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Expectations-busters

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What kind of expectations do you set for your team? Most people I speak with believe they set clear, concise goals that help their people focus on what’s important. Once the goal communication is done, they believe everyone has their marching orders and will carry on until the goals are achieved.

Setting expectations is about more than just setting goals or objectives at a point in time. Your expectations of others are set and reinforced every day by your actions and reactions to situations that arise. When that reinforcement doesn’t happen, you have what I often call “expectations-busters.” Have you ever experienced one of the following expectation-busters?

Goals are set and within two to three months most of the goals are completely irrelevant or have been re-prioritized to the bottom of the list. Business priorities change. That’s a given. However, if rapid goal obsolescence is a regular occurrence in your organization, it sends the message that leadership really isn’t sure where things are going or can’t make up its mind. The result is an attitude of “I don’t really need to put a lot of effort into whatever the stated goals are because they’re just going to change anyway.”

Once a goal or expectation is set, it’s never discussed again. If you give someone a goal, but the two of you never discuss progress against the goal, that person will assume it’s not a very important goal. He’ll assume you are really interested in other things.

Goals or expectations are set but rewards and recognition are given for things completely unrelated to achieving them. Remember the adage “what gets measured, gets done”? Well, when an expectation is set, the person assumes it has some relevance to his performance and in turn his salary increase, promotion consideration, and general recognition. Nothing busts expectations like seeing people rewarded for things that have nothing to do with meeting expectations and achieving results.

There is no differentiation in recognition when expectations are achieved, exceeded or not achieved. This is a corollary to rewarding things that are unrelated to achieving goals and objectives. If people who meet expectations and those who exceed expectations and those who do not meet expectations are not recognized and rewarded in any distinctly different ways, a high performer will become disengaged quickly and you’ll see overall performance migrate to mediocrity.

Setting expectations is not a one-time event. The relevance of those expectations is established on a regular basis. How you integrate setting and reinforcing expectations into your leadership approach will mean the difference between achieving expectations and moving towards excellence versus simply being mediocre.

Which expectations-busters have you been guilty of committing?

How can you get rid of expectations-busters in your organization?

Creating a Powerhouse Culture

Company CultureThe powerhouse employee is highly capable in the work he does, motivated, and engaged.  Capability is something you can either hire for or develop.  An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete very soon after the investment.  Most people come to anew job full of motivation and engagement.  They are ready to go, excited to be there, and committed to success.  The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, commitment can take a bid dive.

As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability, motivation, and engagement levels are.  How are you increasing them or decreasing them?  As you do this week’s thinking, take money out of the motivation and engagement equation.  Money is the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts.  Over and over again, research shows that long-term motivation and engagement at work come from being able to make progress and feel competent in doing something that is meaningful.  Many things, such as those listed below, can get in the way of generating long-term motivation and engagement.  Have you been guilty of any of these?

  • Assuming that making a profit is motivating enough for anyone to inspire performance
  • Giving someone a project, allowing them to move forward with it, and just before it’s completed telling them priorities have changed.
  • Consistently setting goals that are so much of a stretch they are viewed as unrealistic in any time frame.
  • Shifting priorities again and again and again.
  • Promoting people or moving them into new roles while providing little to no direction regarding your expectations for them.
  • Telling someone they own the project, then advising them in a way that makes them feel yo are controlling every aspect.

Take Action!  Real Change Accelerator

Examine your efforts with your team, then answer this question.
What are you really doing, really putting effort into, that’s building a powerhouse team?

Creating Silos

Silos

Is change breaking down your silos or creating more?  Here’s what we know about change.

  • Change creates feelings of uncertainty.
  • When we are uncertain, we don’t believe we have the answers, so we look for them elsewhere.
  • When looking elsewhere, we look to those sources and people we know and trust.
  • At work, that includes peers and leaders.
  • The peers and leaders we know best are those we work with most closely.

If this is the impact of uncertainty, what psychological incentive do you have to reach out of your comfort zone and breakdown the silos?  How do you encourage collaboration?

  • Create forums to meet people in the other silo(s). Earlier in my career, the bank I was working for acquired a competitor.  We were going to combine teams, bringing together two silos.  After the acquisition was finalized, we held a daylong meeting with the sole purpose of understanding what each member of the new team did and our approaches to our work.  After the meeting, we each had a far better understanding of who each person was and how we each worked. There was less uncertainty.
  • Find the common areas of uncertainty.  Talk about the elephant in the room.  The meeting I mentioned above reduced some areas of uncertainty and, honestly, created others.  What are we all unsure or unclear about?  During change we can feel that we want to be perceived as highly competent and in the know. Admitting we are uncertain about something requires vulnerability but it opens the door for real understanding.  Knowing others are going through the same experiences of uncertainty, especially because it feels negative, can create a sense of camaraderie.
  • Find or create the answers together.  Change can feel like it is happening to us and we have little control.  The reality is that we have significant control over how change is executed and how we interact with it.  If you don’t know something important, determine how you will find out.  Often, the way you’ll find or create the answers is by bringing others in, not shutting them out

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance

Compelling Clarity 2016

Compelling Clarity 2012Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP of HR, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization. He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months. I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work. He looked at me and with a shrug said “Edith, its insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world. How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked. He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing.

