Change Maestro Posts

Major firms are doing away with annual or semiannual performance reviews, news that generated a bit of a buzz.

In the various companies I’ve worked for in the past, very often performance review time was when I was told to evaluate myself and then submit my own assessment to the boss, who will then “bargain” the ratings down; we would agree on a “compromise” and from there, salary adjustments and bonuses are then decided.

And the supertalented HR people who oversaw all that went on to become Managing Directors of HR – yes, such titles exist! –  or VPs of HR or VPs of Talent Management or Chief Talent Officers – yes, yes, such hifalutin titles indeed do exist! – in big, world-famous corporations.

Why am I wriggling my toes? Oh, because they are laughing, since you asked. I bet those HR honchos are also experts in balanced score-cards, data analytics, executive training, coaching and mentoring, labor laws and competency models too; HR know-it-alls.

Some companies even have quotas on how many promotions are allowed for a certain period of time and even if you make it, you will not receive your due rewards. I know a star performer who was eventually let go, because HR told him “It is now cheaper for us to hire three Indians than to keep you, despite your having far superior qualifications and have a proven, verifiable track record for the past ten years.” This was said by the HR fellow with a straight face, who, by the way, is still working in the same organization. No wonder many people have the impression that most of the time, HR practitioners seem to treat preserving their own jobs as the number one priority in life.

If you ask me, the entire HR dog and pony show needs a major shakeup.

Such practices by revoltingly unqualified HR “professionals” make a mockery out of performance reviews and if these practices still exist, they should indeed be scrapped altogether.

Also, often performance reviews consider the tangible results; for example, some employees are judged by the volume of business they can generate. In fact, with a certain company I’m acquainted with, almost all country general managers are promoted into that position as a reward for having being good salespeople.

Sure, you may be a super salesperson, but if your nasty, arrogant, and cocky attitude leaves a trail of broken toes behind, how should you be evaluated during performance reviews then? Few systems take into consideration your EQ and intangible qualities like that. And companies are short-sighted if they only value rainmakers.

In fact, there were a number of times when I accompanied various country general managers to client meetings and I had to cringe when they talked like used car salespeople in front of CEOs – complete with splattering saliva. It’s a sad day when you are ashamed of your own country general manager.

Brand name companies announcing that they are stopping performance reviews makes for great PR, but if you really think that these companies are abandoning the tracking of employee performance, then you must be really naïve. Even religious organizations track their staff!

No matter what they call it, all companies have one form or another of monitoring employee accomplishment, even in those companies that say they have stopped performance reviews altogether. What gets measured gets done.

Reviews are part of performance management, so what makes an effective performance management system?

An effective performance management system must start with a detailed goal-setting process between the manager and the staff who will be managed and whose performance will be reviewed. Goal-setting of KPIs must be a joint exercise because if you shove these down the employee’s esophagus, there will be no ownership, and literally nothing will happen.

Next, regular feedback and appraisals must be carried out. And not the way one of my managers did it before. She responded to each of my detailed monthly report with a one-word email: “Noted” and refused to meet me face to face, because she had zero idea of my subject matter expertise. “No need to meet,” she told me, “nobody complains about you, so you must be doing great. Besides, I don’t understand what it is that you are an expert of.” Incidentally she is now with a very well-known multinational corporation as head of HR for Asia Pacific and on LinkedIn, she has listed that expertise of mine she claimed no knowledge of as a core strength of hers. Unbelievable!

Now you know why I said HR needs a major shakeup.

A good performance management system also identifies employees’ developmental needs and includes vigorous reward and recognition practices. We don’t live in an altruistic world, unfortunately; people don’t work for philanthropic reasons – even pastors get handsome salaries, complete with CPF –  and they must and should be incentivized, especially for exceeding performance goals.

The system should also encourage collaboration and teamwork. A “superhero” working alone adds no value. I have had colleagues in the past who hid in a corner and nobody could fathom what it is they do but they are “untouchable” because they had “godfathers” who protected them. Yes, if I reveal the name of the company, you will be shocked, but that was what happened and is still happening.

See How Not to Change from Hero to Zero.

What is HR, the so-called custodian of organizational conscience, doing amidst all these shenanigans? I suspect, most times; they were just being used as henchmen of the corporate “mafia” that exists in every company.

Experts agree that fundamentally, a performance management system is composed of process and people elements. The process element includes items such as job descriptions, rating criteria, the time period of performance appraisal discussions, and reward and recognition systems. The key component of the people element is the manager, who drives the system by setting expectations, communicating plans, encouraging development, and giving and receiving feedback.

