Have you heard of the term being “dollar ready”? I recently engaged in a conversation with a business person and he said that their organisation was not employing people who were not “dollar ready”. They would employ skilled people from overseas rather than employ juniors or graduates, because they did not provide the dollars on day one.
This attitude is not shared by all businesses; however, the term “dollar ready” is evocative language. It does make you sit up and take notice, especially when you are aware of the youth unemployment trends in Australia.
Humans can disassociate. It is a powerful psychological mechanism that can help or hinder the human condition depending on the circumstances. One of the troubling trends in our society is that many leaders are dissociating from the consequences of their decisions on employees and society?
It is helping drive businesses to look at short term gain and not the long term. People fall by the way side. It is not the whole story; however, it is part of the story that needs to be understood.
Let me explain by way of analogy.
I always remember a tale that was told to me about Bessie the cow.
Bessie was a little calf that had lost her mother. She was brought up in the families’ back yard and had been hand fed by the farmer and his family.
When Bessie got too large for the backyard, she went out into the field with the rest of the herd. No one would consider ever killing Bessie.
Then one day the farm was sold and a new owner arrived.
Bessie no longer had a name. She was just a cow in the herd …classified as a return on investment (ROI.) How easy was it now for the new farmer to kill Bessie?
In the 1990’s there were very few women in senior positions in corporate Australia. As one of those corporate executive women, I wanted to understand why? I decided to do my own anecdotal research, which is not academically valid however has served me well during my career.
I asked one question to men, repeated in various ways, over the last 20 years. It was not a question you asked cold but a question that could be asked once rapport was built. It was “what men feared most about women in business?” What was amazing was that the themes were the same though expressed in different ways.
A consequence of a secret fear of failure.
Achilles Heel Syndrome (AHS) is a consequence of a secret fear of failure and due to modern day circumstances I believe it is becoming more prevalent.
AHS, although it is not a new concept, I don’t believe it is well understood. My aim therefore is to explain the concept, understand why it is becoming more prevalent and explore actions that organisations can take to reduce the incidence of AHS.
What is Achilles Heel Syndrome? (AHS)
I first discovered AHS when reading Petruska Clarkson’s book Achilles Heel Syndrome. The term Achilles’ heel is used when referring to one’s vulnerability and it is spawned from Greek Mythology.
Acknowledgement. The big “A” word is one of the most significant things we can do when managing people, yet how often do we consider its importance, forget about it or stuff it up completely? How often do we think about acknowledgement as the “big things”, like the awards night rather than all the “little things” that make up the tapestry of being valued? How often do we here people say, “It is just the little things”?
Why should this be important? It contributes to employee engagement. Aon Hewitt has completed a number of global studies and in 2014 results showed that 39% of employees are disengaged and that percentage is the same in the Asia Pacific region. Some experts are saying we are experiencing an epidemic of employee disengagement. Reasons outlined for employee disengagement are many. However poor communication, lack of feedback and poor HR practices are significant contributing factors. Employees being disengaged are high;
“Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.”Sep 23, 2013
Would you sell Bessie?
Have we as a society considered what the social and economic impacts will be to our society when both government and private companies continue to make employees redundant at the current rate of @ 400,000 employees a year? Of those employees being made redundant the redundancy packages will continue to get smaller due to tenure and hours of work thus reducing financial buffers? Financial stability is further eroded by unemployment or reduction in hours of employment. Social impacts, although significant are often masked by the fact that one person remains employed in a normally two income family. The family member most likely to be made redundant is the male, which in our society has significant ramifications. Is redundancy the easy option or is it time we rethink our options?
I will never forget when my boss Henry, the CEO of a division of CSR outlined my primary responsibility as his HR manager. He did so by telling me this story. Before he was CEO he managed a sector of the business, which was a rural based industry. He was told that he would have to make redundancies as the division wasn’t making enough money. He went home and told his wife and she said: “he was the boss and as the boss he had a responsibility to find another way”. Fortunately for the employees and their communities he negotiated to fast track a new product and acquired funding to build a new plant that was able to re-deploy employees. He said my responsibility was to challenge, to think outside the square and not to accept the easy option, as I was the voice of the employees as well as the company. This has not always been easy as the facts detail.
ICE is addictive and doesn’t solve our problems, so why do we persist?
People need to be paid adequately and fairly as the old adage says a “fair days work for a fair days pay. This is fundamental.
