There are so many definitions of operational excellence out there. They share common traits such as bringing a sustainable culture that brings process and results all together to align operations with company goals and objectives to give the company a competitive advantage. In my training that is broken down into coherence (culture), challenge (measures & processes), and continuity (sustainability). What many don't have though is the missing link that pulls it all together - behavior.
Operational Excellence as a Habit
One of my favorite quotes concerning excellence is from Aristotle. “We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” I find this to be a very true statement. Habits are powerful sets or sequences of behavior that either inhibit or enhance performance. Our habits inform so much of our daily living that we often do them without even the smallest thought. We see that played out when we seek to go outside of our daily routine. If, for instance, I need to do an errand that requires me to drive somewhere other than my regular route to work I find from time to time that I have taken my work route instead of the new route simply out of habit.
If Aristotle is right, and I believe he is, then as leaders we need to examine what our staff does in terms of habits that impact performance. What that means is we need to break down what they do into a series of behaviors that, together, produce the action or product we are looking for. These can include what we used to refer to as "intangibles" (they are not) such as things like teamwork or work ethic or they can include very specific actions that relate to production such as work on a production line or in a plant.
These habits can enhance performance but, in many cases, these habits can also inhibit performance. In his excellent analysis of the London King’s Cross Underground subway fire Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit” takes apart the behaviors and habits that had formed on the teams responsible for ensuring safety in the subway system. What he discovered was that over the course of time, policies and habits came into play that prevented the teams from being able to respond rapidly to an emergency and in this case to a fire. Those habits prevented the team from appreciating the scope of the emergency and many died as a result.
Two things came out of the findings; first the need to transform the culture of the staff that worked on the subway and two the need to come up with a better process that would allow them to be much more agile in responding to a crisis. Operational Excellence is what is used to help operations leaders transform their team culture and TARP is one tool that can be used to ensure agile and quick responses to issues when they arise.
Cues, Reinforcement & TARP
Habits and the behaviors that make them up revolve around a "cue" and a "result" or "reinforcement." The cue prompts the habit and the result of reinforcement ensures that the habit will happen again. Tony Dungy one of the most successful NFL coaches created Super Bowl-winning teams through the development of key habits and the behaviors that went with them. He identified the "cues" that he wanted his linemen to key on, the behaviors that followed the "cue" and how that would lead to the result he wanted. He wanted these habits ingrained much like the way we don't think about the route we take going to work, so his players wouldn't "think" about what to do when a "cue" happened they would just "do" the behavior they needed to. In a game where milliseconds matter that approach gave his team a decided edge and produced spectacular results.
This approach is commonly used for folks involved in high-risk activities such as the military, first responders, pilots, and safety personnel. If you saw the recent movie "Sully" you would have witnessed how actions in the cockpit are governed by habits and the behaviors they drive that is so ingrained that even in a dire emergency (in fact "because" of the emergency - a cue) habits kick into gear and they quickly go through a long list of things to do. Many involved in the world of Safety and Accident Prevention are now using this technique through what they call the TARP method. TARP is an acronym for Trigger Action Response Plan and essentially what it encompasses is identifying a series of ‘triggers’ and actions that should happen automatically as part of a preconceived response plan to the event. We do it all the time with fire drills where the fire is the trigger and the actions are pulling the alarm, evacuate the team, and call 911. We plan and practice this so that as a behavior it becomes a habit.
This is where Operational Excellence and TARP complement each other. Creating a continuous improvement culture on your team gives them the freedom to explore new and better processes and equips them to work together to create TARPs that work. The more eyes on the issue the better. To go to our Seniors Facilities title an OE culture and TARP process would have equipped seniors care teams to consider things like highlighting staff who worked across various facilities as a potential gap in safety, looking at processes that could be COVID transmittal conduits or by evaluating how resident safety could be impacted by bringing seniors from the community into the facility as a precaution. More than anything a robust TARP process would have given each team a clear mandate and plan for dealing with an infectious outbreak and what to do about it going forward.
You cannot predict all the things that your team may encounter but you can create a culture that gives everyone permission to speak into the process and provide them with the training and habits to successfully deal with it. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
As we head into the roaring ’20s two trends are emerging in leadership and business; one trend says that people are assets that can be added or subtracted from the company balance sheet depending on the needs of the shareholders or executive team. The other trend sees people as valued partners in the business and key components to its success.
If you are in the first category stop reading, I am not interested in talking with you. The practices that you use are what contribute to so much of the cyclical nature of our market. It devalues people and in a world with a shrinking labor supply is a “short game” mentality. You will lose your best talent, constantly struggle to keep afloat and in the end, the word will get out and no one will want to work in your organization. Harsh words I know but true.
