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?

The Leadership Multiplier Effect

A third of all CEO’s surveyed by The Conference Board say the most pressing issue they have is attracting, developing and retaining the right talent. Two of the biggest factors in engagement and retention are trust in senior leadership and the relationship people have with their managers. With 75% of employees in a recent Gallup Organization survey reporting that they are unengaged or actively disengaged at work, leadership is not successfully addressing this issue.

Leadership excellence has a multiplier effect on organizations. Investing in developing leaders, increasing the leadership multiplier effect, is a short-term and long-term strategy that allows your organization to adapt and thrive in various economic circumstances by attracting, retaining and engaging your human capital.

What is the Leadership Multiplier Effect?

Resources spent on leadership development have a cascading effect throughout the organization. The effective leader creates exponential value for the organization through his or her influence on the strategy, people and processes in the organization. One leader’s effective decisions and actions has a ripple effect that can impact dozens or hundreds of employees, positively changing business performance for the entire department or business unit. Likewise, the impact of poor leadership decisions and actions can lead to the decreased ability to attract, develop and retain the right talent.

In addition, effective senior leaders model behaviors and skills for other leaders in the organization. They set the tone for the leadership practices that define the organization and its culture. They demonstrate the business skills that address business issues and create innovation. They define and operationalize high performance through their interactions with each other and the entire organization.

As others mature in their leadership roles, their effectiveness is increased for having been effectively developed and for the role-models presented by senior leadership. A cascade is created. With more effective leadership focused on the right things at all levels in the organization, factors impacting business performance improve. Groups led by effective leaders are more engaged resulting in higher productivity rates, increased willingness to give extra effort, and greater acceptance of change. In other words, effective leadership creates an environment that attracts and retains high quality talent.

Ensuring the effectiveness of your leaders is critical whether your business is expanding or contracting. When your business is expanding, bringing on new people, introducing new products, serving new customers, leaders need to integrate and assimilate the growth. They need to plan strategically for growth, effectively develop their teams, establish business practices and maintain the engagement people feel in those initial few months on the job.

When business is contracting, leaders need to manage the change brought on by staff reductions, reduced revenue streams and increased cost constraints. They need to maintain the remaining staff’s focus and morale. Need to maintain customer service levels, identify how to do more with less.

Optimizing the Leadership Multiplier Effect

For the leadership multiplier effect have its maximum impact, leaders must be developed effectively. Effective development includes:

1.  Identifying the core of effective leadership. What makes leaders effective? One way to start thinking about leadership effectiveness is to identify what results you want the leader to achieve and use this to identify behaviors that are effective in achieving those results.

2.   Communicating what is expected of a leader. This communication is not always in words. It’s important to understand that how you select, how you assign resources, what people are held accountable for and how you recognize and reward say a great deal about your expectations of leaders.

3.   Assessing your leaders against your model of effectiveness. If some are less effective than you need, identify a strategy for addressing it. It may be development, assignment changes, or an exit strategy. No matter what strategy seems most appropriate, it should start with a frank conversation with the leader.

4.   Identifying potential leaders within your organization and outside your organization. Do you have the bench strength you need? Also remember that leaders aren’t just those with formal titles but also those in roles that are pivotal to business success.

5.   Developing leadership effectively. Formal learning experiences, business-driven assignments and projects, coaching, mentoring and other leadership development experiences need to align with the business strategy and the expectations you’ve communicated about leadership within your organization. Utilize a suite of development activities that build leaders throughout their careers. Developing leaders is process not an event. You must take a planned approach to leadership development, not one that only addresses obvious flash points that may be ignoring underlying causes.

By taking advantage of the Leadership Multiplier Effect, you will optimize talent and create competitive advantage.

Make Your Team Smarter

Executive Team

Executives  and managers are an action-oriented group. That’s usually one of the characteristics that has made them successful. They see something that needs to be done and make sure it gets done. Unfortunately, when they’re working as a team, that drive for action makes the team do dumb things.

 

The dumb thing they do is jump right into solving the problem — identifying courses of action, recommending solutions, pushing to make a deadline.  But, wait, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?  Well, yes, but there is a better way to do it. You see by just jumping into solution-mode, the team often plunges into conflict because they never agreed on what the issue was they were trying to solve, never spent a few minutes setting up a process, and haven’t really vetted the reasonableness or effectiveness of a solution.  Then, it’s  well into the conflict before they realize that the reason for the conflict is that they are not all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of constructive conflict in teams. However, this type of conflict is an unnecessary time waster.

 

The drive for action often makes people feel like they’re ‘wasting time’ by spending time making sure everyone is on the same page about what the issue is, have criteria for successful solutions, and have put at least a small amount of structure around how we’re going to drive to solution. Actually, the exact opposite is true.  By doing some initial level-setting and planning early on, the likelihood that a team will come to the best solution and be able to implement it quickly is greatly increased.

