Collaborate The Right Way and Free Up 20% More Time

Collaboration is a great thing. It brings together diverse perspectives and experiences, helps us generate new ideas and can create breakthrough results. In highly matrixed organizations it seems to be just about the only way to get things done. As a matter of fact, research says collaboration has increased by more than 50% over the past 20 years.

Great, right? Actually, it’s not so great. Too many of us are collaborating too much and in the wrong ways. We see 5 key risks from too much collaboration.  Which of these are familiar to you?

  • Time sinks: Highly collaborative environments create a lot of extra meetings, phone calls and emails – which eat up a lot of time. One HBR article says that we’re spending about 80% of our time on these three activities.
  • Burn out: The good news is your highest collaborators – your uber-collaborators – can drive team performance more than all other team members combined. The bad news is people seen as the best sources of information and in the highest demand as collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. They are at higher risk to leave, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them.
  • Bottlenecks: Uber-collaborators can become seemingly indispensable to different groups or projects. Work just can’t get done and decisions aren’t made without their participation, insights and perspectives. They can then become decision or workflow bottleneck, as well.
  • Poorer work quality and speed. Multiple studies show that both suffer when people over-collaborate. But super high levels of collaboration have become the norm and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees on quality and speed.
  • Too few doing too much. Collaboration isn’t spread around enough. Up to 35% of value added collaboration comes from 5% of employees. 20% of your “star” performers are among your worst collaborators, i.e., they aren’t getting their results by collaborating. Only 50% of your top performers are also top collaborators.
What to do? Our next 3 articles will answer that question and give you new ideas on digging yourself out of these collaboration pitfalls.

Why Engagement Isn’t Just About Soft Stuff

Employee Engagement

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such soft stuff.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

  • Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
  • Engaged work groups show higher productivity, fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and are more profitable than disengaged work groups.  Their research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry. (Gallop statistics)

Now the question is. “What really drives engagement?” Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is that of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, Amabile and Kramer note, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly, this positive “’inner work life“ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress, and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

When was the last time you talked about any of this with your people? Probably not recently. Conversations with our teams are usually about financial results, how many deals are about to close, or where someone is in a project.

Next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the trail or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down on them.

Then ask yourself how you can bring more of of a sense of progress to the work and the workplace.

Make Your Team Smarter

Executive Team

Executives  and managers are an action-oriented group. That’s usually one of the characteristics that has made them successful. They see something that needs to be done and make sure it gets done. Unfortunately, when they’re working as a team, that drive for action makes the team do dumb things.


The dumb thing they do is jump right into solving the problem — identifying courses of action, recommending solutions, pushing to make a deadline.  But, wait, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?  Well, yes, but there is a better way to do it. You see by just jumping into solution-mode, the team often plunges into conflict because they never agreed on what the issue was they were trying to solve, never spent a few minutes setting up a process, and haven’t really vetted the reasonableness or effectiveness of a solution.  Then, it’s  well into the conflict before they realize that the reason for the conflict is that they are not all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of constructive conflict in teams. However, this type of conflict is an unnecessary time waster.


The drive for action often makes people feel like they’re ‘wasting time’ by spending time making sure everyone is on the same page about what the issue is, have criteria for successful solutions, and have put at least a small amount of structure around how we’re going to drive to solution. Actually, the exact opposite is true.  By doing some initial level-setting and planning early on, the likelihood that a team will come to the best solution and be able to implement it quickly is greatly increased.


Stepping back to move forward leverages everyone’s best thinking.  It makes the team smarter.

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance

Crystal Ball

I’m looking into the crystal ball…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the tarot card reader or crystal ball seer to know where our businesses and industries are headed?  What’s the next trend?  What needs will our customers have?  How do we keep our brand, products, and services relevant?

As leaders we are always balancing today and tomorrow — keeping one eye on the demands of today while keeping the other eye on the opportunities and threats of tomorrow.    That said, by just taking a few minutes a day we can keep that future in view, giving us the information and ideas that we can translate it into meaningful actions for our business today.

The following are some common sense ways to keep ourselves thinking about tomorrow while we’re making success happen today.  How many do you do on a regular basis?

  • Take a look at your company news releases on the intranet.
  • Follow an RSS feed, read blogs or trade journal articles about your industry
  • Follow an RSS feed, blog or trade journal about completely different industries than your own.  If you’re in healthcare, follow a high tech guru.  If you’re in biotechnology follow something from the hospitality industry.  You never know where a great idea will come from.  After all, 20 years ago who ever thought we’d listen to music and play games on our phones?
  • Read newspapers from emerging markets.  The internet makes it easy to access English language versions of many publications. You can also listen to the radio or podcasts.  I listen to the BBC a couple of times a week when I’m driving to and from meetings.  I’m always amazed by the completely different topics and regions of the world it covers compared to U.S.-based news.
  • Talk to someone younger than you.  Try to talk to someone a generation younger than you.  Their perspectives and insights, especially related to technology, will amaze you.
  • Go to a meeting where not everyone does what you do.  I always walk away with a much broader perspective when I have been at a meeting with people whose business or profession is completely different from my own.
  • Work through ‘what if’ scenarios about your business. Think of what’s highly probable and what’s less probable. Then develop ideas for how your company or team would address that scenario.  For example, what if someone came into the market who could deliver the same quality product at 1/3 the cost?  What if a new technology allowed people to access your product for free or a very low price?

