Slow productivity offers bosses happier people and better results

The reports are grim. On all sort of measures by all kinds of researchers, American workers are feeling more and more exhausted, burned out, and even depressed. Well, duh – there’s still a pandemic going on, our lives have been disrupted, climate change is scary, and now to top it all off, there’s the potential of nuclear annihilation. Have a nice day. 😊

We have little or no control over the big-picture challenges. But we do have some control over how we work — and how the people we lead are expected to work. One possible solution: “Slow Productivity.” 

skyscraper angled towards a blue sky with clouds

The path to becoming a CEO doesn’t always start with a “C”

How do you get to be a CEO? Recent research from the search firm Spencer Stuart identified the four most common “last-mile” experiences of first-time CEOs in S&P 500 companies: COO, divisional CEO, CFO, and “leapfrog” leaders promoted from lower in the organizations. 

Perhaps not so surprising, the path to CEO is littered with “C”s. 

The data gets more interesting, however, when you look at performance. Those unexpected “leapfrog” leaders, who enter the job from outside the C-Suite, were the most likely to outperform their peers. 

Kid upset with their hand over their face

Why CEOs fail, even when they should absolutely know better?

What is going on at McDonald’s? Their current CEO, Chris Kempczinski, just got himself into very hot water by sending a blindingly inappropriate and mean-spirited text to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Commenting on the shooting deaths of two Chicago teenagers, he wrote, “With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say.” Read that again – he knew he was writing something unacceptable, and he sent the text anyway – to a major public figure! 

Two women standing talking holding coffee

How to motivate employees without raises? Ask them.

Many of my clients are struggling right now with how to motivate their employees (and sometimes themselves). Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and Delta is not helping anything. Masks? Vaccination passports? Are you kidding me? We are so done with all of that. But it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.

On top of that, people are just generally tired. Many of us have been working extra hard under very difficult conditions for the past 18 months. We’d like to see some reward and appreciation for all that effort, and it sometimes seems to be in short supply.

It’s all adding up to a lot of churn right now. People stayed in their jobs during the pandemic, even if they were not happy, because many felt lucky to have a job at all. But now the floodgates have opened, and people are switching jobs all over the place. A lot of those people are the most talented, high-performing employees that companies want to hang on to. 

work from home or in the office debate

Why a rigid work-from-home policy might mean more freedom

All the business leaders I talk with these days are struggling with the same issue: Whether and how to bring their employees back into the office.

Some are firmly convinced that everyone needs to come back full-time right now. Others are equally convinced that employees should be granted total flexibility — come in when you want and as much or as little as you want. Many are somewhere in between these two extremes. And almost everyone is feeling confused and uncertain about what is best.

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. In each company, it takes a unique set of circumstances to retain your best people while maximizing the good work you get out of them. Still, there are a few guidelines to keep front-of-mind.

Why use a business adviser? For the outside perspective

The top company executives had been interviewing candidates for the CFO role. They found someone they really liked and were convinced he was the right guy for the job. In fact, they were already driving him around the town to show him attractive neighborhoods where his family could live. By the time they asked me to interview and assess the candidate, his hire was all but a done deal. I was just answering a few last-check questions: Was he the right leader for the job? Would he be a good fit with the company culture?

Female sprinters racing around a track

How to make sure merit pay actually rewards performance

Many years ago I worked for a mental health clinic that employed a variety of professionals, including two social workers. When annual raises were announced, one of the social workers, Anne, had received a larger raise than the other one, Judy. 

Judy was annoyed at the disparity, so she went to the Medical Director to ask for the reason. Dr. Frank explained that both women were doing a good job with their clients. But in addition to her day work, Anne was very involved in the community, representing the clinic at evening events and serving on some community boards, while Judy was not engaging in those activities. Anne’s visibility and contribution to the community reflected well on the clinic, and so she was rewarded for her commitment. 

I don’t know whether Judy was satisfied with this explanation. But it is to Dr. Frank’s credit that he was willing and able to provide a clear explanation for the difference in the two raises. Too often that is not the case. Too many organizations have a “trust us” approach, where decisions about promotions and raises are made in a “black box” with no clear rationale.

Two business women walking a hallway in the office

One of the most in-demand jobs may surprise you

What does the job market look like post-COVID? I know, we’re not quite there yet, but I’m certainly seeing a lot more business leaders moving into great new roles, as well as a lot more optimism about the near future. So what’s the landscape like?

Here in Illinois, Crain’s Chicago Business just published a list of the 10 most in-demand jobs (subscription required). At first glance, the list did not surprise me. The top eight jobs are all technical IT jobs — except one. But that one, the HR specialist at No. 5, did surprise me. 

In this digital world of ours, where so many of us have been living on screens and keyboards for the past year, why is there a big demand for specialists in the management of human capital?

Various colors of sewing thread organized on a board

Career inspiration: 7 lessons from an artist’s journey

There’s a mind-blowing new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bisa Butler: Portraits. Butler creates enormous, extraordinary portraits of Black Americans, using elaborate quilting techniques to piece together brilliantly colored pieces of fabric. I have admired beautiful quilts for years, but I have never seen anything remotely approaching the artistry and impact of Butler’s work.

Who is Bisa Butler? The story of her career so far provides some valuable guidance in how to succeed at the career you were born for.