Hindu Fable: THE FOWLER AND THE PIGEONS*

Posted by jlubans on May 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Saheb Ram Tudu, 2011.

On the banks of the (Godavari River) there stood a large Silk-cotton-tree to which the birds came at night from all quarters to roost.
Now, on a certain night, when the moon was setting behind the western hills and the night was nearly over, a Fowler came and spread his net under the Silk-cotton-tree, scattered a few grains of rice on the ground, and hid himself at a short distance.
At this moment the King of the Pigeons, named Speckle-Neck, chanced to be passing through the sky with his companions, and caught sight of the grains of rice.
Now, all Pigeons are very fond of rice. Nevertheless, the King of the Pigeons said to his companions:
"How is it possible for rice to be lying on the ground in this un-traveiled forest?
We will inquire into this, of course, but we do not like the look of it. Love of rice may lead to our ruin. We must be very careful."
"Oh, it's all very well to talk of being careful!" rejoined a young
and foolish Pigeon.
"Being too careful may cost us a good dinner."
At this all the Pigeons flew down to feast upon the rice, and were
promptly caught in the net.
Immediately they all began to blame the young Pigeon whose thoughtlessness had led them into trouble.
But when King Speckle-Neck heard their reproaches he said:
"Do not let us quarrel and blame one another; but let us work together and find some remedy.
Listen and I will tell you what to do:
At one and the same moment and with one purpose we must all rise up under the net and fly off together, net and all.
For even small things have great strength when they work together.
Even a furious Elephant can be bound with ropes of twisted grass if there are enough of them."
Upon considering this advice the other Pigeons thought it good, and decided to follow it.
Accordingly, all together at the same moment they flew upward and bore away the net with them.
The Fowler, who was still hiding at a distance, followed them for a time; but presently the Pigeons and the net passed out of sight, and he had to give up the chase.
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While they are on a roll, let’s hope a wee mousie comes by and gnaws through the net, freeing the pigeons.
An unusually rich fable, it displays foolish “group think”, ignored wisdom and then, wisdom embraced, and, finally, a lesson on cooperation learned for another day – we hope.
In the workplace or just about anywhere, ignoring something simply too good to be true is a human condition; it is ever with us.
When we want something so badly we can taste it, out the window flies our natural wariness.
Why, unlike these pigeons who realize their folly, some people won’t give up their group think conviction until the “Fowler” drops them into the boiling water.

*Source: Hitopadeqa. Book IV. Fable 7. Adapted from the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

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More Fables for Leaders are a wee click away:


And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Last Gasp*: How Annual Performance Appraisal Keeps on, Keepin’ on.

Posted by jlubans on May 13, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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The BBC offers us the latest on performance appraisal (PA): it is “…extremely costly and ha(s) no impact on productivity”.
Overall, “A soul-crushing enterprise.”
Echoes of W. E. Deming! You may recall his frank assessment:
“(PA) builds fear, demolishes teamwork… leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, and dejected.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the second decade of the second millennium, and some 80% of companies still use formal performance appraisal.
In justification, they trot out the usual HR excuses: appraisals “aren’t all bad.”
And, PA provides “a macro-view of performance and engagement levels across the company”. To whom? I have to ask. What exactly is a “macro-view”? And, can you get it only by filling out a form with a required six signatures?
My experience with PA is hardly unique. In keeping with the pervasive negative workplace view, my organization’s efforts at PA were self-serving, skewed, politicized and so dreadedly ritualistic they had nothing to do with organizational effectiveness.
All too often, bean counter-type managers like pointing to someone’s numerical ranking as a way to justify how the bean counter treats that worker or the BCs myopic view of worker motivation; always external.
If PA is shown to have no impact on productivity, the pro-PA manager always wants more.
If a 20-point scale produces mediocre results, hell, a 40 pointer will do much better! Dream on.
In my halcyon days I eliminated PA entirely for five years. In my direct-report departments (some 100 staff), productivity skyrocketed.
I, of course, was out on the floor, talking to people daily, bouncing around ideas, fielding questions as to how things were going and what needed changing.
One of the most belabored excuses for PA is that it makes compulsory a manager’s having an annual “conversation” with his or her reports.
IOW, normally, they would not talk with their staff! You’ve heard it: “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing OK.”
Maybe the folks in the corner office need to find out why any manager has to be forced to have those conversations.
In HR eyes, this mandatory conversation is essential so that companies are not “vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t have a (documented) way to justify decisions.”
Eliminating formal performance appraisal allows more time for employee advising, coaching and disciplining. "No PA" gives a supervisor and an employee more time to talk about what really matters.
In my case, if guidance was needed, they got it. I could have done better on the discipline end but still most people – the “mighty middle” - continued to do a good to very good job and some were liberated.
Our “No PA” approach let the liberated do bigger and better things. And a few did, becoming star performers.
Alas, my halcyon days came to an end and PA came back with boots on. It still is goin’ on, long after I’d “left the building”.
Innovation was replaced by “tradition” (the hierarchy). Tradition requires PA along with other top-down, tidy organizational controls.
If you are thinking of dropping PA, what will you do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of gained prime time hours?
Want a boost in productivity and job satisfaction? Dump PA.