 

Stepping back to move forward leverages everyone’s best thinking.  It makes the team smarter.

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.

 

BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST

organizational behaviorOrganizations are beastly. They can be complicated, unnerving, and overwhelming. Many times they are also ineffective or outdated.

Too often, we go along, adding new tasks, taking on different responsibilities, absorbing new groups into our department, division or territory without stopping to think about how this work should be done. We rarely say ‘can we do this work?” We take it on because saying no could have a negative impact on careers and the potential to be considered when something really exciting comes along.

When we do think about how we should be organized to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we may have a hard time seeing the opportunities for change that exist. The boxes are arranged a certain way on the paper. Certain people do certain jobs. We’ve always been successful in the past and we’ll continue to be successful just tweaking our organization here or there.

The plain fact is that sometimes, you have to start with a blank sheet of paper. You have to not be constrained by who you have on the team now or what the skill sets are. You need to start by asking ‘should we do this?’ before asking ‘how will we do this?” I recently worked with an executive and her team whose department played an important strategic role. She’d been in her role over 10 years and in that time, the organization had doubled in size, the culture had shifted towards increased speed and innovation and the industry was changing rapidly. In those 10 years, the way their group was organized had not changed in any substantive way. It was the same size with a highly tenured staff that by all accounts did a terrific job. However, the demands placed on it were several times what they once were and it was unsustainable. We had to step back and really look at what they needed to do to move the entire organization forward and what that meant for her group. The answer to how it would all get done could no longer be ‘who wants to take this on?’ We needed to look at what they should be doing, what they should say no to, the roles and structure and decide whether they had what they needed and if not, how to make that happen.

Take a look at your organization. Are you continuing to just ask people to do more? Or, is it time to take a hard look at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and who’s doing it.

Their Meetings are a Waste of Time Too

Executive Meeting
When working with a group of global executives from a wide variety of companies the other day, the conversation turned to their executive team meetings. Specifically, they were talking about their weekly executive team meetings being a waste of time.

Any executive knows it’s important to get their team together for regular meetings. The problem is that, like many of the meetings we’ve all attended, what is happening in those meetings is a poor use of that precious time together. If we want things to change, we have to change how we spend our time.

See if this sounds familiar. The team holds a 2-3 hour meeting every week. The vast majority of the time — 70%, 80%, maybe 90% — is spent focusing on status updates about what has already happened and on operational data that could just as easily be posted and read in a report. Often, many people have already heard the information in other meetings and this is being done for the CEO, VP or whomever the senior person in the room is. Or, the meeting is a mix of agenda items that were pulled together when the executive assistant sent out the weekly request for topics for the meeting. The topics are often pet projects someone wants to share or something the individual wants ‘some input on’.

Any discussion or problem-solving is focused on narrowly focused issues that may have short-term impact but in the grand scheme of things, really did not need everyone in the room’s input or perspective. A couple of people could have talked about it and made the decision what to do. The resulting decision could then be communicated to the larger group, if necessary.

Invariably, the agenda doesn’t get fully covered because the team ends up in a deep debate about one of the topics or gets into a drawn out discussion about implementation details that are best left to those whose job it is to implement.  How can we get out of this meeting hell and use this very expensive time for effectively?

1.  Focus on strategy. Establish separate meetings to deal with operational issues. Otherwise, operational issues will always dominate the meeting.

2.  Focus on decisions not discussion. Any discussion should lead to a decision. Background information that is needed for the decision should be sent and read before the meeting.

3.  Prioritize based on value and importance not just urgency. Sometimes an urgent issue needs to be addressed. If everything is on the agenda because of urgency, you’ve got a problem.

4.  Create an agenda that drives the focus on strategy and decisions. Trash the ‘who has something for the agenda approach?’

5.  Ask, ‘why should we be talking about this?’ about any topic that creeps onto the agenda. If it’s purely information sharing, write a report or create a dashboard. If it’s a decision better made elsewhere, get it off your agenda.

For tips from Fast Company on how to stay productive during days of endless meetings, click here.

Spring Cleaning Your Priorities

Happy Spring CollageSpring is that time of year when everything is new again. The winter cold and drab is finally receding. It’s a good time to think about what needs some sprucing up in your company.

Take a look back at the achievements and new opportunities presented in the first months of the year. What’s been achieved? How are you progressing? What new opportunities are presenting themselves in your market? What’s going on with your people – what talent do you have and what talent do you need? Are development plans moving forward?

It’s also a good time to clean things up. What’s no longer relevant? How have priorities shifted? What can fall off of your (or someone else’s) plate? What processes just aren’t working anymore and need to be revamped? What talent is not working out and may need to be reallocated inside or outside the company?

