Issues 2012: Creating a Culture of Excellence

Back 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 compelling clarity, 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.

Performance Management and Unintended Consequences

Last year, the state of Georgia published a report showing that cheating on a statewide exam was occurring at 80% of the schools in the Atlanta school district. It had become a regular practice to change answers on student exams in order to meet the performance standards set for the schools and district. Some educators even had ‘cheat parties’ where they would get together on the weekend to change the answers on the tests. A statistical analysis showed that the probability of the type of performance improvement shown year over year was one in quadrillion.

Former Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, who retired in June 2011 as head of the 48,000-student district, is accused of creating a culture of fear, pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement, and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved (USA Today, July 12, 2011).

If you were to ask Dr. Hall if her goal was to create a culture of cheating, I’m sure she would tell you that her intent was to create a culture of high performance and student achievement. Cheating was an unintended consequence.

One of a leader’s core functions is to build high performance. We set goals, create accountability, give feedback, and provide praise or other consequences. However, we rarely stop to think about the unintended consequences. We don’t ask whether we’re driving behaviors that we don’t want by the way we approach performance.

Those familiar with the Atlanta situation say that Dr. Hall was ‘data-driven’. The numbers were the results that mattered. Sound familiar? Managing by the numbers alone opens the door for people to behave in ways that we may not want or expect (think Enron, Lehman Brothers) I recently saw a posting by a sales manager who found that one of his sales reps performed well one day a month — the day before the sales results needed to be turned in. That’s all he needed to do to reach his goal and get his commissions. The manager was concerned that he wasn’t doing much the other days. Rather than driving performance, the numbers-only approach was limiting it.

Rather than focusing purely on the numbers, we need to focus on both the results and the behaviors that lead to those results. What’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior on the way to the numbers? Do we turn a blind eye to bad behavior because, ‘she gets results’? Are we creating expectations that cause people to spend their time “gaming” the system or to focus on achieving real performance? What are the unintended consequences of how we are leading?

Issues 2012: Leadership is a Relationship, The Trust Equation

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with leadership expert Michael Maccoby when he was asked the difference between leadership and management. He gave very simple, elegant response.Management,” he said, “is a role. Leadership is a relationship.” Leaders are not leaders without followers. People don’t follow because someone has a title. They follow because a leader has created a connection to something in which they want to participate.
 

As we know, leaders’ relationships with their people are somewhat strained these days. Trust, a key part of any relationship, has been damaged by the financial crisis, the recession, corporate responses to the recession that were often necessary, but also very difficult. Rebuilding leadership trust and our relationships with those we work with is a critical component of engagement and for moving our companies forward in 2012.

If leadership is a relationship, how do we build real relationships at work? Not transactional relationships where we are focused on the tasks and activities needed to get work done, but relationships where we are creating a work environment where the sum is greater than the parts.

In his book, The Trusted Advisor, David Maister discusses the trust equation, a formula for building sustained partnership with others. While he discusses the equation’s importance to business advisors, it describes the elements of trust that are key to real leadership.

The trust equation is:

Trust = C + R + I
                  S

C is credibility. Leadership credibility has two components. The first is how much your team believes your words and actions. The second is to what degree you have the know-how, experience or background to know what you are talking about. On the one hand its objective — do you have the ‘qualifications’ to be a leader. On the other hand it’s an emotional response. Do I perceive you as being believable? Do your actions reflect truthfulness? Do you have truthful intent? How many experiences have we all had over the past 18 months that made us question the truthfulness of those we considered leaders? What’s the lingering impact on our workplaces?

R is reliability. People need to know they can count on leaders, that the leader will walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders need to follow- through on promises and follow-up on commitments. There needs to be a sense of predictability and fairness in the way a leader approaches situations and people every single day. Otherwise, the relational bank account that funds trust goes into the red.

In the Trust Equation, I is intimacy or the ability create a personal connection. This does not mean that as a leader you need to share your private life or dwell on the private lives of your people. It means recognizing that work is a personal place and issues like career development, promotions, compensation, reorganizations, hiring and firing are intensely personal. As a leader, the willingness to have emotional honesty about these and other issues in the workplace increases the trust your team has in you and the commitment they have to your agenda.

Credibility, reliability and intimacy’s additive effect is mitigated by how much others perceive a leader is acting primarily out of self-concern. If others believe a leader building a ‘relationship’ primarily to serve his or her own interests — i.e., to advance his or her career, to manipulate a situation for advantage without regard to the goals, needs and struggles of others, to push off responsibility and blame others– trust is destroyed, the relationship is seen as disingenuous and engagement and commitment plummet.

