|Posted on July 19, 2014 at 3:25 PM||comments (2)|
There is interesting work being done to study trust and what makes us trustworthy as leaders, as employees and team mates.
Different groups break it down into various components. The components that resonate with me are:
Credibility and competence seem very linked. If I know what I'm doing, and do it well, and do it when I say I'm going to do it, others can begin to trust me. To sustain the trust that others have in me, I must be honest, must be and be seen to be true to what I've said and be consistent in my behaviour. For me to maintain credibility, competence and integrity, I must care about what I'm doing. Having passion for something makes trustworthy behaviour internally sustainable.
One trust model I've recently reviewed touches on the need for me to have a point of view on something in order for others to begin to trust my actions. Those actions will then be in the context of something vs. seemingly random - thereby building integrity.
I am a firm believer in having a point of view, an opinion. Wishy washy people make me want to run in the opposite direction! Too often, though, when we hold a point of view that is different from others we are called judgemental. And in our current society, judgemental seems always be a bad thing. I find this very disturbing.
For me to judge something means I have looked at and considered the available information, looked at and considered the sources of the information, considered how all this information fits (or not) into my current knowledge and then developed a point of view. In short, I now have an opinion. For me to have passion about something, I have to care enough about it to have an opinion! And I must integrate that opinion into the rest of my opinions in order to behave consistently.
Check out various dictionary definitions of judgemental as not all definitions are negative. Having a propensity to pass judgement should be a critical attribute of a leader. Think of judges. Our legal system holds the ability to pass judgement as foundational.
Worse, slapping the negative "judgemental" label on someone ends the conversation before it can even get started. Want to break someone's trust in you? Toss out a negative label!
So, instead of using the word judgemental in a negative way, and before accusing someone of being judgemental perhaps we need to think about our own reactions.
- Do I think the person has rushed to judgement, meaning that they do not have all the information needed to form a point of view and have an opinion?
- Do I have concerns about the sources of information that has led them to their current point of view?
- Do I think their consideration and analysis of the information is flawed in some way? Do I believe they have made an error in judgement?
- Do I simply hold a different opinion? What does it mean to me that I find someone else's different opinion distasteful or frightening?
- Do I not trust this person so assume they are being negatively judgemental?
When I understand my reaction I can avoid labels and explore the situation further. I leave open the opportunity for better understanding. I leave open the possibility that even if we end up disagreeing, we can still trust each other.
There is much more to explore around trust and leadership. For now I'm making a commitment to be thoughtful and diligent in forming my points of view and in checking my reactions if I'm tempted to label someone as judgemental.
|Posted on October 8, 2010 at 1:58 PM||comments (0)|
How long is too long to carry a top performer who is not currently performing? And how to turn the situation around? The term top performer is not a title granted in perpetuity, but top performers must not be written off too quickly either.
Only very rare people are on the top of their game 100% of the time. Performance slumps happen. A performance slump is not a situation where an employee has clearly broken organizational or legal rules or standards and there needs to be immediate changes or consequences. A performance slump is when an otherwise top performer is off their game. Some examples:
Studies show that most people leave their organization due to the relationship with their leader. How this situation is handled can define the kind of relationship you as a leader will have with your team.
There is no one answer to “how long” or “how to fix” but there are three steps you can follow to move this problem from a vague discussion about what to do, to a business driven decision that works for the organization and ultimately for the people in it.
Three steps: not hard, less pain and better decisions
Steps one and two below can be done concurrently and there is usually some interaction between these steps to get to the final decision on whether and how long to carry a top performer. Step one is often best done as a quick mental exercise vs. a long drawn-out process. Step two may require a couple hours work but most of that will be discussion and coaching with the person, already a key aspect of your leader role. Step three fits into and further leverages the good coaching and personal development processes hopefully already employed by your organization.
Step One – Set the boundaries
The purpose of this step is to understand the performer’s and the organization’s context and set boundaries on how long to carry someone and how much to spend in terms of time, energy and dollars.