There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount. But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing? ‘and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

      • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
      • Why are we going in that direction?
      • What will we look like a year from now?
      • What top priorities will get us there? 
      • How will we know we’re successful?
      • Why do I want to be part of this? Why should someone else want to be part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact. Without a sense of where they’re going you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision and gauge the reactions. After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith, it’s…”

Building an Accountability Culture

Building an Accountability CultureOne of the most difficult skills for many leaders to master is to artfully and effectively build accountability into the culture. They need to walk the line between creating a punitive culture, where people are afraid to be innovative, take responsibility or drive change because of the fear of failure and its ramifications. On the other extreme is the leader who wants to create such a feel-good culture that they let things slide and pretty soon people aren’t clear what, if anything is important and they adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s approach to dealing with adversity:  “Tomorrow is another day.”

In an accountability culture, each person takes ownership for achieving results.

Too often we think about accountability only when something goes wrong. Until then, we figure that people know what needs to get done and will do it. It’s what I call a rear view mirror exercise. A more powerful approach is to be mindful of creating a culture of accountability by using the ACAR model.

  • Align: To create a culture of accountability, you need to start by aligning goals, people and process. The first step is to ensure that individual or team goals are aligned with the larger corporate, group and department goals. People will give more importance to what they are doing when they understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture. Even better, explain the larger goals to them and then engage them in setting their own goals. Second, ask yourself if the work people are doing is aligned with their strengths — their talent– and with the goals you are asking them to achieve? The ability to use our strengths at work makes it much more likely that we will complete tasks and create results. Third, align the goal with what the individual finds motivating. When an individual is able to see how the work they are doing helps fulfill a personal need or aspiration, they will own the work. Finally, do we have enough processes in place for someone to achieve what needs to get done? If not, have you given them the capacity to create it?
  • Communicate Expectations: Do your expectations focus on activity or results? Am I accountable for the activities I engage in or the results they produce? Often it’s both. For example, we may have expectations for how someone works with other members of the team in order to achieve their results. Where accountability falls apart is when we focus solely on one or the other. We’ll reward the person who achieves the best results even though everyone knows their behavior flies in the face of what we say we value, leading to a toxic culture. Other times, we are so focused on people getting the activities right that we will give them an “A for effort”. We lose sight of the ultimate goal because we are so focused on the process that we create a situation where nothing seems to get done. Communicate what your expectations are — both behavior and results.
  • Acknowledge. We usually think of holding people accountable when someone is not making the deadline, when quality isn’t what it should be or when results aren’t achieved. Often, we are looking for where to assign blame. Turn that thinking on its head. Focus on those people who are doing what they are supposed to do and achieving results. Recognize them, point it out to others. Watch the impact it has. People will recognize that achieving results is noticed and makes a difference.
  • Redirect and Re-engage. Even after aligning, communicating and acknowledging, there will still be performance issues from time to time. You’ll still need to have the hard conversations. You will need to tell people that part of their performance is not where it needs to be. You will need to share your disappointment or describe the impact it had on the team. Most importantly, you then need to redirect and re-engage. You need to engage the individual in a conversation about how to improve performance. You need to recheck the alignment, the communication and the acknowledgement. The conversation should build a partnership in which the individual takes ownership of the work that needs to be done.

 

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

“The only constant is change.” – Unknown

change is the only constant

 

Over the past several years this saying and many others about change have become rather trite. “Change is everywhere and to be successful you must embrace it.” “Change is the new normal.” “Champions eat change for breakfast.” Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.

What is somewhat new about change is the sheer pace of it. With the advent of breakneck technology advances, change is not only constant but accelerating. Every few months there is a new social media outlet that can help you reach your customers while you’re still trying to figure out Twitter. Some businesses are wondering if they should create an app for their services. Messages can travel around your company, not to mention the world, in nanoseconds. And there are still the usual changes like new product introductions, reorganizations, and new workflows.

– How should you take a leadership position around change in the 2015 workplace?

– Answer the big question, “WHY?” People yearn for context. They want to understand why things happen and how they fit into that equation. As things move ever more quickly, we often forget to answer this simple question in our haste to “just get it done.”