As you look at engagement and commitment in your organizations this year, think about your own trust equation. To what degree have you developed a real relationship with your people?

Why Are You A Leader?

Why Are You A Leader?

 
I recently receive the following as part of a longer post from the Human Capital Institute and it instantly caught my attention:

 

“In the context of an organization where people ideally share purpose, the power of knowing “why” each of us chooses our role helps us be more productive. “It’s often difficult to do something well if we don’t know the reasons we’re doing it to begin with,” says Dan Pink, adding, “People at work are thirsting for context.” As a leader one of the most powerful things you can do is provide that context; instead of monitoring what, where, when and how, encourage people to consider why they’re in their roles-every day, and listen to what they have to say.”

I’ve referred to our Leadership in the Next Decade research quite a bit lately. When I read this, it reinforced the wisdom that our respondents shared with us about where leaders need to focus to build success and business results in the coming years. One of the top leadership abilities respondents identified as critical was ‘creating a compelling vision and strategy’, in other words providing context, helping people understand why. Pink’s quote brings home the other side of the equation — listening to why others are in their roles. By listening to what people throughout the organization have to say, we will be able to understand why they have chosen to be part of this larger organization and to build alignment of purpose for an ever larger part of our organizations.

As leaders can you answer these questions:

    • Why am I in this role? What makes you get up in the morning and come to work? Have you shared that story with others in your organization? 
       
    • Why are other people in their roles? Do you have any idea why the people on your team choose to be there? What about your peers? Your boss?
       
    • Why does our organization exist? What is our compelling purpose? I would argue that if you can only come up with “to provide shareholder value” you are going to come up short in the eyes of many people. Many people don’t think that the main reason they come to work is to drive up stock prices for investors. That may be an outcome of the work that is done and the value the organization creates but it’s not really the context people are thirsting for.
       
    • How do these 3 whys align? We may have different reasons for being in our roles and still be aligned around a common purpose. How does our collection of why’s build the tapestry that delivers value to our customers, shareholders, employees, and communities?

 

Leadership in the Age of Social Media

 

Leadership in the Age of Social Media

                         

 

           Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn

 

 

Social media is more and more a part of everyone’s life. While it used to be the realm of many of our teenage children, it is now considered an almost indispensable part of our work lives. Recruiters use LinkedIn to identify candidates for key roles. Companies have Facebook pages to promote themselves and their products. Some forward looking companies are adapting social media for use inside their companies, allowing employees to post, chat, tag and collaborate on social media technologies. Whether your company uses social media or not, people’s growing participation in social media has implications for how you lead. What does leadership mean in the age of social media? How has it changed expectations in the workplace?

                          Leading in the age of social media, means sharing leadership and letting go.

For many seasoned leaders, a core part of what made them successful was managing risk, making all the decisions and providing solutions. Social media allows a wide variety of people to share ideas, solutions and perspectives. At its core is the idea of pulling away barriers and allowing access to ideas and resources as never before. Social media allows people to be part of almost any conversation they choose and lead around issues where they have an interest or passion. This desire to be a part of the conversation doesn’t stop when they walk in the door at work. People in your organization want it to be successful. They want to be part of the conversation, part of the decisions, and part of the solutions, i.e., they want to lead. Executives and managers need to know that there are leaders throughout their organizations and that rather than controlling the agenda, they need to know that it can and should be influenced from anywhere in the organization.

Leading in the age of social media, means creating a clear and compelling vision and giving people information so they can make great things happen.

Power in organizations used to come from having and keeping information. Power today comes from sharing information and building collaborations. The age of social media has tapped into the desire to be engaged and involved. As a leader, you need to know that when you give people a clear vision of where the company is going and information about some of the issues it needs to address to get there, your people will do the rest. I’ve heard multiple stories from companies that use social media internally that have addressed issues and achieved results they never could have imagined without the input of people all over the organization. Polly Pearson, formerly of EMC, shares a story about this. During the height of the economic crisis, EMC needed to significantly reduce costs. Rather than sitting in a room and figuring it out for themselves, company executives gave everyone in the company information about what they were facing and what needed to be done. They then asked for recommendations about what and where to cut. After vetting all the response, they came up with 3X the amount of savings they needed. Whether your company uses social media internally or not, power lies in the contributions everyone has to give.