The performer context. Bluntly this is about what this employee is worth to the organization. What do they have in their credibility bank? Ask the following questions:
Strong affirmative answers to these questions indicate an employee that is truly worth some time and money. They have built up large deposits in their credibility bank. Affirmative answers to the questions below point to an employee that is likely not worth the ongoing effort.
No organization is doing an employee a favor by keeping them too long. The longer the slump, the harder it is to get out of, the more demoralized the person gets and the harder it will be for them to succeed anywhere. Letting performance issues linger is demoralizing for the rest of the team as well.
The current organizational context. This activity assumes that you are dealing with an employee that is worth some time, energy and money. Next, you need to balance that perspective with a clear understanding of the current organizational limitations in terms of the time and money to spend. The current state of the organization, its revenue and expense needs must be part of the decision making. Answer the following:
Step Two – Determine cause & potential solutions
The purpose of this step is to dig into the situation and get to the “why” of the performance slump. Deciding how to help relies on a full understanding of the cause of the situation. This step requires you as their leader to talk to the employee; to ask questions, to listen and to probe.
While there may be many reasons for a slump, they are broadly categorized here into three main causes.
1. Product or process issues. Poor performance from top performers can be an early warning sign of:
Make sure to leverage this opportunity to check for any of these as contributing causes to the slump. It may well mean catching an issue that would otherwise get much larger. Top performers often hit product and process issues faster than average performers. Potential solutions in this case often extend beyond the scope of the individual employee and you. You can though gather ideas from the employee, acknowledge their contribution and work with them to improve their performance while other actions are taken to fix the larger problem.
2. Specific issues for the employee. Performance slumps that fall into this category can be precipitated by a number of things. Common situations are shown below.
Key to this activity is determining the attitude of the employee. Have they or are they willing to take accountability for their role in the performance slump? Are they blaming anything and everything else instead? No leader can pull an employee out of a slump unless that person is keenly aware of their role and willing to do the work necessary.
3. Performer burnout. I do not mean the serious emotional burnout that is well beyond the scope of this, but rather the kind of burnout that happens when a top performer feels as though they have achieved all they can in the role, that they’ve faced all the situations they are going to, that there is nothing new under the sun, that they’ve beat their own past records too many times or that there is no challenge left.
This is a much tougher situation to handle and to recognize. It may well be initially disguised as the previous two triggers of slumps. Potential solutions for performer burnout all include providing the employee with a break from the “same-old”:
While the old adage “a change is as good as a rest” is true, you must also be prepared to set goals for activities during this time and timelines for when the employee will be back into their previous role or moved to a new role.
The final test for steps one and two is this question:
Is this performer replaceable with less time, energy and dollars than the time, energy and dollars needed and available to move them past the slump?
This is a business decision. Your employees expect you, as their leader, to make informed and fair business decisions. In fact, they are counting on it!
Step Three – Set plan of action and timeframe
The specific action plan will depend on the cause or causes of the slump. Use whatever performance action template you have available or make one up. What is important is that the actions, goals and timeframes are documented and jointly agreed to by you and your employee.
Make sure the document lays out how often the two of you will meet to check progress and that you use those meetings to continue to probe, coach and tweak the action plan as needed.
If it is decided that the organization can carry the employee for awhile, you are now in a position to know:
This kind of structured and tough, but fair, approach will set the culture within your group. Your team will know that they will be supported when they have the credibility bank needed, they will know that the organization manages itself and they will know their leader is willing and able to support them uniquely within a common-sense framework that they understand.
|Posted on September 7, 2010 at 4:04 PM||comments (0)|
Very recently a report on whether SMART goals are dumb came to my inbox (Are Smart Goals Dumb). This report takes direct aim at the SMART goals that so many managers and organizations lean on. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
This way of thinking through goal setting has been around for years. And I use the phrase “managers and organizations lean on” very purposefully. Way too often goal-setting exercises using SMART goals are a crutch. They are used to make managers and organizations feel good about their management prowess and have little to do with setting the organization, teams and individuals up for success.
