I know that everyone is busy this week so I thought I would lighten things up with an exploration of one of my favorite Christmas movies, "It's A Wonderful Life." This will be my only post this week (no cheering please) and I am going to explore some simple yet powerful lessons from our friend George Bailey. *Spoiler Alert* If you have not seen this movie; shame on you and don't read any further lol!
People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care!
If you haven't already done so write this down as THE number one lesson on being a genuine leader. George had tremendous impact on the folks at Bedford Falls because he cared. Whether it was saving his little brother in an ice skating accident, preventing Mr. Gower from poisoning a patient or keeping his business margins thin so that the poorer folks in town could afford to own homes, George Bailey showed he cared. During the war George was involved with the war effort at home and never shirked his civic responsibilities. There were others that perhaps were more wealthy but when push came to shove people listened to George.
George Bailey had a strong personal compass!
Regardless of where his life wound up George Bailey had a personal compass that kept him true to who he was. He had big dreams as a young man but his commitment and sense of duty kept him running his father’s Building and Loan. He stayed true to that all through his life and it served him well. When there was a run on the banks he was able to have others buy into his vision just enough to keep the business open. (Of course it also had a lot to do with the first point.) Later on when Old Man Potter tried to lure him away with visions of money and security it was his personal compass that steered him out of the trap!
George & Mary Bailey built a life, they didn't buy one and mortgage it!
Perhaps one of the most endearing aspects of this excellent study of his life are the sacrifices that both he and his wife and childhood sweetheart Mary were prepared to make in order to secure a better life down the road. From buying the old Granville house at 320 Sycamore because it was what they could afford, to using their honeymoon money to keep the Building and Loan afloat or just driving an old run down car, they skimped where they could. No sacrifice was too small so that they could build a better future for themselves and their family.
Of course much of this is with a little tongue in cheek; but not too much. George and Mary were "every couple" USA and as such represented a generation who were very much of that mold. Where we are at the end of 2016 I see as very similar. For many it has been a hard couple of years. Sacrifices have had to be made and difficult times have tested relationships to be sure. But there is something to be said about the resiliency of the human race in trying times. We are forged as much by our failures as we are by our successes!
So to all of you who have struggled this year, to all of you who have had a great year, let us salute this "wonderful life!" May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Never stop caring, never lose your way and never stop building your life! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
We have looked at sampling of research this week that tells us that our perceptions are not what we thought they were. That often our beliefs and expectations can cloud our judgement of reality. How then do we accommodate for these inherent flaws in our mental makeup and remove as much uncertainty as we can around our decisions as leaders?
Coming to terms with uncertainty
The key starts with understanding that you will never completely remove "all" uncertainty. Managing risk is about finding measures that reduce uncertainty. To quote Douglas Hubbard from his best-selling book "How To Measure Anything" measurement is defined as "A quantitatively expressed reduction of uncertainty based on one or more observations."
But wait you say, didn't you just explore this week that even with data available we are still prone to bias? And you would be right. However, we don't stop making decisions because of that, we focus instead on constantly looking to augment our data set and in taking new approaches to reducing uncertainty. The instant you feel certain you are in trouble.
The myth of certainty
You only have to look at the events around this last Presidential election to understand the hubris that comes with being "certain" about something without factoring in these issues. There is a valuable lesson to be learned here around how get in front of faulty perceptions. That there was bias on the part of the punditry was obvious I suspect to everyone but them. If there were concerns that they did not have a handle on how things were unfolding or were expected to unfold they either ignored them or castigated those who brought those observations forward. In other words, they chose to only look at the data that supported their bias and refused to be rigorous in looking at data that did not.
More is better, be it data or input
Here is the lesson; you can never be certain and to ignore data that does not support your instincts undermines your management of risk. Whether you have a small team that you lead or a large company you must foster an environment that encourages sincere exploration of measures and information that is contrary to the goals around your decisions and mission. You must never accept certainty as a forgone conclusion as that is the medium where biases flourish.