Leading in the age of social media means removing barriers to collaboration.

Outside of work, when I’m on social media, I can connect and collaborate with engineers, artists, physicians, non-profit leaders, and sales professionals in India, Belgium, Ohio or next door. There are no barriers to which we can connect within social media. What if we could recreate this in our organizations? Effective leaders in the age of social media break down barriers in their organizations to allow for connections and innovation to occur.

Leading in the age of social media means getting real.

Historically, the more senior a leader became in the organization, the more the walls went up around him or her. They dressed differently than their employees. They communicated via official vehicles like memos or emails from the Office of the President, full of very formal language that gave us know insight into the person from whom it was originating. Going to the 35th floor (or whatever floor your executive suite is on) was shrouded in great mystery and only available to a chose few. In the age of social media, people expect their leaders get real. Drop the corporate speak. Take away the mystery. Tell it to us like it really is. We’re big people; we can handle the truth. And, we’re more likely to follow the real human being than the archetype of a leader you used to try to present.

Managing Toxic Relationships

You’ve got a great product, the right people, and finely tuned processes, but there is a huge roadblock to your personal success, your team’s success, maybe even your organization’s success — toxic relationships.

We’ve all experienced toxic relationships at work. They interfere with the ability to move the organization forward. They inhibit productivity. They have a negative impact on morale and engagement. In the end they cost the company time, money, and increased levels of frustration.

We’re proud to introduce some help. We have recently introduced our Managing Toxic Relationships Workshop to a cadre of senior professional and executive women with very positive reviews. Here are what some participants had to say:

“This program parsed out this topic and provided me with some concrete, complex engaging concepts wrapped in the form of tools folks could take away for use in daily life. You gave us lots to think about as well as allowed for meaningful discussion” — Pat Arcady, Arcady Mediation

“I attended the terrific seminar you gave… on toxic relationships a few weeks back. Thank you for a thought provoking and stimulating evening. I have continued to think about the things we discussed and some of the ideas you presented.” — Senior Leader in a major health care institution in Boston

This interactive half-day or full-day workshop arms participants with tools for successfully navigating toxic relationships while reclaiming productivity, engagement and results through effective relationships with others.

Participants walk away with:

  • Frameworks for assessing your toxic relationships
  • Increased understanding of the role of power in toxic relationships 
  • Tools for effectively resolving and managing conflicts
  • A game plan for managing toxic relationships in-person and virtually
  • Tips for creating and maintaining effective in-person and virtual relationships over the long term

Call me at 978.475.8424 or email me at eoharvey@factorintalent.com to learn more.

Five Reasons Leaders Don’t Succeed

LeadershipJessica had been on the high potential list every year since she started with her biotechnology company. She was moved into a variety of roles, taking on different responsibilities and succeeding each time. She was known as a strong leader because of her ability to achieve results. When she was moved into the Director of Operations role things started to change. Within 6 months of taking the role, she wasn’t delivering the results everyone thought she was capable of delivering. Her team was contentious and morale was wavering. What was going on? Had Jessica topped out her potential, a living example of the Peter Principle? Had she lost her ability to lead?

Of course she didn’t lose her ability to lead. Her abilities and skills had not just simply vanished but other parts of the situation had changed. I’ve seen five common reasons why a leader who has been effective in the past is now failing.

1. Some skills, critical skills were overlooked before. Let’s talk about the obvious reason first. Some leaders have not developed key skills that they need to be successful. Just like brilliant students who breeze through school, sometimes people climb to positions of leadership because they are brilliant marketers, brilliant scientists, or brilliant (put your profession here). But along the road to success, the people around this leader choose to overlook a key skill (or two or three) until it can’t be overlooked any more and causes huge issues. For example, if we go back to Jessica, throughout her career it was noted in talent reviews that she could be abrasive and often got things done through force of will rather than by building relationships and coalitions. She thought of herself as ‘results-focused.’ When she moved into her Operations role, it became imperative for her to build relationship with peers in other parts of the organization to get results. Interestingly, her ‘results-focus’ is what got in the way.

2. Cultural mismatch. This is a common reason why leaders who have been wildly successful in one environment for a long time, fail miserably in a very short time in another. The way a person operates and becomes successful in one culture can be very different from another. For example, a leader may have been very successful in a culture that valued quick decision making and risk taking. Put that same leader in an environment driven by consensus and a desire to explore issues from every angle before moving forward and wait for the results.