But most companies invest in world-class processes for their performance management system, but overlook the importance of the people element.

A company might have a world-class performance management system in place, but the system is only as effective as the managers who implement it.

The human element is the most important component in whether employees perceive the system as effective. The relationship between an employee and his or her manager is the key factor in driving those perceptions.

These are what the experts are saying.

Contrast that to what is happening in real life!

Companies that want to increase organizational and employee performance and productivity must put in place the right managers; those who refuse to meet their subordinates because they are intimated by their subordinates’ knowledge or reply with one-word emails should not be hired at all.

Because when they eventually worm their way into multinational corporations and become regional heads of HR, the damage they inflict will be a lot more than when they were doing just a local job.

Extrinsic Change

Through tattered clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furred growns hide all. – Shakespeare

If you attend a few classes and get a certificate does it make you an expert in anything?

That is, versus someone who spent years practicing the craft, doing post-doctoral studies and possesses deep understanding of human psychology.

If you are able to stand in front of an audience and spout regurgitated, plagiarized homilies, does that qualify you as a priest?

Versus someone who have devoted years in theological studies and training how to be a shepherd?

Are unmarried marriage counselors any good? If you cross the line into territories you should not have ventured into, how does that make you look?

The world is full of nobodies with fierce, impressive titles but these same charlatans have probably never managed any endeavor of any significance and size. Yes, anyone can use PowerPoint charts to dazzle even when they have no proven track records to speak of.

Sure, you may have all the external trappings of what you imagine is a picture of “success” and you could even hire ghostwriters to write you a book, but if you have not the character, experience and values, how professional are you?

And even if you have the proper – that is real – qualifications, how do you conduct yourself?

Are journalists reporters of news or do they themselves become the story?

Following a devastating earthquake in Nepal, CNN crew filmed its own chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, on-site, as he performed emergency brain surgery on an eight-year-old girl and resuscitated another victim of the quake. This was not the first time Gupta practiced medicine on a patient in front of the camera. He treated a two-year-old boy on assignment in the Middle East, and examined patients on camera after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

In doing so, Gupta violates both medical and journalism ethics. As a doctor, he is obligated to protect client confidentiality. He may not show the procedures being performed on them without their informed consent, and in a foreign setting under emergency conditions, informed consent by patients is almost never possible 100% of the time. In the US, doing what Gupta did in Nepal on camera would be against the law. That means it is unethical anywhere, even in places like Nepal.

But Gupta is a new breed of television doctor who has a medical degree and thus must be a health authority. And gullible viewers suck it up.

People trust doctors, that’s the problem.

Gupta has repeatedly endorsed Merck’s controversial vaccine Gardasil as a means of preventing cervical cancer on the air and on his CNN blog, but the fact of the matter is that Gardasil’s clinical trials never tested for preventing cervical cancer. The vaccine was tested for preventing pre-cancerous lesions associated with two strains of HPV (Human Papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted disease.

And since these lesions can take 12 to 20 years to develop into cervical cancer and the clinical trials lasted less than five years, medical experts warn that the jury is still out on what impact this vaccine might have on cervical cancer rates, so for Gupta to endorse it is an act of not only sheer unprofessionalism but also an act of gross irresponsibility.

Further, his credibility as a journalist has gone to the dogs when he rubbished a medical report on Donald Trump but gave a rather muted response over Hillary Clinton’s fainting episode last month. Clearly he was demonstrating his political preferences, something no professional journalist should be involved in. Dr Gupta, your slip is showing!

And don’t get me started on Dr Mehmet Oz.

He made a name for himself touting miracle cures on TV, but Oz was strongly criticized for his claims about weight-loss supplements in a Senate hearing in June 2014. Following that, 10 doctors from around the United States have called for Oz to be removed the faculty of Columbia University in New York. They accused Oz of “an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

Some actually asked for his doctor’s license to be revoked.

And his response? “Freedom of speech is the most fundamental right we have as Americans. And these 10 doctors are trying to silence that right.”

Well, I leave you to draw your own conclusions about people who talk like that.

And you know what?

Oz wasn’t removed by Columbia. Those ten were voted down.

You see, doctors take care of their own kind.

And that to me, is the most insidious aspect of the medical profession.

It’s time we change our views about these “healers” who seem to have forgotten The Hippocratic Oath.

Intrinsic Change

Is there really a dearth of talent in Singapore? Or are there other reasons?

Why are some company directors, directors of so many companies?