In fact the authors of the study in the above report say, “we discovered that people’s goals are not particularly helpful. In fact, our survey found that only 15% of employees strongly agree that their goals will help them achieve great things. And only 13% of employees strongly agree that
their goals this year will help them maximize their full potential.”
They further found that there was no correlation between SMART goals and individuals and teams achieving great things. Now perhaps goal setting isn’t always about the desire to achieve great things but most of the time it is about wanting and needing teams/individuals to achieve very good things! The study found 8 factors that did correlate with the achievement of great things. They are:
What I found startling about this list was the similarity between this list and the findings in the book by Geoffrey Bellman and Kathleen Ryan, “Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results”. Bellman and Ryan list several things that extraordinary groups exhibit:
The book has a great model on aspects of self, group and world (whatever the group`s definition of world is) that lays out what is needed in those 3 dimensions to affect transformation and create the environment for teams to achieve greatness.
A Little Magic
I’m always fascinated when researchers and experts arrive at similar places from different paths. In this case, both the report and book also ring my emotional bells. I have been on OK, good and great teams and was able to very quickly relate to what the report and book cover. The two lists are not identical as one is about goals and the other about aspects of high-achieving teams. Yet a few things pop out for me as I go through both lists:
Both are really talking about tapping into the individual`s and team`s heart, not just head. The book talks about the magic that seems to happen when a team transforms itself and its result into something great. Having been there it does indeed feel like magic and sticks as a defining set of memories that I constantly seek to replicate.
And Some Common Sense (The Hard Part!)
Of course, not too many organizations are ready to manage by magic! Neither the report nor book authors suggest that either. The report outlines a different way of approaching goal setting (HARD: heartfelt, animated, required and difficult) and the book has many good suggestions for creating the best team environment possible.
But in spite of my concern about how SMART is implemented, I`m not ready to throw out SMART goals just yet. As the saying goes, let`s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
The concept of SMART is not all wrong:
In the end, what is wrong is a slavish following of SMART as an annual or team start-up thing to do vs. recognizing that setting goals is one component of the larger picture; or saying that every goal must meet the SMART rule vs. allowing room for some goals that allow the magic back into the work.
Since the vast majority of work today gets done by teams, setting goals independent of setting a good team environment will not net us the results we need for the organization. I understand the desire for models and rules to help us manage and lead. But leading and managing is about using those models and rules intelligently, in context and with an understanding that they are never the be all and end all.
I won`t throw out SMART goals. I think they can live alongside HARD goals. And I will attempt to remember the purpose of goal setting is not so I end up with a list of things I can manage against but rather about one of the things I do with individuals and teams to enable them get the results the organization needs. There are no shortcuts!
|Posted on August 24, 2010 at 6:48 PM||comments (1)|
Leadership isn’t something that is available only to those of us with gray hair. But, there is something to be said for the lessons that the University of Life teaches us along the way to those gray hairs!
So, below are 12 lessons I’ve learned (or more realistically that I am working on learning) around leadership.
Beware of anyone who tells you that leadership is easy for them, that they are a natural at it or that they don’t really work at it. They just haven’t hit their brick walls yet!
|Posted on August 17, 2010 at 3:14 PM||comments (0)|
Identifying, analyzing and making changes to business processes takes time and effort, and incurs expense. Changing how things are done impacts roles and responsibilities and can trigger employee resistance. Before embarking on process reviews and changes, it is wise to consider the types of benefits you might gain.
Each organization is different and the actual benefit numbers will vary, but below are some common benefit areas to be aware of and better yet to plan for.
Revenue generating benefits. These are opportunities to change current processes and practices to directly or indirectly increase revenue. These benefits are often the hardest to achieve as the changes needed usually break current mindsets and can fundamentally change roles and responsibilities. They often also have the highest payback. Here are some examples:
These are just 3 examples. What examples can you imagine for revenue generating process improvements in your lead generation processes, your product placement processes or your sales processes?
