The truth can hurt, and it can inspire

At the retirement celebration of a pastor who had served a congregation for 30 years, he shared this story.

Halfway through seminary two professors pulled him aside with the same message “Based on your effort, you don’t deserve to be here”.  Instead of stopping there, they went on to say “But we know you belong here, so if you want to stay here this is what you need to do . . .  and we will help you.”  He made the changes, went on to a wonderful career, and touched many lives.

Too often accountability starts and stops with getting skilled at having the tough conversations.  Of telling people what they are not doing.

What about challenging them to an unseen, yet imagined, potential?

How much time do we take to see the value of the person beyond the task?

What is the cost of asking – What do you need to be successful?  Then providing it.  Imagine the potential impact!

Leadership is about asking the question, painting the picture, and assisting in the journey.  Great followership is about listening, accepting, working, and appreciating.

How many people will be including you in their story 30 years from now?

Knowing Someone Changes How We Treat Them

I joined the board of a great organization that cares for seniors and at my orientation they shared this story.

In building a new facility display cases were placed by each room.  Filled with pictures and items for residents of adjacent rooms, they were meant as landmarks to make finding rooms easier.  This practice had proven effective even with dimentia cases.  They received a surprise.  Employees and others observed a higher quality of care because these residents became people with an 80+ year history that was known to all those around them.  In one case, it explained why a resident veteran who had been a POW tried to crawl out a window because of loud noises.  Instead of medicating the resident they provided comfort. 

History gives us context for current decisions we see people make.

When a friend acts irrational we know the history – and work through it.

What a stranger acts irrational we judge the action – and walk away or around it.

When we ask and listen it sends a powerful signal – we care.

Under stress, we too often forget to stop and listen to stories.  We see ourselve as busy.  Others see us as cold and uncaring.

Here is a tool I use to jumpstart the work relationship building process.  Instead waiting to hear the question “Tell me about yourself”, I give this info and ask for the same in return.  It is just a start, but it is a good start.

One last story . . . I used this tool to kickoff a planning session for a leadership team.  The next day the CEO called the HR leader and quietly asked for a list of names of all family members for each executive on his team.

Some things are important no matter how old we are.  Knowing someone changes how we treat them – and how they treat us.

How do you motivate others to do more? #followership

For my regular readers of my blog – this is a longer than usual entry.  Here is why . . . . . . .

I taught my class on Leadership / Followership (Building Organizational Performance Through Teamwork and Understanding) at the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (May 19th) and pledged to the participants that I would blog answers to any questions they had that could not be answered in class.   Here is the question and my answer – for clarification make a comment and we will continue the discussion . . . .

Question:  How do you motivate a follower to move up to the next level(s) without influencing, or dragging down, the others on the team?  Example:  A Minimizer to a Doer?

Answer:  This is a big question, so I will focus on the toughest situation, which is working with a Minimizer to move to a Doer.  (Here is a link to a post where I define my 5 Levels of Followership)

First question:  Start by asking yourself if this person has demonstrated a positive attitude and commitment to the organization.  Is it someone you want to have around?  If the anser is “No” or Not really”, then follow whatever process you have, but make plans to move the employee out of your organization.  Minimizers take energy that could be given to other, more valuable people in your organization.  If the answer is yes I want to keep them read on.

Part 1:  Understand the Situation (especially your role)

My first thought is to recognize the role of the leader in this situation.  The basic information that people need about their role is: (these are from the Gallup Q12 that are explained in the book First, Break All The Rules)

  1. Clear understanding of their job duties and measures of success.
  2. The tools (skills, training, support) to do the job well.
  3. An opportunity to do what they do best every day.

The first question is one that you define for them, and it would be a good exercise for you to write down the 5 or 6 key things you expect them to do in their role.  Question 2 is one you should address together based on your knowledge of what specific things they need to know and their knowledge of what they need (or might be uncomfortable with).

The challenge you will have is in the conversation to get this information on the table and have a great discussion about it.  As a leader, your key role is to get this information on the table in such a way that it can be dealt with and decisions can be made.

