Sunday, September 25, 2011

Identifying and Curing Adult Syndrome?

We normally know who they are in the organisation or have torrid memories of ‘them’ when we first started our careers. We also know that adult syndrome has several types, but each type creates similar end results - lowered levels of productivity. After reviewing the symptoms listed here, you’ll hopefully find that you’re not infected, though unfortunately for some at the other extreme you may find that you are infected with more than one type. If this is the case, you may need to spend extra time working on the cure (Bobinski, D, 2006, 18).
Dan Bobinski defines, Type 1 adult syndrome as imagined understanding. “This form of the disease is carried by those who imagine that because they are adults, they should already understand what someone is saying before they say it. The condition is usually observed by others through the frequent repeating of the phrase 'I know.' It is sometimes referred to as arrogance,” (p.18).
Type I adult syndrome can be acute in people holding any senior position from executive to supervisory, and often where the promotion has solely been based on past performance.
Interestingly, this form of the disease affects people trying to hide something - mainly because they're afraid they'll look like idiots for not being omniscient, (ok, who had to look up omniscient?).
Dan Bobinski defines Type II adult syndrome as intentional deflection. “This type of the disease is all about self-preservation. It fools the observer by redirecting attention when the infected person doesn't know the answer, or doesn't want to know,” (p.18).
What is concerning about these two types is that they are far too common to be healthy for organisational and industry growth, in today’s global economy. The global crisis itself is,to some extent, due to adult syndrome and the current ‘mess’ in sorting it out has adult syndrome written all over it as well.
Babinski states that “curing adult syndrome is possible, but the treatment can be a tough pill to swallow. The best antidote is a large, thick slice of humble pie. Don't misunderstand, this is far from grovelling. It's just a dose of reality. Sadly, many deny humility's healing powers, viewing it as a weakness rather than a strength,” (p.19).
It’s worth noting what author Rick Maurer says that we need to be willing to be changed by listening to another person. This doesn't mean we desire to be changed, but rather that we are willing. It's a fine line of difference, but an important one. Misunderstanding this difference is why many continue to suffer from adult syndrome.
It’s unfortunate that with all the access people have to information and learning that organisations still ‘accept’ cultures that allow for the use of “imagined understanding” and “intentional deflection” – as both approaches are painfully obvious to the employees that have to deal with it on a regular basis and yet this transparent ‘stupidity’ appears to go unnoticed by the ‘user’, similar to the ‘King who wore no clothes’.
What organisations need are individuals, at all levels, who are clear and transparent about what they ‘know they know’ but who, even then, are willing to ‘listen’ to other points of view. But more importantly individuals who are willing to acknowledge what they ‘know they don’t know’, and are open to find the answers from those who have the knowledge, (regardless of that persons level in the organisation).
So as Bobinski states in conclusion; “bottom line, if we are willing to listen to someone else in a mind-set that acknowledges we aren't omniscient and we don't have all the answers, the symptoms of adult syndrome begin to fade away. Then reality comes to the surface, and working relationships become healthy,” (p.19).
Bobinski, D. (2006). Adult Syndrome: Is There a Cure? Management Services, Summer, p. 18-19.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Who Should Decide Executives Pay?

How much should the Executive Team be paid and who should be involved in the decision? Executive pay has always been an emotive issue, but this issue is raising new concerns as the world comes out of a global recession and many workers are struggling to make ends meet - as John Cridland, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry stated, "at a time of austerity, when everyone is seeing their income squeezed, executive pay is a particularly sensitive issue."

An article by Robert Watts sites a poll that was commissioned in the UK that found that almost half of the 2,000 people polled thought the annual pay of FTSE 100 chief executives was less than £1 million. When they were told that the true figure was almost £5 million, just 1% believed that such a sum was justifiable.

But who should be involved in the decision around executive pay - for most organisations in the public sector the board and shareholders are involved with pay decisions. These days organisations will undertake comprehensive surveys to benchmark their pay structures with other organisations - so it's not that boards are just coming up with a figure. Shareholders to have a significant vested interest in the performance of the CEO and executive team and hence shouldn't vote through unrealistic pay agreements.

In the UK, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary believes that workers should be given new powers to help decide how much their bosses should be paid - but I wonder how exactly that would work in practice. I can just visualise someone who hasn't been active in business for some time, sipping their single malt whisky in their private club, thinking that in a perfect world how great it would be for workers to determine their bosses pay. Imagining Joe from maintenance and Joyce from Reception, strutting into the board room and productively discussing the current global trends in executive pay and while puffing on their first Cuban cigar telling the CEO that they will have to cut their pay this year by 10% to be in line with their expectations.

Executive teams that abuse pay at the highest level aren't going to have their ways changed whoever you send in from the employee base. It is a culture that resides at the top and can only be changed from the top. These orgnisations use power and fear within the organisation and decide their annual pay rewards with little fear of being questioned. What's interesting, is those that moan about their bosses salaries, quickly change their tune if and when they rise to the same positions - then all of a sudden they 'cash' in on the cultural norm for this establishment.

Of course these organisations with the questionable ethical approach to executive pay are most likely to only invite those employees to join a pay review panel that are going to do as they are told - making a further mockery of the system.

It's not all doom and gloom, in Germany for example, supervisory boards set executives’ pay. Half the members of each board are lay staff, often trade union representatives.

The simple answer in a transparent organisation is that the executive pay should be understood and acceptable to all (or at least most employees). Where you need to legislate around executive pay - you actually need to change the culture as no 'forced measures' will get the required response.

Great organisations with great leaders have transparent pay and reward systems - poor organisations with poor cultures live in a world of secrecy. Change the culture and you'll change the approach.....


Watt, R. (2011). Cable may give workers a say in bosses' pay. Sunday Times. 4th September, p.10.