What Seth Said – and more . .

I listen to many experts/sources – Seth Godin, Wired Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Parker Palmer, Huffington Post, Thomas Friedman, Emily Bennington, my Mom, the Wall Street Journal.  There are more, but these stand out for me this morning.

The one I go back to daily is Seth Godin.  I like Seth because his voice is edgy and challenging, and he writes about things that are important.  Here is a piece of his recent post called The feedback you’ve been waiting for . . .

“You did a great job. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I wouldn’t change a thing. You completely nailed it, it’s fabulous.”

Of course, that’s not feedback, really. It’s applause.

Applause is great. We all need more of it.

But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback.

(here is the full post if you are interested)

It is so true, and I am guiltier than most.  I know that.  Traditional wisdom would tell us, as leaders, to commit to this and go start asking for it.  That will be nice, but it won’t work because unless we put ourselves in situations where it HAS to happen it won’t.  Most people are too nice, and most of us are too afraid to ask.

For leaders – Here is what you can to get feedback:  1) Create a safe space where it can be given   2) Ask  3) Be genuinely excited/grateful when you get it  4) Don’t give up.  (fyi:  #3 is harder than #2 – and you won’t be successful unless you do #4)

For individuals – See above – – and when you see a leader looking for help to get better, be courageous and constructive.  We are constructive when we focus on behaviors, not intent.  If you are not sure what that means – go study Fierce Conversations)

The safe space is the one on one.  When we create time for others to help us lead them/support them, and ask the right questions we will get feedback eventually. (see previous post).

Seth started this thought, and I am more than happy to finish it.  More importantly – Are you ready to finish it with your actions?


3 Questions to Transform Your One on One

For at least the first half of 2014, my focus of posts will be around the one on one conversation and individual development.  Since I published the Talent Scorecard, I have become convinced that certain habits in leaders make the most difference – the one on one is a key habit, and I am going to focus providing resources for leaders and individuals to make these great conversations.

There are 3 keys to great one on ones:

1. The individual (not the leader) owns it (ie.  It is their time, not yours!)

2.  The leader never cancels without immediately rescheduling

3.  The leader focuses on: Alignment, Support, Feedback (giving and getting)

Let’s focus on Getting Feedback.  The three questions in the past I have shared that will help build a conversation around feedback for you as the leader are:  What should I KEEP doing?  What should I START doing?  What should I STOP doing?

The core focus of these questions are the basics of feedback 101 – Tell you what you are doing well and get feedback from your team on opportunities to be a better leader. Getting BETTER means– Being reminded what you are doing well, identify some opportunities to increase your effectiveness, and potentially identify actions/behaviors that are getting in your way of being an effective leader.

Sometimes these questions are not effective because they are so different.  Understand the spirit of the questions, and don’t be bound by the words if they do not sound like your voice.  Write your own.  Here are some alternatives, and the text in blue is the intent of the question:

  • What decisions/actions are people still wondering what the WHY was for that action?  (Are you an effective communicator?)
  • As we think about the next 3-6 months, what does the team need?  (What actions would make the most difference?  How effectively are you meeting their needs?)
  • We are doing some operational planning – What do you think should are top 3 priorities should be as a company?  As a team?  (Are you an effective communicator? How aligned is the team with your vision for what is important?  Do you have a vision?)
  • If we were going to pull the team together for a 30 minute update – What do you think they would want to hear about?  (Are you an effective communicator?)
  • What is one thing I did in the last 30 days that made your job harder?  (Do they trust you enough to tell you the truth?  What behaviors of yours are destructive?)

Remember, the goal is to make a safe environment by asking questions, listening thoughtfully (just asking clarifying questions), thanking them for being candid, and making sure to follow-up after you have thought through some things.  Pick one or two of these to ask – – and remember that you are listening for what you did that confused people and/or what do they need more clarity on?  Your questions to gain that clarity is:  Tell me a little more about that? and How could I/we have handled that differently?/What could we have done to get a different outcome?

Managing your talent/team is about having thoughtful conversations.  When we have thoughtful conversations, followed by meaningful actions, we get the higher performance that makes our organizations go forward.

What other habits or questions have you found that are most helpful in leading?

An Open Door is not enough – How about an Open Ears policy?

Early on in my own entrepreneurial journey a client asked if I read Inc. Magazine. When I said no and listed the other, more traditional publications, he just replied “If you are going to be an entrepreneur you need to read Inc.”. I listened, and it continues to give me things every month that help me develop.open ears

This month Jason Fried (co-founder of 37signals – Basecamp) makes the case that if your door is open as a leader, it does not mean they are lining up to come in. The article reminds me of a phenomenon I continue to see in workplaces – people are reluctant to bother their leaders.

Here are three excuses(direct quotes!) I have heard from people why they don’t go in:

  • “They are always so busy, I don’t want to bother them.”
  • “If I take them my problem, they will try and fix it.”
  • “I don’t want to look like I can’t do my job.”

When we went virtual with our teams and our time, we forgot to change our terms. Open office is outdated and irrelevant as a concept, because the virtual world has made it insignificant. Here are two habits and two questions to help you translate an open door policy to an open ears policy.

