01 February 2024

Africa's Aspiring Future

"The eye never forgets what the heart has seen."

--African Proverb

(C) The Engineer

In 2050, one-quarter of all people will be in Africa--a sprawling continent larger than China, Europe, India, and the U.S. combined. Its fifty-four countries will have the youngest, fastest-growing population on Earth. (N.Y. Times) 

The continent's population is currently 1.4 billion and is estimated to be 2.5 billion in 2050.

Africa had 8% of the world's population in 1950. It will account for one-fourth of humanity a century later, with at least one-third of all young people aged 15-24. By 2040, it will have one in every five children living on Earth. (United Nations)

The median age of Continental Africa is nineteen; India is twenty-eight; and China and the U.S. are thirty-eight. 

What else lies beneath "the boundless African sky?"

Africa's landscapes are as breathtaking as its statistics. Yet, with all the beauty and mystery, what makes the "Cradle of Mankind" special is its warm and friendly people. 

The disparities

Our first trip to the continent was in 1987 to the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. Sometimes known as Ivory Coast, the country identifies two capitals: Yamoussoukro (political) and Abidjan (economic). Despite a history of political instability, the economy is stable and growing; the thirty million population enjoys a relatively high-income level compared to other countries in the region. (World Bank)

If you like chocolate, it's worth knowing that Côte d'Ivoire's economic strength derives from being the world's leading exporter of cocoa beans. 

Travels in subsequent years to the Republic of South Africa and the Republic of Kenya in East Africa made diverse people, economies, governments, and material resources visible. The continent's burgeoning cities (eleven with more than five million in population), filled with traffic jams, are never far from poverty. 

For example, with a birthrate of five million people yearly, Nigeria, a country slightly bigger than Texas, is expected to double in size in the next 26 years, overtaking the U.S. as the third most populous country. (Business Insider)

Nigeria boasts the largest economy in Africa. Yet two-thirds of its people live on less than $2 a day. Life expectancy is fifty-three, nine years below African averages. 

An income threshold of $2.15 per day for low-income economies means an estimated 460 million sub-Saharan Africans are living in extreme poverty. Limited access to food, famines, the COVID-19 pandemic, and war contribute to those staggering numbers. (World Bank, Outreach International, World Food Programme)  

"Some 34 million Africans are migrants, and the majority are workers crossing borders to search for decent work--jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions and fair treatment," says a report from the Solidarity Center for Labor Migration. "Many workers find employers seeking to exploit them--refusing to pay wages and forcing them to work long hours for little or no pay," the Center adds.

Vast resources

Africa is home to 30% of the world's mineral reserves. It has the largest cobalt reserves, diamonds, platinum, and uranium. It's also a major source of gold, generating a quarter of the world's output, 870 metric tons in 2021. 

Almost 8% of the world's natural gas and 12% of oil reserves are on the continent. Add 65% of the total arable land and 10% of the planet's internal renewable freshwater source. 

Minerals for EV batteries, such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, and graphite, are available in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique. (Africa Development Bank) 

The world's automakers, wanting non-Chinese sources in their supply chains, are attracted to South Africa as the second-largest refiner of manganese.

Natural resources' financial and social benefits have only sometimes reached the people who work to extract them and the villages where they live. Will the push for green energy materials be different?  

Political influence

The magnitude of Africa's populace and resources draws attention from world powers. Even as the continent's countries strengthen ties, China, Russia, Turkey, and the Gulf Petroleum States have a presence there. India intends to become Africa's most significant trade and investment partner. (Brookings.edu)

With funding through the Belt and Infrastructure Campaign, China is deepening African relationships through industrialization and modernization of industry.

Meanwhile, U.S. involvement is growing on the continent with significant food and health investments, two-way trade deals, digital projects, and infrastructure upgrades like the recent rail freight services in Angola. The federal government in Washington, DC, is promising more support. 

Enterprising spirit

With a need to improve skills and digital tools for private industry and government, education is assuming greater importance in Africa. Studies show that 44% graduated from high school in 2020, up 27% since 2000. And 570 million people use the Internet. 

The struggle is finding good jobs. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and skilled migrants continue to flee the continent. 