Shape your team culture
Develop your team to operate with a critical mindset and from a perspective that there is always more to a decision than meets the eye. The process will be iterative which is why continuous improvement is so much a part of operational excellence. Every answer will lead to further questions. If your data is not giving you what you need then find data that will. Metrics are iterative as well and should evolve and change along with the needs of the team.
Don’t ignore the cues
Develop a sensitivity for language that betrays undue certainty or bias. If you saw Money Ball you laughed at the scout’s discussion around what made for a good player, looks, height, confidence (based on whether they had a good looking girlfriend) and so on. What wasn't funny was that this was so engrained into the culture of the sport that no-one questioned it. If a movie were to be made around how you and your company make decisions how would the audience react?
The bottom line is don't hang your hat on one piece of information or input from only one source. Make it a habit to find as many measures as possible to reduce the level of uncertainty around a decision. Foster a culture that encourages critical analysis and input. Finally, don't be afraid to admit that you are going to bring "blind spots" and biases into your decision making process and make sure you are not ignoring them either. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I have no desire to reignite the controversy that erupted over the internet regarding the color of the dress. You may recall that some folks saw it as gold and white while others saw it as black and blue. Regardless of what you see it prompted some interesting research into our perceptions.
The Role of the Mind
Psychologists are now coming to understand that our brain actually plays a far larger role in framing our perception of reality. Our experiences are stored in our brain and eventually form a baseline of expectations (or beliefs) for the things we see around us. We look at a tomato and our previous experience might be that all tomatoes are red. This tomato is green and so the brain will reference any data around green tomatoes and if it finds something will adjust our perception based on that data. It could be the play of light on the tomato or it finds a corresponding experience with a green tomato. All of this happens in micro-seconds without us ever realizing it. There is a growing field of study that even suggests that the brain scans our environment ahead of our becoming "aware" of it. Ever had that feeling of Deja vu?
This sensory expectation can actually be used to trick the mind. One of my favorite clips I reference when I am discussing leadership is the basketball bounce and the gorilla. A group is asked to look at a video of people passing a basketball around between them and are asked to count how many passes are made by bounce passes. In the midst of the event a man in a gorilla suite walks through the midst of them. The majority of people never see the gorilla and this is explained in part because our minds don't expect to see a gorilla in that setting.
It is a useful example when discussing safety or general leadership perceptions. Sometimes we get so focused on a detail or set of details we fail to see the "bigger picture." We miss the gorilla in the mix. (Pardon the pun!)
Where it Gets Tricky
This can be a problem too when it comes to things like hiring or forming functioning teams. There is ample research, for example, to indicate that we bias toward taller people when looking for leadership qualities. Or we bias toward good looking people and may ignore the data in front of us that suggests lack of qualification. We may bias toward people who remind us of friends or family. On teams we may find it difficult to "warm up" to someone because they resemble a person we had a run in with long ago. Just to be clear we never consciously go through that thought process it is something that happens in those micro-seconds when we first meet someone.
Filling in the Gaps
Don't think this happens? Research has found that women who have had a good relationship with their father tend to marry men with similar traits or characteristics. Some may do this consciously but most are never aware of this process. Another good example are those great little exercises on Facebook where you have a sentence that looks like gibberish but just enough letters to allow the mind to create context. Most of us will read that sentence of gibberish and guess it perfectly.
Our beliefs and expectation exert a powerful influence on how we perceive our environment. The question becomes "How do you create allowances for this so as to negate those biases?" Performance Leadership - Think About It!
How we perceive.
When you look at those two lines you see them as having different lengths. The one on top being longer and the one on the bottom as being shorter. The reality is that both are exactly the same length. You can measure them and your mind will still tell you they are not the same. The meassures don't lie but often our mind will trick us. One of the most interesting aspects of the work I do is the interplay between the role of metrics and analytics in driving performance improvement and the role of culture, upbringing and intuition in fighting against it.
Our wiring may inhibit us.