Cost saving or cost avoidance benefits. These are process and practice changes that allow you to remove costs from the organization or to delay or avoid new expenses. This is where process improvement efforts are often focused. Every organization should be looking at running as efficiently as possible. Remember though that no organization has ever cost-cut their way to roaring success!
Here’s some benefit areas to look for:
Risk reduction or risk reaction benefits. There is little doubt that this is a growing area of process work. Benefit areas include:
The ultimate benefit to risk reduction or being able to react to a realized risk, is maintaining the organization’s reputation. Fines can hurt but rarely kill an organization. But if customers, clients or funders lose faith in your ability to provide the product or service they expect, you may never recover.
Process review and redesign to build in the needed controls, checkpoints and governance are often required. The trick is to balance the cost of the process work, and the ongoing execution of the changed processes, with a realistic assessment of various risk scenarios actually happening. It is far too easy to paint emotion-laden pictures of horrific happenings that sway leaders to build in process controls that are just too heavy and ultimately hurt the organization’s ability to run efficiently. Worse, processes heavy with rules and controls are the ones people most often don’t follow, defeating the purpose of the process work in the first place. In some cases it is better to have a process to react to a risk when it happens than to have a heavy process that tries to eliminate or reduce the risk.
Measurement benefits. Process reviews and improvements provide an opportunity to define and build in key metrics for processes. It really is true that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. More importantly you can’t improve if you don’t know how things are currently working. Having the ability to measure current reality sets the stage for continuous improvement. As with process work to reduce risk, it is necessary to carefully assess what needs to be measured and ensure it can be done efficiently without adding unnecessary weight to the process. Beware the seemingly endless human desire to create and consume statistics whether they add real value or not!
Process review, analysis and redesign work can and must result in benefits that surpass the cost of the work to change the processes. Make sure you are looking in all the right places for benefit opportunities.
|Posted on July 26, 2010 at 11:21 AM||comments (0)|
It is election campaign time in my city. You’ve all been there, you know how it works. Each person claims they’ll be the best leader, that they have the “right stuff” to lead their area/ward/city.
Last week I was able to talk to three candidates covering three different areas of the city. It was an interesting conversation as they were not running against one another so political postering was minimal. None of them actually asked me what I as a constituent wanted from them but they got my opinion anyway! Hey, crazy to turn down an opportunity like that!
Now admittedly my city’s current council is borderline dysfunctional and long past any chance of coming together as a group of leaders to move our city forward. I hope the next crew gets it right.
I realized that what I was asking of them was somewhat different than what I ask – and usually write about – when thinking of a single leader.
Perhaps one of the hardest things a leader must do is work with other leaders. But without that ability our governments and our organizations will fail to achieve.
What would you add to this list?
|Posted on July 10, 2010 at 11:12 AM||comments (0)|
There is no one type of leader. Nor do I believe that there is a definitive list of characteristics that define a leader. That’s one of the reasons it is hard to look at your teams and find the leaders lurking within them.
But there are some tips to recognizing those in your groups that could be the next set of leaders. A wise boss of mine once said to me, “Leaders lead. They can’t help themselves.” So, what then does that look like?
Five things to look for
A person may not exhibit everything on the above list. But where you see a couple of these behaviours you need to watch more closely and start discussions with the person on their desired career path.
The ones that are clearly more organizationally and politically mature are the most ready for promotions, or lateral movements or special projects that will build their skills and visibility in the organization.
Those that still have many rough edges clearly require more work on your part. They will still need projects or team initiatives to hone their skills. They may not yet be ready for broad exposure on projects that create visibility throughout the organization. They need your help understanding the negative impact they can sometimes have while trying to move the team or organization to a better place.