Not long ago, I did a count. Here’s what I found at that time:

A particular company director was found to be a director of 117 companies.

Another held a total of 114 directorships.

Yet another sat on 105 boards.

It is the view of experts that a full-time executive with three or more board seats faces time constraints which may render his service ineffective.

And for retired execs, it is deemed that they are ineffective if they sit on more than six boards.

Studies also found that the presence of such directors on the board correlates with excessive CEO compensation and imply that busy directors do not contribute as much to effective corporate governance.

When companies announce the appointment of an outside director that is a full-time executive at another firm and holds three or more other board seats, the market reaction tends to be negative.

Yet, this happens all the time in Singapore.

When I see a person sitting on so many boards, I immediately form a negative opinion of that person.

Do they actually contribute anything useful? Do they add value?

How can such a person be really effective?

Of course it is glamorous for narcissist to be named as a director of this board or another and of course one can make a heck of a lot of money collecting director fees, but this phenomenon should end.

In other countries there are laws limiting the number of directorships one can hold.

Here in Singapore, the Singapore Institute of Directors refuses to take a firm stand.

What is worse is when people with totally zero subject matter expertise are helicoptered into companies to sit on their boards as a favor – many politicians, retired armed forces leaders, friends, relatives, etc all sit on boards of companies in which they have no professional knowledge about. True, an outsider’s view may be refreshing but what is a retired army officer doing as a director of a hospital, for example?

Boards should also have a balanced mix of skills, knowledge and experience, and conflicts of interest should be avoided. Board members should not have conflicting appointments rendering them unable to objectively and satisfactorily discharge their duties.

The length of service is another disturbing factor.

It is therefore heartening to recently see a major institution like the Monetary Authority of Singapore leading by example in refreshing itself, vis-a-vis the board of directors, to stay nimble and forward-looking.

Its Code of Corporate Governance suggests that, for reasons of independence, directors should not serve beyond nine years.

If you are involved in directorships, it’s time you ask some hard questions.

Surely you don’t want people to think that you are involved in a company that is more like a zoo or a circus.

Extrinsic Change

I was apoplectic when a friend remarked that the president of a certain country did “nothing” during the president’s entire term.

To me that is an unfair sweeping statement.

Sweeping statements are never beneficial. They are imprecise and often send mistaken messages. They seed uncertainty and distrust and are usually intended to make an imposing point about how right the person making the statement might be. They tend to be narcissistic and self-serving and are often sanctimonious. In other words, people with weak foundations for hard facts make sweeping statements because they want to make a point that makes them look correct and therefore look moral and righteous in the stance they are taking.

On August 21st, there was an article in The Sunday Times, entitled Blindedsided by Dirty Old Man, written by Sharon Loh. In it she recalled a couple of incidents experienced by her daughters.

She first recounted how a man in his 50s asked her teenage daughter for her name when jogging. Loh accused the man of “hitting” on her daughter.

She also wrote: My daughters were lounging by the condominium pool when they were invited by some boys to a movie. “Wow,” I told anyone who would listen, “Singaporean men are buayas.” (“Buaya” is the Malay word for “crocodile” but is also a colloquial term for “lecher.”)

Now, that’s a sweeping statement for sure!

Loh, who calls the US her home now, then went on to make another sweeping statement:

“In our home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, men do not make a habit of staring openly or passing remarks on women in the street.”

In one fell swoop, Loh insulted all the men in Singapore – including her own father and husband – just because from her experience, men in North Carolina “do not make a habit of staring openly or passing remarks on women in the street.”

(As an aside, despite the presence of perverts and sickos, not all men who talk to teenage girls are sexual deviants, and if my teenage daughters don’t get movie invites from other boys, I would be very worried.)

Another example of a sweeping statement would be “You ALWAYS stay late at work, making those of us who leave on time look bad.”

Any leader worth his salt would have long learned that to make an effective point in communication, we must use the three-part assertion message, a technique to communicate a message when others are doing something on which you want to comment.

This is how it works:

  1. Describe behavior
  2. Describe how you feel
  3. Show the broader impact of their behavior

So instead of saying “You ALWAYS stay late at work, making those of us who leave on time look bad” say “When you stay on after hours, I find it annoying, because there’s a chance that people might get the impression that the rest of us are not working as hard.”

Many are often not sensitive enough to realize the effect of their actions on others. Disclosing how you feel can be quite a surprise – and eye-opening – for many. It is also impossible for them to deny this: only you can describe how you feel. Taking the risk to describe how you feel helps the other person to accept the impact of what they have done, beyond having affected your emotions.

