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A Better Way to Motivate

Dynamic Alignment works in any performance management process

 

We recommend Dynamic Alignment to leaders at all levels as we train or coach them. It starts quite easily by setting expectations a bit differently. And it relies on engaging with team members in simple, but essential ways — to build a sense of engagement and collaboration. It’s designed for the way we work today, as we face constantly shifting priorities that require ever more agility.

The whole idea behind performance management is to align effort, achieve results, and, at its core, motivate your team members.
 The problem is, the old models aren’t nearly as effective anymore. They don’t work when an organization needs to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances, because many of our performance management processes are built for stability and static alignment. Traditionally, it’s based on the carrot and the stick principle.  Goals are set. Progress is tracked over time. If you perform well, you’re rewarded. If not, rewards are withheld. The tension with a process that rewards alignment when agility is needed, is often demotivating. Goals are not connected to results because of shifting priorities, and people feel their efforts are wasted.

No matter what your formal performance management process, you can still use Dynamic Alignment to get more out of it. 
 The techniques manage the tension between alignment and agility, reducing frustration from wasted effort, which increases motivation – and engagement.

 

4 Ways to Build Dynamic Alignment

  • Dynamic Alignment still starts with setting goals. But the first step to support a motivating process is to ensure that your team members understand the goals are creating clarity, not certainty. From the beginning set the expectation that these are the goals AND they will most likely change in priority, scope, etc. This aligns expectations and builds trust because they aren’t caught off guard or frustrated by priority shifts when they invariably happen. Let your team members know that opportunities and challenges will arise for the business and the team. You may find that a particular path is not taking them where the team needs to go. Encourage your team members to discuss opportunities and challenges they see over time that may indicate a course correction is needed. This gives them the opportunity to be a co-creator in priority shifts. The shifts are done with them, not to them.
  • When priority shifts happen, it’s essential to explain why and check for deeper understanding.  Why is this more important than our previous priority? How will it create bigger, better, or more critical impact? Why is it a good thing for our customers or clients? Explain that it’s not personal. It’s not because the individual is doing a poor job or was focused on the wrong thing. When a person understands the why, it allows them to connect to their personal why, increasing their engagement and motivation.
  • When a project or work deliverable is deprioritized, have a conversation about what can be used from the work that has already been done.  Frustration increases and motivation decreases when we make progress against a goal, only to have it be deprioritized — especially when it happens repeatedly. It’s like rolling the boulder up the hill and having it roll back down. People begin to see less and less value in putting in the effort when they perceive it’s just going to be for nothing. How can it be applied to the new priorities? What did we learn along the way that could have a positive impact on the new priorities? What skills did they hone? Recognize the value that the effort to-date has created.
  • Dynamic Alignment must be horizontal as well. When your team’s priorities are being realigned, demotivation is still a threat if alignment doesn’t exist with the people they need to collaborate with to make things happen. Cross-boundary misalignment often leads to conflict, confusion, and isolation. When left unresolved, collaboration is seen as a punishment, not engaging and valuable.
Motivation, especially amidst continually shifting priorities, is critical to success. Creating dynamic alignment makes it easier for employees to understand why things are changing and how their role is important to making that change happen. Ultimately, you help them recognize how this priority affects their customers’ satisfaction, their team’s accomplishments and their own success.

 

And it can be leveraged within whatever performance management process your organization uses.

Contact us for more information on how we help your leaders apply dynamic alignment and better motivate their teams.

4 Must-Do Items on Every Leader’s January Checklist

We’re starting another year. Like any other, it will be filled with opportunities and challenges, achievements and disappointments, zigs and zags. During these first couple weeks of the year, position yourself and your team for success in the months to come. Here are 4 actions that will help you start the year personally centered, organizationally aligned, and ready to go.
How can you and your team get off on the right foot in 2023?
Reconnect to your North Star.  What is your big “why?” Why do you do the work you do? How is it helping you live your values? How does your work advance your personal and career goals? Your business goals? What needs to change to move you further along this year?
  • There are hundreds of tools online to help you do this.  Here’s one.

 

  • If you’re already sure of your North Star, here’s a quick tool for moving you forward: with your north star in mind, create a “Start-Stop-Continue/ Improve” list. Focus on specific behaviors like “start spending 5 minutes preparing for every meeting/discussion by writing down how it aligns with my purpose and my goals and the top three things I want to accomplish.” Or “stop complaining in front of my team and focus on solutions.”

