Welcome to our interview with Tom Cagley, Jr., Transformation Consultant and President at Tom Cagley and Associates. Tom is also the host of the popular Software Process and Measurement Podcast (SPaMCast) where he has interviewed hundreds of leading experts and practitioners.
Welcome Tom, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Forward Thinking Workplaces 2.0.
How can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive & find meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?
Tom: I gave a lot of thought to this, and it’s a great question. It’s a compound question, so we have to pull some of it apart.
The obvious answer is that where it’s appropriate, we should leverage ideas like servant management and servant leadership–the material that was originally popularized by Greenleaf back in the 70s–because realistically when people are engaged, they will have a significantly higher tendency to be innovative and creative. There are all sorts of literature on that kind of scenario.
Things that get people engaged are important because it pays off for the organization facilitating people to become more committed and innovative. But from an external point of view, leadership style and management style are important. Servant leadership and participative leadership, those are mechanisms to get people involved because frankly, they get people involved. Participative leadership styles attract followers, and when a person gravitates toward a leader, they are buying into the overall goal of that leader. Buying into a goal or goals facilitates pursuing that goal. So I think those are the relevant constructs.
The more natural answer to this question is that people need to be interested in order to be innovative, creative, and to learn. There’s a relationship between improving as an individual and their interest in the leader and the goal. The organization needs to want them to do that, i.e. servant or participative vs. autocratic management. At the same time, if individuals don’t buy into the goal, or aren’t interested in continually growing themselves, then I think they need to self-select to a different group. They need to opt out if that’s what’s important to the organization.
I think when you talk through the levels of this question, the organization needs to facilitate engagement by the way they manage. At the same time, those that are within that organization also need to decide to participate that way. Both have to happen to create this kind of workspace you are describing in your question.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Tom: You provide them with a goal that they can commit to and support. It’s important that they see the importance of what they’re doing and see how they can contribute to the overall goal attainment of that goal.
Getting back to the answer to your first question, it then becomes the whole idea of whether it’s servant or goal based leadership. There also has to be a strong central metaphor so that people can focus. There are all sorts of techniques to help people focus and get good performance. You can talk about things like the Pomodoro technique, Getting Things Done, and other mechanisms, at a tactical level. But I think it starts with a top-level goal and having people that want to attain that top level goal. The combination of the right goal and people are important to the organization in order for it to deliver value.
If you are a corporation, you have to stay alive. You have to satisfy your stakeholders and stockholders if you’re a public company. Those are absolute mandates. But if that’s the only reason for doing it, the only people who are going to get up in the morning to do that are the corporate bankers that buy and sell companies.
That’s not why Joe in IT or Betty who is a programmer gets up in the morning. They’re not coming to work for that. They’re coming to deliver value and to see how they can influence what the future is within the organization. That’s what gets them up in the morning. So that goal, whatever that goal is, has to resonate with the people that are building value.
What do people really lack and long for at work?
Tom: This was the hardest of all your questions. Obviously, it depends on the context. If we were to generalize broadly, I think people need to see that they can contribute and that what they do adds value. They need not only know that intrinsically, but there also has to be a feedback model that can continually allow them to understand what they’re doing. The feedback loop uses extrinsic feedback that helps feed their ego so that they know that they know they’re providing value.
We both know people that are internally motivated and can do a wonderful job and contribute to get the best performance. They’re finding what they want. The knowledge of what they long and lack for comes directly from themselves rather than from someone or something externally. But I think if we take that a step out, we can say they’re doing that because they found somewhere where the goal that they’re serving is something that intrinsically motivates them. And they get feedback that says that there’s value in what they’re doing, both internally and externally.
What is the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Tom: I think the most important question is, “How can I make you more effective?” The reality is if we want leaders to lead, we want them to be looking for ways of unlocking the maximum value from people. So I think they have to ask this question. They have to be looking for how they can unlock that potential. Furthermore, just looking isn’t enough.
What’s the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Tom: I’m not sure I have a simple answer to this question. I think in a little bit more palatable manner, they need to be asking, “Why?” Not why am I doing this specifically, but what is it I’m doing this for?
The why I’m looking for is the goal in the big picture of we’re attempting to solve with any specific piece of work. The answer will allow the asker to answer, “What value am I providing?” I think people always want to perform better if they know how the fit into the organizational value equation. If they know what they’re targeting, they can perform above and beyond. I know that’s a harder question for most employees and followers to ask a leader, but I believe it’s a critical question to ask.
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
Tom: Who are we serving? The reality is we—and I’m talking us as the big picture change agents—if we’re only doing it for ourselves, then I don’t think that we are serving the world as a whole correctly.
I think change agents need to be helpful. There is substantial data that suggests people who are helpful, are at the very least proto-servant leaders regarding the change we are attempting to facilitate. They can draw enough power to them so they can help influence change. The problem with that statement is, that power tends to accumulate and corrupt. When power accumulates, we can get to a point where we start serving ourselves instead of others. Therefore, the whole concept of servant leadership breaks down, and it is not as helpful to those around us.
How did our questions in this forum relate to the writing and podcasts that you do?
Tom: I have been reading and writing about different leadership and management constructs lately, so your questions dovetailed with the whole change work that we both do as change consultants.
Your questions helped me to extract pieces of what I’ve been writing about on in my blog and talking about on the podcast recently. As I was reviewing these questions over the last couple of days, I decided to go back and read my material to help me frame out the responses.
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