Sometimes these perspectives are so ingrained that we don't even think about it when we are doing it. In one case I recall a crew in the oil and gas industry who were setting records with performance. In 30 days of operation they had 17 perfect days in a row! No down time, no equipment failures, no safety incidents, no issues at all. This had never happened in the history of that company or the history of the client company. Yet the area manager continued to operate from a traditional perspective that told her that crews needed to be ridden, criticized and scrutinized.
She came up the ladder the hard way and her experience and training told her that was the only way to get crews to perform. Every visit to site required that she find some kind of fault some kind of issue so she could "rip them a new one." I pointed out the performance data but it was as if she could not trust the metrics and the analytics that were telling her a story that her experience could not accept. Fortunately she eventually came around and became a great practitioner of performance management and fortunately too she had crew leaders who were able to sheild the crews from the negativity until she did.
We all do it.
This happens in every industry and every sector from operations to the C - Suites. It does not have to be a negative outlook it can involve things like making choices for new hires or promotions. Companies develop an exhaustive sets of metrics to try and tease out the best candidates but often at those crucial moments when the metrics tell you to go one way, you go the other. The influence of the "halo effect" and "confirmation bias" are starting to be explored and factored in but our minds and the way we make choices still complicate issues.
Recognize and Trust
Two things to take away from this short analysis is this; knowing that you will bring bias into your decisions and developing a robust set of metrics to guide you are two excellent ways to avoid running contrary to what the numbers are telling you. If you don't trust your analytics, change them so that you do. Understand the tendency to bring bias into decision making and look for ways to combat it like having hiring teams who are allowed to speak freely and make a case for or against choices presented.
Instinct or Numbers
I have done this a long time and trust me when I say that having established strong metrics around the things you need for making decisions you are going to be confronted at times with results that run totally contrary to what your instincts are telling you. Will you go with the numbers or with your gut? Performance Leadership - Think About It.
Every now and then I come across a thought provoking article. This article falls into that "challenging current practice" category and so I present it to you in its entirety. Enjoy! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Managers Could Do a Lot Better at Performance Management by Chris Groscurth
When it comes to managing performance, managers have their work cut out for them. Few employees feel their manager excels at even the most basic performance management tasks.
Gallup's State of the American Manager report noted that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities, and just 13% strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals.
For executive leaders, driving organizational performance is easier said than done -- it requires everything from hiring great managers to developing a strong culture. There are so many elements to align that even the best performance strategy can get lost in the execution. As a result, executives sometimes default to bad performance management processes.
Other leaders delegate performance management responsibilities to HR, assuming that an HR-facilitated process will help improve the state of performance. Yet it often doesn't, because many HR people haven't cracked the performance management code -- great managers, effective and efficient processes and metrics, and a high-performance culture.
But leaders who are devoted to growth and performance take a different approach. For the past 40 years, Gallup has studied high-performing organizations and advised leaders on how to develop and sustain them. We've learned that organizations deliver precisely what their purpose, brand and culture support -- whether that's excellence or dysfunction. This means that leaders can increase performance by being intentional about things like organizational alignment and clarity.
Here are some steps leaders committed to building a highly successful organization can take to deliver performance:
Clarify your purpose and brand.
To align purpose and brand, leaders need to clearly know and communicate why the organization exists and what they want to be known for. Clarity of purpose at all levels -- enterprise, line-of-business and unit -- is necessary for building an organizational culture that performs at top levels. For example, Southwest Airlines and Google provide rich case studies of companies that entered crowded markets and differentiated themselves among customers and employees based on their purpose and brand.
Remove cultural barriers to performance.
Gallup's ongoing organizational effectiveness research has identified five functional drivers of a strong organizational culture: leadership and communication, values and rituals, human capital practices and policies, work teams and structures, and performance. These are concrete aspects of an organization's culture that leaders can measure and manage. Among these five drivers, barriers to performance reveal themselves in several ways. Here are some common obstacles Gallup has helped clients overcome:
Study your stars.
Identifying top performers is one thing; studying them is another. Observing and measuring what excellence looks like in a role is the best way to define successful performance, which means it's vital for leaders to know what their best do differently. Top performers can provide a wealth of information about what makes the company attractive to talented people, how employees want to be managed and how to further each employee's success. By studying star performers, leaders can ensure that their strategies for selecting and developing employees are on target.