Have the courage to “confront” the person one on one, not deploy a whole host of others to carry your message. If you feel slighted because of what someone said, go and meet the person face to face, describe his behavior, describe how you feel and show him the broader impact of his behavior. Do this yourself instead of making use of a whole bunch of other people, emissaries, to do this for you. A non-intimidating chat over coffee would have resolve the issue there and then.

Above all, care enough to get your facts right; if you have solid, documentable and verified evidence that the particular president has done “nothing” in his entire term, present those facts and not just bits and pieces of information taken out of context. There is a phenomenon called “confirmation bias” where you turn everything you see into a nail just because all you have is a hammer.

As a leader, you are responsible for communicating clearly and succinctly at all times and to do it well. And I can’t stress this enough: It is also always, always your own responsibility to communicate on your own behalf, not make use of mouthpieces who will do the job for you.

If you lack the courage to speak the truth, who can trust you to have the courage to lead?

Intrinsic Change

Business travel seems to have taken off again. But the truth is that jet-setting executives may soon go the way of the dinosaurs.

Not long ago almost every business function required a trip.

I used to cover Asia Pacific – and that meant over 20 countries. I hated it after a while. There were even times when I made day trips to India – I would leave Singapore at night, arrive in India in the morning, Indian time, and leave India around midnight Indian time.

But there are those who relish being road warriors; I guess it gives them a sense of importance.

People flew for the slightest reason – to meet with clients, to meet with suppliers, to meet with colleagues, for training, to connect with the troops, etc.

Thousands of trips add up to millions of dollars, not to mention tons of CO2.

But now, by using world class unified communications and collaboration solutions and services any meeting anywhere can be just a click away.

Indeed, in this day and age, where very technological advanced and powerfully effective communication and meeting tools are cheaply available, do you really, really need to travel?

Of course, nothing can replace human presence, but I have often found that a private personal phone call is a great way to make a direct connection with someone.

Nowadays, technology can even enable us to hold entire all-hands-on-deck town hall meetings – which have their purposes – but lots of work-related issues can also be resolved with a phone call, no need at all to mobilize the troops.

With ever escalating operational costs, companies should be wary of execs who insist that they have to travel. They can’t be too wise, can they?

Remember, people are hired to be part of the solution, not to become a part of the problem!

In fact, nowadays, in enlightened circles, business travel is actually frowned upon when, extended across an enterprise, unified communications and collaboration capabilities have the potential to transform traditional work and travel habits.

Cisco, for example, realized many years ago that 49% of travel was for internal reasons. It has practically eliminated travel for internal meetings, reducing it by 99%. The company has also reduced training-related travel by 98%.

So in this day and age, if someone complains with an exaggerated shake of the head and a loud sigh that he’s living out of a suitcase and traveling too much because of work, as if it’s such a curse, (“but what to do, someone’s got to get the job done”), he’s probably not working for a very enlightened organization or he’s doing it to inflate his own ego, or worse, he’s taking his company for a ride, finding excuses to go on vacations on company expense and pocketing per diem money, air-miles and whatnot. (Yes, there ARE people like that, and most of them have lost their jobs!)

Whenever I come across such “international jet-setting” execs, I immediately form a negative impression of his or her company; I can’t help thinking it cannot be a very well-managed company.

Extrinsic Change

In every organization, there is a group of people who are the untouchables.

Their jobs are always safe.

The company may be suffering numerous consecutive quarters of negative growth and even those who performed and delivered and who have labored for the organization for decades had to be laid off to minimize operating costs, but this group of insiders will continue to keep their jobs.

It’s basically cronyism pure and simple.

These are protected members of the boss’ inner sanctum – the company mafia, its seat of power.

In good times and bad, this unholy alliance can do no wrong.

They run the company as they see fit.

They think they are the only ones that are right.

Even the best and brightest are being ousted.

In fact, anyone that outshines any member of the inner sanctum will be put down.

Worse, this insidious group panders to their toadies and bootlickers, protecting them and shielding them from harm’s way.

Lots of talented resources had their capabilities suppressed so that this mafia could gain eminence – all at the expense of the organization and the constituents it is meant to serve.

But every story has a closing chapter.

As the Chinese say, there is no never ending banquet under the sun. All good things must come to an end.

That is the fate of a mafia group in an organization that I am familiar with.

With the control of the untouchables, the organization continued to be weakened until a coup was mounted and the mutiny resulted in the disposal of boss and his grovelers.

