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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.

Resolve to be Present

Another year is here and many people are thinking about resolutions. For some, resolutions are part of starting a new year. Others have turned their backs on them because, quite frankly, they usually don’t have much staying power. Whatever your personal bias on resolutions, I challenge you to resolve to make this one change this year — being present for those you lead.

One of the biggest challenges many of us have is being present. We are constantly distracted by texts, email, Facebook. Twitter, our to-do list, the economy, our kids, the weather…the list could go on. And, honestly, we would sometimes add the people we work with or who work for us to this list. I think we can all admit that, at one time or another, we’ve felt that sense of exasperation when there is a knock on our door and one or our people needs to talk with us. “Ugh,” we think, “this is getting in the way of my work.”

A quick reminder, as a manager and leader, your people are your work. Your job is to equip them to achieve results and to get work done through them, not in spite of them.

So, as this New Year starts, resolve that next time that knock happens, you’ll turn away from your computer or smartphone or tablet. You’ll turn the ringer off on your phone. You’ll clear some mental space and be present for the other person. Resolve to minimize the distractions so that for the 5 minutes or 15 minutes or 60 minutes this person needs of you, you are there to help him or her focus, to answer questions, educate, brainstorm, listen or direct so that that individual is able to move his or her work — your work — forward.

Issues 2012: Retention and Engagement

Workers in America are an unhappy lot. In 2010 The Conference Board reported that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations are not bringing anywhere near their best to work.

This statistic tells me that our #1 leadership issue in 2012 needs to be retention and engagement.

Wait a minute. You’re thinking, “In this economy, no one is going anywhere.” Maybe not in the current situation, but it’s beginning to turn around and soon resumes will be hitting the streets. What you do now will impact how many resumes from your team will be in the mix.

What we know about people who are dissatisfied in their jobs is that they will leave — either physically or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, our best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, our poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of our workforce won’t be the first out the door but will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 and walk out precisely at 5:00. And once they see top performers leaving, they too will begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, your new year’s resolution should be to retain and engage the performers on your team. Here are some things to think about: 

      • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans if a performer leaves.
         
      • On the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?
         
      • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
         
      • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say “I want to be part of this?”
         
      • People are satisfied when they perceive they are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress. As you set 2012 goals with your team, how meaningful are they? Will the person have a sense of progress?
         
      • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
         
      • Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths? Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching?
         
      • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and address what can be changed.
         
      • Finally, don’t throw money at it, unless that is the real issue. Money will only work in the short term. Meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress will motivate people in the long term.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.