Yesterday I wrote about the first day at IBM Connect, an event that used to be called Lotusphere. I focused less on the content and more on what seemed to be a best practice in doing keynotes. Day two was particularly fascinating because they put up a string of speakers from partners and the focus was on how to make your life more rewarding and how to make employees more productive, happier and more loyal. Some incredible lessons were learned in this keynote, and I could likely make a graduate course out of it. Much of this was focused around the tools provided by IBM Kenexa, tools that enable a company to assess what makes employees more productive, more successful and more dedicated.
This was perhaps the most knowledge rich, incredibly beneficial, session I’ve ever attended. Seriously, this one session had enough content to inspire several graduate-level courses. In trying to summarize it, I was left with one very fascinating question about the overall usage of the tool, which I will discuss below.
One big thing I walked away with was, if I were looking for a job as an employee or particularly a manager, I’d look for firms that use a tool like Kenexa to manage their employees and avoid those that used forced ranking like the plague. The reason: You’ll have a better, more successful life.
In attempting to summarize all that I learned, I simply couldn’t keep up, so please excuse me for filling the gaps with my own experiences and knowledge. Fortunately, I have a lot of training specifically in these areas.
The first segment was on knowing yourself. This was a passionate recommendation that we try to understand what makes us tick, and what drives our passion. We are our most important person; happy, motivated, and excited to get up in the morning. The argument was well founded on the belief that if you know what the magic formula is that will optimize your life, you’ll have a better life overall. I personally think this is why so many people live unhappy lives at all levels of income. They are working at a job they hate, they have acquired wealth but given up their passion to get it, and they feel trapped in a world of their own making. That is a living hell.
If you take the time to inventory the things that make you happy, excite you, and turn your life into a heaven rather than a hell, you can better plan your career to optimize for happiness. If you’re happy, you’ll help make those around you happier and your hell will become heaven. If you look at the people you know who are really happy at any income level, you’ll find that they’ve found what they enjoy doing and are doing it. Those who are unhappy didn’t find that path. Find the path; it’s worth the effort.
The next talk was on finding that one thing that makes the company special and optimizing for it. What are the talents that define the leaders who are doing good work and those who are underperforming? This was basically a case study from AMC, which used the Kenexa tool to optimize its work force. After deploying the tool to identify success factors, the company then hired and promoted based on those criteria. The result was an increase in profit by 18 percent, engagement went from under 60 percent to over 70 percent, and the theaters that had the highest scores for successful staff execution and alignment were also the most successful. Competitive charts showcased that after they implemented the program, the gap between competitors, all showing the same films AMC is showing, started to widen, with AMC in the lead. By better managing the employees and managers against known success factors, AMC not only improved bottom-line performance by double digits, it also improved the company competitively by a significant margin.
The sad thing for me in watching this is that much of my first degree was spent with a passion for this concept—the idea of managing employees in a very similar fashion as defined by decades of research. However, shortly after I graduated, concerns about discrimination killed virtually all of these efforts and employee reviews and advancements shifted to methods that were far more subjective. Programs like forced ranking were implemented instead, and U.S. firms seemed to hit a wall in terms of creativity and innovation. It appears that efforts like Kenexa are restoring a scientific method to employee management. That will result in far more successful firms and, more importantly, far more happy and, pulling a term from my own past, actualized employees, which will help drive a happier, better and even smarter planet.
Wrapping Up: Dilbert
The closing speaker for this section was Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, a cartoon that is both funny and describes many of the worst managers I’ve worked for and companies that I’ve studied in a way that is hilarious until I remember it mirrors some of my own experiences. He talked about a number of things, but one of the most memorable and pertinent was that knowledge is more important than willpower. His example was dieting. If you learn about food, you’ll understand how to make smarter choices and why cravings work so you can deal with the fundamentals of why you are overweight. You can figure out physical activity that you enjoy as exercise as opposed to what you think you should do to work out. Your food choices will get smarter, your exercise choices will be smarter (his example was running, which hurts, vs. walking the dog, which you may enjoy and find less painful), and your success will be more insured.
It amazes me how many of us seem to avoid information and then wonder why something doesn’t work out. We want someone to tell us the answer and we often don’t care about the analysis that created it, but then we are surprised that the result sucks.
This was perhaps one of the richest and most valuable keynotes I’ve ever attended. I was left with one thought: How many folks at IBM actually follow the practices this session highlighted and actively use the tools this session recommends? I think the answers behind that question, whatever they are, would make for an interesting book.