Too often we see performance gaps as things that should be hidden or apologized for. Our narrative around these events contains adjectives like poor or disappointing, which only makes us want to escape them more. Then you start trying to hide what you see as the truth, which too often results in a series of moves where your ego shows up too much or too little to others. It does not take a Psychology major to spot someone who is not comfortable in their work – we just have to listen to the story they are telling.
Then you find a person or place where gaps are accepted, and more energy is put into talking about them, learning from them, and working together to close them in your business and your personal life. At the Inc 5000 conference last week, I interacted with 5 start-up leaders, and while each story contained big challenges that worried them, it also contained things like pride, resourcefulness, teamwork, hope, and perseverance. They were not trying to cover anything; they were just sharing.
It never ceases to amaze me what energy comes from choosing a more hope-filled narrative. If you are a leader, you can shape this with the questions you ask.
Three I love are:
- What is energizing you right now?
- What is frustrating you right now?
- What are you learning today?
People need a place to vent. We also need to create equal amounts of space to dream and reflect so we can learn and plan. We can use words like failure, and when they are used with words like learning and growth our story is fundamentally changed. People-centered leaders create this space and invite people in – and those that value that involvement #ownit.
To learn more about my philosophy on Performance Gaps – take a look at my new whitepaper.
Leadership is . . . ensuring that every significant decision gets communicated to your team so they always know what, why, and who. It is your job, as the leader, to make sure you serve as the linking pin for your leadership team and for your own team. Rensis Likert came up with the concept several decades ago, and here is what it looks like:The theory is that any team you join puts you in a position to ensure that connections are made to other teams. Linking pins hold things together, and coordinate critical work, even under extreme stress.
3 skills all Linking Pins possess (or develop):
- Ownership = See this role as a duty and are excited about the work and the responsibility.
- Make time = Create time in meetings to report, gather questions, debate, and leave with actions designed to keep other teams in sync.
- Take notes = Remember things and make sure they never get lost. NEVER!
When miscommunication happens Linking Pins take it personally. Then they fix it.
3 things teams can do to make Linking Pin a team value (EOS users: this is why you do things):
- Meet weekly. Always! (And layer meetings so info gets moved up and down through Linking Pins.)
- Keep all critical info in shared documents/spaces. (Nobody has to look or ask for critical info – it is accessible and easy to find.)
- Have communication norms. (Return calls/emails in 2 hours, texts in 30 minutes.)
- Share calendars. (Make it easy to create time to share and make critical decisions.)
Are you a linking pin? Do you ask your team to be linking pins?
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.
What is your habit about doing a career check-up and development plan? I encourage the calendar changing to a new year as a place to step back, take a deep breath, and think about the past year, the current moment in time, and the coming year. As I mentioned in my whitepaper 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance, a key piece is tip 5.5 where you Hone the Habits of revisiting your plans from the previous year.
Here is an outline of what a personal reflection might look like, in 4 simple, but not so easy steps…
First, remember my 30-30-40 rule on conversations. A healthy conversation focuses 30% on the past, 30% on the present, and 40% on the future. With that in mind and the goal being to answer a few questions about you and translate that into tangible goals for next year.
Part 1: Look back on the past year
- What were my most significant learnings from the past year?
- Who were people that I am most thankful for because of the part they played in my year?
- What did I accomplish?
- What would I like to forget?
Part 2: Take inventory of where things are today
- Fill out a wheel-of-life (see attached). For each piece of the pie answer the question – How satisfied am I with that part of my life? What do I have to celebrate? What would make this part of the wheel stronger and more fulfilling for me?
- Looking back at the entire wheel – What is one area I want to focus on in the coming year?
Part 3: Look to the future. I took this exercise from Rich Sheridan’s book Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love (p. 241)
- Take a quiet hour to sit down with your computer, your tablet, or a pen and paper and describe a good day one year from now. Pick an exact day. Write down what is happening in your life on that day. Here is a start to that letter: It is December 15th, 2016, and today I . . . . Then start writing. The description should be dripping with detail. It should be both personal and global – it shouldn’t be just about you; it should be about both you and the joyful results you are helping to produce in the world. It should reflect both your personal goals and your work goals.
- As you read through it – What part of your story jump out at you? What are the significant things that you see happening – both personally and professionally? What are the relationships you are celebrating? What does it tell you about the things you need to focus on maintaining? Building?
Part 4: Read through the things from Part 2 and 3.
- What do I need to KEEP Doing this year?
- What do I need to START Doing this year?
- What do I need to STOP Doing this year?
It is that easy, and not that simple. Once you create a goal, build in some time monthly to review them and set up some progressive steps for making those goals a reality. Here is a worksheet to help make your goals SMART-Er.
Let me leave you with one quote that I use with many of my clients and in my own life. It is an African Proverb that says – If you want to go FAST, go ALONE. If you want to go FAR, go TOGETHER. This journey towards mastery is best done TOGETHER – so find some travel partners.
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 . . . . . .