Learning, reducing out-of-school children, and youth with apprentice skills are priorities for all countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Business schools are behind much of the change and transformation. A new generation of entrepreneurs is providing hope for economic solutions. With a ratio of four young people for every position available, starting businesses and creating jobs is critical. More outside help is needed to ensure those newly minted enterprises know what it takes to survive and thrive. (The Engineer)

Africa's heart

There are an estimated 660 million Christians on the African landmass, more than on any other continent. (Center for the Study of Global Christianity) The frequency of worship attendance and prayer among the world's Christians is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and lowest in Western Europe. (Pew Research Center)  

Africa's 240 million Catholics comprise 19% of the global Catholic population. (PillarCatholic.com

Christianity is the major religion in numerous African countries. The top five with 90% or more Christian population are São Tomé and Príncipe, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Rwanda, and Seychelles. (World Atlas)

A BBC documentary describes Christianity in Africa as an "agent of change." It destabilized the status quo, bringing new opportunities to some and undermining the power of others. With Christian missions came education, literacy, and hope for the disadvantaged. 

The World Religion Database reports that sub-Saharan Africa was home to 230 million Pentecostals and charismatics, or 35.6% of the global total in 2020. Those numbers are expected to reach 450 million and 43.6% in 2050.

Unlike the Western world, religious competition is transforming Africa, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal published in June 2023. Now 42% Muslim, sub-Sarahan Africa is expected by 2037 to have more Muslims than Islam's historical heartland of the Middle East and North Africa. (Pew Research Center)

Based on the Journal story, Christianity and Islam are the most practiced religions in Africa. 

Unlocked future

What needs to happen for Africa to realize an aspiring future? Research points to the following:

  • Make additional investments in human capital to improve health and reduce poverty.
  • Include young people in decision-making and give them appropriate education, work, and innovation opportunities.
  • Hold leadership accountable in all sectors--business, government, and nonprofits.
  • Keep growing intra-country trade and diversification of exports that meet current demands.
  • Continued religious freedom.

Overheard 

"What advice do you have on where to explore," asked the traveler.

"If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa--twice," was the reply. (R. Elliott)  



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01 January 2024

Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce


(C) Simply HR Inc.

"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it."

--George Orwell

What if the global pandemic's disruptive force is causing 2030 to arrive earlier than scheduled? Pairing that possible contraction with cultural, technical, and economic change moving faster helps explain why organizational life is so challenging. Too much too soon is another way to describe this moment. That's especially true when recruiting, developing, and retaining employees.

Recasting the workforce

A consequential labor trend worth attention is the decentralized workplace. Does this type of structure positively or negatively influence productivity, promotions, and corporate culture? Who occupies that space? And most importantly, what do different age groups think and value? 

"Millennials, a diverse and educated group born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 28 to 43 in 2024), are quickly becoming the most present population in the workforce and leadership roles," reports Inc. Magazine. "By 2030, all members of the baby boom generation, the only cohort officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau, will have reached the retirement age of 65, with an average of 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and then," Inc. adds.

At the end of this decade, though, there will again be a multi-generational workforce similar to the one we have now (Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, Generation Z). The silent cohort will nearly disappear, but the labor participation rate of the boomers, who are 75 and older, is projected to reach 11.7% in 2030. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

And as one observer noted, "The marketplace changes in tandem with employment trends."

A reason for optimism

How do we get to a 2030 workplace? 

To quote Socrates, "The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." 

Thinking ahead is a function of leadership. Which means setting aside time to consider a desirable outcome in hiring. Determining what's involved in attracting candidates to your business or nonprofit. Identifying what needs to be done, by whom, and when to get the right people in place. Be at the front instead of the back of the talent line.

Change requires stability. For that reason, Gen X (65.2 million) could provide ballast between the baby boomers (71.6 million), millennials (72.1 million), and Gen Z (69.5 million) (U.S. Census Bureau population estimates) 1

Gen X, 33% of the current U.S. workforce, born between 1965 and 1976 (ages 44 to 59 in 2024), is indispensable to a workplace transformation. Research among Gen Xers shows a strong work ethic, communication skills, and problem-solving ability. More than baby boomers, they will hand over executive and senior management responsibilities to millennials and Gen Z as 2030 approaches. 

