Great conversations start with a question. This is one of my core beliefs.
I spent four days this past month delivering a customized leadership development program to twenty-five leaders – in their final checkout one-third of the leaders shared a commitment to asking more powerful questions. As leaders, they realized they had limits to what they could accomplish without help. After being challenged to get their teams more aligned and engaged in the goals for their group, it became clear that asking questions is a critical first step. It was great to see them own it.
The difference between a question and a powerful question is in what it produces. Powerful questions produce thinking, feeling, and ultimately sharing that makes the conversation meaningful and helpful to both people who are engaged in it. Powerful questions reframe our perspective on an event so we see it in a more significant way. Here are some examples:
- Question: How was your day? Powerful question: What was the best part of your day?
- Question: What are you working on right now? Powerful question: What are your top 2 priorities to complete this week?
- Question: How would you like to spend our time today? Powerful question: What 2 things do you want to make sure we cover today?
- Question: What did you think of the book? Powerful question: What is one thing you plan to do differently based on what you read?
- Question: What went wrong? Powerful question: What was your role in the outcome?
To achieve mastery at asking powerful questions, it is important to create scripts that help ensure they get asked in the time you devote to your people. Let’s face it, we get weary sometimes and when we do our conversations become shorter and shallower. We miss opportunities to really listen as leaders, so scripting helps create more moments where powerful questions get asked. Here are four that I put into my one-on-one template:
- Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
- What is energizing you right now?
- What is frustrating you right now?
- What do you want to make sure we cover in our time today?
What meeting do you have in the next 24 hours that needs some powerful questions to be asked?
Remember – Great conversations start with a question . . . . think of how much greater it could be if it started with a powerful question.
If you want to explore some other ways to work questions into your conversations with your people many of my templates have questions included. Here is the link to some free talent management templates.
I attended a leadership team meeting for a company that started 15 minutes late. Half the team was there on time and the ninety minute meeting ended up taking two hours. The team laughed about it, and yet during the meeting they spent a considerable amount of time talking about waste around spending and labor costs. The leaders all scampered off talking about the meetings they were now 30 minutes late to.
In the age of lean thinking waste has become a focus. While the focus is often financial and physical waste, the waste to our organization of waiting is often overlooked. Think about the impact of waiting on your organization and the opportunity generate waste in the minds of the people around you. Ever thought this?
- John is late again, his department must still be a mess. Is he the right leader?
- Well, if the boss does not view this as important why should I?
- We can’t make a decision until she arrives – another example of her micromanaging style.
- All I can think about is being late to my 2pm stand-up with my team – I would vote for any solution now so I can leave.
- If I share my opinion it will just make this meeting longer.
- Just another reason why we should only meet once a month.
While it might seem counter intuitive, the biggest part of an effective strategy is building the discipline to meet weekly and manage all the change that is associated with a short term (90 day) goal. One reason the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) focuses on starting and ending every meeting on time is to harness and focus the energy of everyone on the needs of the people and the business. Think about “start and end on time” as is not as a military leadership philosophy, but the commitment to being a team that values the person next to them above all else.
No hugs needed. Just be on time.
Simple doesn’t always mean easy.
Seth Godin shared this wisdom on February 28th, 2011 and I printed the post and hand it out every time I start an EOS strategic planning for an organization.
The reality, when we face decision points as leaders Simple but not Easy means – My options are clear, and . . . .
- I have never done what is being asked of me and asking for help seems weak, so I will think a little more
- I am a leader and it is important to be right so I need to think about it some more
- I wish there were one where the people, the business, and our customers all won
- My Strengthfinder talent is analytical, so I will keep using it and then switch to reason #2
- I am just plain scared of what I have to do
Simple blurs the resistance that keeps us from moving forward. Seth calls it Shipping. Simple makes us feel like ‘I just need to figure this out.’ We move by the resistance by speaking the truth and using it to gain the support that will help us ship.
I sat with a leader recently that shared a story about a difficult conversation they had just had with an employee that was not performing and it was too important of a job to allow it to continue. The employee agreed with the non-performance, and it looks like they will probably leave in the next 30 days or be let go. Simple. This conversation has been evolving for 12 months. Not Easy.
Simple doesn’t mean easy.
Choose to ship. Encourage and support others to make the same choice.
trUTip – QuickTip: Want to explore the concept of resistance? Check out this video by the author of Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson. I also like the book.
Before the holidays I was asked to speak to the Growth Group, a group of people working for the state of Michigan charged with helping businesses grow. They work daily on the cash, commercial, and leadership issues that keep companies from reaching their full potential. The request was simple – share your perspective and tools for developing leaders and talent in high growth organizations. Here is what I shared.
The analogy to leading is MIND THE GAP – a common phrase I first heard in London as I was using the Tube, their subway system. It is a simple reminder to watch your step, and for me it just stuck in my head AND made me constantly aware of what I needed to do next. Here are four ways leaders MIND THE GAP.
- Create the GAP – At the core of leadership is defining the preferred future for the group they lead. The simple act of planning (strategic or operational) is a way of creating the GAP. For high growth companies, I use a tool called the Entrepreneurial Operating System that, at it’s core, helps a leadership team Create the GAP.