*See my:
The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Zombie Performance Appraisal
And for a bit of humor on an un-fun topic:
Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Phaedrus' THE ASS AND THE LYRE*

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Carving from Romanesque Church Aulnay-de-Saintonge, 12th c.


How Genius is often wasted through Misfortune.
An Ass espied a Lyre lying in a meadow: he approached and tried the strings with his hoof; they sounded at his touch.
“By my faith, a pretty thing,” said he; “it happens unfortunately that I am not skilled in the art.
If any person of greater skill had found it, he might have charmed my ears with divine notes.”

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An ass playing a musical instrument? While the ass in the fable appreciates his limits (hooves not fingers) he still enjoys the lyre’s melodic notes.
Some have this as a fable which describes improbabilities. An ass is as likely to play a harp as is a goat to bleet out an operatic aria.
I am less sure about that take.
It seems to me that this fable is about anyone’s appreciation of someone else’s creation.
I cannot paint a picture, yet I know what I like when I see a artist’s work. I can’t do art, but I can certainly voice my approval or disapproval.
And so it can be at work.
I may not know how to do some arcane accounting routine, but I sure can praise a spread sheet that answers my questions.
Or, I can explain that I need more information and in a certain format.


*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Horse-sense Leadership

Posted by jlubans on May 06, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Back in April, Sam Walker wrote of a new staff development program, one involving horses.
You know the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, BUT … (you fill in the rest.)
Well this is a horse of a different color, (ouch).
Albeit gimmicky sounding – as do many well-meaning open air T&D programs - this is not about making the horse drink, it is truly about leading him/her to the trough.
Now a delicate point for some would be the analogy that a horse is like your average worker: in desperate need of being led, of being shown the way, of needing daily guidance as to what to do.
Actually, the story reveals that horses, like humans, need less “leadership” not more. Collaboration gets better results than pulling or pushing the horse.
The horse T&D organizers would have you believe that effective team building takes places, listening and leadership skills are enhanced, and, it sure beats a day at the office. (No, the last item is not in the brochure.)
I don’t mean to sound dismissive or to diminish these efforts to improve communication and understanding in the workplace. There’s plenty to do and outdoor T&D can be very effective, especially for an individual who willingly engages and is open to reflecting about how a “day in the woods” applies to him at work and at home.
At the least, a participant will gain insights about who she is when working with other people.
There’s a genuine learning provided by Dallas and Disney, the two horses resisting human persuasion usually framed in the KITA school of management; Want movement? Kick ‘em in the ass!
This is “carrot and stick” external motivation; coercive in nature, it has a clear message; do as I say and you will be rewarded (a carrot). Resist and you will be punished (the stick).
Failure to move the horses might prostrate the KITA crowd; the head trainer says, “We always have a mental-health professional standing by.” Welcome to the newly sensitized world of outdoor T&D!
I have to ask why they don’t have a few good old cowboys standing by? Could be that a real cowboy would never take part but they’d have some mighty good advice to offer.
The day of which Mr. Walker writes, the take away lesson is that the horses respond best to humble people: “It’s usually a quiet, hardworking, unassuming person with a collaborative streak—which sounds a lot like the kind of manager most employees want to work for“ who gets the horse to move.
Indeed, on that day it was an humble (she admitted to a lack of self-confidence) participant, who spent time with and calmly spoke to the horse, stroked its neck. IOW, got to know the horse. It followed her.
I shared this example last week in my Leadership & Literature class when teaching about the so-called H Factor: “Humbleness and Honesty” which posits that humble group members are of considerable value to a team. The theory is that team members who exhibit strong humility probably will do better than someone who seeks to dominate.
Call it a social skill, the ability to suspend one’s self-importance for the good of the group.
The horse story took me back to a rainy day in a forest with a dozen MBA students. I was co-facilitating "Hot Stuff", a timed team building game in which the group is given resources and then must figure out how to extract an item out of a circle without stepping foot into it. Failure to complete the task results in the destruction of the human race.
Two of the group - both guys - would not stop telling the others what to do. Nothing was working nor was the group close to a solution, but the two guys kept on directing – they just knew better. So, my co-facilitator and I muted them!
What does that mean? We told them they could not speak for the rest of the game, to put a sock in it, so to speak. (Lest you think it unlikely they’d follow this directive, keep in mind these students were part of a class and the professor was in attendance. They knew if they disrupted, they would be down-graded.)
Guess what happened next, in click bait terms?
The quietest members, one in particular, suggested the several collaborative steps to solving the problem. The group extracted the item in the circle just before time (and the human race) expired.
The two muted guys, beet-red in face, were not happy. Did they learn anything? Alas, probably not. If there ever was a need for a mental health professional standing by this was it!

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019