3.  Process and system mismatch. In the 1800’s, some people did very well in the wild, wild west and others went back home to the security of their established communities. Some leaders are very adept at working in environments with less defined processes and systems. They either work without them or really enjoy putting them in place. Others thrive in environments where processes and systems are clearly defined. Think of the serial entrepreneur who is put into a large, complex organization that has acquired his firm. Change was a way of life in his entrepreneurial firm but isn’t in this large organization. Leading change in the former was easy; everyone thrived on it. In the new organization it takes real work. The processes that exist are meant to maintain the status quo not change it and people in his new organization wonder why he was once perceived as someone who drove change.

4.  Lack of management support. Even the most seasoned executive needs people in her corner. She needs people who support her success. She may need coaching and mentoring to navigate the new role. Even the best CEO won’t succeed if the Chairman of the Board decides she is not the person for the job and needs to go.

5.  Organization structure. We all have been in situations where roles aren’t clear, responsibilities are redundant, unnecessary internal competition is the norm, resources aren’t available or decision making is lost in layers of management morass. Leaders can find themselves in the same situations. I worked for an organization once that routinely pitted leaders against each other by giving them the same issue to address or initiative to lead in different parts of the organization without each leader knowing about the other’s charge. There could only be one winner in this situation so one of them automatically was going to fail.

Re-recruit Your Top Talent

Re-recruit Top Talent

 

The recent job numbers show that hiring is on the rise, which means that some of your best people may be starting to look for their next big opportunity. Now is a good time to think about re-recruiting your top talent.  When it comes to your top performers how recently have you:

 

  •  Explained your vision for your company/group/department and told them what role they play in achieving that vision?
  • Told them that they are a valued part of the organizationand why they are valuable?  I’m not talking platitudes here.  I’m talking about genuine respect for the talents and contributions they bring. 
  • Asked them what they find interesting or engaging about their work?
  • Asked them what concerns they have about their current work or career?
  • Discussed where they want to take their career in the next few years?
  • Engaged them in solving a significant business issue?
  • Given them the opportunity to take on additional responsibility? NOTE:  This does not mean that you’ve heaped more and more work on them simply because you know they’ll get it done.  Is it the opportunity to take on additional, meaningful responsibilities?
  • Given them a break if they need one.   It’s possible they’ve carried a heavier load than others because of their talents.  Do they need the opportunity to have a slightly lighter load for a while?   
  •  Done a pulse check on their engagement level?  Is it waning?  Are they as energized as ever or feeling beat up by the work environment of the past couple of years?
  • Told them why this is still a great place to work?  You want to do this with a heavy dose of realism in it.  Nothing sends them running for the doors more than a manager who seems to have no sense of reality and who is cheering a little too loudly.

If it’s been too long since you’ve asked at least some of these questions or said some of these things, you should consider having or scheduling this conversation today.  Don’t just save it for your top performers.  Soon after they start leaving, others will take the cue and you could see more people walking out the door than you’d like. 

 

Reframe Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you.  You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team, or in the company.  The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation.  I believe this is true because for many of us feedback = negative.  We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well, or about a mistake they’ve made or about what they need to do to be better.  For the next week my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things that research has proven over and over again and that hasn’t seemed to make it into our thinking as leaders is the power of positive feedback.  Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of 100+ performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction.  Positive feedback was  one of 7 practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative.  The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

 So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week.  Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.   

 When you provide your positive feedback remember a couple of guidelines:

 The feedback should be Specific and Situational.  Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.

  • It should focus on Behavior.  What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the Impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created?  How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer. 
  • Avoid vague feedback like ‘great job’ or ‘way to go’.  One of the reasons to give positive  feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future.  If I’m not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for me to make it happen again. 

After trying this for a week, try it again next week.  I’m interested to know how it goes.  Write and tell me your stories. 

What’s a Key Driver of Performance?

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem very mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such ‘soft stuff’.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

 
Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone. (Source: Gallup website) 

Beyond the significant differences engaged workgroups show in productivity, profitability, safety incidents, and absenteeism versus disengaged workgroups Gallup’s research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry. (Source: Gallup website)

Now the question is what really drives engagement? Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School Professor and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is this — of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4th New York Times article, Anabile and Kramer note “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly this positive ‘inner work life’ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators,they ranked ‘supporting progress’ dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

So, next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the mountain or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down on them.