Don’t just save spring cleaning for the yard or your home. Do some spring cleaning at work, too.

30 Minutes That Will Change the Way You Hire

30 Minutes That Will Change the Way You Hire

We’ve all made bad hires. There was the candidate who sounded so good in the interview who we very quickly discovered was completely unqualified for the job. There was the person who had great technical expertise who brought chaos to the group because they were impossible to work with.

As I’ve worked with leaders and companies over the past several years to help them hire the best talent, one common problem I see is how little time hiring managers spend defining what skills and competencies a candidate needs to have to be successful in the job they are being hired to do. Sure, many will have a job description but the job description defines the activities of the job, not what it takes to be successful.
By spending 30 minutes defining the success factors for the job, you will greatly increase the likelihood of finding the right candidate. There are three components you need to define:

Goals/Outcomes: Where is the business going? What goals does your group need to meet in the next year or two? What goals or outcomes will the individual be expected to achieve within the first 12 – 18 months of being hired? Write these down. They form the foundation for the next two components.

Technical/Professional Skills and Experience: These are usually the easiest success factors to define. They are what the person does in the job (e.g., write press releases, manage projects, develop software,) What technical/professional skills does someone need to be successful in this role? What educational or work experiences should they have that will demonstrate the development or use of these skills?

Competencies: These success factors are often what differentiates someone who can do the job from someone who will be successful in the job. Competencies are how the individual goes about doing their work (i.e., influencing others, collaborating, handling conflict effectively, creating positive change). They are also the success factors that usually go undefined before we start interviewing . It’s the lack of these success factors that often causes someone to become a ‘problem employee’. One way to identify these success factors is to think about a team member who is very successful in a similar role. How do they go about doing their work that makes them successful?

This entire exercise should take about 30 minutes to complete. It will save you significant time, money and resources that you may have otherwise spent on candidates who are a poor fit or, worse, on employees who become a problem instead of the solution.

Five Capabilities Mid-Level Leaders Need to Forge the Future

Mid-Level LeadersMid-Level Leaders — Senior Managers, Directors, Senior Directors — are the linchpin for creating results in most of our organizations. Their task is to interpret the company’s vision and strategy, create a localized vision and strategy for their organization, and then create the capacity for execution and results. The role of bridging the strategic and operational, vision and execution future needs with today’s pressing demands, and the expectations of senior leaders and the front line has always been challenging. In today’s environment of multi-generational workplaces, rapidly changing technology, increasing competition and an ambiguous economic climate it is even more so.

                  Our recent research has identified 5 critical capabilities
                 Mid-Level Leaders need to help their organizations forge the future:

Drive collaboration and break down silos. Creating an environment in which collaboration across work groups, departments, time zones and geographies occurs easily is essential for Mid-Level Leaders to succeed. Previous barriers to collaboration are quickly falling away thanks to the collaborative tools and technologies that seem to change daily. Mid-Level leaders should make creating a culture of collaboration and investments in technologies to facilitate collaboration a priority.

Manage talent. No one has a better view to the young talent in the organization than the Mid-Level Leader. Mid-Level Leaders should conduct talent reviews to create a broader understanding of the talent in the organization and to develop key talent early in their careers.

Drive performance and create a culture of accountability. In a workplace where more and more people collaborate and where talent is valued, differences in performance expectations come more clearly into focus for everyone. The Mid-Level Leader needs to establish standards for performance and create accountability for meeting those standards. Nothing destroys the desire to collaborate or the desire for strong performers to make an impact, than the knowledge that people aren’t held accountable for their performance, or perceptions of favoritism, or lack of equity.

Make Effective Decisions. Effective, efficient decision-making is a key role for Mid-Level leader, especially in an environment of collaboration and cross-functional integration. Mid-Level leaders need to think about how they can establish approaches that allow them to get broad input efficiently, weigh and balance that input, and use it to make decisions that drive the organization forward.

Engage and Retain Talent. Innovation, creativity, and excellence are what will propel success for American companies as global competition increases. Mid-Level Leaders need to truly embrace the thinking that “people are our greatest asset” and focus on engaging and retaining talent broadly. More often than not people come to work wanting to perform well and make a contribution. The more the environment engages their hearts and minds, the better that performance will be.

Results-based Performance in a Virtual World

This posting is co-written with my colleague Stefanie Heiter, Bridging Distance.

In the emerging virtual workplace, do you miss the comfort of walking by an employee’s desk and feeling confident she or he is working hard and doing a good job? If you can’t see them working, do you wonder what they are really doing? Are you baffled by how to set expectations  that will drive results when you are not working in the same place? Are you concerned about whether your talent has the right competencies to hit the ground running when it all turns around?