Passing the torch

As 70% of leadership development is getting the right experience, Gen X leaders are the ones to prioritize millennial and Gen Z opportunities, enabling them to learn and grow, often from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Hardships build character.

Since the Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum created the first organizational chart in 1854, the failure of management to set clear expectations around performance has kept productivity unnecessarily low and employees from being fully accountable for how work gets done. 

Great supervisors make a difference in the unfolding of one's career. That job is vital in communicating expectations and giving everyone real-time feedback, especially tech-literate millennials and Gen Z, who are racially and ethnically diverse and the most highly educated generation.  

More than a third of U.S. companies have abandoned traditional annual performance appraisals and replaced them with an increase in frequent conversations between managers and employees. (Harvard Business Review)

Demographics--a cautionary tale

Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, believes we should be careful about reading too much into generational headlines:

1. Generational categories are not scientifically defined. The boundaries that place one person in Gen Z and another in the millennial generation are not precise or universally agreed upon.

2. These generational labels can lead to stereotypes and oversimplification. All millennials and baby boomers are not the same, just as all Southerners, all Catholics, or all Black Americans are not the same. Shared experiences and identities should be recognized but not at the expense of individuality.

3. Discussions about generations often focus on differences instead of similarities. Conflict gets more attention than consensus, with media overstating the divide between younger and older generations. Think about your family relationships. We're more alike than not.

4. Conventional views of generations can carry an upper-class bias. Popular history recalls that Baby Boomers in the 1960s and '70s were deeply opposed to the Vietnam War. However, many high-quality surveys at the time showed that younger Americans – most of whom were not attending college – were more supportive of the war than older generations who had lived through previous conflicts.

5. People change over time. Don't assume that what you see today, you'll see tomorrow. People change as they grow older, pursue careers, and form families. Generational signals can sometimes be long-lasting, but youth itself is not permanent. 

Under the corporate arc 

With innovation and technology always in play (AI going mainstream) and demographic transitions in progress, what's a reasonable way for leaders to think about 2030?

A study by McKinsey & Company, Organizing for the Future, provides direction. The published findings suggest clarifying corporate principles to achieve the desired end. 

Where to focus?

Who we are: Strengthen identity, setting purpose in motion. Use culture to differentiate in recruiting, positioning, and execution of strategy.

How we operate: Flatten structure and speed up decision-making. Many decisions require less than half the steps executives imagine necessary. Treat talent as scarcer than capital.

How we grow: Cooperate internally and collaborate externally. Future-ready organizations see partners as extensions of themselves. A substantial amount of value in organizations is linked to as few as 25 to 50 roles. That's enough to accelerate learning and spread authority and responsibility across a larger platform.

Add to the McKinsey list--

Who will work, and how: A projected employment of 165 million awaits. More women than men; shorter work weeks--same pay; hybrid locations for the office class, with holographic meetings the next new thing. Even with more AI-driven automation, humans will likely be the principal source of ideas and inspiration. 

Finding common ground

By 2030, a rebalanced multi-generational workforce will be in place, with each individual having the potential to make a unique contribution to group purpose.

A reasonable course for Gen X is facilitating a promising outcome through organizational renewal, clarifying corporate character, and tapping baby boomers' experience before they walk out the door. Engage in this process, knowing millennials, Gen Z, and others will decide what they want to do and who they want to be.

The previous thirty-six months revealed that many enterprises are designed for a world "passing from sight." In that sense, the contagion carried with it a warning for some and possibilities for others--as different and better ends await those who prepare now for a future that's near.


1 "Generations" defined by Pew Research Center: Generation Z, Born after 1996**; Millennial, born 1981 to 1996, age in 2024: 28 to 43;; Generation X, born: 1965 to 1980, age in 2024: 44 to 59; Baby Boomer, born 1946 to 1964, age in 2024: 60 to 78; Silent Generation, born: 1928 to 1945, age in 2024: 79 to 96  **No chronological endpoint has been set for this group.

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01 December 2023

In the Presence of Greatness

"Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our own souls, our influence is determined by the quality of our being." 

--Dr. Dale E. Turner

Frances Hesselbein, Dr. Edgar Schein, and Harvy Thomas distinguished themselves and were genuinely eminent. It's a privilege to have known and worked with each one. These short tributes pay homage to their character, humility, and wisdom.