If you are in the second category you are also facing these challenging times. How do you keep your team intact, weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side? You recognize that people are what are going to make your company successful and you are taking the “long game” approach. By fostering loyalty and engagement on your team you have attracted top talent to your company. The word is out that your company is a quality place to work and you never lack for people knocking at your door looking to join your team – even in a “thin” labor market. You are the kind of leader I want to talk with. There are options for dealing with the current market and there is a way to do this. Let me give you a short example.
In the 1980s a family-run mid-west manufacturing company found themselves facing a severe market downturn. They were confronted with the harsh reality of making major cuts to stay solvent and ride out the storm. They wrestled with the option of cutting staff, many of whom had worked with the company for their entire working lives. They went back and forth looking for any kind of solution and finally, loyalty to their team prevailed.
Rather than embark on a series of lay-offs and downsizing, they went to their employees. They brought in the key mid and front-line leadership explained the issue and where they were and how they wanted to keep staff. They worked with their staff and after several weeks of discussion and research the staff came back with a solution; they would all take voluntary (temporary) pay cuts and longer extended vacations (without pay) as long as everyone (executive included) would participate.
It was a risk, but it was the solution they went with. What was most interesting about this approach was because the leadership bore the burden with the team, the team stepped up in amazing ways! Those who could afford more unpaid time off traded with those who say had young families and could not. They also identified ways to produce operational cost savings. Lastly and most interesting it opened the lines of communication up and down the organization and several astute observations from line staff produced new revenue streams for the company. This not only got them through the storm but enabled them to be in a much stronger position afterward.
None of those things would have happened if they had taken the first approach. Let me state this again, if you are one of those leaders looking to take the second approach please reach out to me, I would love to talk with you!
I recall a few years ago when my in-laws ranch was inundated by the flooding Red Deer river. This was a full fledged cattle ranch and everything of value was located perilously close to the river bank. We came down to help move equipment and livestock and whatever we could do. Folks from the nearby town of Trochu and surrounding area showed up with trucks and equipment to make earth berms and so on. Over all it was pretty impressive.
While I was thinking about it one comment stood out and it was about how folks stepped up because of the circumstances and the urgency of the need. The word that caught my attention was "urgency".
How many times have we faced challenges in our work or business and found those gems among our staff who stepped up and met the challenge head on? Those folks who operated with a sense urgency and who revealed the depth of their character through trying circumstances. It makes me wonder too why it takes something like an emergency or a challenge to bring this out in people? How would your business look if your people all operated with a sense of urgency with regard to their roles and tasks?
Why Wait For An Emergency?
Finding people who have that sense of urgency already wired into their make up is the ideal but what about those you already have on staff how do you develop that behavior? You can't create emergencies to drive this kind of behavior but you can create a challenge.
The most powerful group at creating challenges by far is the electronic gaming industry and therein lies the clue to how to do this. I have seen folks devote hours of spare time on a game on their phone or on their computer just develop the skills to "move to the next level". The challenges in the game create that sense of urgency ($16B worth of urgency last year alone!) and players work to develop skills and get instant and immediate feedback on whether that skill has been enhanced.
You may not be able to "game" the scenarios at work but you can use the same principle - metrics. Helping someone to identify and develop metrics around their role and the activities associated with it is a powerful tool for creating a challenge and in helping to develop a sense of urgency. The key to this is that metrics are used to inform that person on their performance on a day to day basis. They aren't competing against others but rather against how they did yesterday. It is the same principle whether you are playing Candy Crush or tracking response times to client requests.
Does your team exhibit that sense of urgency? If not, how are you helping them to develop it? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I attended a Gallup presentation the other day that explored data on who are the happiest people in the world? There were some really interesting things that came out of that discussion. For example it is Latin American countries that are leading this index occupying the majority of the top spots. What was really interesting as they drilled down into the data for most first world nations was that happiness seemed to be tied to median income and their take on this was that this was not tied so much to money as to purpose. In looking closer at this they concluded most of us see our purpose as connected to our work hence the strong tie to income.
Do We Find Purpose In Our Work?
This got me thinking; is this a true statement? Do we find our purpose in work? Do we get to the end of our life and say "I wish I had worked more?" I don't think so but I do think that there are clues found in this research that point to some things that may reveal a bit more about the work/purpose connection.
Building Personal Life Around Work Is Not The Answer
When we first start out, work carries a different meaning for us because that is where we forge our first professional friendships and those are important and certainly become part of our social life as well as professional life. As you progress though, you discover that friends and work colleagues move on to other companies and often those relationships fall by the wayside. You realize that building a personal life around work can be frustrating and at times unrewarding.