- Create the GAP 2 – Define the WHY for the key talent you need to close the GAP. My experience in helping companies find talent has taught me that talent will come if you define your story well and help people see how the role is a critical part of what it will take to close the GAP and reach the goal. I have a tool called the Role Summary and Focus that translates the GAP created into a compelling job.
- Manage the GAP – The forgotten step. The actual work of leading and managing. The part that made one leader say to me in frustration, “I love leadership, it’s the people part that drives me crazy”. Managing the Gap is being intentional about building a team to bridge the GAP in front of you. The key steps are:
- Fill the GAP with knowledge of each other (foundation of Build TRUST).
- Build FOCUS for each person through a SUCCESS PLAN – especially the new additions to your team.
- Build TRUST through demonstrated competence.
- Owning the GAP – The last and most important piece of individual performance. The career/development plan the individual creates to guide their development and performance so they develop faster than the organization needs them to based on the defined GAP in front of them and the organization. The two key pieces are the career/development plan and the habit of frequent/formal one-on-one conversations.
Great conversations start with a question – and I appreciated getting asked How do you help leaders and companies through the key transition points tied to growth?
It all comes back to MIND THE GAP, except outside of the controlled environment of mass transit in London, the GAP changes daily.
As you look out into 2016 – What is the GAP in front of your team? In front of your role? How will you manage it successfully?
Those questions start a great conversation.
Here is the presentation – Mind the GAP – The presentation. I am always looking for professional conferences to speak, so let me know if you are going to one this year that has an audience that would benefit from this conversation.
At a key midpoint in my career I was in a job that was not stimulating and wondering what was next. My manager at the time gave me space to say that and actively helped me get into classes and get a coach to help me find some answers. He stated at the time that his goal was “what was best for me, even if it meant leaving the organization.” I ended up going through a 12 month journey (as I continued to contribute in my current role) that resulted in me moving to another role within the organization that was a perfect fit for my talents and passions. I stayed five more years in that organization and did some great work. Ironically I stayed there longer than my manager did. He was a people-centered leader.
How committed are you to the development of your people? A people-centered leader is committed to aligning the unique abilities of their people with the work that has to get done for the organization. Committed to a point where the person realizes their ideal role might be outside of their current organization. Committed to moving beyond that point until the right match is found.
Yes, there are lots of reasons to draw boundaries around our support, but know that every boundary sends a clear message that “I am a people-centered leader, but . . . . “. At the heart of the OBN leader is great intent, but actions that raise doubt in others. (OBN is Ought But Not leader – a term from my book – People-Centered Performance)
What if you asked people at their annual performance review to share their career plans? I guarantee that if you ask 5 people and they are honest – at least one has a role they are targeting that would take them outside your organization. This will be the ultimate test of your capacity as a people-centered leader, and testing our capacity is the only way to build it.
Here is the other challenging (or liberating) part of this solution – you don’t have to ask anyone else’s permission or blame a company policy for getting in your way.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
Extra: If you ask people for their career plans you will get some blank stares. Here is a whitepaper that outlines my 5 Steps for managing your career and development. This will get them started.
The biggest thing getting in the way of performance for most of us is US. It is why Tony Robbins is a multi-millonaire and countless other people make a living at getting us unstuck and doing our best work.
One book that I have always liked in this area is Taming the Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson. When I read his book I quickly became aware of the stories that I am telling myself and it made a big difference in how I experienced life and others. Recently I found a video of his where he summarizes much of what he says in his book.
Here is the link – Rick Carson – Gremlin Taming Part I
Many of you are in positions where people come to you with problems, and in many cases want an answer to fix it. If you fix it, they will likely be back with the same question next time. If you help THEM fix it, then the next time they come back it will probably be with a bigger problem because they have the confidence to handle the other ones. Listen well and you will hear gremlins in their story.
Keep this video handy because it challenges us to examine our stories/assumptions that become our Gremlins.
(quietly I am celebrating my 300th post. Thanks to those who continue to include me in their leadership journey.)
I believe the cornerstones of improved performance are honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions.
Two things to help prime these conversations for leaders and individuals who desire to continue the journey to mastery.
Key Thought #1: When people are not successful in their roles because of poor performance, what are the reasons?
- Lack of knowledge – 6% of the time
- Lack of skill – 13% of the time
- Lake of motivation – 10% of the time
- Lack of a supporting situation (ie. resources and leadership) – 71% of the time
This is the main reason that the first reaction by a leader to poor performance should be to assume #4 and work first to meet their needs by addressing gaps in knowledge, skill, or resources. Then it is on the individual to work to close the gap. (See my Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance whitepaper)
Key Thought #2: A quote to remind us about the importance of our actions and/or behaviors.
To know and not do is to not yet know ~ Kurt Lewin
Remember, at the core of a great relationship is TRUST and TRUTH. With those as the foundation, we can have honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance. It is Monday, which is a good day to start.
Lead well . . . . . .