Frances Hesselbein
November 1, 1915 - December 11, 2022 (aged 107)

In looking for a speaker to address the topic of "mission," the obvious choice was Frances Hesselbein. Ms. Hesselbein came to our attention from her turnaround of Girl Scouts USA and work with the Peter Drucker Foundation. 

"She was incredibly focused on the Girl Scouts' mission," said Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent leadership coach and a friend of Ms. Hesselbein's. "She came up with a model called 'Tradition With a Future,'" Goldsmith added. 

Ms. Hesselbein set out to diversify the membership. She added management training for its volunteers and paid staff. She hired Halston and Bill Blass to design new uniforms. She added activities for the girls steeped in math, science, and technology.

The overhaul worked. 

Membership rose to 2.3 million in 1990, according to Businessweek. Recruitment efforts increased minority membership to 15.5 percent. Ms. Hesselbein launched a project to help scouts learn about as many as 95 career opportunities and started programs in telecommunications and marine biology designed to be done at home or at troop meetings.

In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. The citation read in part, "With skill and sensitivity, Frances Hesselbein has shown us how to summon the best from ourselves and our fellow citizens."

Her message about the mission was clear--know what it is, live it, repeat it often, and include everyone in its knowledge. 

Across eight decades of service, Frances Hesselbein was inspiring to children, youth, and adults. And paved the way for more women (though still not enough) in leadership.

Edgar Schein, Ph.D.
March 5, 1928 - January 26, 2023 (aged 94) 

It was a long shot, but in 2007 we called Dr. Edgar Schein, the Society of Sloan Fellows professor of management emeritus at MIT and the recognized "father" of organizational culture, inviting him to join a restructuring project with our consulting firm.

Dr. Schein, who has written over three dozen management books, including the best-selling Organizational Culture & Leadership, took a week to consider the request. He called back, agreeing to consult if it could be done by phone.  

Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, Dr. Schein brought common sense and experience to the three-year assignment, always with a sense of realism and encouragement. 

Early on, he focused on getting a client to state the problem broadly since the exact problem may be obscure. As a process consultant, Dr. Schein said that our understanding of the matters in question improves with new insights, different perspectives, and time. 

A trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to wrap up our work with Dr. Schein was memorable, exhausting various topics while enjoying homemade brownies. 

After the engagement, Dr. Schein would write occasionally. He is missed, as are his short notes. However, those personally signed books in our library are frequently referenced for his thoughts.

Harvey Thomas, CBE
April 10, 1930 - March 13, 2022 (aged 82)

I met Harvey Thomas at a conference in London. Harvey knew how to capture an audience's attention through his many gifts--humor among them. I recommended him to a client who used Harvey's talents in their leadership circles. 

His teaching centered on this principle--"If they didn't hear it, you didn't say it." Responsibility for communication rests with the leader. 

Between 1960 and 1975, Harvey worked for the Rev. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. During that time, he organized Graham's world tours and massive rallies, including one in Wembley Stadium in 1965 that attracted over 100,000 worshipers. 

Using the skills and experiences he honed under Graham, Harvey first became an international public affairs consultant. He then worked for the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's leadership, helping the party transform its communications strategy and win three general election campaigns. 

It was during this role that Harvey was caught up in the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton by the IRA in October 1984. The huge bomb exploded in the room below Harvey's, resulting in Harvey being blown one floor up before crashing three floors down. He became trapped on a steel girder, topped by tons of debris and with water from burst pipes gushing past him in total darkness. 

According to doctors, Harvey's bulk saved him; a smaller and thinner person would not have survived the impact. The press reported that it was his "irrepressible nature" that a major bomb blast couldn't stop him from leaving the hospital only hours after he was rescued to continue with the party conference he had helped to organize. 

Many years after the bombing, Harvey contacted the bomber, Patrick Magee, and over time, the two became unlikely friends, with Harvey forgiving Magee, as required by his Christian faith.

In 1990, Thomas, who became a favorite with my client, was awarded the CBE--Order of the British Empire, by Prime Minister Thatcher for his distinguished service to the head of government of the United Kingdom.

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01 November 2023

Learning to Be Grateful

"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."

--Lucius Annaeus Seneca

(C) Guideposts

What does it mean to be grateful? 

