Marcus Buckingham believes some basic assumptions about work are simply no longer true in today’s business environment. He shares his insights in his latest book, Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, coauthored with Ashley Goodall.
Lie #1: People care which company they work for.
Many companies use their corporate culture as a recruitment tool. Although it is true that people will join a company for their projected culture, people will stay—or leave—because of the team they work with every day. Team members who truly care about one another and have each other’s backs create their own culture. Leaders who observe and understand what makes teams perform well, and then encourage that behavior in other teams, will create a stronger organization.
Lie #2: The best plan wins.
Executives spend months developing a strategic plan, getting it approved by the board, and then disseminating it through the entire organization. The more rigorous and detailed the plan, the longer it takes to develop—and during that extended amount of time, reality probably changes. Planning is a good way to scope a problem, but what leaders really need is intelligence. Smart leaders empower their frontline people to deal with situations immediately and then check in regularly to see how they can help. Buckingham’s research indicates that this method lowers turnover and improves productivity while it builds an intelligence system that outperforms a complicated planning system.
Lie #3: The best companies cascade goals.
It has been common practice for a CEO to have annual goals that are cascaded first to the executive team, then through each department structure, to the individual level. The problem? Things can change over a year—but fewer than 5 percent of people go back to look at the goals or recalibrate their need. Truth be told, goals work only if you set them yourself. Freethinking leaders know what they need to accomplish, take the responsibility to explain it to team members, and then set goals they can achieve. The best practice is to cascade meaning—not goals.
Lie #4: The best people are well rounded.
Companies spend time defining competencies they want employees to develop—and then spend more time trying to improve people’s weakest competencies. This practice creates employees with just-average performance. Freethinking leaders look for the skills that people do well and leverage those skills. High performers usually do something a little differently than others—and that difference, when used intelligently, can be a competitive advantage.
Lie #5: People need feedback.
Feedback is a tricky subject. On one hand, if you don’t give any feedback and ignore someone, it destroys them. On the other hand, if you approach someone saying you want to give them feedback, their brain pattern looks almost exactly like fight-or-flight brain waves. The person feels like they are being attacked. Many times, feedback isn’t helpful because it isn’t delivered in a way that helps the person learn how to change a behavior. When freethinking leaders see someone doing something that works, they ask the person what they think worked well and why. This line of questioning as a method of feedback serves as the learning moment. The interrogation of the action—good or bad—is the most important conversation.
Lie #6: People can reliably rate other people.
Forty years of research shows that ratings of the performance of others is more a reflection of the person doing the rating than the person being rated. We simply can’t rate other humans on things like strategic thinking, creativity, business knowledge, or overall performance. Accurate rating of other people’s performance takes a much deeper conversation based on observations—it’s not about selecting a number on a scale.
Lie #7: People have potential.
Of course people have potential. The danger comes in identifying certain people as high potential, because doing it presupposes that others are low potential. By creating these designations, we are deliberately not seeing 85 percent of our people. The truth is that everyone has potential—but we have never found a way to measure just how much potential they have.
Lie #8: Work-life balance matters most.
Work-life balance is a great aspiration, but it is important to remember that balance is stationary. So, if you feel like you are totally in balance, you are probably stagnant. The trick is to find activities that give you strength in work and in life, and then spend as much time as possible on those things. Of course, none of us can spend 100 percent of our time being happy. But if we are deliberate about spending time doing things that invigorate us, it lessens the chance of us burning out and increases the chance of us being happier and more productive.
Lie #9: Leadership is a thing.
The main thing Buckingham wants leaders to know about the power of human nature is that each human’s nature is unique. If we see this as a problem that needs to be fixed, that’s a shame. But if we make a home for the unique individuals, we can build work environments where people are seen and challenged to become a better version of themselves.
You may completely agree with what Buckingham has to say in this book, or you may question some of it. Either way, once again, he’ll give you something to think deeply about.
For more information on Marcus Buckingham, go to www.freethinkingleader.org