Thursday, October 10, 2013

National Work and Family Month - An Excerpt from Turning the Pyramid Upside Down

October 2013 is the tenth annual celebration of National Work and Family Month, an initiative of WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress to "encourage employers to think strategically about family-friendly policies and work-life benefits." Management consultant, and Diversion Books author, Marilyn D. Jacobson has long been an advocate of such policies and benefits. In her book Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model she profiles successful business leaders, and includes the research that proves why they were successful. Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Eight, From Waste to Wellness, and be sure to read through to the end for a chance to win a paperback copy for yourself.

I  have followed Jenny Gumm’s passage from a young woman with great promise to an exceptional team leader who discovered the productivity possible with a confident and committed group. Advancing in hierarchical companies, she showed concern for people and created opportunities for their development.

Jenny joined Waste Management in 1988 as a financial analyst. She then was selected to be the Assistant Controller for an operating location. When she was appointed team leader of a group that was charged to bring all the accounting locations into a single center, she learned how meaningful teams can be and how to lead a team entrusted with a monumental task. This led to the complete reengineering of the IT Systems. Her title changed to VP of Information Systems and Reengineering for Waste Management. After Waste Management merged with USA Waste, she outsourced all of IT and enabled most people to stay with the outsourced organization.

Jenny’s next position was CIO at GE Capital Rail Services. Her timing was fortuitous, immediately following Y2K. There was tremendous pent-up demand for IT. She restructured the department and created the position of Relationship Manager to ensure that each part of the business received the assistance needed. As her focus shifted to E-commerce, she found ways to provide exemplary customer service. The existing GE Capital leadership program, which rotated senior managers, was a plus for managers but left those in divisions without the same opportunity to be promoted. She recognized and rewarded those in IT and helped them attain visibility that was previously lacking.

She was asked to serve on a team for GE Capital that led to her award as an “Outstanding Person.” In her first year she had been nominated as one of GE Capital’s top 1-2 percent.

A hiatus after leaving GE Capital allowed her time to reprioritize. She had experienced the command and control style at Waste Management and from project experiences learned what people can accomplish when they are engaged.

Her strong emphasis on the people side of business led her to start an Ed.D. program at Pepperdine University. Not surprisingly, work on her Ed.D. dissertation is about wellness and corporate America’s need to appreciate the value of health and work-life balance.

Her research and personal experience has enabled her to see the connection between stress and both physical and mental health. She maintains that the corporate world denies the fact that work is draining, and that in dealing with their workforce organizations, they must see and care for the whole person. The cost of mental and physical breakdown is high. Attention to wellness, she says, can lead to more creative, innovative, and less stressed employees. She is currently starting a wellness business and has completed a pilot program.

The January/February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review is dedicated to wellness. A number of points of view are explored, including degrees of happiness. Jenny has made wellness a personal priority as she establishes the link between being healthy in mind and body and increased effectiveness on the job.


“The Happiness Factor” article, part of an issue dedicated to The Value of Happiness: How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits starts with the obvious question: “Why write about happiness when so much of the global economy is still in a funk and people are manifestly unhappy across the world?” We have become accustomed to metrics based on revenues and profitability. If we step away from GDP as the baseline for measuring success and start to think forward to a more holistic approach to profitability, then health, education, and political freedom become critical parts of the equation.

If we could take another step forward, we would include the work of behavioral economists, psychologists, and original thinkers, such as Daniel Pink who forecasts the emergence of right over left brain thinkers. There is no denying a link between performance and happiness. But even as we agree there is a connection between happy workers and the bottom line, we can also predict that the profit motif will not diminish. Therefore, the task is to demonstrate that by helping employees thrive everyone benefits. There still remains the nagging question: How do we make employees happy?

Valuing happiness is gaining importance in other countries. In 1972 the King of Bhutan announced that gross national happiness is more important than gross national product, and that happiness is more important than prosperity. With forty-one countries engaged in measuring happiness, the topic is likely to have an impact.

According to HBR authors for the Happiness edition, the answer for U.S. companies is to involve employees in decision making, sharing information, and minimizing incivility. The first two are evident and discussed in other examples in this book. Incivility is not new and rarely talked about but gaining in strategic importance. Incivility in this context applies to leaders exercising power by berating employees publicly and similar humiliating acts. The most egregious is utilizing the fear factor of threatening dismissal.

Flatter organizations will go a considerable distance from merely overcoming incivility in order to engage, encourage, and energize employees. Instead of being construed as a negative, speaking up is actually appropriate if employees are to act responsibly by challenging everything.

Marilyn D. Jacobson has extensive experience as a management consultant and currently as an executive coach helping senior leaders build a highly engaged and motivated workforce. Her emphasis on leadership development has evolved to coaching leaders for the changing world market. Assessments, 360 profiles, development plans and coaching advance personal and organizational goals. She is the author of Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model, available in both print and eBook formats from Diversion Books.

Win one of five paperback copies of Turning the Pyramid Upside Down in our Goodreads giveaway, now through November 7, or purchase today for your favorite eReader.