Everyone says they want to make a difference. How many times have you had that conversation around the water cooler or in the break room? "If I was leading (fill in the blank) I would really make a difference, things would change. Usually these sorts of conversations happen around a perceived injustice or unpopular decision when folks are riled up. But what does making a difference really mean? Everyone knows that as a leader you can't make decisions that everyone will align with every single time so it must be more than just consensus?
Why It Matters
Making a difference is a big issue, especially if you are a leader in a company or organization. Gallup regularly releases data on workforce trends around engagement and management and aside from consistently seeing employee engagement around 33% one of the biggest trends they see are folks who leave companies because of their manager. To put it in their terms "employees leave managers they don't leave companies."
How Do You See Your Team?
I am going to explore this over the next few days but let's start with what I think is the number one way you can make a difference as a leader. Acknowledge and treat your staff as people. Too obvious you say? It may well be too obvious but it is also one of the biggest disconnects when people talk about what makes a bad boss.
How Well Do You Know Your Staff?
Lets do a quick test - for the people that report directly to you see if you can answer these questions; are they married or in a relationship? Do they have children? What are their children's names and their partners name? What are their passions and skills? What are their goals in life, in the company? What have you done to acknowledge those things and how are you advocating for them?
Find Out What Matters!
I am sure you will have noticed that very few of those things relate to the work that person is doing at the company or on the team. Yet those things matter and they will mark someone as a great leader versus someone who is not.
Let me give an example. "Ruth" struggled with her new boss. Everything was unfamiliar and she found herself wondering about expectations and worried that she would cross lines that she did not know were there. Added to this was the burden of a rocky relationship at home and a struggle with drinking. No one at work knew about these things and while typically she could put on a smiling facade the new boss made even that difficult.
Looking for Connection
The "boss" was struggling to understand where Ruth was coming from. Several efforts to give her more meaningful and important tasks that were meant to demonstrate faith in her ability were met with suspicion and resistance. What the boss did not realize is that these efforts were perceived by Ruth as setting her up for failure so the boss could replace her.
We All Receive Affirmation Differently
The boss was running out of options to connect with Ruth but hung in there and decided to just try and connect on a personal level. The breakthrough came when one day as they had just completed a meeting and were just "chatting." The boss shared a bit about some of the struggles she had faced recently with some of her children. To Ruth this was a revelation and an affirmation that her boss would share something like that with her. Over the course of the next few weeks she began to open up too about the struggles she was facing and amazingly they began to formulate plans for how she could deal with them. She soon realized too that her boss was actually trying to help her succeed and that those new tasks were a sincere affirmation of her skills.
Start With The Person
Sometimes when we can't connect on the team or business level it is important to remember that we can always connect as people. Taking the time to get to know your team as people really does make a difference. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Culture is one of those catch words that everyone uses to describe those intangible things that every business should have in order to succeed. I have read many articles that speak about the need to develop culture and how vital that is to a company with regard to giving it an edge over the competition. At times the idea of developing "culture" takes on almost mythical dimensions.
Every Company Has Culture
But let's stop and think about this for a minute and bring that conversation back to reality. Every company has a culture. The question to ask is this, is your culture intentional or accidental? Collins sums it up with this statement in his book "Good to Great" by saying "if you don't like what you see on your team or in your company, look in the mirror." Every company gets exactly what it values and those values are reflected by the leadership team. If that team cuts corners, or gives each other a "pass" on company policy from time to time or if the senior leadership team holds itself to a lower standard than they expect from the rest of the company you will see evidence of that throughout the company. In short what you ignore (don't deal with) you permit and so many aspects of company culture are formed in those non-written permissions.
A Good Example
The now well known story of Paul O'Neill and his transformation of Alcoa by focusing on safety as a priority gives us some good insight into what happens when leadership sets culture intentionally. If you have read the story O'Neill came into the company when it was struggling and against all the common wisdom of the day said, he would turn the company around by focusing on safety. When he retired 14 years later the company was worth 5x what it had been when he started. But the focus on safety was only one aspect of what he did to create the culture he wanted at the company.
When you look at the list of company values which they state they "live" everyday you get a better picture of just what happened. Here are the values that they had established;
We are open, honest, and accountable.
Environment, Health & Safety
We work safely, promote wellness, and protect the environment.
We creatively transform ideas into value.
We treat all people with dignity and provide a diverse, inclusive work environment.
We relentlessly pursue outstanding and sustainable results.
