Changing Feedback

Changing FeedbackRaise your hand if giving feedback is not one of your favorite things to do.  Okay, you can put your hand down now.

Feedback is one of the core skills taught to anyone who goes through leadership training — along with goal setting, coaching, delegating, conflict management and team development.  I have trained hundreds of managers in a very specific formula for giving effective feedback.  The problem with feedback is that we don’t like to give it and for many people, receiving it is not something they look forward to.  It feels judgmental, critical, evaluative.  That’s not to say that knowing how to improve isn’t essential– it is.  It’s that feedback tends to put too much emphasis on what you’ve done in the past that needs to improve rather than on how to improve.

Last week, I was reminded of the power of Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward process.  I was with a group and we engaged in a feedforward activity that went something like this.  You approach someone you don’t know in the group and describe a behavior you are trying to change or something you need to do better.  You then remain quiet while your partner provides you with suggestions on improvement.  Your job is to listen.  After the other person finishes with his or her suggestions, you don’t evaluate, you don’t critique, you don’t assess.  You simply say, “Thank you”.  We were able to approach three different people with the same issue and receive three perspectives on improving and making change.

The results: I walked away with several terrific ideas about how to make the behavioral change I was interested in making.  When we debriefed this activity as a group, we all had the same response to it.  It was very valuable and it felt good.  It felt productive.  We didn’t have the feeling of being beat down.  We weren’t tense going into the conversation. Why? Because we were focused on building the future rather than focusing a lot of time on the past.

Everyone needs feedback from time to time because we’re not always aware of what we are doing that needs to change or improve.  But once we know, the conversation should focus on feedforward — what ideas can we generate to create the future rather than spending time focused on the past.   An even better idea, rather than starting the conversation by providing your feedback, ask the other individual what he thought went well and what needed to improve in a situation.  You’ll probably be quite surprised by how aware he is and then you can both focus on what’s really important — moving forward.

Reconnecting with Purpose

Reconnecting with PurposeI’m preparing to engage with a group coaching cadre for a new client.  For those of you not familiar with group coaching, it is coaching that occurs in and among a group of peers where the professional coach and the other members of the group drive discovery and learning.  Our initial focus is about the importance of purpose in leadership, especially leadership in the face of adversity. As I’ve been preparing for our first coaching call, I’m reminded of the importance of asking “what is my purpose?”

This question often feels like one of those grandiose, navel-gazing questions that we don’t really have time for in our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking world of work where we seem to face new adversity everyday.  However, when you give it more thought, it actually may have some benefit in helping us deal with our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking lives.

You see, purpose should serve as the focus for our activities.  It should help us decide what’s important, what needs doing, and what doesn’t have to be done or can be done later.

Purpose is multi-faceted.  We may have a singular purpose that is manifested in multiple ways.  Or we may have different purposes, all of which have deep meaning for us.

As leaders, by returning to our purpose, we can prioritize and evaluate what is asked of us daily.  If your purpose is to serve customers, you should ask yourself how you are leading your team to achieve that result? If your purpose is driven by the core values of competence and collaboration, how are you creating an environment where that can occur?

As leaders it’s also important to understand not just your own but also each team member’s purpose and to help create an alignment between that and what you are asking them to do.

So, take a few minutes of solitude and ask yourself ‘what’s my purpose at work?”  Then go through your to do list and look at it through the lens of your answer.  You may be surprise at what happens.

Awaken the Sleeping Giant

innovation diagram

 

Fareed Zakaria of CNN has a terrific series on innovation where he interviews top innovation thinkers on how to spur creativity.  We can all awaken the sleeping giant in each of our companies by spurring innovation in our own areas of influence.

 

 

 

To lead for creativity and innovation:

  • Hire people with natural curiosity and a desire for continual learning.  Innovation and creativity comes from a desire to do things differently and people who are curious, life-long learners ask questions like “why?” and “why not?”
  • Hire people who execute ideas.  Idea generators are the engine of innovation.  Those who execute are the steering wheel.  Without those who can take the ideas from just ideas to ideas that work, you’ll never get where the innovation has the potential to go.
  • Engage people in interesting business issues. People get creative when there is a tough nut to crack.  The next time your team has a difficult challenge facing them, rather than sitting in your office trying to find the solution, pull together a group of your best talent and ask them to solve the problem.  If you’ve seen Apollo 13, think about the scene where the engineers need to find a solution to an oxygen deletion problem by making a square filter fit in a round hole. They’re given a box of materials that are on the lunar module, told their mission and told to make it happen.
  • Make innovation part of the ongoing conversation. Be careful how you position innovation in the conversation. When you throw around the words ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ most people respond with something like ‘oh, I’m not very creative’ or ‘people like me don’t innovate.  Those are the guys at Google.’  However, if you ask, ‘how can we make things run  more smoothly’ or ‘how can we add more value to our customers’ or ‘what would really make a difference  in how we work’, everyone will have an idea.
  • Create space to develop the best ideas. Give each of your team members the challenge and the space to spend time thinking about their part of the business and where they could take it.  Thinking often takes a back seat to doing in our culture but it is essential to innovation.