Part 2 – The Traps

The second issue is around the harsh realities of these situations.  In your question you mention wanting to avoid dragging the team down.  Here are three things to think about:

  1. If there is a Minimizer on the team everyone knows it and are probably waiting for you to deal with it.  Your inaction is having a negative impact on the Trust they have in you as a leader.
  2. The Minimizer probably does not know they are thought of that way.  I know leaders always struggle with this, but after being pulled into dozens of situations like this, I can safely say that at least 90% of people being fired or getting talked with about their lack of performance are surprised when it happens.
  3. Ask yourself the questions Am I ready to let them go if their performance does not improve and Am I willing to put in some hard work for the next 60-90 days to help them be successful?  These are the two questions I ask in choosing to help save someone.  If either question is NO then it is a situation that cannot be fixed so live with it.  If it is a relative (as happens with small businesses) – Maybe pay the person to stay home and get on with work.  This sounds crazy, but if they are taking energy from you and making mistakes that are costing the organization dollars it is too expensive to have them around.

Part 3 – A solution:

1.  Meet to get the issue on the table.  The key to this conversation is to make your observations known about their performance.  When sharing your feedback, focus on the situation and not the person.  When sharing the performance use the format “Here is the behavior I see, Here is the impact, and here is how it makes me feel.  Any conflict management book uses this as the basic outline.  Here is an example of how this might sound in a sentence.

Joe, you have worked here a long time and I have appreciated your dedication to this organization.  I have observed a few things recently in your performance that I want to talk about.  Last Tuesday a customer called with a problem and I heard you say “That is the only answer I have so if you do not like it, tough.”  The outcome of that discussion is the customer has taken all of their business to a competitor.  I am feeling frustrated because we worked hard to land that customer and keeping customers happy is critical to the future success of the business. 

A great resource to explore this discussion is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

They have two things to do in step 1 before things move on:  1) Take ownership for the performance issues you point out   2)  Express and demonstrate the desire to make the changes necessary to be successful.  If these both do not happen (give them 24 hrs to think about it if necessary) then there is no sense keeping them.

A key piece for you in this conversation is to be open to their feedback on things you could be doing differently that would help them be successful.  Maybe they need weekly check-ins or you have not been really prompt about returning calls.  It could also be that they are in the wrong role.  Be willing to listen and consider things they bring up.

2.  Create a plan for their success that includes:  1) Short term(1-4 weeks) and long term (3-6 month) goals   2)  Area of focus to improve their performance – Build Trust, Build Focus, Build Confidence, Build Rhythm  3)  Needs they express (in areas of Support and Personal Development)

This is not an area where there is a set recipe.  The key is to ask yourself the critical question up front (do you want to keep them) and then get the truth(of their performance) on the table and Build Trust by demonstrating that you want them to be successful. 

Here is a link to a trU Tips  and a video on the topic of dealing with low performers that might also be helpful.

Great question – thanks for asking.

Breaking a team impasse #followership

For my regular readers of my blog – this is a longer than usual entry.  Here is why . . . . . . .

I taught my class on leadership and followership (Building Organizational Performance Through Teamwork and Understanding) at the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (May 19th) and pledged to the participants that I would blog answers to any questions they had that could not be answered in the class.   Here is the questions and my answer – for clarification make a comment and we will continue the discussion . . . .

Question:  I am facilitating a team decision making activity and consensus has been a challenge.  Though my emphasis is on harmony, consensus isn’t always attainable.  What do you recommend to help move beyond the stalemate?  How can I act with boldness without offending or alienating?

Answer:  Getting teams to work together towards a common goal can be a challenge, especially when it seems that personal agendas are taking priority over a team goal.  Also, if you see behaviors that are keeping the team from moving things ahead, you will have to say some things that have the potential to offend or alienate.  So let me make some assumptions here:

  • This team has a leader, but it is not you – your role is the facilitator.
  • The team has a clear goal / outcome they are working towards.
  • The individuals want to be on the team.
  • You have the ability to walk away if the team is not working

A couple of questions:

  • How clear is the team goal?  (what they are supposed to accomplish)
  • What behaviors do you see happening that are distructive?
  • How strong is the Trust within the team?
  • Are you willing / able to tell them what you see?

