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?  

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.

How Effective Is Your Leadership Team?

Leadership Team
Leading organizations happens across the leadership team. We often focus on leadership at the individual level — is John a strong leader? What about Samantha? To really assess the strength of leadership in your organization, you need to look across the leadership team. Each individual may be a strong leader but as a team is the sum greater than the parts?
 

Effective leadership teams are able to take the strength of the leaders on the team and focus them on optimizing the entire business not just their individual balance sheets.

To optimize the leadership team you need:

  • Shared goals: What’s the reason they all need to come together?
  • Compelling purpose: Is the reason we are coming together compelling enough for me to make this team a priority?
  • Clear roles: Are we clear what each of us brings to the table and the role we play on the team?
  • Trust and respect: Do we value what each other brings or are some parts of the business second class citizens?
  • Process: Many leadership teams abhor process. Without it, are you just spinning your wheels?
  • Candor: Do we have a team environment that is transparent and open and not destructive?
  • Metrics and accountability: Does achieving those shared goals mean anything or are my rewards still about individual performance?
  • Decision making: Do we spend our time making decisions or simply sharing information? Can each individual influence the outcomes?

So, how’s your team doing?

Finding Leaders

 

Numerous business journals report that a majority of Boston employers are finding it difficult to find strategic thinkers. They also report that it’s just as difficult to find candidates who can lead and motivate.

Isn’t it ironic that in an area with one of the most highly educated workforces in the country, our employers cannot find leaders who possess two of the most important leadership skills? There’s no doubt that our people are among the best and the brightest professionally and technically. But we also know that those who are the most technically or professionally proficient don’t necessarily make the best managers and leaders. They didn’t become the best in their field without an investment in developing skills and knowledge so why do we think they’ll figure out leadership on their own. These reports should sound the alarm bell for all us about the importance of investing in effective leadership development. It is a key lever for moving us from recession to recovery.

From my perspective, three important characteristics of effective management and leadership development are:

    • It’s aligned to the business strategy. How can we develop leaders who are thinking strategically — that is, exhibiting the ability to create strategies, plans, and priorities consistent with the mission and competitive strategy of the organization — if we are developing skills and competencies that are not aligned with the business strategy?
       
    • It allows them to work on real world issues that are pertinent to their daily activities. Development, whether in the classroom or in the field, should provide tools and frameworks that support actions on the job. I was recently facilitating a session on leading through influence, in which plans are created for making a proposal. One of the leaders in the program commented, “Who knew we would create real deliverables from a training program.”
       
    • It creates a network for continued development. The power of peer relationships and the learning that occurs from it is one of the most powerful development tools I’ve found. By creating peer relationships focused on sharing ideas and learning among leaders, a sustainable system is created to support continuous, self-directed learning.

Research has also shown that Boston-based employees reported they want their employer to help them further develop their skills which is a key engagement factor. What better win-win can you create than investing in development that will move the business forward and will support further employee engagement?

I’m sure these findings aren’t that different from other parts of the country. This research should spur all of us to take a deeper look at what we expect from managers and leaders and how we invest to support the successful execution of those expectations.

Are You Really a Team?

Are You Really a Team?The word and idea of a team gets used a lot in corporate America. Managers talk about their teams. Teams are pulled together to solve business issues. Teamwork is touted as the best way to achieve results.

I’m often asked to work with teams who are not performing as well as they should be. Some are outright dysfunctional. And, sometimes, the group is not a team at all. They are a group of people who report to a particular manager or who serve a particular client group. Usually, the person who brought me into the organization thinks they are or should be a team, but in reality, they aren’t or don’t need to be.
 

There are four reasons why what is often called a team is not a team at all:

  • Lack of common purpose: A team needs to have a common purpose that can only be achieved by the members of the team working together. If the purpose can be achieved without that kind of collaboration or if the only commonality is that we have the same boss, it’s not a team.
     
  • Individual, not shared, goals: Teams have shared goals and accountabilities. If each individual only has individual goals and there is no need for shared goals, then what is it we are all trying to achieve together?
     
  • Team members aren’t bought into the cause. If the team members don’t find the purpose of the team to be compelling and can’t really see how they add value, there is no team. Team members need to believe that the work being done by the team is important. They need to be committed and motivated to achieving the results.
     