But please do not drill the edge out of them completely! They will need it to survive a leadership role. And since most leaders still have leaders, they need to feel that questioning and challenging upwards is still appropriate.
In my view a good leader challenges their team with more tact then their upper management. Other good leaders can and should be able to handle more direct challenges and questioning. Far too often people are inadvertently groomed to be hard managing down and soft when managing up. To me that is completely backwards and ultimately hurts the organization’s ability to progress and innovate.
So, take a look at the people in your teams and groups in a different way. Instead of always seeing the star practitioners or the best people at specific work tasks, look for the behaviours that can indicate future leaders. You may be surprised how much you see!
|Posted on July 3, 2010 at 5:00 PM||comments (3)|
Has anyone else noticed that asking “why” has become a problem in our corporate/organizational world?
The parents amongst us remember well the phase our children went through when they asked why constantly. Sure, it could be a bit annoying at times but it also marked that very special time when we knew they were trying to understand how their world worked, what the rules were and where their boundaries were. In short they were learning. Many of their “why” questions forced us to rethink what we take for granted. I know some of those “why” questions left me wondering “why” as well.
As business has moved faster and as the economy has tightened, far too often those that ask the “why” of something are seen as nay-sayers or as people getting in the way of getting things done. I see it as a symptom of the lack of thinking happening in too many organizations. Taking the time to think things through is seen as “so yesterday”. The mantra seems to be “do, do and redo”.
I get it – agility is good, doing something is often better than doing nothing. Though I take issue with the idea that thinking about something, asking “why”, and digging for root causes is doing nothing!
Doing can be a way of thinking if we keep “why” in our vocabulary and treat our early doings as learnings and evolution. But even then there needs to be the freedom to ask why:
I now have to coach people to not ask “why” directly but rather to rephrase to “can you help me understand”, “what about this is concerning”, etc. When did we become such a defensive culture? We think of the business world as logical and rational, as strong and assured – yet nowhere is the simple question of “why” so frowned upon. No where else does it create the same level of defensiveness. Why?
For sure, those asking why must be respectful of the ideas and needs of others. “Why” should never, ever be an excuse for a personal attack. Asking why should always be about gaining understanding, about wanting to make things better, about wanting to surface any issues that could get in the way of implementation success.
I challenge all of us to get better at asking why and at accepting “why” questions. Why questions are not about tearing down proposals or plans, they are about gaining understanding and clarity; about exploring the edges of ideas or the core of how things have always been.
I challenge all of us to use “why” questions to uncover inefficiencies, easily avoidable risks, learn how others see a situation and to generally improve the success of our projects and businesses.
Hey, why not?!
|Posted on June 24, 2010 at 11:44 AM||comments (0)|
When organizations spend real dollars on training events they deserve to get as much from them as possible.
In too many cases, everyone in the organization, from staff to leaders, assumes that the training event will impart great skills and that the training participants will go back to their desk and start applying those skills to the betterment of the organization.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Oh, were it so! I love the statement from John Maxwell, “The best teacher is an evaluated experience.” The reality is that the training event is necessary but insufficient to achieve changes in skills, behaviours and business effectiveness. What then is necessary?
Moving from training to learning to real improvement
There must be some discussion and evaluation of the new concepts/ideas/practices/tools and specifically how they will fit into your organizational environment. Simply put this is about figuring out what exactly will change as a result of the training. For example:
If the training is for one person this may be a matter of some time in 1-1 discussions to help them put new skills or practices to use. When the training involves a whole group the stakes are higher. Significant dollars have been invested and the investment needs to pay off.
Below is a case study of a group that followed an easy but structured approach to move from training to real improvement. There were many side benefits for this group as well: stronger sense of team, improving their ability to collaborate, commitment to their personal development, sense that the organization was really supporting them and helping them grow.