 

  • No matter what you do, write your thoughts down and put an alert in your calendar to check in with them on at least a quarterly basis. As this year ramps up we will be distracted by fire drills, urgent requests, and changes in plans. Aligning to your North Star will allow you to focus more fully on adding value and saying no to non-value-add activities.
Clarify goals.  For many of you, December and January are about setting annual goals for yourself and your team. Make sure you and your team are clearly aligned. Engage your team members in individual conversations about how frequently they want to check in on goal progression and the best way you can support them. Also, decide how you will reprioritize when inevitable change comes along. Even if you did this as recently as December, a quick check-in is important. People lose focus over the holidays, things change quickly and clarifying expectations at the beginning of the year leads to better alignment and happier team members.
Assess your personal routines.  Research shows that having routines can allow us to be more creative.  By creating routines around repetitive leadership tasks, we are able to direct our free cognitive resources to learning and creativity.  What are your current routines? What else could you routinize? For example, set up ‘do not disturb’ on your messaging while you’re doing concentrated work.  That way, responding to messages becomes routinized, and you’re able to respond at a time when you can focus more fully on the messages. Another way to improve your leadership is to consider your daily habits… what do you do almost without thinking or planning? What should you start/stop/continue?  Here’s a great list shared by 21 executives.
Do a mental health check.  How are you feeling as you start the year? Take an honest look at your emotional and mental health. Many of us are energized and ready to go. Many others are still feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and daunted by what lies ahead of us. Commit time each day to taking care of yourself. Go for a walk. Connect with friends. Read. Do something that feeds your energy. Your company likely has confidential resources that you can access to help you understand and improve your health.
Being intentional around these four areas, you’ll position yourself for a great start to 2023.
What else do you do to start your new year with intention?

Worried About Accountability During the “Great Resignation?”

Record numbers of people are leaving their jobs and it’s putting a strain on businesses and their leaders. When you’re concerned about holding onto your best talent (who are usually the first to leave because they have the best options), it may seem like the wrong time to really hold people accountable. To be honest, we have become a little fearful. For many, the thinking is, “if I push my people too much right now, they’ll be even more likely to go.” Losing more good people is a legitimate concern. But here’s how accountability can actually work in your favor and increase your ability to retain and engage your best talent.

Three things you can do now to make accountability work:

  • Align performance with client needs.  It’s a lot easier to talk with someone about their performance if you explain how it matters to clients, including internal clients. “Lisa, let’s talk about ABC Pros. They’re one of our most important clients, so we need to bump up our performance for them. What do you think are the top three ways we can do that?” Add your views and expectations to the discussion. Making clients the focus of the conversation reduces the likelihood that they’ll take it personally. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the client expects. The same is true about aligning expectations with business strategy. It reminds the individual how they make an important contribution. Connecting to their personal goals can make it even more powerful.
  • Map accountability to your team members’ professional development goals.  This is one of those areas where the art of conversation matters a great deal. Accountability can – and should – be framed up as an exercise in helping your employee meet both their business and development goals. “Mike, we talked last month about your interest in learning how to do more complex data analysis. Let’s look at what you’ve done on this project to see what you’re doing well, and where you can make adjustments that would aid in your development.” This can lead to a constructive discussion about the project goals and parameters you discussed with him earlier.
  • Make accountability a two-way street.  Good leaders know that trust and a sense of fairness are critical to developing a productive working relationship with others, regardless of their role. One of the most effective ways to do that is for you to be accountable to your team members as well. This could mean making time to meet with them on a regular basis, helping them overcome resource issues or other organizational barriers, or following up on your development commitments. When you’re trying to establish their accountability include what commitments you are making to support them. “Alisha, what can I do to make this easier for you to accomplish?” Or “What have I done that’s helped you on this project?  What’s not been helpful? What else can I do?”
All three of these elements of accountability were important before the great resignation. The stakes are higher now, so doing these things well will pay even greater dividends.