However A Happy Work Life = Happy Home Life
A good example is the recent research revealing that millennials a far more willing to move to companies where they feel part of a team, a social network and where they feel appreciated and are doing something vital. They often will give preference to those issues over salary considerations. It is not that they are building their life around work but that in finding purpose in their work they enhance their home life. In fact, new studies have turned on its head the idea that work/life balance which at one point suggested happy homes (life) created happier workers. In fact research shows it is the opposite where happy workers tend to be happier at home and enjoy life much more as a result. The question becomes then, how do we make happy workers?
This challenge really has always been with us. If you work in the "patch" or any other industry sector you know that when people move, often they will have a cohort of friends or colleagues move with them. Success was the purpose and some refined this to an art; buying start ups, bringing in their teams, building the company and selling for profit and then doing it all over again. Succeeding at this sort of challenge for a group of friends can be a powerful purpose.
That sort of purpose still happens but in today's labor market those circle of friends may have other causes or issues that they rally around and work becomes a place that enables them to pursue these interests either through salary earned or in some cases through giving staff the freedom to support these causes through company sponsored programs or purpose projects. It may not be the work itself that provides purpose but simply is a means to an end. Either way these are powerful elements of a persons life.
We Need To Be Part Of Something Bigger Than Us
Here is the core of the issue; no one wants to work for someone who does not acknowledge them as people first. People of all stripes want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Maybe it is the work and the challenge of creating success or maybe you work for a company that shares your passion for the homeless or the environment. The purpose can be intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external) but giving someone a chance to express that purpose is really about acknowledging them as people.
Help Your Team Forge Their Own Purpose
If you own a company, or are leading a team of people this is a crucial truth for you to understand; people won't care about your credentials or your leadership until they know you care about them as people and are committed to their growth (discovering and achieving their purpose). When you stop and think about it doesn't that give you some added purpose as a leader? Yes, challenge your team to hit the targets you have set for them, after-all that is why you are all there, but never do it at the cost of their humanity or rob them of the chance forge their own purpose. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Do We Really Understand What This Means?
I was reading a news article this weekend regarding an Oil & Gas company's earnings report. In the article the company leadership indicated that they were done cutting jobs and were now going to be consolidating and looking at getting more done with less. As I pondered that statement I wondered if anyone really understands what doing more with less really means?
An Admission of Failure
I have talked about this many times in the past and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I will say it again; we go through this boom-bust cycle where when prices are high companies bloat to fulfill all of their staffing wish lists and things they have been hoping and dreaming for. When prices drop they jettison those things and consolidate and start doing more with less. In this case what that means is that there is an understanding that they really didn't "need" all of those things to begin with and are now back to making due with what worked for them from the start. To me it is like a corporate weight loss program - we were overweight but now we are in trim and fighting condition. It may look like a declaration of intent but it is also an admission of failure.
How Do You Spot Those Who "Get It?"
Show me the company that has not had to drastically cut staff and operations in those down times and I will show you a company that was already "doing more with less" and who are positioned both culturally and operationally to weather these types of storms. In short, a successful company.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama underwent a company transformation when they moved to an Operational Excellence/Continuous Improvement model. They were struggling the same way many companies were in that industry and they knew they were in trouble. Out of desperation they adopted a new approach that focused on their people and teaching their leadership at all levels how to drive performance with their teams. It took a while but they built an operational excellence and continuous improvement culture that created high levels of employee engagement and satisfaction and a mentality that "everyone" owned the company bottom line. Within a year or two they became "the" company to work for and were recognized as being leaders in their industry. What’s more is that they have steadfastly maintained their operational excellence approach and have been one of those companies that has weathered countless up/down cycles with hardly a ripple.
They are an example of doing more with less because everyone is involved in keeping the company competitive and in the black. While others were cutting staff, their staff were coming up with cost savings and improvement of the customer experience; ideas that allowed them to hold onto their most valuable asset, their employees. They didn't bloat in the "up times" and they didn't cut in the down and they are still one of the companies of choice for folks in that region.
So my question for my colleagues in any industry is this; will this down turn produce more of the same old same old or are you seriously going to explore what doing more with less really means? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
The Curse of The Performance Review
Every year people across the globe go through the process of creating and giving performance reviews. These are meant to be tools to drive performance and measure progress. Regardless of the name we give them leaders and managers hunker down with staff to discuss Personal Growth Indicators, Key Performance Indicators, Stretch Goals - you get the picture. Everyone does this in one form or another, regardless of the pain and awkwardness of it all. What’s more is that we all know that the process is significantly flawed and that rather than driving performance in many cases it inhibits it.