The dictionary says, "Gratefulness is a 'state' or quality of being grateful that can provide a deeper, more unconditional, and robust experience of gratitude." 

Unlike gratitude, gratefulness does not require waiting for outside circumstances to conform to our desires. It isn't positive thinking. Gratefulness is consciously choosing to adopt a grateful orientation to life--no matter what happens. (Grateful Living)  

Almost eight in ten U. S. adults regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness, although women (84%) are more likely than men (72%) to exhibit that pattern of behavior. (Pew Research Center) 

Kristina Karns, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the University of Oregon, posted on Conversation.com, "When you're grateful, your brain becomes more charitable."

Generosity ("the virtue of giving to others freely and abundantly") is a value that builds on gratefulness and gratitude. 

Joshua Becker, writing on the Becoming Minimalist website, says, "Every study ever completed on the personal effects of generosity tells us the same thing: Being generous is one of the quickest paths to happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction."

Motivating forces to give

Giving USA estimates for 2022 show Americans gave $499.33 billion to charitable organizations, a 3.4% decline compared to 2021. Adjusted for inflation, the total declined 10.5%.

Once again, giving by individuals led the way with 64% or $319.04 billion, a decrease of 6.4%. Foundations gave 21% or $105.21 billion, an increase of 2.5%. Bequests accounted for 9% or $45.60 billion, a 2.3% increase. Corporations gave 6% or $21.08 billion, a 3.4% increase over 2021.

Religion (almost exclusively congregations) received $143.57 billion or 27%, the largest of any category, with a 5.2% increase over 2021. Human Services took in $71.98 billion of the total. Education, which fell to third place for the first time, received $70.07 billion or 13% of charitable giving, a decrease of 3.6%.

A person's attendance at a house of worship is the single best indicator of overall charitable giving, religious and secular. Those who attend frequently, at least two or three times a month, are three times more generous than those who attend less often or not at all. (The Lake Institute)

Generosity is an expression of faith.

The median income of the nation's churches is up nearly 42% from three years ago. From the Spring of 2020 to the Spring of 2023, church median income in the U.S. increased from $120,000 to $170,000. "Even adjusting for inflation, that still represents a remarkable increase of over 25% since 2020," said Scott Thumma, Ph.D., who directed the EPIC and Faith Communities Studies.

That same report shows the more a church emphasizes online and electronic giving, the greater their per capita income. Additionally, the greater the in-person over virtual ratio, the larger the per capita giving. In-person attenders gave $2,479 per capita compared to $1,053 from their virtual counterparts.

A cloudy forecast for some

Here are charitable giving trends worth watching--

-Fewer Americans are donating to charity. It was 80% in 1980 and now 50% in 2022. That amounts to 20 million fewer donations and a retention rate of around 43%. (Bre Alexander, iWave) 

-A growing number of U.S. adults are less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion. Three in ten say they have no religious affiliation. Four in ten Millennials make that claim. (NORC-AP)

-There's top-heavy philanthropy in America. Wealthy donors are giving less to charities that serve the public and more to institutions trying to solve big problems. Just six donors represented 5% of all giving in 2022. (Winkler Group)

-And there's more competition for nonprofit donor dollars with over 450,000 new 501 (c) (3)'s in the past decade. 

An uneven distribution of wealth

Baby Boomers, 73 million, with the youngest turning 60 and the oldest 80, are preparing for the most significant wealth transfer in U.S. history. 

The New York Times suggests that they are leaving behind liquid assets, homes, or not much at all. The upper strata of Boomer households will turn over millions in cash, securities, and billions in various investments.

In 1989, U.S. family wealth totaled $38 trillion. At the end of 2022, that had tripled to $140 trillion, half of which is held by the Baby Boomers. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down to Millennials and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred in the next decade. (Federal Reserve)

The wealthiest 10% of households will be giving and receiving most of the riches. Within that range, the top 1%--which holds about as much wealth as the bottom 90% and is predominantly white--will determine where the broadest share of money goes. A more diverse bottom 50% of households will account for only 8% of the transfers. (Federal Reserve)

"Giving while living" is a philosophy of wealth promoted by Charles Feeney, the billionaire founder of Duty-Free Shoppes. Feeney, whose biography, The Billionaire Who Wasn't, #2 on the best-selling philanthropy book list, and who passed in October of this year, felt more should be done while the principal donor is still alive. Feeney's obituary said he practiced what he preached, giving away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune to charity "as quietly as it was made."