Use predictive analytics to hire for excellence.
Predictive analytics empower leaders with insights and information for ensuring employees and managers possess the innate talents they need to excel in their roles. For example, although true manager talent is rare, it does exist, and organizations can identify and measure it. To find talented managers and employees, leaders need to develop the right strategy and use a systematic approach to scientifically choose top performers and great managers.
Align people and processes.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of total quality management, taught that bad systems beat good people. Yet Gallup's research shows that great managers lead differently and get better results from their employees -- even with broken performance systems. Ultimately, the responsibility for bringing people and processes together falls on executive leaders. Leaders need to take ownership of ensuring that success is built into the systems their companies use to drive performance -- and that employees at all levels understand and connect with performance-building efforts. By keeping people, processes and systems in harmony, leaders do their part to ensure that their organization's approach to performance management is the best it can be.
As highlighted in the first article of this two-part series, great managers catalyze team performance, making manager talent a crucial component of performance management. When executives combine manager talent with essential performance-driving practices and metrics, they complete the performance management puzzle. This full-scale approach can help any leader fortify a high-performing organization from the inside out and ensure that it is built to last.
Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., Senior Practice Consultant, is an expert in leadership effectiveness, individual and team assessment, and organizational development at Gallup.
I am revisiting and reprinting this blog as I feel in our current circumstances the issue of personal, social, political and corporate narrative looms very large. Whether in the interplay of vision and narrative in the recent (and it seems ongoing) election in the United States, the Brexit vote or even just a simple rally around an impending new carbon tax here in Alberta, competition between Legacy media and emerging Social media around framing the narrative of issues has become fierce.
The Struggle for Identity
Businesses are not new into this milieu. Every company seeks to create a unique culture around its own story. Whether this is part of driving unity and engagement with its staff or as part of a larger marketing strategy to the public, many companies have engaged in this practice.
A really good example is the recent Alberta Treasury Branch marketing campaign that states “Every life has a song and we are listening.” Included in this campaign is a song called “Resonate” that seems to have connected with people. The chorus talks about “finding my way back home.” It is actually a good reminder that our narrative is “our” narrative. We own it and no one else. How we see ourselves is the key to understanding how we find a place in our society.
The Power of Story
In the field of Narrative Psychology, we are beginning to discover just how powerful our "stories" are. You may have 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 marvel at accounts like this that speak to our susceptibility to the power of suggestion. And we are now discovering the impact of the power of suggestion and in particular how powerful it is when we are writing that narrative.
How You Write Your Story
The biggest story we write is our story. We create setting and context, heroes and villains, and arrange the events of our existence into some kind of coherent whole that gives our lives structure. This is meant to underscore and reinforce essential truths that we have created about ourselves. These are broad landscapes indeed with family legends passed down from grandparents, parents and relatives playing a vital part of this. Stories such as "the women in our family have always been healers." These traits then get woven together with personal history "I have a real gift of helping the sick and volunteer time at the local hospital." Thus they become part of this elaborate story that we create of our lives.
Sometimes the events of our lives take on mythical proportions which is not to suggest that we are lying or deluded. Rather we construct our stories to reinforce what we choose as the high (or low) points of our personal identity. "I was a tom boy 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!"
Positive vs Negative
It is this part of our "story" that can get really interesting. We create both positive and negative qualities for our main character - us. We will have a mix of both but some folks will be more positive and some will lean toward the negative side of things.
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 tilts toward being a victim.
Our stories are very powerful indeed and we filter everything through that lens. 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, career and relationships. What do you expect for yourself at work and why? Good things or bad? Do you deserve that promotion or not? Your personal narrative 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?
All The Chapters Are Not Written
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 can change that narrative any time you decide you need to. Performance Leadership – Think About It!
Aubrey Daniels is one of the foremost expects on behavior and performance management. With over 50 years of work in the behavioral science field he has informed our understanding of performance management and how behavior is key to driving performance. He and others in the field have come up with a simple model to explain behavior.