Performance Reviews Inhibit Performance
Don't believe me? Well let’s look at just one simple example and see if it resonates with you. The majority of personnel performance evaluations involve a scale typically between 1 and 4. (There are many scales out there but this will serve well for our example) One is the danger zone and is bad news. Two is usually needs improvement in a number of areas. Three is meets expectations and usually involves a healthy discussion around just exactly what those expectations were and four is the “no go” zone that only those rare (and I mean rare) individuals get. It is understood by all that “4” never happens. Sound familiar?
The Law Of Unintended Consequences
Here is the problem, approaching performance from this perspective does two things; it frustrates the high performers who know that they will never break that ceiling past a “3” and it comforts the under achievers who know that unless they are truly catastrophic in their work they will always get between a two and a three. Additionally, depending upon the company, these get done once or twice a year and those are the only times performance gets examined in any detail. In all cases performance is inhibited.
The Question Is; What Are You Looking For?
A big reason this happens is that we typically like to evaluate people based on the actions or activities that make up a role. Often the KPI’s are simply a breakout of the job description. Sometimes these describe behavior most often they simply describe a role.
What Behaviors Predict High Performance/Engagement?
This is where the distinction between role and behavior become paramount. Behavior is something you can observe and can count. An example of a behavior related to engagement would be arriving to work on time and leaving on time. Or as a case in point only just yesterday a major health provider was in hot water around the issue of paid sick leave. This concern focused on the idea that managers and above seemed to max out their sick days every year. It is a “behavior” that points either to high levels of engagement or high levels of disengagement. (I will let you decide which it is in this case.)
Another example of a behavior related to engagement would be tracking contributions to the advancement of the department through input of ideas and suggestions for process or client experience improvement. You can count the number of times someone submits an idea or makes a suggestion for positive change. Not only can you count it but if you have identified that as something you want your staff to do you can recognize it when you see it happening and reinforce that behavior. The key to success then is that you have to identify the behaviors you want (or don’t want), track them and reinforce or extinguish them as the case may be.
You Need To Know What You Want
Performance Leadership is rooted in understanding what behaviors you want from your staff. The other part of that process is being there to recognize and acknowledge that behavior when it is happening. This is a deliberate and methodical process and is a habit that needs to be developed. Once it is though you will find yourself marveling at why you never did it sooner. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Our Progress Has Not Solved This Challenge
For all of our advances in technology the one area that still lags behind all the rest is the issue of developing leadership that can deliver high performance. Recent Gallup research highlights the very issue that brought Performance Leadership into being. Germany has an 84% disengagement rate among workers and of that group 49% considered quitting because of their boss. Don’t feel too smug because engagement rates are not much better in Canada and North America.
Performance Leadership - A Competitive Edge?
Why is employee engagement and effective leadership important? To quote the Gallup article by Marc Nink, "work units in the top quartile of employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover (25% in high-turnover organizations, 65% in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28%) and absenteeism (37%). These work units also saw fewer safety incidents (48%), patient safety incidents (41%) and quality defects (41%)." Marc Nink, Gallup, April 15, 2016. When you stop and consider the impact of these numbers it is not hard to see that leadership needs to change in order to drive employee engagement and for a whole number of reasons.
Employees Don't Leave Companies, They Leave Bad Bosses
When this data was examined in more detail they found that almost one quarter of all employees had at some point left a job to get away from a bad manager in order to improve their overall life. When employees feel miserable at work that comes home in the form or stress and burnout.
Most Bosses Think They Are Doing A Good Job
Yet most mangers (95%) said they believe they are doing a good job, most did not see a need for change and over half had never participated in any training to improve their work with their employees. Many managers receive no formal training about employee engagement and how to drive employee engagement.
The Numbers Are Not In Your Favour
In our neck of the woods this is now being compounded by the fact that the Baby Boomer demographic is now leaving the work place in high numbers (perhaps aided by the recent events in the oil and gas industry). New people are having to move into those leadership roles with a.) fewer role models to emulate and b.) a loss of a huge amount of "tribal knowledge" around company functions and nuances. Add to this the reality that these leaders are going to have to "do more with less" than their predecessors and we have a recipe for some real hardship in leadership in the coming months and years.
But it does not have to be that way. Performance Leadership is designed to equip new and current leadership with the skills and approaches that specifically address employee engagement and performance. Using the science of behavior and performance metrics managers can approach individual and group performance with a renewed sense of confidence and certainty. It will also give them the means to collect and disseminate the vast array of "tribal knowledge" that exists within their groups and use that to drive improvement as well.
As we move into that new era to having to "do more with less" cogent, effective leadership is going to be crucial. What are you doing to ensure your enterprise, company or team benefit from great leadership? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I am in the process of loosing my "oil patch" weight. This is the weight I accumulated after spending time consulting on performance improvement at all the various locations around Alberta, B.C. and Texas. I started this process a year ago and for one year I lost no weight at all and in fact gained weight. The problem was that for that first year I thought I could just "eyeball" it and gauge my intake and weight without measuring anything. Boy was I wrong!