One sees many similar parallels in history –  from Lenin and Stalin to Saddam and Gaddafi, despots were eventually disposed.

There are lessons for us all here.

First, people have eyes. They are not blind. It is said that “when you are in it, you don’t see it” but those on the outside of the inner sanctum can see your shenanigans quite clearly.

Second, everyone has a boss – the mafia met their downfall when disgruntled employees and shareholders petitioned head office. Usually, leaders at head office are protective of those they appoint to run the local offices, but when the level of disgruntlement reaches epic proportions, head office had no choice but to act.

Third, you may enjoy being at the top, but it’s a law of nature and a matter of time before you will be brought low and humbled, if not totally humiliated and annihilated. Like they say, “every dog has its day” and you will get your comeuppance, eventually. You will be crushed.

Leaders come and leaders go, one day you’re cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster.

The rest of the people have all the time in the world to wait you out.

So if you are in a position leadership, do a sanity check on yourself every once in a while.

Intrinsic Change

Having just inked another major contract with a global company owned by one person, I am once again reminded that it is always easier to deal with one strong leader, a decision maker, than with a bloated bureaucracy.

To take on an entity trapped by its own – often misplaced – sense of invulnerability is a Herculean task and no matter how smart one is, the chance of success is rather limited.

Dr Jason Steffen is an example.

Some years ago, Dr Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist, came up with a way of easing congestion during aircraft boarding time.

The boarding process is bogged down by two reasons – first, passengers are often forced to wait in the aisle while those ahead of them stow their luggage, second, passengers already seated in aisle or middle seats often have to get up and move into the aisle to let others take seats nearer the window.

Dr Steffen recommends that passengers board by seat type (ie, window, middle or aisle) while also ensuring that neighbors in the boarding queue are seated in alternating rows. First, the window seats for every other row on one side of the plane are boarded. Next, alternate rows of window seats on the opposite side are boarded. Then, the window seats in the skipped rows are filled on each side. The procedure then repeats with the middle seats and the aisles.

By Dr Steffen’s calculation, his faster method of boarding planes could save airlines hundreds of millions of dollars a year since time is money. Prior research has shown that every minute a plane spends at the terminal costs US$30/-. Assuming the average carrier runs 1,500 flights a day, saving as little as six minutes per flight would add up to US$100m a year.

Presently most airlines board passengers by blocks, with passengers assigned to groups within the cabin – “we are now boarding rows blah, blah, blah to rows blah, blah, blah.”

A comparative study shows that Dr Steffen’s method reduces boarding time by half.

However, the airline industry has shown no interest in his method.

This is hardly surprising. Airlines make loads of money from first and business class passengers and other commercially important passengers for “privileges” like priority boarding. Why would they want to upset these high-end passengers by boarding them like the rest of the “monkey” or “cattle” class passengers?

So poor Dr Steffen is left with a perfect method no airline is interested in using.

Well, you can’t fight the entire airline industry! It’s a losing battle taking on leaders locked and paralyzed by a paradigm. The attitude of many such leaders is “Why fix something that’s been our standard procedure for the longest time?” They don’t even want to make any decisions requiring them to implement changes to the way things are done.

Contrast that with Mario Polegato.

This wine merchant from Italy was attending a trade event in Reno in 1995 when he took a break to go jogging. While out jogging in Reno’s hot desert climate, his feet got hot and he cut a couple of holes in the soles of his shoes with a Swiss Army knife.

He later developed the idea into a viable product.

Geox was born and today it is a global business. The paradigm that the bottoms of shoes shouldn’t have holes was broken.

It is certainly easier to mount a one-man crusade than to fight an entire industry.

As long as industry leaders’ minds are closed to new ideas, no matter how brilliant those ideas are, they will never see the light of day.

Related this are a couple of questions:

Is it worth it to continue to inconvenient one group of customers in order to make more money from another group?

In other words, would you pamper one group of customers at the expense of another group?

Another question: shouldn’t the level of service be the same whether you spend $500 or $5000?

The answer is obvious, but what happens in real life is another story.

Isn’t it?

Extrinsic Change

A company chairman recently engaged me to review and investigate the credentials of someone who has sold coaching services to the CEO of his company’s Asia Pacific operations.

Coaching is the practice of supporting an individual through the process of achieving a specific personal, professional or sporting result.

The term “coaching” is sometimes used interchangeably with “mentoring.”

Actually there is a difference.