Hire the right mix. Engage them in meaty issues. Have a continual dialogue. Give the space to think and act.  Awaken the sleeping giant within.

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Between an earthquake and a hurricane, we heard that Steve Jobs announced he is stepping down as CEO of Apple. Jobs has been the face of Apple and its innovative environment for two decades. Naturally there is commentary on what his departure means and on what it means across media — from The New York Times to BNET to mashable.com.

The questions remains about what Apple will be like without him and only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the lessons we can learn from Jobs and the culture he built at Apple:

 

    • The Think Different mindset. Apple has created products that we didn’t know we needed and done it Apple’s way. They are famous for doing things on their timetable and listening to Apple’s own drummer. While most other companies are looking at the best practices of others to determine what they should do, Apple created best in class. Don’t look to others to tell you how you should move forward. 
    • Bring in thinking from the outside in to inform, not to replicate. This is different from search for best practices. It’s about being curious and looking for good ideas. Jobs noted that being ousted as CEO back in 1985 was one of the best things that could happen to him. He built a little company called Pixar that changed movie making and animation forever. He took those experiences from a company that was not a traditional tech company and infused them in Apple upon his return. 
    • Build an environment where taking risks is expected. Risk taking is hard for many people and is especially hard in a really tough economy. Jobs is a natural risk taker and by infusing that into Apple’s way of working, has changed technology, our expectations of the aesthetics and design of our technology, and quite honestly, has literally changed industries (think about it, car manufacturers changed their designs to include ports for iPods). If Jobs were the only risk taker at Apple, it would not be the company it is today. He took that desire and ability to take risks and built it into the culture.
    • Have a successor.  Steve Job’s departure will be smooth because he has had a successor identified for 7 years. His wake-up call came when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Because of the time and effort that has gone into grooming his successor, his resignation letter simply had to state that he recommended his successor take over. While I’m sure his resignation was a huge part of the conversations at Apple the next day, there was no doubt that a capable, though different, leader was stepping into the void.

 

As you approach your work, put a little Steve Jobs swagger into what you do and see what results it brings.

What Is Everyone Else Saying…

I’m on vacation this week so I thought I’d connect you with some great things others have been saying:

Beware the Shiny Objects:  John Gibbons of I4cp discusses some of the glimmers of good news that have been overshadowed by the debt crisis and the importance of keeping your eye on long term strategic imperatives while you deal with more immediate business issues.

Five Great Leadership Lessons You Won’t Want to Learn the Hard Way: A quick read by Jeff Haden about the key leadership lessons he shared when asked to talk to MBA students.

Take Back Your Time: A conversation with Joe Robinson, founder of Work to Live, about the importance of time off for productivity.

Have a terrific week!

What Millennials Want

What Millennials WantPricewaterhouseCooper’s 2011 Global CEO Survey says that money is not going to buy  you love with the brightest of GenY /Millennials.   According to the survey, the Millennials biggest retention drivers are training and development and the ability to work in communities of mutual interest and passion.

As a generation who grew up using the internet and social media, they want to connect with other bright people to work on challenges and business problems that are meaningful and important.  They also understand they are being hired for a job, not for a lifetime.  They are keen on building and refining their skills so that they are able to take advantage of opportunities inside the company, and when and if the time comes, outside the company. They have a strong desire for coaching and mentoring.

This reinforces the findings we published last October about leadership in the next decade.  In order to successfully lead this workforce, leaders will need to be highly skilled at:

  • Creating and communicating a compelling vision that will attract the best Millennial talent by connecting with what they find meaningful.
  • Creating collaboration by breaking down silos and utilizing social media and collaboration technologies.
  • Leveraging resources from across the organization to address significant business issues.
  • Managing talent by providing them with cultures that focus on developing talent and careers, building capabilities and capacity through formal and informal development opportunities.

What’s your organization doing to attract and retain the best Millennial talent?

The Value of Experience

In August 1st’s Boston Globe, Scott Kirsner wrote in his Innovation Economy column about start-ups courting older talent.  Hubspot, a local firm that’s experiencing amazing growth has started a campaign called “Prison Break” to court older talent from large companies.  Dharmesh Shah, Hubspot’s CTO, noted that the challenge in the start-up world is having people who have a lot of ‘flight hours’ and have actually deployed large systems — more than once.  He also notes that by looking at large company talent, they are not competing with other start-ups for the talent already resident in the start-up world.

