Communication is one of those things every leadership coach will talk about. So let's agree that it is important. Often we tend to view communication as a "formal" process and forget that communication with our team is nuanced and something that happens all the time. What we don't say is as much a form of communication as what we do say. Around this truth one young leader comes to mind.
The group that I had been training had been working on my process for somewhere around 9 months. In that time, I had trained leaders who had moved up and I was in the process of working with new leaders. While they were familiar with the program they were new to leading. It was in that setting that I encountered "Jack."
Jack was popular with the crews and had been with the company for some time. He had decided that he was working his way up to the crew leadership level and had just arrived at his goal. He was smart, got along well, was a quick learner and had all the tools to truly become a fine crew leader.
So it was with some surprise that one day I found him wanting to speak to me "off site." He was miserable. He was wrestling with anger and resentment toward his crew and did not know what to do about it. It was so bad that he was considering moving back to his old position.
The problem was he had trained under a very gifted leader which was good. But - he had his own ideas about how he wanted things done that did not align with how his mentor had worked with the crew - which was bad. He explained that he tried to get his crew to do things his way but this was typically right in the middle of operations and so his suggestions were met with indifference or hostility. He was on the verge of exploding.
I asked him a series of questions about the issue and tried to determine why this high performing crew were not responding to him the way he expected. In the course of the conversation he finally admitted that he had never really communicated his expectations for process and communication to his crew. He figured he could just tell them when things were happening. Normally that would not be an issue but this type of operational activity did not lend itself well to that approach.
I asked him if he was clear about what he wanted and why and he said he was. My suggestion to him was to sit his team down during the next pre-shift meeting and lay out his wishes for process and communication. He had moved from being a friend to a leader and this aspect of leadership didn't feel natural to him. I shared with him that all new leaders tend to wrestle with this at first. However, as the leader, you not only have a right to communicate your expectations you have a responsibility to make sure everyone knows them.
The next time we met he was all smiles. He even joked about why he hadn't thought about doing that in the first place. The moral of the story is "don't be afraid to communicate your expectations." Even companies that have been around for a while will get new leaders who are going to want to approach things a little differently - put their own brand on the team so to speak. Don't be afraid to communicate those things. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Perhaps the hardest part of becoming a comfortable leader is that aspect of your leadership relating to being consistent or what I call Continuity. Most groups and leaders I work with love learning the skills around Coherence and Challenge and those skills produce immediate results. Yet the final component of becoming comfortable in your skin as a leader is making those skills a habit.
One of my favorite quotes is from Aristotle where he states; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” It is in the fostering of the habits of comfortable leadership that you come to make things stick.
I love the story of how Michael Jordan after being cut from his high school basketball team determined to overcome that set back and established a daily routine of shooting and practicing his skills. From all accounts he literally could be found shooting and practicing every spare moment of his day. He built up his “muscle memory” (read habit) through the thousands of shots taken until it stuck.
Practice Like You Never Arrived
Stories like this abound. Tiger Woods, Tony Dungy and his work with the Colts and many others, all of whom worked at the habits that create excellence. What truly separates them from the rest of the crowd is that they did not stop there. Having achieved a high level of excellence they did not stop practicing but indeed ramped it up even more.
This is key to effective leadership. As humans we are tempted to stop as soon as we have achieved a goal or we are feeling better about something. It is one of the greatest challenges around training and organizational change – falling back into old – non productive habits. I tell the groups I work with that they are going to see an up tick in performance because they are trying these new techniques and approaches. But I also tell them to not get complacent because after that up tick they will probably experience a slide back to previous levels.
When Should You Stop? Never!
Why? Because they have not established those new techniques as habits. It's a lot like someone who takes medication for a condition who starts to feel better so they stop taking the medication and they relapse. There are no short cuts to excellence and just like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods you have to practice the techniques and components of good leadership every day to ensure that they become habits that stick.
Providing a clear approach to leading by setting out the goals and objectives for your team is a habit you need to do daily. Collecting metrics or measures and reporting on those regularly need to become habits for you and your team. Creating time on a regular basis to evaluate and discuss measures and come up with solutions and opportunities need to become engrained into the daily or weekly routines of your team.
Are They Automatic?
How many of you have ever set out to drive somewhere for whatever reason only to find yourself taking the route you would normally take to work? Our habit of taking a certain route becomes so ingrained in our mind that we do it often without much thought at all. Habits of comfortable leadership need to be that ingrained. Developing those daily habits ensure they get done but ultimately they will allow you to extend your focus to bigger and broader goals.
Establishing Continuity through the deliberate fostering of habits and techniques around Coherence and Challenge is what will make your leadership not only more comfortable but also more excellent. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
As I wrote yesterday math is the language by which we describe the universe. I am not a mathematician but numbers have always fascinated me. Numbers, it would seem, have that effect on most of us.