5 Tips To Stay Focused

We’re approaching that time of year when things become more hectic. There’s the year-end push to meet our targets, planning for next year, and adjusting to the change in personal and family schedules that tends to happen over the next few months. It can be easy to lose focus, especially if you layer shifting priorities and organization changes on top of this. Here are 5 tips for staying focused.
  • Revisit your strategic objectives: Remember those objectives that were set at the beginning of the year? Have things shifted, are they still relevant? If not, what has taken their place? Check-in with your boss, your team, and your peers to ensure you are in agreement on what’s most important to achieve between now and the end of the year.
  • Map the next ten days: A few months can feel like a long time or no time at all when you’re thinking about achieving results. I’ve started using a planning system that pushes me to create 10-day objectives that map to key goals and strategies. It has caused me to pause, step back and really think about and then focus on what the most valuable use of my time is over the next two weeks.
  • Manage Your Energy . Along with those 10-day objectives will be daily to-do’s that pop up and can’t be ignored. Be mindful of what time of day you are at your best. Allocate your time so that your most important work happens when you are at your best. Use the first 15 minutes of your work day prioritizing and planning for the rest of the day.
  • Think sprints not marathons: David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute studied thousands of people and found that we are really only focused for about 6-hours a week and our goal should be short, bursts of distraction-free work. So rather than saying, I’m going to close my door and be focused for the next 3-hours, make a commitment to shut everything else out for 30 minutes. This will give you 5-minutes of transition time at the beginning, 20 minutes of deep focus and 5 minutes to ramp up to what’s next.
  • Reward yourself: Multi-tasking is automatically rewarding to our brains. After one of your sprints, take a couple of minutes to do something rewarding. Take a walk, call a friend, grab your favorite coffee and think about how great it felt to have those few minutes of complete focus.
Do you have other tips on staying focused when there is too much going on? We’d love to hear them!
Collaboration

Over-Collaboration: Solution #1 – Be More Intentional About Meetings

Our last post talked about the problems of over-collaboration: wasted time, burn- out of some of your most valuable people, and decision/action bottlenecks.  Let’s start with something practical – smarter use of meetings as a collaborative tool. It’s not sexy, but it’s a solution that can save your team thousands of hours per month.

Most people don’t want to be viewed as un-collaborative or leaving someone out of the loop. Nor do we want to be left out of the loop ourselves.  And technology has made scheduling and accepting meetings incredibly efficient.  So, the meetings pile up.  I can’t tell you the number of leaders I’ve worked with who tell me how easy it is to accept invitations without really knowing what the meeting is all about.  Maybe they know it’s related to an important initiative, but they’re not sure exactly why they’re needed for the meeting.

So, the meeting goes on the calendar with all the others and the leader shows up.  By the time they’re questioning whether they really need to be there, it’s often too difficult to extract oneself.  So they’ve wasted 30 minutes or an hour, and they’ve wasted time physically or mentally coming and going to the meeting.  What really matters about this?  There’s the opportunity cost of not being able to tackle higher priority items.

The first solution to over-collaboration is to be intentional when planning, accepting and running meetings.

  • Determine if you really need to meet. Does every one of your meetings have a clear purpose and intended results? Do you really need to meet every week? Every month?  Can you cut the meeting from 60 to 30 minutes?  If it’s just to share information or it’s a low value meeting that seems more habitual than helpful, get rid of it altogether.
  • Be a better meeting leader.  How organized are you?  Consider must-have versus nice-to-have agenda items.  Set expectations and put targeted time limits on the agenda items.  Are you managing the discussion?  Is the person who always talks forever encouraged to get to the point?  Fight the “collaborative” urge to hear what every single person has to say on every single topic.  Do you know how to artfully table an item when you don’t have the right information or the right people at the table to make a decision?
  • When you’re planning your meetings, think about each person you are inviting. Why do they need to be there?  Do they have critical information? Are they needed to make a decision?  Are they there only for internal political reasons?  Are you making an intentional decision to include them or are they invited because they’ve always been at this type of meeting in the past?  Talk with them and encourage them to speak about whether this is a good use of their time.
  • Don’t make attendance all or nothing.  Can one person represent one or more additional people at the meeting?  Can some people be invited only for certain meetings or segments of meetings?  Maybe they can dial in or show up at a specific time.  If you only need me for 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting, that’s 50 minutes I can spend on other pressing matters.
  • Be intentional when you receive a meeting invitation.  Ask yourself the following questions:  Why am I invited to this meeting? What value will I add to the meeting and the organization’s goals by attending? What will my role be?  Is this an opportunity for someone else on my team?
  • Give yourself and others permission to say no. Too often we feel like we can’t decline a meeting invitation.  It means we aren’t a ‘team player.’ Permit yourself and others to decline meetings.  Teach people how to say no effectively and respect it what someone else says no.  Executives who lead by example can create a culture that makes it acceptable, even desirable to limit how many people attend how many meetings.