You Can't Change What You Don't Measure
I should have known better, after all it is exactly what I teach my colleagues regarding performance improvement; if you don't measure it you can't change it. I didn't bother to measure and as such I did not change anything, at least in terms of the direction I wanted to go.
So I got an app and started using it rigorously. And guess what? Yup, I went down 5 pounds in just one week, and within a few months I had dropped 40 pounds! The only difference from before is that I started measuring intake, exercise and weight and the results tell the rest of that story.
I did some research and found a paper done by "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." In it they did a study on long term weight loss and maintenance and the study found that those who "self monitored” (that means measured) their intake and weight were far more successful than those who did not.
Decide What Is Important And Measure It!
The lesson here should be familiar to all of us in leadership; if it is important to your business or your role, measure it! There is literally no role that does not have performance components in it that cannot be measured. And those measures should point to behaviors that need to be modified to increase performance.
You Never Know What You Will Find.
In one instance I can recall a company started measuring motor vehicle incidents (MVI’s) and after a couple of months they realized that most of their MVI’s were happening right in their own yard! The measure did not provide them with the answer but it pointed them in the direction in which to look. When they studied the issue further it was concluded that these MVI’s were taking place when crews were coming back from a job and were typically fatigued or eager to get home and as such were not as careful to monitor their driving in the yard. On a go forward basis the Supervisors had to develop the habit of alerting everyone to this danger when returning to the yard and the crews had to develop the habit of watching out more carefully for themselves and others. It wasn't a tough fix but it would not have happened without the measures to point them in the right direction.
Ask yourself the question; what is important to your company, division, group or area? Are you measuring it? If not why not? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is really not an article about Change Management although it touches on change management themes. It is an exploration of employee engagement and what is required for leadership in industry to come to terms with the need to do things differently, to step out of the box and set out in a different direction.
It's the "Patch" Sh*t Happens
As an example the Oil and Gas industry currently find themselves in the midst of yet another boom-bust cycle (bust being the operative word here) and one after another industry leaders throw up their hands and cry that there is nothing that can be done! Jobs are cut budgets are slashed and everyone scrambles to stay ahead of the call on their debt payment. Batten down the hatches and hang on for dear life to preserve whatever is left.
Time to Own Our Failure Try Something Different
That we have seen this cycle and this response more than once quite frankly is a discredit to the industry. It speaks to the lack of vision on the part of many (not all) with regard to truly transforming the industry away from this horribly counter productive ebb and flow. The question it begs is what will it take for them to change? Oil and Gas is a good current example to explore but the lessons are valid across all industry sectors.
In an article published in the Gallup Business Journal, authors Jesus Rios and Julie Ray set a compelling argument for how Chile can weather the current economic downturn and not only weather it but thrive. I share here the last three paragraphs of the article.
As Chile grapples with external economic forces that hinder its short-term prosperity, it is fitting that the country has untapped competitive advantages that leaders can control -- in both the public and private sectors. Chile approaches this new cycle of economic downturn armed with a relatively sizeable reservoir of engaged workers -- a scarce commodity in the world, but one capable of turning economies around, one workplace at a time.
For a country that needs to elevate its game through higher productivity, having a workforce that is more engaged than its competitors' means its workers are not only more willing to put in discretionary effort to get things done, but are more emotionally invested in their jobs, bringing excitement and creativity to the workplace. Not only are they more willing to adapt to change when needed, but they also have more energy to bring about change itself. But this energy needs to be unleashed through great talent management at work, and cultivated through quality education in society at large if it is to become that engine of productivity that the country so greatly needs.
Chile has long had a favourable macroeconomic environment that has brought along foreign investment, governance and prosperity. Its openness to the global economy has also allowed it to forge partnerships with other countries, with which it has thriving trade relations and bilateral cooperation in several key areas for its development. But Chile has long over-relied on natural resources whose market dynamics it doesn't control. So, it is time for the country to leverage -- and further invest in -- a natural resource that its leadership can control, that is extremely hard for others to replicate, and that no external economic force can take away: its human capital, the emotional engagement that Chileans bring to work every day. (Underline is mine) Rios & Ray - Gallup Business Journal , January 28, 2016
Engaging Your Workforce To Beat The Boom Bust Cycle
Several things stand out; first that much like Western Canada, Chile has a resource based economy that makes it vulnerable to external economic pressures. Second, they have a highly engaged workforce (almost 40% compared with 32% in Canada). The focus of the article is on how to use that engaged workforce to gain higher productivity to counteract those external pressures. In short how to beat the boom-bust cycle.