Not Just Lip Service
O'Neill knew that changing one aspect of the culture around safety would in fact lead to a domino effect that would impact many other areas of the company but all of this would have been for naught if the leadership of the company had failed in those first two values of Integrity and Safety.
Every Decision - A Test of Values
What often is not written about is the fact that after putting safety as the key emphasis at Alcoa a safety incident occurred that happened under the watch of one of the companies star managers. This was someone who was a strong supporter and friend of O'Neill and of his initiatives. What’s more it was discovered that this individual knew about the potential issues and had not reported them. This was a crucible moment for O'Neill and he did not flinch. The manager was let go and as difficult as that was for him to do the message that was sent to the rest of the company was that they were not just paying "lip service" to these values and the leadership team would be held to the same or higher standard as the rest of the company. It transformed the culture at Alcoa and everyone from the front line to the CEO lives by those values.
Know What You Want
So what is key for culture? As a leader, whether it is a small group or a company, you must know what you want and expect to get it - every time. Whether that is safety or team work or honesty or respect it is your role to identify what you want, know what that looks like on your team and drive those behaviors by acknowledging them when you see them and dealing with the issues when those values are broken.
So what is key to culture on your team or in your company? You are. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I attended a Gallup webinar the other day that went over the statistics on who are the happiest people in the world? There were some really interesting things that came out of that discussion such as Latin American countries 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 said 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.
Can you build personal relationships around work?
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.
Millennials trend back to the desire for purposeful work communities.
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. 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 is in fact the opposite in which happy workers tend to be happier at home and enjoy life much more as a result. The emphasis being how do we make happy workers?
Success as a purpose?
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 their purpose and some refined this to an art; buying startups, 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.
Outward focus on issues as a 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. 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.
People are not capital (diminishing value) they are assets!
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.
What is your purpose as a leader?
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 toward 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!
What Does This Mean?
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?
Wants vs Needs
I have talked about this many times in the past and with the risk of sounding like a broken record I will say it again; we go through this cycle in the Oil & Gas industry where when prices are high companies bloat to fulfill all of their wish lists of staff 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.
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 Example
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 a performance 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 to 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.
Everyone Has a Role
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 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.
Is It Time For A New Paradigm?
So my question for my colleagues in the Oil & Gas 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 latest Gallup data came out today and one of the articles 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.
It Really Matters
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.
50 Ways to Leave Your Boss
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.
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 Times They Are A Changing
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.
Build Leadership Confidence
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.
How Are You Addressing This Gap?
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!
Eyeballing it doesn't work
I am in the process of losing 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!
If you don't measure it you can't change it
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.
Measure for success
So I got an app and started using it rigorously. And guess what? Yup, already down 20 pounds in just a few weeks. The only difference from before is that I started measuring intake, exercise and weight and the results tell the rest of that story. I know I have a way to go yet but 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.
If it is important - 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.
A good example
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.
Get into the habit
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!
In the 1800's an Italian by the name of Vilfredo Pareto came upon a finding that became known as the 80/20 ratio. As he, and later others researched this finding they found that it could be applied in a number of ways. They found that 80% of the world's resources were consumed by 20% of the world's population and inversely 80% of the world's population existed on 20% of the world's resources. The trends in business were similar - 80% of revenue is generated by 20% of your business, 80% of the cost is in 20% of your business process, 80% of the problems exist in 20% of your operations and inversely 80% of your improvement can be gleaned out of 20% of your business processes. Similar ratios can be applied to leadership and supervision with leaders spending 80% of their time dealing with 20% of their staff and so on.
While there has been much discussion on the actual numbers in the ratio what does seem to be clear is that "a" ratio close to those numbers does indeed seem to exist and in fact can be used to enhance a company or team's continuous improvement efforts. I am sure you are asking how this can be so let's look at a couple of real life examples of how different companies tackled some issues by applying Pareto’s ratio.
In one oil and gas service company there was concern with issues around non productive time and its impact upon overall operational effectiveness. The approach taken was to use a simple spread sheet to track time for all activities that happened every 24 hours on the lease. Over the course of several months they collected enough data to begin to see some interesting trends and they put that information into Pareto charts which listed key non productive activities in rank order in hours from biggest to smallest. Several items immediately jumped out from the data, maintenance times and winterizing.