What Happens After the Behavior?
Behavior can be studied as something broken into three distinct stages. The first is cue or activator which is the thing that initiates a behavior, like the beep on your phone telling you a text has arrived. The second is the behavior itself or the action that happens. Staying with the text example, if you are like 90% of the population you will pick up the phone to look at the text. The third phase is the reinforcer or consequence. This is typically either a positive or negative result of the action or behavior. For example, you get some good news from the text or while looking at your phone you walk into a pole.
The Best Predictor of Future Behavior
According to Daniels and many others it is this last piece that is actually key to determining what will happen next time. In a sense once you understand the interrelationship between the three phases of a behavior you will know that the consequence is the best predictor of what will happen the next time. To make my point I want to explore a few examples.
How many of you have received an electric shock or burned your hand on a stove? If you are like me, you only got shocked once, only got burned once. Why? Because the reinforcement or consequence was negative and unpleasant enough to cause you to remember to never do that again. The same holds true for positive consequences.
How many of you can recall your first goal in hockey or soccer or your first round of applause for playing an instrument or performing? Our media is saturated with these kinds of reinforcers. It is the same at work. You get a pat on the back for a good presentation and soon you will be the "king" of presentations. Come in early one day and the boss comes over for a quick chat before everyone gets in and I bet the farm you will make getting there a bit early a habit.
Pokemon Go Go Go!
One of the fastest growing industries in this century is online gaming. Revenues are expected to hit $99.6 Billion for 2016. (Yes with a B!) It is a classic example of the role of consequences driving use. Digital games deliver instant consequences that allow the user to learn and get rewarded. Currently Pokemon Go is generating revenue in the $400K per day range! Whether it is shooting little birds at buildings or crushing candy, feedback (reinforcer/consequence) is immediate and the bucks keep rolling in.
Want to know what happens next? Learn to see and understand the consequences for each behavior happening on your team. They are the best indicator of whether someone is going to repeat a behavior or stop it. How well are you "tuning in" to the consequences that take place on your team? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I was reading one of Patrick Lencioni's books the other day and came across a statement that struck me as brutally true. He points out that most companies all have the necessary knowledge and skill sets to do well. Yet, not all companies perform the same. The question is then is why do some companies outperform their competitors when everything would seem equal?
For me the answer is simple - a culture of excellence. This may seem trite, after all don't all companies strive for excellence? The answer is that while many companies say they want this very few actually know how to pursue it. Don't believe me? According to leading venture capital firms the failure rate of startups is over 90%! (Most don't make it to year 5) For small businesses the average is around 50% and closer to 75% by year five. The reality is that "building a better mouse trap" is only the first step to becoming an exceptional company.
Success vs Failure
You can have a plan, a model, capital, a good leadership team and a solid staff and still not be exceptional. Let's take a moment to look at Southwest Airlines. They are now the largest discount carrier in the U.S. I did a brief look at how many airlines started up about the same time or after Southwest. During the time that they have been in the market well over 100 airlines have lived and died! Yet Southwest flourished? What was the difference? I call it operational excellence.
Operational excellence is the model in which management and staff are given latitude to take a high degree of ownership in the operation of the company. This is typically done by developing a culture of inclusion, using metrics and behavioural science and providing a structure to give employees input into processes and innovation. In short everyone owns the bottom line and everyone looks for ways to improve it.
Herb Kelleher, the mastermind behind the Southwest model was an early pioneer of this approach. He was keen to make sure that the right people were hired and often participated directly in that hiring process. Once part of the team he made sure that everyone had input and were listened to. On more than one occasion his faith in his staff paid off with Southwest constantly jumping in front of the competition at crucial times in their development. All thanks to the alert input from front line crews. His approach created a culture of excellence that every employee took personally.
I have seen many examples of how using operational excellence takes a company from staff who "just do their job" to staff who embrace excellence and won't settle for less. As a team they set high standards for each other. While you think this would drive people away in fact it does the opposite. After all who doesn't want to be part of a winning team? Performance Leadership - Think About It!