Where to begin

Lessons from a trove of development experiences are available to help nonprofits improve. 

Capturing some of the best thinking:

1. Be able to explain to a variety of audiences in clear and understandable terms what your mission is, who it serves, and how it's different. And why it deserves funding.  

2. Show others how they can be part of the cause. It's not necessary to always talk about needs. Let donors know how they can belong and play a heroic role in fulfilling the charity's goals. 

3. Donor surveys show the importance of high regard for the organization's leadership. When they have confidence in those people to perform, gifts follow.

4. People whose lives are being helped tell the story best. Testimonials are more authentic and credible from those benefiting from your outreach and compassion.

5. Mobile technology, social media, and websites communicate the latest information with donors and make giving easy. Electronic and online giving are essential for multi-generational contributions. A.I. and ChatGPT are on the way, too. 

Ultimately, though, giving is more about human than scientific knowledge. 

6. Remember the base. Know who they are and keep them close. Be sure to say "thank you" for each dollar given. 

Broaden the base through donor referrals, ensuring adults 65+ are included in that recruitment. They have time, money, and knowledge to share. Teaching kids to be generous is an investment in their and society's future. Involve them, too.

7. There's a 100% correlation between didn't give and wasn't ask. It's okay to ask for a gift. If you don't, those funds will likely go somewhere else. 

A grateful heart

Attorney John Kralik, a University of Michigan graduate, had come to the end of the line. His small law firm was failing. He was estranged from his daughter. Had gone through a painful second divorce. He was overweight and alone in a small apartment where he froze or baked, depending on the season.

One day, he thought he should not be thinking about what he didn't have and be grateful for what he had. His book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, tells how Kralik was inspired by a thank you note he received for sending a Christmas gift. Could that simple expression of gratitude be his way out of a miserable existence?

So John Kralik started writing thank you notes. Not just a few. Or a dozen. He wrote 365 thank you notes, one for each day of the year. 

As the notes went out, his life began to turn around. There was financial gain. Improved personal relationships. Weight loss. An appointment to a California judgeship. And most of all, inner peace.

As to being in a place of unconditional order, John Milton wrote: 

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."

 As we enter the holiday season, may the truth of Milton's prose be a gift to all.


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01 October 2023

Minding the Corporate Culture Gap

 "Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy."

--Howard Stevenson

(C) LinkedIn

If you were in any one of the 2,750 railway stations across the U.K. during King Charles III Coronation Weekend, 5-7 May 2023, you likely heard the monarch himself in a specially recorded message to "mind the gap," when boarding trains on the British Rail System and the Underground tube network.

"Wherever you are traveling, we hope you have a safe and pleasant journey. And remember, please mind the gap," Charles added.

Reuters reported that this famous phrase, the British version of the American admonishment to "watch your step," was intended to warn passengers about the gap between the train carriage and the platform. 

New norms for the office class

In his book, The Fifth Discipline, published in 1990, Peter Senge, Ph.D. wrote that it takes a powerful force to break a vicious cycle. Thirty years in advance of unprecedented nationwide lockdowns, was Dr. Senge foretelling a global pandemic reshaping in-person office work, and altering corporate cultures? 

Who could have imagined 36 months ago a coronavirus or AI would make it possible to consider normalizing a 32-hour workweek. Or that almost one billion square feet of empty office space would be on the market in the U.S. alone due to overbuilding and worker safety.

As of July 2023, 59% of full-time employees are back to being 100% on-site, while 29% are in a hybrid arrangement and 12% are completely remote, according to new data from WFH Research. 

Even Zoom is making people return to the office.

Pre-pandemic, just 5.7% of the nation's workers worked remotely. That 2019 baseline figure indicates a rapid normalization of virtual environments. (CNBC) 

"Research shows that a solid majority of knowledge workers want flexible arrangements after the pandemic. Company leaders face the challenge of reimagining their culture for a world where rituals and ceremonies enacted in the office are inaccessible," says Pamela Hinds and Brian Elliott. (Organizational Culture, Harvard Business Review, February 2021)

Those negotiations also include receiving the same pay and benefits for less time. *

How to imagine again?  