The term “mentoring” takes its name from the Greek classic, The Odyssey, in which the character Mentor becomes responsible for guiding Odysseus’ son, as the father goes off to war. The presence of an older, and possibly even parent-like, figure as an advisor in a persons’ life is often traditionally referred to as having a mentor.

Whatever it is, like training, it appears that anyone can set himself up as a coach or mentor and come into companies, charge tens of thousands of dollars and make suckers of everyone. This is exactly what happened to the Asia Pacific office of the multinational corporation. This is the reason why the chairman of the company, based in Scandinavia, engaged me to assess the credentials of a particular “coach” and her entire “coaching program” which she managed to sell to the head of the corporation’s Asia Pacific operations.

My counsel has always been this: Before engaging a coach or mentor, ask some hard questions and ask to see certifiable results. If possible, ask to speak to the people being coached by the coach. Also ask to speak to the bosses of those being coached. Has the coaching made a significant, measurable difference to the company’s performance?

Most coaches I come across here are former athletes, management consultants, retrenched executives and failed entrepreneurs. Some are none of these things – just self-styled gurus who managed to sweet-talk some clueless company bosses into engaging their services for the whole company. (Didn’t someone once say that “guru” is easier to spell than “charlatan”?) Undoubtedly some executives do get help from such individuals, but in an alarming number of situations, coaches who lack rigorous psychological training do more harm than good. Indeed, when an executive’s problems stem from undetected or ignored psychological difficulties, coaching can actually make a bad situation worse. I’ve not met any coach here who hails from the world of psychiatry or psychology.

My misgivings about coaching are not a clarion call for psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. I am psychology-trained professionally yet I believe seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, in particular, does not – and never will – suit everybody. Nor is it up to company bosses to ensure that all employees deal with their personal demons or receive coaching to “realize their full potential.”

I just want to heighten awareness of the difference between a “problem executive” who can be coached to contribute positively to a company’s bottom line and an “executive with a problem” who can best be helped by seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

These are the issues: First, many coaches sell themselves as purveyors of simple answers and nippy solutions. Second, even coaches who accept that an executive’s problems may require time to address still tend to rely solely on behavioral solutions. Third, coaches unschooled in the dynamics of psychotherapy often exploit and abuse the powerful hold they develop over the people they coach. Unfortunately, if allowed to careen off like a runaway train, coaches ignore – and even create – deep-rooted psychological problems that often only psychologists can fix.  I know – if I deposit a ten-cent coin into my bank account every time I am asked to go into a company to do damage control after a coach has left behind a trail of devastation I would be a millionaire many times over by now.

Remember the creepy and revolting Grima Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings who had Theoden, King of Rohan eating out of his hands? (Wormtongue was the king’s counselor when in truth he was the servant of Saruman.) Coaches are at their most destructive when they win the CEO’s ear. This puts them in a position to wield great power over an entire organization, a scenario that occurs with disturbing frequency.

When I was working for a HR consultancy many years ago, the young managing director was virtually being manipulated by a seasoned, older subordinate who has wormed his way into the managing director’s heart, becoming his personal advisor on everything ranging from which restaurants to eat to which employees to get rid of.

I know someone here who bills himself as an “outplacement consultant and coach” and he has confessed to me that one of the secrets of his success is that he always wears a suit to impress. Imagine that!

Coaches gain a Svengali-like hold over both the executives they help and the company bosses they report to, often with catastrophic consequences. When a person increases his reliance on his coach’s advice, he becomes a victim of what, in the language of psychiatry, is called “transference” – a dynamic that gives the coach extraordinary psychological power over the person he oversees. Most people understand transference, as “falling in love” with one’s therapist and the outcome can be very destructive.

To best help their executives, companies must draw on the expertise of psychiatrists, psychologists and coaches with legitimate skills. At a minimum, every executive slated to receive coaching should first receive a psychological evaluation. By screening out those not psychologically prepared or predisposed to benefit from the process, companies avoid putting executives in unnerving – even destructive and demotivating – positions.

Equally important, companies should hire independent mental health professionals to review coaching results. This helps to ensure that coaches are not ignoring underlying problems or becoming part of the problem themselves.

In medicine, pathology is central to learning about disease but in management we don’t perform enough autopsies on people who call themselves coaches to determine their true worth. If these parasites and fraudsters prove unworthy, like malignant tumors; they should immediately be excised and flushed down the gutter.

I am sick of hearing about coaches who take companies for a ride. They get in the way of the real pros who are trying to do their job.

Thinking of getting some coaching? Tread carefully.

A wrong move could cost you a lot of grief.