I think Shah is on to something.  We’ve all heard the statistics about the aging of the boomer workforce and quite honestly the first wave of Gen X is not far behind.  There are a lot of them (okay, us.  I’m officially on the tail end of the boomer generation even though I was only 5 when Woodstock happened).  And they are not the older generation of yesteryear.  Many are looking for the next challenge.  They want to bring their vast experience and have it inform innovations that are going on, not stall the innovations.  They have a richness of experiences that can be integrated into new thinking to create more robust products and better solutions. The economy we are moving to will need people with diverse perspectives that are willing to contribute and work together to come up with what I call the ‘third solution’.  It’s not my solution or your solution but a better solution that answers questions, addresses issues, and allows us to rise to the challenge.

Shah’s perspective should also remind us that real talent comes in many different packages.  Our star performers are not necessarily from one generation or another, from one region or another, from one department or another, etc.  There are diamonds in the rough everywhere and we should not discount someone based on our typical stereotypes.

Many, many years ago when I was searching for a job, I belonged to a networking group of HR professionals.  At the time, one of the ‘older’ job seekers had gone on an interview at a start-up.  When asked what the company needed most, the owner responded, “Adult supervision!”  This owner expressed an understanding that even the brightest new ideas could benefit from having those who have been around the block a couple of times give their perspective on the best way to make it around.

How Can I Take My Performance to the Next Level?

I woke up yesterday morning and the calendar said it was almost July.  July!  How can it already be half way through the year?  This realization made me think about the goals I had set at the beginning of the year and where I stood against those goals.  I asked myself, ‘How can I take my performance to the next level?”  At this time of year, especially in companies that have mid-year check-ins as part of their performance management process, you and your people may have this same question.

What do I need to do to get to the next level?

When our people ask this question, they are usually looking for us to help them navigate the performance or career development waters and give them the answer for where they should be taking their performance or career.  When asked this question, use the GOAL Development Conversation Framework to guide the conversation.

First, determine the individual’s Goals. Review where the individual is in his or her current role.  Are they ready for a move?  What are the individual’s personal and career goals?

Second, gain the individual’s Observations on what he or she does well, areas of interest and development needs. Ask for examples.

Third, add your Assessment and the assessment of others, if you know them for a fact.  If your team member is interested in moving to another role, what skills and competencies does someone need to be successful in that role?  How does this person compare to that profile right now?  What do they need to develop?  How does it align (or not align) with their interests?

Finally, create a Learning plan.  What more do you or your team member need to learn about the role in which he or she is interested?  What skills or competencies do they need to develop?  How do they need to better showcase strengths?

 

What Butler’s Final Four Appearance Can Teach Us About Competition and Leadership

 Anyone who’s watching the NCAA basketball tournament and was watching on Saturday saw Butler pull out a huge win over Florida in overtime to move on the the Final Four.  This isn’t their first trip to the Final Four. Last year they were not only in the Final Four but in the National Championship game.

As someone who went to college and grad school in Indiana, Butler University is a familiar name to me just not as a basketball powerhouse.  They are a school of 4,500 students in Indianapolis.

Florida has 50,000.  Before beating Florida, they knocked out Wisconsin and #1 ranked Pitt, the odds-on favorite for many to win the tourney.
What can Butler teach us about being competitive when others have more people, deeper pockets, more supporters and a legacy of winning?

 They have a clear, burning goal — to win.

  • They believe in their ability to achieve that goal. Butler’s star senior is a guy named Matt Howard.  People say he doesn’t look like a star player.  He’s described as ‘a hell of a basketball player with a weird skill set and surprising strength.’It’s said his teammates say he is quirky.  He’s also describes as someone you always believes they are capable of winning in any situation. And that adamant belief causes other to believe, too.
  • You don’t need a lot of people, you need the right people. They are a school of 4,500 people.  They are not a marquee name in the world of college sports (though I’m sure that’s changing).  Yet, they found and cultivated the group of talented athletes that have made it past teams 10X their size.
  • They persevere. In those four tournament games they’ve won up to this point, they’ve beaten their opponents by only 13 total points.   They overcame an 11 point second half deficit to win against Florida.
  • Strong, strategy-focused leadership adds to competitive advantage. The Butler coach, Brad Stevens, is 34 years old and this is his second trip to the Final Four.  He is measured and balanced in his approach.  He has a strategy for the game and plays to that strategy.
  • They work as a team. Trite, I know.  They are a basketball team after all. But not all team sports revolve around the team.  Look at some players in professional sports teams and it often seems the play is about shining their light the brightest, not shining a bright light on the team.  As Nick Fasulo or Beyond the Arc said when comparing Butler to the last non-BCS team to be in the Final Four, UNLV in the early 90’s Instead, “[Butler] is the embodiment of a overachieving group of athletes dedicated to one single goal, led by one of the brightest and boldest coaches in all of sports.” They are a clear example the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Go Bulldogs!

Five Capabilities Mid-Level Leaders Need Now

Mid-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:

  1. 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 an culture of collaboration and investments in technologies to facilitate collaboration a priority.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.