Employee engagement is a cornerstone of Operational Excellence and the key that leadership in the Oil and Gas industry (again with some exceptions) have yet to leverage to their advantage. In addition, with regard to education, we have an advantage in North America in that the educational systems are still pretty robust so the focus for training really only needs to be within each company.
Learn How To Ramp Up Engagement
And still many companies have been resistant to move to an Operational Excellence approach or they have adopted an approach that is heavily metrics based (which is okay) but with no investment in driving employee engagement at the same time (not so good). Metrics should drive engagement which should drive innovation and cost savings. Once that is achieved and sustained a company has gained a significant advantage over its competition and indeed over market conditions in general. A company with a robust Operational Excellence culture sees a market downturn as an opportunity not a problem.
So here we are in the middle of another market cycle of boom and bust. If you are a leader, I leave you with this question; what will it take for you to change?
Performance Leadership - Think About It!
There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the last few years around leadership. This should not surprise anyone because as the "boomers" move into retirement the generational demographic (Xer's, Nexter's, Millennials) slated to move into those vacant leadership places face significant gaps related to lower numbers and less experience. This presents at once, both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge certainly because there are fewer bodies to fill those positions and an opportunity in that we are required now, perhaps more than ever, to examine the entire issue of leadership. This presents us with an opportunity to re-frame our understanding of what good leadership looks like.
Active vs Passive
Current discussion around this includes a healthy exploration of Active and Passive Leadership. Terms such as Transactional Leadership vs Transformational Leadership are all topics along the same line as Passive vs Active leadership. Let's explore briefly the difference between these two approaches.
Passive leadership is the firefighter and it is characterized by a lot of MBE (Management By Exception). I call it passive because like a "lagging indicator" in analytics, it happens after the fact. The Passive leader can be found trolling for flaws in worker process or production and they spring into action offering up a swift reprimand when flaws are detected. It can be deceiving as often it looks "active" but the reality is that leadership that happens after the fact is most often passive. Employees get reprimanded for poor performance or the leader has to step in to put out fires due to poor performance and they "look" active and busy but is it really effective leadership?
Getting In Front of The Curve
Active leadership on the other hand can often look passive but is in reality quite the opposite. Active leadership seeks to involve staff in the challenges facing the group and gives them a role in solving those challenges. An active leader sets the goals, mentors their staff and sets them loose to tackle the issues and allows them to "own" the bottom line. It can often look passive because there is far less of the reprimanding or fighting of fires because it sets the bar "in front of the curve" not after it. Together with their team, active leaders anticipate issues before they become issues and get out in front of them before they become a problem - fire prevention not fire fighting. Lets look at an example.
He Took A Chance
An oil and gas company I was working with around performance leadership had a group of young leaders. All had been in those roles for less than two years and in some cases only a few months. Traditionally O&G leadership and particularly front line leadership tend to take a passive leadership approach with a lot of MBE. "Tearing someone a new one" and putting out lots of fires are the hallmark of these leaders. In this scenario the most experienced of this young group had adopted this traditional approach and was regarded as someone to look up to. The least experienced leader was keen to learn about performance leadership and what active leadership looked like. In spite of lack of experience this leader applied those principles and set goals for the team, invited them into the task of dealing with challenges, set them loose to find solutions and kept them accountable.
Only You Can Prevent A Fire!
You guessed it, within a very short period of time that new leader had a team that was performing at unheard of levels. They were coming up with time and cost saving innovations, were preventing fires instead of fighting them and that was the crew that everyone wanted to be on. The firefighting stories of the first leader were legendary but the performance of the second leader placed him on a fast track with regard to promotions.
This is why I see this current generational transition as an opportunity. I have worked with excellent young leaders who want to do well, want their teams to do well and have the willingness to work at active leadership and make it happen. These are the leaders who are going to transform leadership as we move further into this century. Active or Passive, what kind of leader are you?
Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Often leaders struggle with providing feedback on performance. This centers around two things; one, usually feedback takes place when performance is not where it should be. Two, the prospect of providing feedback around poor performance is wrought with the potential for high emotion. We, don’t like getting that kind of feedback and as such the fear of giving it to someone else can prevent us from acting in a timely manner. There is a way though, to remove much of the "emotion" from the equation.
This is where metrics enter into this discussion. I have worked with many companies who do an excellent job of establishing company goals, department and group goals and kpi’s but then it stops there. The department or group will have their own dashboards or displays set up for the team to have a strong visual for how they are doing. This is all good. The missing link is what are the metrics for “each” group member and are they being tracked? This is key for a number of reasons.
The first is engagement. Gallup reports that teams that have a clear set of goals for each member have double the rate of engagement of teams that don’t. Typically, this can translate into a 10 – 20 percent increase on the bottom line.