Intrinsic Change

In 2014, Korean Air vice president Heather Cho, daughter of the airline’s chairman, and a one-time member of the advisory board of Nanyang Business School, Singapore, became unhappy with the way a flight attendant served her nuts on the plane, (from the original packaging, in conformity with the airline’s procedures instead of on a fancy plate). Cho abused the cabin crew, summoned the cabin crew chief and assaulted him while he knelt down in front of her to beg for forgiveness. She then ordered the aircraft to taxi back to the airport’s gate and ordered the cabin crew chief to get off.

Also in 2014, Singapore-based socialite Nancy Gan, was upset that her teenage maid Dewi Sukowati served her a glass of water on a plastic tray instead of a silver one so she splashed the water on the maid’s face and hit her with the tray. The maid responded by smashing Gan’s head on the wall and killed her by drowning her in the pool.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is a telegenic, supposedly smart (and tattooed) prime minister of the new generation and a very well-liked person.

But in May this year, during a parliament debate, irritated by what he felt was a delay tactic by the opposition, Trudeau stormed across the floor, grabbed a legislator by the arm, and pushed him back into his seat. Along the way he used the F word to swear at a female MP while elbowing her in the chest.

Heather Cho, Nancy Gan, Dewi Sukowati and Justin Trudeau all succumbed to their emotions. All lost their cool. Gan lost her life.

Anger is obviously a psychological emotion, but it is also physiological in nature. Anger involves chemical reactions in your brain. When you get angry, your amygdala, the center for emotional processing, sends a distress signal to your hypothalamus, which sends epinephrine along your autonomic nervous system through the path of the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal glands, which starts pumping epinephrine (adrenaline) throughout your body. The adrenaline prepares your body to meet a threat, increasing your heart rate and sharpening your senses.

This serves a physical and biological purpose, preparing you to fight or to take flight, but you have an anger problem when your threshold for what triggers this physiological response is too low, for example, if you fly into a murderous rage when someone nearby drags a chair across the floor nosily.

Maintaining a façade of cool is of critical importance.

We are civilized people, not savage animals.

I am reminded of Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s former chairman and CEO, who was known to have a short fuse and was well known for shouting at people at the top of his lungs.

Here in Asia, the moment you lose your cool, all respect for you goes out of the window. Your self-control determines how the world views your external image. With a public persona damaged, you are no longer effective. Some societies will regard you as persona non grata. In their eyes, you have ceased to exist and being cold-shouldered is worse than death, sometimes.

So how should you deal with anger?

First, recognize that you are entitled to be angry and anger is not unnatural. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, when you hear of the massacre at Orlando, when you see the image of the migrant boy washed up dead on a beach in Turkey, when you see cats being eviscerated and killed for fun, when you hear of hit-and-run drivers, when onlookers at an accident site are more interested in taking pictures with their cell phones rather than helping the victims, when public officials are paid millions yet do a second-rate job, or when you discover that the potential candidate you are about to hire is a résumé cheat, you must be one passionless, heartless, cold and insensitive zombie if you don’t feel any rage.

But the right to feel angry doesn’t come with the right to hurt yourself or others.

Therefore, learning how to manage your anger is an essential skill.

The moment you feel your blood boiling, quickly take stock of your emotions. Anger often masks other emotions. As a matter of fact, anger is often a secondary emotion to hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief, downheartedness, or fear. Anger rears its ugly head as almost a defense mechanism because it is easier for many people to deal with than the other emotions. Ask: Do I allow myself to feel a wide range of emotions? You may be suppressing emotions that you think you “shouldn’t” feel.

If you commonly substitute anger for other emotions that you find more difficult to deal with, learn to handle those emotions, or find a good book that will empower you with tips. Temperamentally-challenged people not only mess themselves up, they cause much consternation to others. Being with such people is like having to walk on egg shells.

What I saw on the UCAST screen in a SMRT taxi I was in the other day makes a lot of sense; it said “Stop for a moment, Think about your actions, Act in the safest way.” It was meant as a reminder to the taxi driver who’s on the road many hours a day, but applies to all of us as well.

Manage your emotions well, and you manage your “personal brand” well; you manage the organization you represent well and present a positive image to the outside word.

Simply put, it’s just not cool to lose your cool.

Extrinsic Change

Paper qualification is often used to gauge a person’s capability.

A degree earned shows the world that you have had academic training on the subject for which you were awarded the degree.

Due to the emphasis on paper qualification, people strive to earn as many degrees as possible and also to get themselves certified in as many areas of expertise as they possibly can.