This group of business/systems analysts felt they needed to grow their skills and abilities in gathering and analyzing business and systems requirements as the core the services analysts provide. They made the business case to bring a 3 day training program in-house as the per person cost was significantly reduced both for the training and because they avoided travel costs. They would also be able to have discussions with the instructor that would be fully tailored to their environment. The training was planned well in advance and all projects were aware of the 3 days that people would be “off the job”. It was also planned for a time of year that was off peak demand time.
In this case the group as a whole was allocated a certain percent of their overall work time as non-billable hours for things like professional development, group meetings, best practice work etc. This training used some but certainly not all of that allocated non-billable time.
Once the training days were completed the group agreed to have a few more frequent team meetings for the following couple of months. Each of those meetings was designed to go through the training module by module to determine what it would mean to them in their roles and what changes they wanted to make as a group.
Six one-hour meetings were held. All the time spent fit in the allocated non-billable time budget. There was active discussion and debate on potential new activities, templates and best practices. Decisions were made at the end of each meeting and people assigned to take any action required to get new activities or template into their intranet site.
The group added a few new templates to their toolkit with a clear picture of the situational need for each (when to apply). They related the training to some of their existing templates and deliverables and in a few cases made some modifications to those. They improved their part of the organization’s software development methodology to include some new activities and reference new or improved templates.
The end result was more consistent approaches and results for the work they were doing on their projects. Within 6-9 months of that training there was a marked increase in the credibility of the group and the demand for their skills on projects.
Sustaining the change
The training course that initiated the work was made a standard part of training for new analysts for the next couple of years. The manager of the group would then meet with the analyst after the training and show how the training was adopted into the organization.
Lessons from the case study
It comes back to the earlier quote, “The best teacher is evaluated experience.” Find a way to help the person or people involved in a training event to make it a learning process. Plan to do it within the organizational constraints you face. If the training is worth paying for it is worth allocating existing 1-1 or team meeting time to evaluate and discuss. Consider lunch sessions. Most people will give some of their own time when they see a real commitment from the organization to their professional development.
Professional development is not about what the organization will do for me as an individual. Your people must be part of the planning and must commit to spending the time and energy. Otherwise don’t bother. They’ll attend the training as a nice break from day-to-day work and nothing will change after. There is and must be mutual responsibility.
I certainly prefer a situation where I can plan this holistic approach as part of the business case for the training in the first place. But, sometimes you need to beg forgiveness vs. ask permission. The old Nike poster, “Just Do IT” held a prominent place on my wall for a long time! Just be very committed as a group to show real improvement from your approach.
I can tell you from my involvement with the case study above and many others that once you have shown the organizations and budget-holders what you are capable of doing as a group, getting ongoing dollars and time every year gets easier. To the point where you, as a leader, may have to take some barbs from your peers who are also fighting for dollars and time without the same success. That’s a problem I can live with!
|Posted on June 9, 2010 at 5:55 PM||comments (6)|
Recently a friend of mine wrote an article for Project Times (From The Sponsor's Desk; In Your Face) on a project I led a few years ago. As he and I emailed back-and-forth about his article I was reflecting on went well with that project since successful projects are never just about the project manager.
We had a skilled and enthusiastic team and we had great sponsors. As I further thought about other successful projects I’ve led or been part of it seemed that great sponsorship was a consistent pattern. Strong teams and strong project managers may overcome mediocre sponsorship to deliver not-bad projects. Truly great projects need all of strong teams, strong project managers and great sponsorship.
Of the many great sponsors I’ve been lucky enough to work with, few have had the same personality or business skill set. So, I started to think about what they did share. Here’s my list of things to look for in a sponsor or aspire to as a sponsor. I’m sure many of you can add to this list and I’d love to hear from you!
Clear understanding and definite dissatisfaction with the current state
Clear sense of the future direction without preconceived notions of the final solution
Active in risk management
Makes the right decisions
Willingness to serve the project and the project team
Expects results and is willing to pay for them
I can think of many more detailed items but these are the key things I look for from a sponsor.
Perhaps it is no surprise that this is a very similar list of things I look for in a leader!