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Making Room for Failure

Making Room for Failure - Factor In TalentHow often are innovation and risk taking discussed in your organization? Among the executives I’m working with, they both seem to be to be hot topics. In leadership team meetings, they’re talking about how to get people to take more risks. They want new ideas that will change their product mix or increase market share. But when you look at how their companies approach risk you find it’s focused on mitigating it. Or when you look at how products are developed the process favors a small tweak or a modest change to a ‘proven winner.’ The actions aren’t supporting the words.

If you want more innovation and risk taking in your organization, you have to expect, allow and celebrate failure. Without failure, breakthroughs don’t happen. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes it’s not going to work. It will fail. And if you want someone to take a risk again, you have to take that failure and hold it up to the light. Not to highlight what not to do but rather to highlight what to do. Jason Seiken, former SVP and General Manager for digital at NPR wanted to create a more innovative culture. So, he made failure part of everyone’s goals and performance. He created the failure metric and integrated into daily conversation and formal performance reviews. As a member of the digital team, if you did NOT fail during the year, you received a lower performance rating. In his recent Harvard Business Review blog, Seiken notes “In the end, the failure metric was something of a verbal stunt. Here’s what staffers said a few years later: If I had simply announced that they had permission to fail, they would have considered it corporate blather. By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously.”

What would shock your organization into action?

Tell the Story

teamwork 660 x 330As you and your team are thinking about how to Finish Strong, take a lesson from Twitter to get them fired up.

If you use Twitter you know that you have 140 characters to tell your story. It forces you to really think about what you want to say and about how you’ll say it. To get your team to buy in to your Finish Strong projects you need to give them a compelling reason to join in the effort. You need to engage them in a story about why this is important. And, you need to make it short and sweet. You need to make the message simple and easy to remember so that when asked, each of your team members can share what the team is doing and why.

Finish Strong

Finish Strong Collage

A few weeks ago, I talked about spring cleaning your priorities. Now that you’ve cleaned them up, focus on finishing the year strong.

With summer approaching, many people are thinking about taking time off, having some fun, and relaxing a little. All these are important. Refilling the tank lets you finish the race. But a strong finish needs more than a full tank of gas. You also need a road map for keeping momentum going during the summer months and finishing strong.

Before summer hits, pull your team together and create your summer road map. Identify 2-4 items — short projects, processes that need to be updated, new customer relationships that need to grow — the team can focus on between now and Labor Day that will make a big impact on meeting your goals. Use them as development opportunities. Give your next generation talent a chance to develop their leadership skills. Help others expand their skill sets. Plan an end-of-summer celebration for after Labor Day. Celebrate the results. Discuss finishing strong. And, give everyone the chance to share vacation pictures.

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?  

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?

Managing Toxic Relationships

You’ve got a great product, the right people, and finely tuned processes, but there is a huge roadblock to your personal success, your team’s success, maybe even your organization’s success — toxic relationships.

We’ve all experienced toxic relationships at work. They interfere with the ability to move the organization forward. They inhibit productivity. They have a negative impact on morale and engagement. In the end they cost the company time, money, and increased levels of frustration.

We’re proud to introduce some help. We have recently introduced our Managing Toxic Relationships Workshop to a cadre of senior professional and executive women with very positive reviews. Here are what some participants had to say:

“This program parsed out this topic and provided me with some concrete, complex engaging concepts wrapped in the form of tools folks could take away for use in daily life. You gave us lots to think about as well as allowed for meaningful discussion” — Pat Arcady, Arcady Mediation

“I attended the terrific seminar you gave… on toxic relationships a few weeks back. Thank you for a thought provoking and stimulating evening. I have continued to think about the things we discussed and some of the ideas you presented.” — Senior Leader in a major health care institution in Boston

This interactive half-day or full-day workshop arms participants with tools for successfully navigating toxic relationships while reclaiming productivity, engagement and results through effective relationships with others.

Participants walk away with:

  • Frameworks for assessing your toxic relationships
  • Increased understanding of the role of power in toxic relationships 
  • Tools for effectively resolving and managing conflicts
  • A game plan for managing toxic relationships in-person and virtually
  • Tips for creating and maintaining effective in-person and virtual relationships over the long term

Call me at 978.475.8424 or email me at eoharvey@factorintalent.com to learn more.

Reframe 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 = negative.  We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well, or about a mistake they’ve made or about what they need to do to be better.  For the next week my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things that research has proven over and over again and that hasn’t seemed to make it into our thinking as leaders is the power of positive feedback.  Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of 100+ performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction.  Positive feedback was  one of 7 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 I’m not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for me to make it happen again. 

After trying this for a week, try it again next week.  I’m interested to know how it goes.  Write and tell me your stories. 

What’s a Key Driver of Performance?

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem very mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such ‘soft stuff’.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

 
Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone. (Source: Gallup website) 

Beyond the significant differences engaged workgroups show in productivity, profitability, safety incidents, and absenteeism versus disengaged workgroups Gallup’s research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry. (Source: Gallup website)

Now the question is what really drives engagement? Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School Professor and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is this — of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4th New York Times article, Anabile and Kramer note “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly this positive ‘inner work life’ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators,they ranked ‘supporting progress’ dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

So, next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the mountain or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down on them.

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.