Look at the meetings on your calendar over the course of the next month.  Which can you decline going forward?  Which can you delegate to a team member?  Are there some you can attend only part of?

Let’s say you remove just 3 meetings per week for a total savings of 120 minutes, which equates to 8 hours per month.  Now multiply that times the number of people on your team… or by the number of people in your company.  How many hours do you come up with?

What’s the value of hundreds or thousands of hours per quarter better spent on addressing your business challenges?  What’s the value of collaborating more intentionally?

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.

Tic, toc, tic, toc — Getting Beyond Time Wasters

Time Wasters

I don’t know about you but the first half of the year has flown by for me.  Time has a way of doing that, moving quickly.  So, it’s important that we use our time well. Here are three tips for making the best use of your time:

1) Weigh urgency and importance.  We all have things in life that need our immediate attention.  We also have things that are important for us to achieve the outcomes we desire.  They are not always the same thing.  If something is urgent and important, it usually gets our time. However, if it’s important and not urgent it is very easy to not give it the time it needs. Take a look at how you’re using your time.  Are the things taking up your time urgent? important? urgent and important? or urgent and unimportant.  If too many are in the last category, you probably feel frustrated.  Recalibrate and determine how to move those things off your plate and make more room for the important and not urgent.

2) Build mental breaks into your day.  If you don’t build in mental breaks, you become less effective. And more prone to get distracted by Facebook, fantasy football or your text alerts.  However, if you know you will be taking break to get your electronic fix, you can spend time truly focusing on what needs to be done rather telling yourself ‘I’ll only take a minute to check…’ Research shows it takes 25 minutes for us to completely refocus after an interruption. So that ‘minute’ becomes more like 30.

3) Create blocks of time for just you.  When you lead other people or work in a team, it’s easy to have your time become booked with meeting after meeting or for people to continually stop in because of your open door policy.  All of us have work that needs our undivided attention.  Build times into your calendar that are sacred so you can focus on that work.  Let your team members and other people who may need to know that at a certain time, you’re going to be in your office (or cubicle) with the door (or imaginary door) closed so that you can focus on work that needs your undivided attention.  Ask them to please not disturb you unless absolutely necessary.  Then close your door and get to work!
Cheers!
Edith

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.

Perils of Competition

winning culture

 

I heard a thought provoking talk by Margaret Heffernan recently. She is a business thinker and advisor to CEO’s whose TED talk has had 2 million views. The topic was about the often unintended negative consequences of businesses and a country obsessed with competition and winning.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

 

  • “The only thing that matters is getting results.”
  • “I need to make a name for myself in the company. That doesn’t happen by helping someone else.”
  • “We use forced rankings for our performance reviews.”
  • “We have an employee of the month.”

Those all reflect how we create high performance and achieve our goals, right? From the research Heffernan has done and, quite honestly, from our own experiences, that is often not true. What are some of the real consequences of the thinking reflected in these statements? Let’s take a look:

When the only thing that matters is getting results, how you get those results can promote very bad behavior. Look at the cheating scandals at universities. Think about the decisions financial institutions made that led to the financial crisis. Think about some of the people you’ve known who will do anything to win. It’s not pretty.

When career success hinges on how I and I alone make a name for myself, I won’t share information or expertise. I will maximize my performance and in the process sub-optimize the performance of others.

Forced rankings promote mediocrity. If only a small percentage can ever be ‘superstars’ then it doesn’t really matter if I work really hard because I probably won’t join them. The odds are not in my favor. On top of that, if I become part of that group, the game becomes too costly for me if I fail.

By having any recognition system that only rewards one person or a very small number of people, like employee of the month, the vast majority of your people are demotivated. Again, if only one of us can win, the odds are that I won’t be one of them.

Heffernan suggests that promoting collaborative behavior will lead to far greater success. Her research shows that companies that have long-term success not only measure and reward results, but put an equal emphasis on how one got results. They have cultural norms that promote people spending time in conversation and congregation with each other. She told the story of one company that did not allow coffee mugs on desks. It was not because they didn’t like how coffee mugs looked or feared a spill. They wanted people to get away from their desks and congregate around the coffee maker so the would begin to have conversations with each other and share ideas about their work and where the company was going.

What’s the norm at your company — collaboration or competition?

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack 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 the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter 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