Studying for a degree, spending time on campus, interacting with professors also give a person the experience of co-existing with others, a process which, hopefully, also eventually contributes to a person’s social skills and build up his EQ.

It is therefore important that people attend the right schools.

What’s the point of going to a sub-standard institution and ending up with some qualification that’s not worth the paper it is printed on?

Equally important would be the certification that people acquire to enhance their competency.

The thing is, people jump on bandwagons and suddenly experts emerge from everywhere.

If big data analytics is now the flavor of the month, all of a sudden, you’ll see experts in that field emerging from God knows where, each clutching a piece of paper declaring them to be experts. Big data is more hype that its proponents care to admit. Among other flaws, spurious correlations – associations that are statistically robust but happen only by chance – increases with more data and can lead to completely wrong conclusions or prognostication. I would caution all those big data evangelists to pay heed to what The Economist calls “the classic hype cycle, in which a technology’s early proponents make overly grandiose claims, people sling arrows when those promises fall flat, but the technology eventually transforms the world, though not necessarily in ways the pundits expected. It happened with the web, and television, radio, motion pictures and the telegraph before it.”

When it rains it pours, and when it rains big data hype it quickly turns into a monsoon of mass hysteria, basically, mob psychology in action! I enjoy spotting and scoffing at big data BS promoters on places like LinkedIn, half of whom not sure of what they’re babbling about. They’re just on the big data bandwagon just as they’ve jumped headlong on the Japanese single malt bandwagon, suckers for flavor of the month.

It’s the same with change management.

Change management may appear commonsensical, but the fact of the matter is that most change is resisted because it’s corporate-centered and then repackaged to try to coerce employees to embrace the change. Now, why would employees embrace change if it means more work, more stress, more KPIs to achieve and less personal time for themselves? No wonder people fight change.

Unless you have the appropriate rigorous training and the relevant experience, you cannot possibly possess a deep understanding of psychological principles and research methodologies that are at the intersection of theory and practice in organizational settings. The strength of a real expert on change management lies in his ability to identify key psychological theories and applying them successfully to a wide variety of challenges facing contemporary organizations.

Work backwards starting with the fear of the people who will be impacted by the change and change will get embraced but you need the pertinent training and experience to do that. Attending courses and paying for a certificate doesn’t make you an expert in anything.

But as with big data – the latest buzzword – suddenly everyone is an expert in change management, never mind the fact that many of these self-styled experts are brandishing certification of one kind or another from dubious organizations who claim to know enough about the subject that they have the nerve to go around certifying people and making them change management experts overnight.

Seriously with no background even in psychology, can these so-called experts or organizations that declare them to be experts claim to know anything deep about change?

Let me reiterate: you don’t become an expert by paying a fee, sitting in a classroom, and then take a test that result in you being rewarded with a piece of paper, a piece of paper that allows you to hang up your shingle and set up shop.

Ditto trainers. I have seen jokers with multiple certification declaring them to be training experts and what do they do? In front of a class, behind PowerPoint slides, they stand there blinking and twitching and trying to look intelligent.

Pathetic, really.

It’s the same with coaching as well.

Everyone is a coach nowadays.

I’ve had people bragging about the millions they’re making from coaching.

Well, I supposed if Angelina Jolie can be a professor at London School of Economics I guess there’s hope for everyone. I am not aware of Ms Jolie having acquired a single academic qualification in her 40 narcissistic years upon this earth – let alone the qualifications to earn the title of “professor.” What next? Desmond Kuek of the problem-plagued SMRT being appointed professor and asked to teach a course on how to run a breakdown-free mass rapid transit system?

If you read the book Conversations with a Maestro, you know how I feel about coaching and coaches and all those other snake oil peddlers. (You may get more information on the book elsewhere on this very web site.)

I hate to sound negative, but most of these self-proclaimed coaches are unemployed losers who cannot go around stating on their CVs that they are jobless, so they call themselves coaches.

So the next time you declare yourself to be a certified expert on whatever, do yourself a favor and ask “Will I become a butt of jokes?”

And the next time someone claims to be an expert, be sure to check his credentials, get a real expert to test his understanding of the expertise area he claims to possess, investigate his track record thoroughly by conducting background checks and take everything presented to you with a large pinch of salt.

No real expert will resist scrutiny by anyone and provable track record determines the difference between a person’s head knowledge versus what he has actually been able to deliver.

Knowing is not the same as doing.

Rid the world of charlatans!

There are already too many.

Intrinsic Change