Today’s workplace is characterized by people working in dispersed locations,  within matrixed structures,  with colleagues from multiple functions – even multiple organizations. Gone are the days when high performance was assessed by how much time someone ‘put in’ at the office. We are less likely to be ‘going to work’ and more likely to be ‘working’. Technology affords 24/7 access from almost anywhere. ‘Do more with less’ is now a mantra heard across countless companies via all communication media.

Despite these changes, managers are still expected to manage performance, regardless of location, time zone, function, or even language barriers, and often in the face of decreased budgets and reduced labor force. Successful managers have learned to overcome the challenges of virtual leadership, and move to results-based performance management. Here are strategies and tips successful virtual leaders use to create an effective results-based performance management approach:

Focus first on intentional, consistent relationship building.  Create presence with employees by checking in (not checking on) frequently.  Use more real-time technologies like telephone, instant messenger, chat, or text.  When you check in, ask questions focused on getting to know their locations, resources that are needed, what else is happening, sharing information and decision-making whenever possible, and asking about their lives.  Presence involves being available to people so they don’t have to make up reasons to be in contact.

Slow down to speed up.  Take time upfront to define how you are going to stay in touch, share status, keep people in the loop, and when and how you will ‘meet’.  Considerations here are protocols for high use technologies such as email (i.e., names in ‘to’ line means action required whereas ‘cc’ line means information only, when to ‘reply’ versus ‘reply to all’).  It means agreements about when and when not to use technologies, defining who should be included and NOT included in particular categories of information and meetings.

Discuss both the ends and the means.  Clearly understand the expectations you have of the individual.  What does success look like?  Make sure your definitions of success focus on the results the individual is achieving, not just the activities.  Think about using the SMART criteria – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound – to both set and communicate goals.  A goal of “Have 5 customer satisfaction meetings each month’ focuses on what you want someone to do.  The goal “Increase annual customer satisfaction by 10% through improvements identified in customer satisfaction meetings” focuses on the result.

Another thing to think about is how the individual will achieve the goal. What behaviors will they exhibit?  When people work virtually, they don’t have the opportunity to learn the culture and the way things get done.  Explicitly help them understand what works and what doesn’t in your organization.  How are people expected to behave?  How should they be working with others to meet their goals?  Sharing stories of how others have been successful is a powerful tool for communicating expectations. It paints a picture of the type of results and behaviors you expect.

Create a game plan.  Once you’ve set clear expectations, staying connected and establishing accountability is essential.  Specifically discuss which technologies you will employ for different communication needs.  Is status best delivered through email?  Do you utilize Sharepoint as a repository for different types of documents?  How should time sensitive conversations occur?  How should the individual communicate with others on the team?  When should they make a decision on their own and when should they make sure the two of you talk first?  Determine the most effective mix of ‘old’ and ‘new’ technologies.   A client recently shared that their geographically-dispersed sales team is using a private Twitter site to share product information, market intelligence and sales tips in real time.  They credit the site with increasing the effectiveness of their sales efforts.  Determine what suite of technologies you will use to assess progress against goals. Real-time conversations will be part of it but also consider the use of technologies that allow for asynchronous communication.

Create a feedback and coaching loop. Feedback on performance is most effective when it is timely and about performance that you’ve directly observed.  In a virtual world, the ability to physically see someone’s performance is not always possible.  Create processes that allow you to gain meaningful information about an individual’s performance.  For example, a sales director uses a survey with customers to get input into a sales person’s performance.  While she created the survey to get direct feedback from customers who interact with her salespeople in live situations that she is unable to attend, it has created better customer relationships.  The customers have told her that they are thrilled to be asked because it allows them to be heard.  Also use technology to coach.  For example, virtual meeting software could allow a less experienced team member to simulate a client presentation to you, providing you with the opportunity to coach them in real time.

Maintain the relationship. Our first tip was about relationship building.  Once you’ve built the relationship, take steps to maintain it.  When we primarily use technology to communicate, we often feel like we need to have a reason to communicate.  Develop a culture that says it’s ok to just check in – not check up on – by calling or initiating contact without a specific need.  Make it clear that you don’t see this as a sign that someone doesn’t have enough to do.  Also, make a point to communicate the positive.  Say thank you, recognize an individual’s achievements and results.  If we are in the habit of using technology as a vehicle for only task oriented communication, we miss an opportunity to use it as a vehicle for building capabilities and engagement.  Model this behavior with our team and you’ll find that when you do need to communicate because of a specific need, those conversations are more productive.

Effectively leading performance in a virtual world is similar in many ways to effectively leading performance in a more traditional workplace.  Leaders need to communicate expectations, monitor behavior and results, and establish an effective relationship so that we can work through the invariable issues and problems that arise.  In a virtual world, we have an ever growing toolkit to help leaders be more effective.  By understanding how to use each appropriately, leaders can get strong performance in any of the many work arrangements we find today.