The Future Leader

leadersI saw my in-laws recently and once again, I had a conversation with my father-in-law about how baffling new technology is to him and how he wants nothing to do with it.  Why?  Complexity.  There are too many options, too many things coming at you at one time and it changes too rapidly.

More and more the core of leadership is about the ability to understand and integrate complexity.  Let’s look at the world of work today:


  • Economic uncertainty persists. We are slowly moving out of recession but it’s still not clear how this economy is going to grow.
  • Breakneck technological advances. Facebook. Twitter. Ipad.  Need I say more.
  • Generational diversity. Four generations in the workplace with each bringing their own values and constructs about work, its place in our lives, and how it should be done.
  • Multiple work options. Full time. Part time. Contractors. Temporary.  Virtual.  Many working side by side under very different job arrangements.
  • We compete and collaborate globally. Our global economies are intertwined.  Populations in India and China are becoming more educated and wage equity is expected by the middle of this century.

What do leaders need to succeed in the complex world of work?

In this complexity, a leader needs to see the way forward for their organization and create an environment that leverages the opportunities brought by complexity.  As you develop future leaders, consider what our research points to as the five key abilities for successful future senior leaders.

  • The ability to foresee societal, political and industry trends. It’s not enough to know your industry or your business anymore.  Competition and innovation can come from anywhere.  The future leader needs to be a lifelong learner and insatiably curious about what is coming from a wide variety of sectors.
  • The ability to think strategically. The future leader needs to be able to integrate this information and ideas to create strategies that will lay a foundation for growth.
  • The ability to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy. Compelling is the key word here. Future leaders will need to engage a more diverse and dispersed workforce than ever before.
  • The ability to manage talent. Ideas, innovation, great products and great service will come from the talent in the organization. It is your competitive advantage.  It needs to be identified, developed and built just like any other key asset you have.
  • The ability to create a culture of accountability. People want to be associated with excellence.  They want to know that strong performance is viewed differently than just punching the clock.


Leadership Is A Relationship

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with leadership expert Michael Maccoby when he was asked the difference between leadership and management. He gave very simple, elegant response. “Management,” he said, “is a role. Leadership is a relationship.” Leaders are not leaders without followers. People don’t follow because someone has a title. They follow because a leader has created a connection to something in which they want to participate.

As we know, leaders’ relationships with their people are somewhat strained these days. Trust, a key part of any relationship, has been damaged by the financial crisis, the recession, corporate responses to the recession that were often necessary, but also very difficult. Rebuilding leadership trust and our relationships with those we work with is a critical component of engagement and for moving our companies forward in 2015.

If leadership is a relationship, how do we build real relationships at work? Not transactional relationships where we are focused on the tasks and activities needed to get work done but relationships where we are creating a work environment where the sum is greater than the parts.

In his book, The Trusted Advisor, David Maister discusses the trust equation, a formula for building sustained partnership with others. While he discusses the equation’s importance to business advisors, it describes the elements of trust that are key to real leadership.

The trust equation is:

Trust = C + R + I

C is credibility. Leadership credibility has two components. The first is how much your team believes your words and actions. The second is to what degree you have the know-how, experience or background to know what you are talking about. On the one hand it’s objective — do you have the ‘qualifications’ to be a leader. On the other hand it’s an emotional response. Do I perceive you as being believable? Do your actions reflect truthfulness? Do you have truthful intent? How many experiences have we all had over the past 18 months that made us question the truthfulness of those we considered leaders? What’s the lingering impact on our workplaces?

R is reliability. People need to know they can count on leaders, that the leader will walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders need to follow- through on promises and follow-up on commitments. There needs to be a sense of predictability and fairness in the way a leader approaches situations and people every single day. Otherwise, the relational bank account that funds trust goes into the red.

In the Trust Equation, I is intimacy or the ability create a personal connection. This does not mean that as a leader you need to share your private life or dwell on the private lives of your people. It means recognizing that work is a personal place and issues like career development, promotions, compensation, reorganizations, hiring and firing are intensely personal. As a leader, the willingness to have emotional honesty about these and other issues in the workplace increases the trust your team has in you and the commitment they have to your agenda.