What is corporate culture?

Dr. Edgar H. Schein was a social psychologist who moved easily between academic theory and the practical sides of organizational life. A professional acquaintance, Dr. Schein was the Society of Sloan Fellows professor of management emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His contributions to the understanding of corporate culture were groundbreaking and a lasting legacy.

Dr. Schein's book, Organizational Culture, and Leadership proposed that culture can be analyzed on three levels:  

Artifacts--the constructed environment of an organization including its architecture, technology, office layout, dress code, visible or audible behavior patterns, and public documents like employee orientation and handbooks. They are easy to collect but difficult to interpret. 

Values--the reason and/or rationalizations for why members behave the way they do.

Assumptions--typically an unconscious pattern that determines how group members perceive, think, and feel. While mostly taken for granted they are the ultimate source of values and actions.

"It is the deeply held assumptions and values that lie below the waterline but profoundly shape behavior on a day-to-day basis," says MIT lecturer Donald Sull. 

A company's culture includes the qualities that set it apart from other organizations. A well-defined culture attracts the kind of talent that prioritizes shared values. The potential outcomes are greater employee engagement, productivity, and talent retention. (Indeed) 

"In addition, it is a place where there are clear and consistent processes and healthy conflict management balanced with adaptability, learning, and the ability to shift as necessary for customers and the market," writes Tracy Bower, Ph.D., in Forbes. She adds, "A perfect match with culture is more important than particular attributes of the culture."

An opening between two things

In a new Gallup survey, more people who work from home say they don't feel a connection to the mission of their companies. A gig-worker mentality increasingly describes the current remote work environment.

The share of remote workers who said they felt a connection to their organization's purpose fell to 28% from 32% in 2022--the lowest level since before the pandemic. The findings are from interviews with 9,000 U.S. workers whose jobs can be done remotely.

By contrast, the same Gallup report shows that a third of full-time office workers reported a sense of connection, nearly the same as last year. Hybrid workers reported the highest connections with 35% saying their company's mission made them feel their jobs were important. (The Wall Street Journal)

Gallup found that 38% of people who work remotely full- or part-time are engaged, and enthused about their work, compared with 34% of in-office workers.

"Conflicting metrics show bosses don't have any easy answers as they provide flexible working arrangements yet fret about worker productivity," says Lindsay Ellis who covered this story for the Journal.  

Narrowing the gap

What should leadership be doing to create a corporate culture that transcends time and space?

Here are the main points from the Harvard study:

The first hurdle is acknowledging that culture can no longer be forged in the same way as it was in the office-centric model. 
 
Be explicit and repeat often about the purpose and meaning of the organization. 

It's not that company culture somehow goes away in a remote or hybrid context. Cultural beliefs and norms are still being created and reinforced, but they're not being guided by systems and routines that were previously established in the office. They're more open to change and subject to influences from new, non-work factors present in employees' day-to-day lives. 

Culture is evolving despite being remote and that organizations need to invest a substantial amount of time and energy into keeping their cultures on track or steering them in new directions. Organizations that fail to do the deep work required to rethink the transmission of company culture may well have unpredictable results.

Leaders can do nothing; work to craft new ways of reinforcing the existing culture; or capitalize on the shift to remote work to profoundly reset the culture. 

In summary

Corporate culture, understood and employed correctly, is a powerful force. Though the ideal culture can be different for different people. 

Institutional knowledge is lost due to staff turnover, retirement, and death. Therefore, generational culture carriers are required to make the relevant historical artifacts, values, and assumptions--especially the organization's character--known to new people. 

Cultures have difficulty recovering from neglect. And widespread contagions don't help.

However you decide to address the realities of this remote work--corporate culture predicament, there's a lot at stake. So watch your step. 



*In its Stand Up Strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Jeep, and RAM trucks), the United Auto Workers is seeking a new contract calling for 32 hours of work with a 40% pay increase over three years.


Strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co. 





01 September 2023

Unambiguous Leaders Are Rare

"The enemy of accountability is ambiguity."

--Patrick Lencioni 

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What does it mean to be personally ambiguous when you're in a position of responsibility?

And why are unambiguous leaders hard to find?

