More DC Lessons: Leadership Edition

Two months ago, I posted some lessons from DC.  Because DC (and more accurately, the current occupant of the White House) continues to be the gift of organizational lessons that just keeps giving, this post provides some more lessons for every organization.  We’ll call this the leadership edition.

There’s good leadership.  There’s bad leadership.  There’s truly atrocious leadership.  There’s a failure of leadership.  In all cases, leadership has a role in creating healthy workplaces. Healthy workplaces, regardless of waist-line sizes and the existence of lots of fruits and veggies, are places where employees thrive, feel valued, and are built on a system of fairness.  They are also compliant workplaces.

Over the past few weeks, there have been some truly spectacular examples of atrocious leadership.  A few examples are below.  These examples demonstrate how a workplace can go off the rails and foster environments that are not compliant with the law.

Loyalty as blind devotion is badTrue loyalty to a leader and/or an organization means sharing opinions and taking action in the best interest of the organization – especially when the organization has made or is about to make a mistake.  Loyalty has costs, and those costs can sink an organization.  Take for example, Uber.  When employees signed a petition to return former CEO Travis Kalanick, it was a signal that the culture at the center of Uber’s six-month catastrophe was an even bigger problem than a single individual.  Potential fix:  Define loyalty as raising voices to share problems and solutions.

Threats are bad.  Leadership by threat is perhaps the worst kind of leadership.  Employees in fear perform poorly.  Potential fix:  Build trust with employees.  Let them try something and fail in a safe environment.  You’ll be better for it.

Not recognizing and celebrating differences means there won’t be any.  The value of inclusion has been rightfully gaining traction, not only because it has real benefits, but it is also where we’re going as a world.  When we don’t recognize differences or choose to be “colorblind,” we automatically discount groups in the workplace.  This drives employees out and makes it harder for us to find new employees. This will bring a workplace out of compliance with diversity under an affirmative action plan.  Potential fix:  Embrace (please, not literally) the diversity already exists in your organization and work towards building a more inclusive workplace.

Narcissism has more cons than pros.  Narcissistic leaders, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bonaparte, and both Roosevelts, accomplish some great and not-so-great things.  They have loyal (see above) followers, but their blind spots are huge and often spell their downfall unless checked by internal leaders, shareholders, employees, the press, and consumers. In fact, at least one study found that narcissism is a bad leadership trait.  Potential fix:  Encourage leadership to seek out different opinions and understand that the best ideas may not come from the leader.

Criticism in public is a mistake.  The adage that leaders “praise in public, criticize in private” remains solid advice.  When leaders publicly criticize their teams, they undermine the organization’s own progress.  It may inspire the targets of that criticism to leave, but other leaders could look to leave too.  Plus, it is not a good look.  We don’t celebrate parents who eat their young, so why would we celebrate leaders who do the same?  When an employee believes she has been criticized unfairly, she is more likely to bring a lawsuit.  Potential fix:  Handle differences and performance criticism behind closed doors.  (Isn’t this HR 101?)

Get & keep your facts straight.  This one should go without saying, but don’t lie.  Employees are smart.  They figure out your lies and will leave because of them.  Fix:  Don’t lie.

While I would really love to use DC as an example of a great organization doing right by its employees and customers (i.e. us), it looks like we’re in for more lesson learning.


Photo by srikanta H. U on Unsplash

Performance Data Based Analytics

How can you do big HR data analytics when you eliminate performance rating?

A well-known people analytics person posted this question on LinkedIn a week ago.  The discussion that followed was fascinating.  The question took my breath away for a couple of reasons: (1) performance ratings are one of the most bias-ridden data points on any employee, so it makes me queasy to think such data would be relied upon heavily in an analytic, and (2) so much more data exists that can provide better insights.

Let’s take the biased data first.  While I am no Marcus Buckingham devotee, his piece for Harvard Business Review back in February 2015 encapsulates the idea that HR data – particularly performance data – is bad data.  By in large, managers rate employee performance on how they would perform the job, not on the actual performance of the individual employee.  If, as Mr. Buckingham points out, 61% of a rating is really a rating of the rater, then ratings aren’t that useful in making people decisions.  (In a post for another time, performance management doesn’t even need ratings.)  This bad data makes for bad analytic results.

This is furthered by oodles of studies that show unconscious bias is baked into performance data.  There is no escaping it.  The unconscious bias of managers – which is not to shame managers, we all have bias – is active in performance reviews and data.  If women and minorities are rated more harshly because of the bias, then an analytic tool that relies on performance data also contains the bias in those harsher critiques and could perpetuate or exacerbate discrimination.  This can occur even when we remove demographic data through data proxies.  Who wants biased data in their analytic tool?

Next, the idea that HR analytics must rely on performance data misses the plethora of other data that we could use to make people decisions.  Here are but a few examples:

  • Great leaders have connections throughout companies. We can find out who has developed a network within a company by reviewing email connections, social media connections, and other network analysis.
  • Internal threats sometimes start with emailing themselves information on personal email accounts. Monitoring access (authorized and unauthorized) along with other retention analysis can help identify who could be stealing our trade secrets or confidential information to take to a competitor.
  • We can better predict how to scale hiring and what skill sets are needed based upon productivity and sales projections.
  • Things like weather, productivity, date, and time can all be factors in safety incidents. If we analyzed these items, we could develop a work schedule that reduces worker injuries.

These examples show employers could do better without touching the bad and biased performance data.  If we didn’t include biased and bad data, would it be the end of people analytic tools?  I emphatically answer “no.”  We could do even better without it.


Image by Markus Spiske available at