  1. Habit: 20 minute One on Ones 1-2x per month (see my guidelines and template if you want to learn more about this one).
  2. Habit: Eat lunch with your team 2x per month.
  3. Q: What is the dumbest things you are working on? (thanks Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com for this, INC. Nov 2013)
  4. Q: (for one on one) What things should I Keep doing? Start doing? Stop doing?

Do you have any to add?

Talent management is about great conversations, and it does not start with an open door anymore, it starts with our presence and open ears.  The challenge for followers is to have the courage to step into that open ears space and take advantage of the opportunity.  The challenge for leaders is to slow down and actually listen – really listen – and do something with what you hear.  Here is your big risk:  You can fake an open door policy – you can’t fake an open ears policy.

Here are some templates to help you listen better and make open ears work.

Note: Rework by Jason Fried is in my Library/Resource Center.  I also added a few more great reads this month:  The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey and Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard,  Leadership and Self Deception.

Everyone needs a Target. Everyone!

Great leaders paint their own destiny

Great leaders live/lead through ambiguity

All of these statement are true, and yet in the details of all of these statements is work.  Inherent in this work is the simple question of What is the work?

One of the core beliefs I have is that everyone needs a target. The details will vary based on the individual, their drive, experiences, self-confidence, etc.   That data that supports this is Gallup’s Q12 and the most critical question to measure employee engagement – I know what’s expected of me at work. There is no exception in the research saying This does not apply to executives.

Yesterday I saw some great training that a start-up organization had put together to help their new leaders understand the culture and expectations they were stepping into – and see the target.  I know it will make a difference as they grow, especially if their leaders provide the conversations to support the learning and build the bridge to performance.  This is the hidden ingredient to clear expectations – an ongoing conversation about wins, losses, and just being lost. This is called leadership.

When I sit down with leaders to create the one on one sheet, I am amazed at the conversation that often ensues.  Sometimes it is laced with frustration, but more often it is about relief because expectations are clear.

Everyone needs a target.  Everyone.


What do I do?

What are the top 5-7 responsibilities in my job?  The things that if I do them well will have the greatest impact on my success and the success of my team?

Can you answer this question?  This is the first question asked in the One on One form that I use with clients because it does one of two things:  1) Prioritizes a job description to a few key items that help define success in a role  2)  Creates a meaningful job description for someone that has never had one.

Ken Blanchard defines leaders as an influence process.  It is about working with people to accomplish their goals and the goals of the organization. The cornerstone of leadership is in the conversation around: What are you doing?  What should you be doing?  What can I do to help? If that conversation happens repeatedly over a 3-6 month timeframe things will get done if everyone involved makes a habit out of following through on their commitments.

Finally, here are three hints that will help guide you through this part of the job description:

  1. Don’t be too general. For example, when someone says Lead my team, it is too general.  At worst, I would plug in the Blanchard definition of leadership and make the measurement the simple activity of sitting down with each team member twice a month.
  2. Summarize repeated items. If there are 1o projects listed, that means managing projects is a core job requirement and the measure would be delivery, quality, cost, and customer satisfaction.
  3. Ask for input. Leaders, peers, customers will all have an opinion on this.  Ask them and use the input to create and clarify your list.

A study was done by the Ken Blanchard Companies and Training Magazine to define what were key motivating factors at work and who owned them?  A unique part of the survey was the ability to assign ownership to Myself, My Leader, or Senior Leadership.  In the end, the one organizational factor around motivation that was assigned to My Leader(80+% ownership) was performance expectations.

Remember to ask the question and have the patience to work towards a great answer.


What if We Called It Your Individual Development Story?


When we think of anything with the word PLAN in it, do these words quickly follow in your mind?

What if we called it something different?  For example, instead of your Individual Development Plan, what if we called it your Individual Development Story?Talent Management - Writing your story

If you think of it as a story, it would have a main character – You – in all your strengths, experiences, successes, weaknesses,  and moments of non-performance.

It would have . . .

. . . history that helps you frame your character with terms like talents, passions, rewards, and realities. (what I call your trUYou)

. . . a current story about where you are today and what might be changing for you.  It would also have some preferred future that gives us a sense of where the story might be going.

. . . ownership. It is our story and although we need to ask others for help, in the end it is ours to write and to tell.

. . . portability. Sometimes our story needs to go somewhere else to move ahead – another role, another project, and maybe another organization.

. . . help.  If we know you and understand where you desire to go, then we could choose to enter your story and join you on the journey as a mentor, a friend, a partner in accountability, or maybe even a fellow learner that desires the same journey.

If we know our journey will be challenging journey, then maybe we hire a coach.  They would help us step back and see things differently, or rewrite the journey so that the story takes us to some different places and outcomes that we might not see by ourselves.

I am thinking of renaming my template as I prepare to share it with the human resource professionals at the Illinois SHRM Conference next week.  Too many people do not have them based on the Talent Scorecards I have given leaders and too many I have seen lack the pieces that tell a great story.