- What is not fundamental is, the remuneration system that promotes greed self-interest and short-term thinking. Interestingly, a complex and expensive executive remuneration industry has evolved over the last 25 years, which has an invested interest in ensuring their industry propagates.
- What is not fundamental is, rewarding people for outcomes that are beyond their control, irrespective of who they are.
- What is fundamental is, people become demotivated when forces beyond their control, impact on what they perceive their remuneration to be.
- What is fundamental is, Australians believe in fairness and our current remuneration gap is not perceived as fair and is widening significantly. In fact CEO’s salaries, of the top 50 ASX companies, since the GFC, are almost 100 times that of the average worker.
- What is fundamental is, Boards and Remuneration Committees on boards need to understand the research and what impacts on productivity in real terms, rather than following the trends and dare I say egos and self-interest.
The principle of ensuring both a High Tech High Touch philosophy in the digital age is a principle that will serve us well in both our personal and professional lives. It is too easy to centralise, computerise, analyse, digitalise and misplace the importance of human interactions. It is not an intentional strategy but an evolving one, as technology becomes more a part of our lives.
It became obvious to me how important this principle was, when I was having lunch at a riverside outdoor restaurant in Melbourne last year. A young couple with a baby, in a pram arrived and sat a couple of tables away from us. The parents pulled out a small computer, sat the baby upand turned the computer on for the baby to watch it. I was transfixed, so much for a casual lunch with my partner. The parents never interacted with the baby and the baby never made a noise. I actually could not help myself; I had to get up to see what the baby was watching, subtly of course. On the screen was colourful balls going up and down, up and down. What concerned me was what, impact the High Tech environment was having on the child without the balance of High Touch or human interaction. I realised it was only one dot point, however it provoked me to think, was it a mini fractal of what was happening in business today?
The Virus analogy is a useful framework to help people in organisations influence and accelerate the desired change. The principle is how you can infect as many people, as quickly as possible, so the change that is being introduced is effective and sustainable. The great storytellers are often those that use powerful imagery to provoke our imagination, and stimulate our curiosity so we continue to engage. I am not suggesting that the Virus analogy is a great story, however it can be used as a powerful image that can provoke the listener to continue to engage. I start most of my discussions on this topic by saying, “Just imagine an organization being infected by a host of positive virulent Viruses”. Curiosity is created as most people relate to Viruses as negative not positive. Consequently a window of opportunity is opened in the mind of the listener. This is an ideal position to commence the explanation of the analogy and give some tangible examples, of how it may be practically applied in the organisation. There are four key components of this simple analogy. Firstly those organizations in which we work, are less like the pyramidal structures that we create, by our organizational charts and our military hierarchies and are more like a community of cells on a petrie dish. (For those unfamiliar with the term; Petrie dishes are the small glass dishes used in research laboratories.) Organisations are like organisms.
As a part of my executive coaching practice, I understand just how important confidence is when achieving organisational and career goals. Competence in itself is not enough; Confidence is a critical enabler like a key is in a lock. Research shows that men and women in business are equally competent, however women are not as confident as men. Can you imagine the strategic advantage an organisation would have if all employees were both competent and confident? Investing in building confidence is a “smart and insightful “thing for organisations to do. There is much research into the subject as to the reasons why women are often less confident than men. From genetics, hormones, our evolutionary origins, or how we have been socialised. For example girls at school have been socialised and rewarded for being “good girls” studying hard and being polite. Boys on the other hand are more rambunctious, they tease each other they absorb more scolding and, in fact, according to research, they are criticized eight times more than girls. Boys therefore learn to be more resilient and more likely to let criticism wash over them. Consequently in the world of business, men are more likely to be socialized to have a competitive advantage. Whatever the reason it is hard to deny the impact confidence can have on individuals or organisations. In fact a survey of 200 senior women in America stated that the number one limiting factor for women was lack of confidence. So what is confidence? According to a leading psychologist Professor Richard Perry “confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action.” In my role as a coach I often have conversations with clients about this important topic of confidence. Often women believe they are confident but when you drill down they are not acting in a confident manner. An example may illustrate this point further. I had one client who was just a delight, totally capable, well qualified and she had a great breadth of experience. A position became available within the organisation that she was well qualified for however she was reluctant to do so because she did not believe she had all the skills to do the job. Sound familiar? In contrast, a male who reported to her was intending to apply for the position. As a part of our coaching session I explained that she was fitting the female stereotype. Those were:
- In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both.
- Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100% of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50%.