage.  Change in behavior or adoption of new behavior takes acting in a new way.  Creating a section of the program dedicated to application is vital to deep, meaningful and lasting learning.
What do you think? What are examples of leadership development programs that have succeeded?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Training That Actually Makes An Organization More Successful

All signs point to a dramatic increase in spending on training within organizations:

Leaders within organizations see a growing gap between the skills of their employees and the skills necessary to make the organization successful. The question is not whether training is necessary, it’s whether the training delivered is really making organizations more successful. What is the proof?

As someone deeply ingrained in learning, that’s something that I struggle with on a regular basis. In order to ensure a measurable impact, we need to be speaking the language of business. We have to understand what will really move the needle on organizational performance.
Even though spending on training is increasing, there is still the perception that a large number of training initiatives are not effective.

Unfortunately for many organizations, this leads to view of training as a cost instead of an investment. It’s the same as spending on supplies. As training professionals, we have historically looked within our organizations to identify skills o drive learning, but is that where we should be looking? Maybe to bridge this large and growing skills gap, we have to change the way we approach learning in the first place.
For instance: does training a cashier to scan items more effectively earn the company more money? Tangentially, it likely helps, but what if the cashier was trained on how to incent customers to come back to their line the next time they were in the store? What if their training was more about how they could retain loyal customers/gain new customers, instead of getting people through the line quickly? What might that do for the cashier? What might that do for the customer?
If the cashier views their role not as “the last part of the shopping process,” but instead as a critical part of the customer experience, it might change how they view their role. Of course, they will still have to be trained on the operations of their register. They will have to know store policies. But the measure or outcome of what they are doing is entirely different.
What if training and development wasn’t just about increasing skills, but about giving each and every employee their Line of Sight to the Customer™?. That is, training them on their impact on gaining and retaining customers.
It would alter their focus.
Being highly efficient on the register becomes a method to increase overall organizational performance, instead of just “what they have to do.”
Remember the movie Office Space?

The manager in the restaurant wanted Jennifer Aniston’s character to wear more “flair,” but it wasn’t about the number of buttons on the shirt – it was really about the customer experience, but had morphed into some meaningless part of onboarding or training a server. Put into the realm of gaining and retaining customers, its about creating an experience. The servers’ roles in Office Space shift from, “I’m going to take your order” to, “Let’s make this a little getaway” or something like that. It becomes an experience.

The shift in focus of is about gaining and retaining more customers. If training isn’t addressing that, then why are you doing it? If you are not thinking about this, it’s likely an impediment to the Line of Sight.

Anil Saxena is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting. 
He helps teams create environments that generate repeatable superior results.


Cube 2.14 will increase your organizational effectiveness. We specialize in developing innovative, practical solutions to create productive workplaces that exceed goals.