Applying the Pareto ratio it was determined that if they could tackle those two issues and eliminate them it would greatly enhance their operational effectiveness and add value to their clients. Over the course of the next few months’ crews collaborated to come up with new and innovative approaches to deal with maintenance times and winterizing and by the end of the first year they had successfully moved those two items off the Pareto chart. And, as part of their continuous improvement approach, what they did next was tackle the next two biggest issues on the Pareto chart and so on.
In another company that exported LNG off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico they applied the Pareto ratio to applying a behavior based safety approach to solving issues. They collected safety data and created a Pareto chart listing issues from most numerous to least numerous. What their chart revealed was that the largest number of safety incidents were happening around operation of the plant golf carts that were used to get around the very large facility. Here again the crews and leadership collaborated in looking for ways to extinguish the behaviors they did not want and promote the safety behaviors they wanted. In a very short period of time they had moved this item completely off their Pareto list and had moved on to the next biggest item.
A Path To Continuous Improvement
Both are excellent examples of how two different groups took the Pareto ratio and used it to identify problems and enhance overall performance. It was an effective tool for identifying issues and measuring success in dealing with those issues. What’s more is that since no company can completely remove every item off their Pareto chart the opportunities for continuous improvement never really go away. Can you identify what the key issues are in your company that are inhibiting operational effectiveness? If not, then perhaps it is time to consider continuous improvement. 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 Continuous Improvement 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.
Same Old Same Old
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.
Does It Have To Be This Way?
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 sizable 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 favorable 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
What Can You Control?
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.
Engagement Is Key
Employee engagement is a cornerstone of Continuous Improvement 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.
And still many companies have been resistant to move to a Continuous Improvement 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 which once achieved gives a company a significant advantage over its competition and indeed over market conditions in general. A company with a robust Continuous Improvement culture sees a market downturn as an opportunity not a problem.
What Will It Take For You To Change?
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.
What is Passive Leadership?
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?
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.
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 O&G 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.
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.
The Future Looks Bright
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!
The Pain of PPD's, PGP's, PPR's and KPI's
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 Plans, Key Performance Indicators, Personal Development Plans, 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.
The Dreaded "Scale"
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?
What Most Performance Reviews Communicate
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 underachievers 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.
Behavior or Role?
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 Can You Observe?
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 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.)
Do You Know What You Want?
Another example of a behavior related to engagement would be tracking contributions 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.
See and Recognize the Behaviors 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!
To be fair this myth tends to perpetuate precisely because we get promoted for "hard" skill mastery. The shift from being rewarded for those skills and know how to managing others for those skills can be difficult. Add to that some of the traditional perspectives of being the "firefighter" or "problem solver" and its easy to see why this myth is so easily propagated.
What If I Don't Know The Answer?
One of the most common questions I get from new (and some seasoned) leaders is "What if I don't know the answer?" So let's explore that question - what happens if you don't know the answer? Several scenarios present themselves; you research and find the answer, you seek the answer from the collective wisdom of the group (a subset of the first scenario), you send it up the line or (and this is the one we all worry about) you loose face and your role as a leader is undermined. Of all of these possibilities which do you think is the least likely to happen?
Move From Technical Expert To Leader
The reality is that no-one has all the answers and when you think it through its a rather silly concept. Perhaps because of my role as trainer and mentor I am used to coming into situations where I know almost nothing about that industry sector. I am free from that concern and it allows me to help leaders approach this issue from a very different perspective; that of being a facilitator to help your team solve the problems. Your role as a technologist is to "do" the work so in many respects you are expected to be pretty conversant with the issues. But let’s face it, no matter how many years you do a job you are going to face something you have never seen before. As a leader the same holds true. Your role is to create an environment where challenges and problems are not feared but embraced as opportunities to learn and improve.
Your Team Will Look To Improve - Let Them
The same holds true with innovation. If we are honest with ourselves, we can all reflect on the roles we first had when we came into the work force and the ideas that came rather shortly thereafter regarding how to improve that work or task. Its normal and natural to see a task or job and look for ways to improve it. Yet, how many times did you present those ideas only to have them shot down or ignored.
Don't Be Afraid To Let Your Team Innovate
Many leaders are intimidated by ideas generated on their team precisely because they hold to this myth; that somehow one is not leading if they are not generating ideas for improvement. This can lead to a stifling of innovation on the team or worse yet the theft of those ideas by the leader as a means of self promotion. (And yes that will stifle innovation as well.) In addition how many ideas get discarded because the leader is looking for the one "big" idea that will be a home run and money maker?