We Pay Attention To Numbers
When I was in university there was a study of an actual event that took place in a school in the southern U.S. A teacher started the year by telling the students that they had been hand-picked for this homeroom because of their intelligence scores. They were told that they were the brightest and the best and that they all had skills that made them essential to the group. The result of that experiment was that students began to score higher on exams and projects. The teacher had lied; they were an average class with the same range of ability as any of the other classes.
Notwithstanding the clear violation of professional ethics, the account was a revealing look at how we as humans respond to information presented to us. We collect all kinds of information around our work. We have many metrics and measures that tell us about how well a company, group is performing. We measure output, profit, timeframes, profit margins, waste and any number of other things to give us a snap shot of how a company is performing at any given moment. These numbers may measure performance but they don’t necessarily drive it.
When Is a Number Not Just a Number?
In order to make the measures and metrics count we need to create linkage right down to the individual employee. Much like the story of the teacher and their class I have challenged leaders to use a number to drive performance on their teams. In many cases I simply told them to provide a score out of 5 or 10 and post it at the end of each day. I asked them not to tell the team how they came up with that score but to simply observe how the team responded.
The response has been pretty consistent. Starting with a passing interest, teams would soon start to dialogue about how that score was being determined and begin to come up with ideas on how to influence that score higher. Performance went up as the team sought to figure it out!
When Measures Drive Improvement
While that exercise is useful in demonstrating how we as leaders can use measures or metrics to drive performance it is not sustainable in the long term. Sustainability comes from getting each employee to come up with their own measure or metric for their performance. It comes from getting them to understand how their performance influences the success of the group and in turn how the success of the group impacts the health of the company. It is no longer about measuring alone but how to make that measure count in terms of driving performance.
Owning The Numbers
You will note that key to this is not to use your measures for the team but to get them to use their measures – along with some gentle, artful guidance. Getting them to use their measures allows you to unlock that “response to challenge” that we all have. If it is my measure for them, it is my challenge. If it is their measure for them, it is their challenge. Getting your team to develop their own measures is how you make it count.
Clarity Before Measurement
A last point here with regard to counting and measures – don’t over think things. Anything can be measured if you are clear about what you want. You can measure client experience by counting smiles at a drive through window. You can measure accuracy by counting mistakes. (it is not as scary as it may seem if you have created high coherence on your team.) You can measure time frames to completion, number of widgets per hour or number of times someone needed clarification for a task.
There are many ways to measure performance as long as you are comfortable and clear in your understanding about what you want that performance to look like. Once you are clear on that you can use the numbers and make them count. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
Millennials get a bad rap around performance. With all the discussion around “participation” awards and similar topics you would think that this generation has never had to compete a day in their lives. I submit that what strokes Millennial’s competitive nature or that core need for challenge may be somewhat different than other groups but I don’t believe it doesn’t exist.
We Are Wired For Challenge
In fact, I suspect that Millennials are just as wired for challenge as the rest of us. The largest and one of the fastest growing industries in our era is computer or online gaming. This sector is nearing the $100B yearly mark – yes that is a B! These games are excellent examples of challenge driving performance.
A digital game provides instant feedback on performance and the challenge to improve on each and every try! Success is measured by how fast you can get through all the levels or how high your scores are. What is interesting too is that many use the game to build up personal (in game) skills so that they can be productive contributors and collaborators on teams in a larger game setting. World of Warcraft would be one such example.
Either/And vs Either/Or
The fact is that Millennials have been raised in one of the most collaborative milieus ever. They are proficient in the skills needed to navigate working on a team or in a group and they have been taught to value the contribution that each person brings to the team. As such they can be competitive and also tend to make very good team members.
They are also pretty data savvy. Having been raised at the height of the digital revolution they have a natural bent to look to data to inform their understanding of the world and the work they do to contribute to it. As such they are much more likely to give serious consideration to what the data tells them and feel comfortable making choices based on it.
Making The Connection
Challenge then, is not an issue for them, connecting them to the challenge is. What I mean by this is that often leadership (and this is borne out by research) fail to connect staff to company objectives. Company challenges don’t become staff challenges. Perhaps that is why this demographic more than others want leadership that is actually managing their performance and growth. This is where the “math of performance” comes in.
I have heard it said that math is the language by which we describe the universe. The math of performance involves "describing" the metrics for what you do, tracking them and using them to drive performance. I want to be clear, metrics can track performance but more importantly they can be used to drive performance. Comfortable leadership means being able to guide your staff to an understanding of what metrics are key to their performance. The inference too is that as a leader you are completely familiar with your metrics and the metrics for your group or division.
Meaning in Measures
Can you get a staff member to come up with something to measure that represents an aspect of their performance? Can you show them how that rolls up into measures for the group and how that impacts group performance? And lastly can you show them how group measures and performance impact the achievement of company goals and objectives? If you can do that then you have mastered the math of performance and a key feature of comfortable leadership.
We all respond to challenges. We all share a certain need to grow and improve. Guiding us to discover those challenges at work is the mark of a good leader. Using our challenges to improve performance is the mark of a great leader. Performance Leadership – Think About It!