Credibility, reliability and intimacy’s additive effect is mitigated by how much others perceive a leader is acting primarily out of self-concern. If others believe a leader building a ‘relationship’ primarily to serve his or her own interests — i.e., to advance his or her career, to manipulate a situation for advantage without regard to the goals, needs and struggles of others, to push off responsibility and blame others– trust is destroyed, the relationship is seen as disingenuous and engagement and commitment plummet.

As you look at engagement and commitment in your organizations this year, think about your own trust equation. To what degree have you developed a real relationship with your people?


Five Capabilities Mid-Level Leaders Need to Forge the Future

Mid-Level LeadersMid-Level Leaders — Senior Managers, Directors, Senior Directors — are the linchpin for creating results in most of our organizations. Their task is to interpret the company’s vision and strategy, create a localized vision and strategy for their organization, and then create the capacity for execution and results. The role of bridging the strategic and operational, vision and execution future needs with today’s pressing demands, and the expectations of senior leaders and the front line has always been challenging. In today’s environment of multi-generational workplaces, rapidly changing technology, increasing competition and an ambiguous economic climate it is even more so.

                  Our recent research has identified 5 critical capabilities
                 Mid-Level Leaders need to help their organizations forge the future:

Drive collaboration and break down silos. Creating an environment in which collaboration across work groups, departments, time zones and geographies occurs easily is essential for Mid-Level Leaders to succeed. Previous barriers to collaboration are quickly falling away thanks to the collaborative tools and technologies that seem to change daily. Mid-Level leaders should make creating a culture of collaboration and investments in technologies to facilitate collaboration a priority.

Manage talent. No one has a better view to the young talent in the organization than the Mid-Level Leader. Mid-Level Leaders should conduct talent reviews to create a broader understanding of the talent in the organization and to develop key talent early in their careers.

Drive performance and create a culture of accountability. In a workplace where more and more people collaborate and where talent is valued, differences in performance expectations come more clearly into focus for everyone. The Mid-Level Leader needs to establish standards for performance and create accountability for meeting those standards. Nothing destroys the desire to collaborate or the desire for strong performers to make an impact, than the knowledge that people aren’t held accountable for their performance, or perceptions of favoritism, or lack of equity.

Make Effective Decisions. Effective, efficient decision-making is a key role for Mid-Level leader, especially in an environment of collaboration and cross-functional integration. Mid-Level leaders need to think about how they can establish approaches that allow them to get broad input efficiently, weigh and balance that input, and use it to make decisions that drive the organization forward.

Engage and Retain Talent. Innovation, creativity, and excellence are what will propel success for American companies as global competition increases. Mid-Level Leaders need to truly embrace the thinking that “people are our greatest asset” and focus on engaging and retaining talent broadly. More often than not people come to work wanting to perform well and make a contribution. The more the environment engages their hearts and minds, the better that performance will be.

Tours of Duty

The AllianceReid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn has a new book, The Alliance. In the book, he and his co-authors, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh suggest we need to think of employment, engagement and retention in a whole new way.

Since lifetime employment not even a thought in people’s minds, Hoffman and his co-authors suggest that rather than thinking about employment as this open ended agreement that, in reality, can be terminated by either the employer or employee at any time, engage employees in tours of duty. The tour of duty is a ‘mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms between independent players.’ The book outlines three levels of tours.

Reed argues that the current employee and employer contract only contributes to a continued lack of trust. You can quit on me and I can let you go at any time. Tours of duty, on the other hand, set out explicit expectations and benefits (including helping to find a job elsewhere) for both the company and employee. This agreement promotes engagement because both sides are engaged in the agreement and both expect benefit from it.

It’s a thought provoking way to think about engagement. What do you think?





About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Big, Hairy Audacious Goals

Big, Hairy Audacious Goals

Many of you have just finished your annual goal setting process. Often, that includes creating at least a few big, hairy, audacious goals. We’ve all heard about the importance of these types of goals in motivating and engaging our workforce to achieve top performance. So, we create the goals and roll them out. However, to achieve top performance, there’s another step in the process. You need to break them down into bite-sized pieces.

In his blog for Harvard Business Review, Robert I. Sutton lays out the reasons for making those big, hairy goals not so big and hairy. He shares the story of a CEO who sets a really audacious revenue target for his company. The CEO then has the team break the goal down into a campaign that will make it not just possible but probable. When the team lists over 100 tasks, the fear and anxiety level is palpable. When they sort the list into easy and difficult tasks, it becomes apparent that more than half the tasks can happen in a few days. The stage is now set for a series of small wins that will create success.

Take a look at the big, hairy, audacious goals you’ve set for this year. Have they created motivation or fear or just apathy because they seem so out of reach? How can you break them down into bite sized pieces? What’s easy? What’s difficult? Knock off the easy ones. Get some small wins. Build the energy for tackling the more difficult ones.

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.