Those Closest To The Problem Are Best Suited To Find The Answers
So that is the myth now here is the reality. The people closest to the problems and roles are much better suited to come up with solutions and innovations. If you are a leader that is not you. If you are leading a team of leaders even more so. The higher you go the further removed you will be from that reality - and that's okay as long as you are willing to recognize that. One of the strangest things I heard from a leader was the idea that “we pay R&D to generate innovations and operations are not paid to do that.” Really? I don't know of any company that afford to ignore a pool of potential solutions and cost savings, do you?
Instead of Shunning Ideas - Welcome Them
To be sure leaders will come up with innovations appropriate to their level of leadership but those tend to be less frequent for a number of reasons chief of which is time. I would rather develop a team that generates 10 ideas or innovations in a month in addition to the one or two I will generate. Instead of shunning ideas welcome them.
Inhibit Innovation or Actively Engage It?
You are not going to have all the answers or ideas but that does not diminish your leadership. In fact think about which is the stronger leader; the one who silos their team and inhibits innovation or the leader who's team is actively engaged in problem solving and generating innovations? Free yourself and your team from that myth and enjoy the ride! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
All Eyes On You
This is pretty closely connected to myth #3 in that as leaders we get bogged down with "busy" work and begin to justify our absence by telling ourselves that our actions or attitude don't really matter that much to our staff. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth and you have far more influence than you realize.
People Don't Leave Companies - They Leave Bad Bosses
The following is a good exercise to try; google the top reasons that employees leave a company. There is an interesting set of trends that come out of the surveys on the first page alone! Number one on the list is a bad boss. There are lots of ways that bosses are perceived to be bad but when I dug into the results a bit further a couple of things jumped out at me. Consistent in the top list of reasons after "bad bosses' was lack of respect and poor work life balance. How are these connected you may ask?
What Makes A Good Boss?
When you were climbing up the ranks and working toward those coveted promotions think about the bosses you had. We can all point to those bosses that respected us, that gave us an opportunity to be involved and who gave us work that challenged us. No matter how far we climb that ladder we will always seek those things from our boss. So the question becomes are you doing this for your staff?
Don"t Do Your Old Job
New bosses struggle with this the most as usually they are promoted for their hard skills and often it is difficult for them to let go of doing those things. After all it is what brought them recognition in the first place. While micromanaging your team around your old hard skills may be comfortable at first if you stay there you are inviting all kinds of issues. What you communicate to your staff is that they are not trusted to do the job. They won't do anything unless they are certain they have your buy in. It will lead to a type of paralysis of action and innovation as no one desires to be found wanting in your eyes.
Lead - Don't Do
In a group of oil and gas service workers I worked with they developed a rule for front line crew leaders; you are not to be "head down - bum up" doing the work out there. If you were caught doing that you were called on it. The concept was they were there to lead not do. That meant handing off those things they were comfortable doing and teaching their crew to do them instead. It became a bit of game but what they each commented on was how it forced them out of the old thinking so that they became better leaders. In addition, their crews responded well because for them it was a respect issue and they appreciated the effort being taken with them.
Demonstrate The Value of Your Team
This also relates to work/life balance. How? Very often the issue of work/life balance really translates into valuing someone as a person not just as a cog in the machine. If you as their leader won't take the time to get to know them as people and appreciate them for who they are what are you communicating? That's right, they don't matter. We have all worked for those kind of bosses; the ones you know are only using you for their own gain. It is hard for even the most noble of us to go the "extra mile" for that kind of boss.
An Example of Value Demonstrated
I saw a beautiful example of how getting to know your team can be done well. At a plant I was working with in the U.S. one of their workers was killed in a car crash on their days off. That person's supervisor knew them well, knew about the fact they had purchased a new house and had a new baby at home. It looked pretty desperate for his widow. This information was passed up the line and very shortly the plant and operations managers from the plant paid a visit to the widow with assurances of clearing all the obstacles with insurance, a pledge to help with the mortgage and a plan set up a college fund for the child. This was certainly above and beyond to be sure but what do you think those actions communicated to the rest of the staff? You got it; they were important - as people. Want to guess what their turnover rates were?
What is Your Attitude Toward Your Team?
There are so many facets to how your attitude and actions can impact your team. Today we looked at the issues of respect and work/life balance (valuing your people for who they are) and what that says about your leadership. Respecting your people by taking the time to train them, to challenge them and getting to know them can become a powerful hallmark of your leadership and a powerful tool for driving performance. Performance Leadership - Think About It!