  • They only get together to share information. Many of us have been in team meetings where the sole purpose is for each team member is to update the other team members and this is the only interaction the team members have with each other. Teams exist to take action against a shared purpose and goals. If we do not work collaboratively to generate ideas, to make decisions or to execute specific actions, then the “team,” is really a very labor-intensive communication vehicle. The “team” is a distribution channel. It’s not really adding any value, just getting information from one point to another.


Is Your Team Ready to Take Its Leadership to the Next Level?

 Are you ready to:

  • Look forward at the new opportunities, threats and demands on your business?
     
  • Build the ability to think strategically and systemically in your organization?
     
  • Build an even more effective team of people who share your philosophy and purpose, with strengths that complement your own?
     
  • Motivate, empower and enhance trust in the organization to execute the strategic vision and achieve great results?

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Sandbox Rules and the $2B Conflict

JP Morgan Chase $2B ConflictBy now, we’ve all heard about the $2 billion (maybe $3 billion) loss at JP Morgan. An article in The New York Times shows how this loss was the result of long unresolved conflicts. It seems that when mom wasn’t as available, the kids started throwing sand at each other in the sandbox.

The Chief Investment Officer at JPMorgan, who had managed her unit brilliantly through the financial crisis, was less present in the office due to illness for several months starting in 2010. During this time tensions between her two deputies in London and New York came out into the open. The head of the London operation gained more and more latitude to build and expand trades from the desk in London and began to compete with his NY counterpart for supremacy. When the head of the New York office raised objections, shouting matches ensued and the tensions escalated. As one trader said, “The strife distracted everyone because no one could push back.”

Conflicts are a part of life and sometimes, a daily part of work life. When handled well, conflict can spur new ideas and results in stronger outcomes. However, as this case shows, unresolved conflict can cost real money.

When conflicts remain unresolved the nature of the conflict changes. When conflict starts the conversation is about you (your ego), me (my ego) and the conflict. If we aren’t able to resolve the conflict, my focus on the conflict changes. You fall out of the picture and I’m focused on the conflict and what I need to get out of it. If it still remains unresolved, I get to the point of not caring what the conflict is actually about, instead the focus is completely on me and making sure I get what I need, to make sure I win.

This seems to be what happened at JP Morgan. Something in the culture allowed the focus to go from coming up with the best decision and solution to winning at all costs. The inability to play nice in the sandbox just cost them $2 billion.

How’s your sandbox?

What Do You Have to Offer Top Talent?

Hiring is ramping up and as always, highly talented, successful job candidates are in high demand. There never seem to be enough. Even in the depths of the recession we heard that companies had openings they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find the right candidates.

What if it wasn’t the candidates but the companies? What if those candidates stayed away because they couldn’t see value in what the company had to offer?

When we hire, we tend to look at hiring as a one way street, i.e. I have a need and I need someone who meets my specifications. That’s a problem. Hiring is a two way street. We have a need for someone to meet our specifications. As we should, we always want the best. The most talented candidates also have needs and specifications that they want companies to meet. Top talent has the upper hand in the hiring scenario. They know that what they have is in demand in the marketplace. They can be selective about where they will work.

To attract and hire the best you need to know what you have to offer that’s attractive to a top tier candidate. While money is important to them it is by no means the only thing that’s important. For many, it ranks third or fourth most important.

In order to compete for top talent, define an employer brand. Ask yourself:

  • What are the values, mission and purpose of your organization? Top talent want to be part of a company that is going somewhere that resonates with them. They want to work for a company whose values align with their own. 
     
  • What’s the culture? How do people talk about what it’s like to work for you or your company? Is it a family? Are you at war? Do you work hard, play hard? Cultural fit is a key indicator of a candidate’s long term success. Top talent look for a sense of community. If they can’t identify with your culture or if you can’t define your culture in ways that speaks to them, they don’t want to be part of it.
     
  • What opportunities will they have to grow and develop? Top talent doesn’t want to stagnate. Even if they’re in the same role for five years, they want to know that there is opportunity to grow within that role, to take on new challenges and build their capabilities. 

During the interview process, candidates will ask “what’s the best thing about working here?” Don’t let your answer be just ‘the money’ or some vague answer like ‘the opportunity.’ Be able to articulate a strong brand and provide examples that can bring the brand to life. Show top talent why working for you and your company is the best decision they can make.

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.