Before pursuing that last thought, let's begin with a definition of ambiguity to determine its opposite. Dictionaries define ambiguity as "any concept, idea, statement or claim whose meaning, intention, or interpretation cannot be definitively resolved." 

Put simply, it means being vague or uncertain.

Writer Don Hermann explains that the "lack of clarity in communication, mission, and vision is nothing less than a productivity and performance killer. In short, ambiguity does nothing more than destroy profitability while protecting ineffective leaders."

Hermann underscores that ambiguity is not a leadership value--but dealing with ambiguity is. Facing uncertainty and lacking complete information is an ever-present reality. Gathering more data doesn't reduce or resolve ambiguity. At some point, hesitation only postpones critical choices, making them harder to implement. 

Our decisions will ultimately be a judgment call based on our values.

Yuval Levin reminds us that to govern is to make hard choices with incomplete information. "The pandemic shows there are no purely technical solutions for problems that demand political leadership," he says.

A study by Alexander Batsuk at Deloitte illustrates that skillfully dealing with ambiguity can help a leader succeed. "This quality deals with situations with limited information and uncertainty of outcomes in the absence of clear direction.

"On the other hand, those who lack in this area simply get paralyzed by uncertainty. A large part of the problem is social acceptance. We want to be respected by others and be perceived as fitting into the surrounding community. When you're ambiguous, there is the possibility of sounding 'neutral.' When you're clear, there is a possibility of being wrong. And who wants to be wrong," Bastuk concludes.

Observers of management behavior say that those who do their best to avoid personal ambiguity have the characteristics of honesty, decisiveness, competence, and being apolitical to the extent possible.

When Confucius says, "The moral virtue of the king is like the wind, and that of the people is like grass: whichever way the wind blows, the grass bends," he is trying to teach something about the importance of the leader's moral character. (Oxford University Press)

So why are unambiguous leaders rare? 

The answer correlates with a high percentage of the populace having low levels of self-awareness; many need help knowing who they are or what they believe.

In a series of surveys, 95 percent of respondents identified as self-aware, but only 10 to 15 percent were. 

Three reasons were given for this disconnect. First, we have blind spots. We're wired to operate on autopilot, unaware of how we're behaving and why. There's also the feel-good effect--we're happier when we see ourselves in a more positive light. That last trait is a "cult of self" courtesy of social media. (Insight, Currency Publishers) 

Oxford Languages defines self-awareness as "conscious knowledge of one's character, feelings, motives, and desires."    

Here's another perspective.

"Put simply, self-aware people can interpret their actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively," says Executive Coach Meredith Betz. "It's a rare skill as many of us spiral into emotion-driven interpretations of our circumstances. Self-awareness is important because it allows leaders to assess their growth and effectiveness and change course when necessary," Betz adds.

Conversely, those with low self-awareness fail to hold themselves accountable, are dismissive of others, refrain from thinking through their actions, and tend to be judgmental. (PsychCentral.com)

Why or what?

One way out of the internal and external self-awareness dilemma is to switch from asking, "Why don't I speak up at meetings?" to "What can I do to overcome my fear of speaking up?" Psychologists say that "why" questions tend to deepen our negative thoughts. "What" questions move us toward particular outcomes. 

"Thinking about why one is the way one is may be no better than not thinking about oneself at all." ((J. Gregory Nixon and William Swann)

Beware experience and power

Studies show that people only sometimes learn from experience. And just as experience can lead to a false sense of confidence about our performance, it can also make us overconfident about our self-knowledge. The more power a leader holds, the more likely they will overestimate their skills and abilities. (Tasha Eurich, Harvard Business Review)

Professor James O'Toole suggests that as a leader's power grows, their willingness to listen shrinks, either because they think they know more than their employees or because seeking feedback comes at a cost they are unwilling to pay.

***

Therefore, understanding the rarity of unambiguous leaders leads us to a profound truth. Being unequivocal with others means first being unmistakable with ourselves.


Strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co.


  

 




01 August 2023

Summer Sabbatical

(C) The Retirement Manifesto

To our readers:

I am taking time off to work on a book project. Therefore, Strategist Post will resume on 1 September 2023. 

Consider searching the Post archives by clicking on the link below.

www.StrategistBlog.com

Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable summer. 

Russ Bredholt, Jr.