More importantly teams where each member is tracking their own metrics (that they have developed) are much more agile in dealing with performance and spotting opportunities. It also provides clarity for each team member in terms of what is expected of them and it provides that key linkage between what they do and how that advances the team or company objectives.
A Tale of Two Scenarios
A typical scenario is a leader sits down with members on their team on a quarterly or bi-annual basis to review kpi’s established from the last review. Often, if we are honest about it, we have to remind ourselves what those kpi’s were for that staff member before the meeting and we have to rack our memories to try and determine how they rank.
For teams that are tracking individual measures on a daily basis the scenario looks more like this. The leader may walk by a desk or work station and look at someone’s charting of their measures. You can note the progress or successes and provide immediate recognition. I have found that when these measures are discussed on a daily basis you don’t have to say much if anything, that person will “want” to tell you how things are going. Particularly if you have made it safe for them to do so.
Taking Emotion Out of the Equation
These daily interactions provide you as a leader more agility to provide “course corrections” thus helping that team member avoid potential issues. What’s more is that everyone knows what the measures are and are comfortable engaging in discussions around them. This is one of the biggest values of leading by the numbers. You take away the emotional stigma and are able to engage in a much more collaborative discussion around performance.
If you think about these two scenario’s which sounds more appealing? Are your team members collecting and tracking daily measures? Can you see how much easier it is to provide feedback when the emotion is taken out of the equation? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
Fear Starts - On the Inside
In the field of Narrative Psychology we are beginning to discover just how powerful our "stories" are. We have all heard the accounts of primitive tribes where stealing was considered taboo, so much so that the thief would have the hand that they stole with wither up and atrophy. We all marvel at accounts like this that speak to our susceptibility to the power of suggestion. Most of us scoff at the thought or dismiss it as something that afflicts those with a weaker constitution than ours. Yet we are now discovering the impact of the power of suggestion and in particular how powerful it is when we are writing that narrative or suggestion.
So many of our actions (or inactions) can only be understood when we confront the stories we tell ourselves - about ourselves. When we examine our "self talk" it is there that we can begin to uncover the origins of the fears that we grapple with.
The biggest story we write is our story. We create narratives and context, heroes and villains, and arrange the events of our existence into some kind of coherent context. This serves to give our lives structure and underscores and reinforces the essential truths that we have created about ourselves. And these are broad landscapes indeed with family legends passed down from grandparents, parents and relatives. Stories such as "the women in our family have always been healers" and these traits are woven together with personal history "I have a real gift of helping the sick and volunteer time at the local hospital" and thus they become part of an elaborate story that we create of our lives.
Impact On Identity
Sometimes the events of our lives take on mythical proportions which is not to suggest that we are lying or deluded but we construct our stories to reinforce what we choose as the high (or low) points of our personal identity. "I was a tomboy and I climbed a 1000 trees and beat up a hundred boys when I was young!" We even make fun of those narratives such as the standard "When I was your age I walked ten miles to school, in bare feet, uphill, both ways!"
It is in this part of our "story" that things can get really interesting. We create both positive and negative qualities for our main character - us. Most of us will have a mix of both but some folks will be much more positive than negative and some will tend to lean toward the negative side of things. These features of our character will be shaped by the stories of others in our lives such as our parents and family and the messaging that they insert into our story. These also can be both positive or negative. In their excellent narrative on this issue John and Stasi Eldridge in their research speak to the role of our parents and in particular our father with respect to the messaging they speak into our lives and its impact. We do (and will) however, add a lot of our own narrative and most of this will happen without us even realizing it.
Redemptive or Contaminating
Our stories tend to fall into either redemptive (overcoming an obstacle and succeeding) or contaminating (once everything was perfect and then "something" happened that changed all of that) genres. In redemptive stories our protagonist (us) is heroic and dynamic. In contaminant stories our protagonist (us) is more passive and leans toward being a victim.
What is Your Story?
Our stories are very powerful indeed and we filter everything through our self written narrative. So my question for you today is this: "What is your story?" Are you a hero or victim? Is your story redemptive or contaminating? These are important questions to consider not only for personal reasons but also because of the impact that your story can have in your work and career. What do you expect for yourself at work and why? Good things or bad? Do you deserve that promotion or not? Your personal narrative, as it touches on those deep seated fears, will be at play in how you answer these types of questions. Take time today to exam your story and what it says about you. Does your story hold you captive or set you free?
By the way; in case you aren't happy with how you see your story remember this; the last chapters are still waiting to be written and you are able to change that narrative any time you decide you need to. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I wonder how many will look at this title and think to themselves “I don’t want to admit that I am afraid of anything." If you are in leadership or moving into leadership, like all of us, it is a question you will grapple with. But like so many other things in our society there is an expectation of control and confidence, so we push that question down, deep into our psyche. We have come to believe that leadership should unpack quickly like everything else in our society. The reality is that growth as a leader comes in baby steps and becoming comfortable with this question is the first step to becoming the awesome leader you want to be.