I assume the team is stuck and they feel it.  First, meet with the leader and plan a team meeting focused on three things:  1)  Restating (and reaching agreement) on the problem the team was brought together to solve  2)  Documenting (on a board where all can see) the solutions that have been presented   3)  Asking:  How everyone is feeling about the team? (what one word would you use to describe your excitement towards this team / process right now?) 

Point 3 will tell you where people are and might give an opening for you to describe what you see.   The discussion then should focus around What can we do to get thing back on track so we reach a decision that we can all support.  It might also give you a window to address some of the behaviors that are not moving things forward, and you might even encourage the team to create a set of guidelines they all agree upon to guide future discussions. 

The key is getting them to see the goal, agree on it, and make a commitment to finding a solution.  This will give you a chance to share what you see and restart the process using some good brainstorming, documenting, and teaming techniques so people begin to understand the value each brings to the table.

If the commitment is not there, I would walk away.

Level 5 Followership – #TED style

TED Followership Video

I just watched a video from TED that made me think of what I have called a Level 5 Follower, which is an Influencer.  My definition of an Influencer is someone who works to alter strategies or activities that will have a big impact on the organization.  Measures their contribution by the things started and the opportunities to do more.

This video makes me think of the Influencer.  They don’t necessarily always think of the big ideas, but know a good idea when they see it and jump on board with their heart and soul as if it was their own.  Watch the video – – – think a little – – – and probably laugh a lot. 🙂

5 Levels of Followership

Great Followership is a choice – Why it matters

Engagement – The One Question to Ask

I have been around the development of people for over a decade, and one thing still surprises me – the reaction of people when asked “What do you NEED?”

In leadership transitions – it is the key question after defining the immediate goals for the role and how success over the first 6 months will be measured.

The Birkman Method assessment measures it, and people are often surprised to see their NEEDs named in the results and how accurate the stress behaviors are defined when those NEEDs are not being met.  Minimizing stress opens up a whole new world of performance and engagement.

Leaders seem relieved when they have the opportunity to tell their teams what they NEED from them to be successful – after hearing the NEEDs of their team.

It is a cornerstone of great Followership.  When we know the needs of our leaders we can help them be successful. 

What is leadership?  is a big question and many resources are poured into helping people be successful at this difficult role.  Remember that it is in the conversations where leadership happens, not in the powerpoint slides or emails. 

Ask the NEED question and agree on one thing that you can make happen.  Are you surprised at what you hear and see in their reaction?  I still like good surprises . . . . . .

People are not like plants – how to treat them like people

Plants are not People

I am reminded this time of year of a basic truth in most of us – we like to put our energy into fixing things. I have a vegetable garden, and 5 weeks ago I put seeds into pots and started to grow them indoors. Each morning I look at the progress represented by 22 little pots and only about 5 showing signs of life. Yes, I am not a very good gardener. I only wish the bare pots would tell me what they need.

How does this relate to leadership? Often I go into organizations with the goal of helping a leader look at their team, have a conversation around team potential vs business strategy, help the team members think about their own development needs to meet the strategy, and then leave them with action items/goals to help them successfully hit the targets in the plan. In every team are people that are not growing. Leaders tend to worry about these people and put some direct energy (talking) and lots of indirect energy(worry, frustration) into fixing them.

The traditional solution? Gallup once made the statement “Put most of your energy into your best people”, which also can sound like the GE mantra of ‘cut your bottom 10%”. These statements sell books but implementing is risky and hard for leaders, people, and cultures.

The reality . . . .

Plants are not like people. Plants cannot tell you what they need more of to grow.

People are not plants, they can tell you what they need to be successful if they trust you AND if you ask.

 

The solution . . .

What if in your one on one conversations and performance conversations you asked?  Recently I helped a leader of a small organization implement a performance evaluation that focused on asking – and I call that a performance conversation. He was amazed at what he heard from his people.