Last month I was able to spend 90 minutes with a group of leaders from across the country to walk through my book and help them to experience the content. I did this through polling them and equipping them with two tools they could take back and start using the next day. I asked them the following questions:
- How effective are your business leaders in building strong relationships with new people during the on-boarding process?
- In your organization – What do you see most often from your leaders – Love or Fear?
- What part of the RESISTANCE does your leader manage MOST effectively?
- What part of the RESISTANCE does your leader manage LEAST effectively?
- How would I score my EGO? (1=not enough, 5=just enough, 10=too much)
- How often are performance conversations (1 on 1) happening in your organization?
A few observations from me:
- It is nice to see more LOVE than FEAR in the workplace. I still wonder what those were experiencing that answered 4. I am thinking there is still too much FEAR.
- The one part of OBN leadership that is being managed most effectively is They think they are . . . Self-awareness is so important in leadership, and being able to actively manage it is critical. I am glad to see that is #1.
- Stress induced tunnel vision is being managed least effectively. Hmmm . . . . .
- How would I score my ego? Way too many 10’s!
- Leaders are not being effective often enough at building strong relationships with new people. This concerns me, unless I am recruiting and trying to steal talent from someone else, then I am glad because people are making it easy.
Here are the results – so take a look.
If you are looking for a speaker let me know. My favorite score is the 81% engagement of the people that were there.
Nature abhors a vacuum. When something is left empty of a critical piece for life something will fill it.
Take performance conversations with your people as an example:
- When we tell them nothing – they assume they are doing great.
- When we don’t explain why a leadership change happened – the small talk around the office will create a reason. It will become the truth, and everyone except the person involved in the change will likely hear it.
- When you wait two weeks to talk to someone about unproductive behavior it becomes more difficult because that action has already been filed away as ‘successful’ because the work is done and no feedback indicated it was not perfect.
A gift of leadership is creating a vacuum so something positive can happen:
- You share your biggest issue with your team and you create a vacuum by saying I do not know how to fix this, What do you think?
- You share a vision with your team that outlines dividing up Sales and Marketing when your growth exceeds $xM in sales in 12-18 months. People begin to lay the foundation for processes that need to be in place to support that change and the current leader will start thinking about which role they will want to stay in. People then will start to tell you who they think should be elevated to a leadership role.
- Monthly financials are shared, and in it you point out that a $100K gap exists in profitability that needs to be closed. Anyone have any ideas? Your top people will bring all the ideas you need.
In my book, People-Centered Performance, I hit this several different ways, and one is my observation that OBN leaders are afraid if they tell the truth, others will leave. If you make a change. telling the person who received the role Why? is only part of the issue. Telling the people who did not get the role Why Not? (which creates a vacuum – gap in performance) helps them understand what they need to work on to close the gap. The right people will appreciate the honesty and work to get better or to shift to an area where they can be more successful and impactful.
Sometimes those conversations are hard, which is why many of your competitors (the other leaders wanting your talent) don’t do them well. You position yourself to win the war by telling the truth in a way that creates a vacuum for people, and you follow-up to support those who want to fill it.
What vacuums are you creating today?
(for some examples of creating vacuums through performance conversations here are some templates for some of the most critical conversations leaders have with their people)
How worried are you about finding the right people?
Lots has been written about the talent shortage recently. In a recent study my state (Michigan) actually ranked as the fourth toughest state for finding talent based on a survey of employers. As I interact with leaders the thing I hear most centers around finding people and all the data suggests that is the #1 thing on the minds of leaders. I continue to stress the importance of retaining and developing the people they have, and it is great to see that many leaders get this. They recognize the inherent value of already having someone in place that already knows their organization, products, customers, etc.
Here is the key point to keeping those people – when employees were asked what they want more of, the top answer is career development. They want an organization to invest in them. I can remember the first time I asked a group of HR professionals if all of their best people had development plans – and 80% said no. Two weeks ago I was presenting at a conference and polled the audience, and 61% of the people in the room did not have a development plan.
Two reasons why this matters to people:
- Talking about their future creates HOPE: Remember my formula about having a good day vs a bad day? Hope > Fear + Anger + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + ______ + ________? When we have a career conversation we fuel the left side of the equation and address things that exist on the right.
- Talking to them about their future means you care: When I present to leadership groups 100% of leaders say they care about their people. When I ask them if all of their people have a development plan the answer of ‘Yes’ is somewhere between 20-30%. A second shift supervisor from Murfreesboro, Tennessee once put it this way – “So Scott, what you are saying is Intentions without Actions equals Squat.” Helping people form their own future plans and providing the support they need to be more successful and enjoy their work more is huge!
A wise CEO once put it this way when it comes to engagement and talent.
Most people come to work giving 85% of what they have, and we get that as a default if we pay them and provide them with a good environment to do their job. The key to leading more effectively is to create conditions where that employee will give that extra 10-15%.
The ironic thing – not doing career plans in the 2008-2010 recession was the main problem driving down employee engagement then. This simple habit will set you apart as a leader and as an employer, regardless of the economic conditions. As a start – here are some templates that you can use to get started.