Dealing with Doubt
The reality is that overnight successes are rarely that. They are the culmination of years of hard work, trial and error and most of all perseverance. The truth is that many of us are not comfortable leaders. We suffer from “imposter syndrome,” that nagging doubt that we are only playing the role of leaders and that if people really examined our leadership closely they would know we are frauds. We focus only on the things we feel confident about and so often what that means is we can generate awesome reports or studies, manage the paperwork and so on but struggle internally to master the "soft" skills around managing the performance of the people on our teams.
Different Strokes for Different Folks And The Masks We Wear
Some folks will compensate for these feelings through bluster and bragging. Some (many) will compensate by using promotion as a means to distance oneself from dealing with staff and becoming “paper busy.” (I have seen supervisors who are just a door down from an Operations Center who never set foot in that room.) And some will try one approach or another looking for ways to find balance in their leadership. Whatever the case may be, comfortable with their leadership, many people are not. And we hide behind masks when we are not.
A New Skill Set
To be fair it is not your fault. We live in a digital era that is governed by industrial revolution era leadership models. What does this mean? Companies are set up to bring people in because of their technical skills and when they reach the top of their pay band or grade the only option left to giving them a raise is to promote them into leadership. The net result is someone gets moved from a place of technical expertise to a position requiring an entirely different set of skills, leadership skills.
How Do We Prepare Leaders?
Typically, the only training or preparation for this role is the example set by the person who previously held that position. (Let that sink in for a minute.) Many companies spend a lot of time working on issues around succession planning at the C – Suite and Executive leadership levels yet give little thought to similar processes for leadership at other levels.
It is true too that companies now have started utilizing leadership training programs to help in this process yet fail to connect the program with the objectives of the company and the actual needs of its leaders. For many it is a prerequisite to take a leadership course as part of moving into leadership but these courses are often only an HR version of “pencil whipping,” a checklist to say that it has been complied with.
Confronting Our Fears
How much thought has gone into helping that new leader understand the company goals and objectives? Or how many get training on dealing with that difficult employee (and we all have them) who will rob them of time and energy? Do they show them how to know they have had a good day or that their team has had a good day? Have they received grounding in knowing the core components of leadership? Or, have they been shown how to confront those aspects of leadership that they are afraid of?
These are the things we are going to explore for the next while on to how to become an amazing leader by confronting those fears. These tools are not new or necessarily unique but they are effective. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
A Loss At Christmas
It's been a bit of a rough Christmas and New Year at our house. My mother in-law, Bev, passed away right before Christmas. She lived with us (we used to joke we were room mates) and she had been more of a mother to me than a mother in-law. Bev had been a nurse and a pastors wife for many years and after her beloved Grant passed away we got to spend more time together. I had come to value spending that time with her, taking her shopping or to doctor's appointments, and of course the conversations we had during all that time driving!
It was just this last weekend as we were going through her things that my wife found Bev's Christmas gifts to us. Just simple gift cards tucked into a Christmas card along with some thoughts and well wishes from her. I opened mine not quite knowing what to find. What I read stopped me in my tracks and yes, I wept. She had written, To James, from your mother (?) Bev. Thanks so much.
The Power of a Question Mark
It was the question mark behind mother that had caught my eye and choked me up. Didn't she know how I had felt about her? Hadn't I told her enough times how she was like a mother to me and how much that meant? One little question mark, yet it carried so much meaning.
What Do We Leave Unanswered?
It got me wondering if we as leaders have question marks floating around our teams? It is our responsibility to ensure that our teams know; their role, their contribution, their value, and their purpose. We help ensure that the work our teams do feed their purpose and skills and we are constantly interpreting the needs of the company to the team and the needs of the team to the company.
In all the rush and tyranny of the urgent is it possible that questions around worth, value, and contribution go unanswered? You KNOW the answer to that! Of course it is!
Commit to Making Sure
So as we move into 2019 let this serve as a reminder to us as leaders to never leave a question mark with our teams with respect to the basic needs that we all have. Gallup and many other research groups have confirmed many times over that people don't leave companies, they leave managers. And they leave managers because often they don't get those questions answered; what is my role, value, or contribution to the team? Will you support me in my growth, aspirations or simply as a human being? In short, do "I" really count? (Or as Bev reminded me, have I really filled that role in your life?)
Don't let there be any level of uncertainty in your mind or on your team with regard to the answers to those issues. Unanswered questions or what I call floating question marks can be deadly to team and company performance if they are not dealt with. Performance Leadership - Think About It!