People are not like plants, so lets stop treating them like plants . . . . and to some people, stop acting like a plant and blaming the gardener.

Managing Others – Help them Find, Then they will Finish

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday talking about helping students recognize their talents and become actively involved in picking the right career for themselves.  Then she made a comment with “So many of our students cannot see themselves as good at anything, they are just struggling/focused on finishing.”

How many of our people are just focused on finishing?  Finishing the day.  Finishing this class.  Finishing the work you just gave them.  Finishing their next meal.  Finishing the meeting.  Finishing the phone call.  Finishing is about putting your head down and charging forward.

When I talk to groups about their story as an analogy to their career plan or their next job search I often hear finishing language.  It sounds like – I have never thought of myself at being talented, I work.   I am good at getting things done.  I just need to find a job.  I want my Birkman Method profile to look like theirs.

Everyone is great at something, or has the potential to be.  Help people FIND that, do something with it, and finishing will just happen.

Often during trUYou sessions with leaders, in the middle of reviewing the Birkman assessment something special happens.  They remember what they love or re-find something they need that they stopped asking for after their last promotion.  In one discussion the leader realized they needed time to review what they did and sort through (in order to take tasks off the list) their list of priorities.  I helped them find – then they went and finished.

Be that kind of leader – whether it is leading others or leading yourself (aka: Followership!)

Developing People = Crockpot Cooking, not a microwave

I once stood in front of a group of nursing leaders and thetopic was developing people.  In order to help them better understand what it took to develop people I used the analogy of a crockpot vs a microwave.  One of the challenges in a healthcare is the strength of the organization / culture of the organization is focused on managing emergencies.  Hospitals are at their best when the situation is most difficult – which we should all be thankful for.

Developing people is not an ’emergency item’ or like cooking in a microwave, it is more like a crockpot.  Put in the key ingredients, make sure the temperature is right, then walk away.  You might check how things are cooking a few times, but once you start the process your main concern is whether the power is still on.

Why do leaders struggle with a consistent focus on developing people?  I would offer one simple explanation – most leaders are wired to drive for immediate results and overcome anything that gets in their way.  What a gift!  Developing people is about starting the ‘cooking’ by sitting down and listening to where the person is with their role, helping to paint a picture of a future level of performance that is the goal, assisting in defining some key actions that can be taken, and then delegating ownership to the person for their plan with the promise to circle back with them quarterly to ‘check to see if the power is still on’.

Questions for leaders?

  • Does you approach to development look more like a microwave or a crock pot?
  • What % of the people working for you have development plans?
  • How often do you sit down with your people to spend time on their development?

The 5 Levels of Followership

A recent blog posting from Kate Nasser got me thinking.  She made the case that the opposite of leader is not follower.  Here is her post.

I agree with her, but struggle with a word that captures how people work AND facilitates a discussion that allows a leader and follower to share their perception of performance.  I propose the 5 levels, with Kate’s term being level 5.  Yes, I did borrow the concept from Jim Collins, but these are my words.  So here are the Five levels of Followership.

  1. Minimizer   – An individual that consumes oxygen in the workplace.  They are present, but getting things done is not a priority.  They measure their contribution by getting just enough done to stay employed.
  2. Doer – Do what they are asked consistently and with very little negative emotion.  Solid and very dependable.  Measure their contribution by getting done what is asked by when it was asked.
  3. Attractor – Do their job with joy, attracting customers both inside and outside of their organization.  Measure their contribution by the smiles they receive back and the work they get done.
  4. Improver – Does the work presented and looks for ways to improve the efficiency.  Measure their contribution by the dollars/time that they save or the improvements they make in the lives of their customers.
  5. Influencer – Someone who sees opportunities to alter strategies or activities that will have a big impact on the direction of the organization and the work that is being done.  Measure their contribution by the big things they get started and the opportunities they have to engage in work they consider to be significant.

It is always a great conversation to ask people how they perceive their contribution, then compare that with what you see.  Gaps drive more conversations.  Perpetual gaps indicate outcomes of conversations need to be written down.  Words and labels do matter, but great conversations matter more.