– Listen to the reactions. Sometimes we think that in order to lead change, we need to be the cheerleader, playing down the realities that change is hard and that there will be bumps along the way. Take the time to listen and to respond in a realistic way to the reactions people have — the good, the bad and the ugly. In some situations it’s okay to say, “Yes, this stinks and at times it is going to be difficult. When we get through this, here is how we will be in a better place…”

Know that some people will be more ready to change than you. When it comes to introducing technological change, there are people in your organization who will be asking why the company isn’t moving more quickly. We have a whole generation who have grown up with IM, texting, Facebook and other forms of social media. Harness their enthusiasm to learn all you can about the benefits and the drawbacks of various technologies. Engage them in understanding how it could be used in your business or why your business isn’t ready for it.

Be a storyteller. Think back to your childhood. I could probably mention a story that you haven’t heard in 30 years and you could tell it to me. If I asked you to explain Freshman Algebra concepts to me, that would probably not be so easy for most of us. We are wired to remember stories. They help us put ourselves in situations and to remember information. Tell stories about the successes of previous changes where people first had doubts. Tell stories about how a team worked together to make it happen. Tell stories that help people paint a picture and understand how to move forward.

-Use social media. More and more of our organizations are using social media as way for people within the company to communicate with each other. Use social media yourself to ask questions, share updates, talk about successes, and ask for ideas. Again, if you need help in this area, there are people in your organization who are social media savvy. Encourage your team to use it as a way to have a productive conversation about the changes that are occurring. Soon you’ll see leaders emerge on your team, taking the reins of championing change.

Strategy & Choice

door-knocker-sm

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. — @MichaelEPorter

 

 

I was recently having a conversation with someone about strategy. He noted that at the end of the day, strategy is simply about choice. As someone who does a lot of strategy work, I was taken by this elegant definition of strategy. A well-defined strategy should be an articulation of a choice you are making about how you will achieve your vision. It is also the choice of what you will not do to achieve your vision. It is saying yes to some things and no to others.

It’s also a guide for the choices you make about how to implement the strategy. On a tactical level, it serves as the guidepost for the daily choices and decisions that get made about what markets to pursue, what products to introduce, who to hire and promote and where offices should be located. It can be a touchstone for difficult decisions, providing criteria for weighing your options.

For the strategy to play its important role in guiding choice, it needs to be widely communicated and understood. It needs to be discussed on a regular basis so it is top of mind. Too many times I hear Directors or VP’s in large organizations that the strategy is not clear. If they don’t know it, how can anyone else?

 

 

 

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a recognized organizational and leadership development expert.  She works with Fortune 500 firms, growing companies, and universities to design their organizations, develop their leaders and continually elevate performance.  She has been quoted in The New York Times, Human Resource Executive, CNN.com and the author of the newly released book “Getting Real:  Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Time-Strapped, Multi-Tasking World of Work”

 

Why Change Kills Engagement


A big concern for manager during times of change is how to keep their people engaged. We all know that change is hard. Just because it’s become a regular part of our work life doesn’t make it any easier. As a matter of fact, because we are continually changing and adapting, keeping people engaged when we announce the fifth major change in the past two years is harder than keeping them engaged for the first one.

Why is that? In large part it’s the nature of change but it’s also because of how our organizations manage or mismanage change.

Long term, real engagement comes from four factors — having a sense that what you’re doing is meaningful, the ability to make progress, feeling competent and having a say in how you do your work or a sense of autonomy. Too often, our change efforts fly in the face of these four factors. For example:

    • Change that seems to be done for the sake of change. Too often why change is happening isn’t communicated well. It may not be apparent why this change is meaningful. If someone understand why it’s happening, he’s more likely to make the connection. When communicating about change, make sure you talk about why it’s happening and how it connects to what’s important to each individual. 
       
    • The change effort never makes it to the goal. Too often, change efforts are stopped before they ever reach the stated goal. And then, we introduce another one. People are never going to feel like they’re making progress if half way into every change initiative, we stop that effort and introduce the next one. Before deep sixing a change, step back and ask if you’ve really given it the time to work. 
       
    • “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Change creates uncertainty. Roles can become unclear. People are sure what the expectations are. Individuals may not be sure how to accomplish the task in the new organization. It’s difficult to feel competent when you don’t know what you’re doing and no one will give you direction. Make sure you are helping people understand their roles and responsibilities. They need to hear it multiple times in multiple ways. Don’t assume that because you’ve told them once, it’s all clear. 
       
    • Changing the processes so that there is no room for inconsistency. Some change is about improving service or quality by creating immutable standards. Templates and procedures and operating principles are created to make the achievement of these standards easier. However, when these templates, procedures and operating principles are implemented so that there is no room for personal adaptation or creativity, you’ve lost people. As someone once said, “you could have a monkey do this job. What do you need me for?” Yes, sometimes templates and procedures add value but ask yourself if your approach to implementing them is also killing personal autonomy.