Coaching a Superstar

Coaching a SuperstarThe spectacle of the closing ceremonies have marked the end of another Olympics.  Personally, I love all things Olympic.  Every time I watch the Olympics I’m struck by the stories of how the athletes  got there. Each has his or her own journey but the one thing they all have in common is a coach who got them there.  And, for many of them, that coach was never an Olympian.  They were never as good as the person they coach.

All of us, at one time or another in our career will manage a superstar.  You know them, that person who you know is more talented than  you and who you know will probably surpass you on the career ladder.  Some people don’t think they have anything to teach this person.  Nothing is further from the truth. 

Even superstars need coaches. And, all superstars have coaches.  Coaches add value by being able to see what the superstar doesn’t.  You are able to watch them and see the blind spots.  You can see how if they made a slight change here or a big change there, they will reach even higher levels of achievement.  You can provide them context and be a safe sounding board for new ideas.  You can push them when they need pushing and slow them down when they need to think before they act.

Who is your top athlete?  What coaching will take them to the next level of performance?  

What is High Potential?

I am often asked to take a look at company’s talent review processes. The talent review process usually involves plotting talent in the 9-box matrix on the basis of performance and potential. Invariably, potential is described as “ability to move up 2 levels within the next 3-5 years.” My question is what do you base that assessment on? Usually it has to do with how well the individual is doing in his current job and his track record. Or it may be based on something similar to the definition of obscenity “I just know it when I see it.” Too often this causes high potential identification to be a bit of a beauty contest. Various ideas of what creates high potential go into the decisions when in reality these characteristics may have little to do with the ability for someone to grow rapidly in the organization.

I believe there are five key characteristics that differentiate high potential talent from other talent.

The individual wants to be a senior leader: There is always at least one person on a company’s high potential list who has no desire to move to ever higher levels in the organization. He may be very talented and meet the rest of the criteria I have listed here but if the desire for increased leadership responsibility is not there, he is not a high potential.

Adaptability: high potential talent is able to quickly adapt and adjust to changing circumstances. When a high potential is placed in a new situation, she is able to quickly assess the situation, learn what is critical to success in that situation and adjusts to it.

Continual learning: high potentials are always learning. He continually wants to grow and expand his understanding of where the industry may be going, how the business environment is changing, different approaches, different perspectives, and different components of the business. The high potential then integrates this understanding into how he gets results.

Impact on others. Being a senior leader means getting things done through others and leading others who often have more expertise than you. This requires the capacity to create a compelling vision and strategy that engages and motivates others to go on that journey with you.

Performance: This is usually the first characteristic people list as what differentiates high potentials. Usually, a high potential is a consistently high performer. Her performance is distinctly different from others. That said, high potential talent is at times in the wrong job. Yes, it’s true, even high potentials are not successful at everything. You may have a high potential that performs poorly in a role because of a mismatch. It is important to look at that situation and determine if it’s an anomaly or a new pattern.

Look at the high potentials in your organization that have been successful as they’ve moved up in the organization. See if these characteristics are what made the difference in their trajectory and how others moved in the organization.

Smarter Goals

 

The idea of S.M.A.R.T. goals has been around for a long time. Many of you who have attended management training have at one time or another been exposed to this concept. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the elements that make up a well written goal. I’m advocating for a new acronym —S.M.A.R.T.E.R. This approach keeps the S.M.A.R.T. components and adds what I view as two critical elements.

 

S = Specific. All goals should be focused on a specific outcome or behavior.
M = Measurable. Effective goals can be measured. You define what success looks like. The measure can be quantitative (percentages, earnings, numbers) or qualitative (behavioral differences observed).
A = Attainable or Achievable.
Goals need to be seen as something that can actually be reached. Otherwise, they are just viewed as a pipe dream and have little impact on performance because nothing you do will ever be good enough.
R = Relevant. They need to relate to what someone does and what someone has control over. If a goal really doesn’t relate to what I do, then why does it matter?
T = Time bound. Too often, goals are set without a specific end date in mind. If a ‘goal’ is open-ended and ongoing, it’s not a goal. It’s a task or a process.
E = Engaging. Goals are often thought to be very objective and numbers-driven, i.e., very intellectual, not emotional. Or, in the case of behavioral goals, sometimes people view them as not really that important. For people to take ownership of achieving a goal, they need to be emotionally engaged with the idea that achieving this goal is important to them, not just to the company or group.
R = Recognized. People need to see that achieving the goal makes a difference. They need to see that something positive will result or something negative will cease. Recognition, rewards and reinforcement are all important for goals to be effective.

Expectation Busters

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. For some people, that is probably true. For others, setting expectations does not seem to be working as well.

Setting expectations is about more than just setting goals or objectives at a point in time. Expectations are set and reinforced every day by your actions and reactions to situations that arrive. 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 this 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 anyways.”
       
    • Once a goal or expectation is set, it’s never discussed again. If I’m given a goal and we never discuss progress against the goal, I will assume it’s not a very important. I’ll assume you are really interested in other things. 
       
    • Objectives 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 I assume it has some relevance to my performance and, in turn, my 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. 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 distinctly different ways, a high performer will become disengaged quickly and you’ll see overall performance migrate to mediocrity.

Setting expectations is not a onetime event. The relevance of those expectations is established on a regular basis. How you integrate those expectations into your leadership approach will mean the difference between achieving expectations and moving towards excellence and mediocrity.

Looking in the Mirror

Valentine’s Day is the one day a year that is set aside for those who love us to tell us how much they love us and what they love about us. As we bask in the glow of these wonderful sentiments, we recognize that there are things that our loved ones don’t love so much about us.

When we lead others, in some ways, every day is Valentine’s Day. You see it’s very hard for those who report to us to tell us anything except what they love about us. It’s inherent in the system. We are the people who make key decisions that impact these people every day. We decide what assignments they get. We assess their performance and give them salary increases. We decide if they’re ready to be promoted and whether or not we’ll advocate for that. And human nature being what it is, people don’t want to ‘get on the bad side’ of the person who makes these decisions. So, while we’re expected to provide developmental feedback as part of the job, it doesn’t usually come our way from those who work for us.

That means when we think about our leadership performance we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “If I worked for me, what would I be dying to tell myself but probably never say?” It’s a hard question, but one that we should really think about. One of the traps of success is that we begin to believe a little too much of our own press. At times, we forget that with success comes new challenges and with those challenge come new behaviors we need to exhibit and lessons we need to learn. We’re not always good at everything that is required of us in our job. We can become guarded about seeing things that don’t reinforce our successful vision of ourselves. Sometimes, those things we are guarding ourselves against, are what keep us from being as good a leader as we can be.

Give yourself and your people a Valentine. Look in the mirror and ask the hard question. Then commit to making a change so that next year when you ask the question, you have a different answer.

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.