I would like my story to say that I worked, with others, to change that.

It feels like a great conversation.  I love great conversations.

5 Key Outcomes – Individual Development Plan Conversation

Talent Management is about putting the relationship first, building a process full of great conversations, and using goals to drive individual ownership

Based on surveying 150+ human resource and business leaders 20% seems to be the magic number.  Only 20% of organizations have development plans for ALL their high potentials and for their executive teams.   This is a key conversation because it allows for a great conversation around past, present, and future.  My standard measure for a great conversation around performance and development is 30 / 30 / 40.  30% focused on the past, 30% focused on where you are right now, and 40% focused on where things need to be in the future.5 Benefits from doing development plans

So why do development plans?  Below are five outcomes that happen when we invest 60 minutes 1-2x per year to update development plans:

1. Refined knowledge of talents/nontalents: Wisdom is knowledge gained from our experiences that we apply to influence the outcomes of some present or future situation.  When individuals develop wisdom about their talents/non-talents the success rate for taking on new assignments or successfully building a relationship with a new leader goes way up.  Development plans (see my template) always start with refining our picture of ourselves.

2.  Creates the building block for performance – A Strength: Gallup shared the formula Strength = Talent + Skill + Knowledge in their book First, Break All The Rules.  Research has also shown that achieving mastery in a discipline takes 10,000 hours of effort (see Malcolm Gladwell’s book – Outliers).  The core of the development plan is to script the building of skills and knowledge so that the effort people are putting into personal growth moves them towards mastery.

3.  Get Feedback From Others: Where a plan or measure exists, feedback has the best chance of happening.  Author Jodi Glickman (Great On The Job) says the goal of feedback – “. . . . is not to make you feel good.  The goal is to make you better at your job.”  We do not get better without understanding the perceptions of others.  In our own minds, we are all amazing performers. 🙂  A great development conversation confirms and challenges this belief.

4.  Proactively Deal With A Weakness: Weaknesses are either non-talents that are required for success in your current job or strengths that are being overused.  Whichever the case, spending time talking about weaknesses before a performance evaluation is done or before they evolve into a crisis provides an opportunity for that individual to make a conscious shift to address an issue before it becomes a big problem.

5.  Self Management of Stress: Development plans get people thinking about what their preferred future looks like, whether it is 6 months out or two years.  This includes what has to change in how they are feeling about their role – ie:  stress, balance, and focus.  It is not a leader’s job to fix how their team members are feeling, but it is their job to ask the questions, be present for the answers, and support the plans that are created.

When I first created the Talent Scorecard over two years ago this list was not in my mind.  Since learning that only a small number of teams have development plans for all their people (20%) and personally leading 30+ leaders through the creation of Individual Development Plans this list has emerged.   It is one of the new additions to my Talent Scorecard presentation that I will be sharing at the Illinois SHRM State Conference in a couple of weeks – and it has become one of my favorite conversations.

If you are interested in what your Talent Scorecard looks like – here is a link to an on-line version that will give you a printout of your results and some hints for what your priorities should be.

3 Things To Give Development Plans Momentum

As I work with organizations and leaders to create development plans, the challenge every time is How do I measure this? We all know that what is measured gets done AND some outcomes are difficult to measure.

Here are three things I preach to help create momentum for the process:

  1. It does not have to be perfect: When we invoke the success or failure mantra, we too often forget about the journey.  I offer my mantra:  Start somewhere / Keep improving / Move towards a desired outcome.  My mantra would make a terrible bumper sticker, but good ideas do not have to all fit on a bumper sticker.
  2. Use a business measure: I encourage leaders to use a number being produced today, mainly because most businesses do not need more metrics and most development goals should be tied to a business outcome.  It also helps leaders see the gaps they might have in planning and reporting.  If a goal is to increase sales in a region, and that number does not exist – then start there.
  3. When in doubt – start with measuring activities: It is okay to start with a quantitative or activity measure, so long as you are certain that activity, done regularly, will move you towards your desired outcome.  Here is an example.  One area many leaders struggle with is being seen as caring and respectful by their teams.  This is impossible to measure, but one activity that has been proven to impact this is focused one on one time with each person. Set a key measure of 30 minutes of one on one time with each person per month.  If you do this religiously for 12 months – it will make an impact.  At the end of 12 months – ask the next question:  What activity or input would help me gauge the quality of this time?

I have shared several resources for people to use that will help get them started, one being a development plan and the other being a talent calendar.  Here is the page containing all of these resources.

The last thing that has helped over 150 leaders evaluate where they are today is the Talent Scorecard.  Here is a link, it is free, and it will help at least measure your key habits around talent management and set goals that will impact your people AND your business.


Listening – Add This 360 Habit

Recently a leader asked me a question:  How can I know what my people think about how I am leading?

My response – ask.  Then I filled in the blanks.

This leader had a very strong habit of weekly one on ones with their team (the 2nd question on the Talent Scorecard).  Building off that habit, at the end of each conversation ask the question: What is one thing that I can do (or stop doing) that would help you the most?

First, deal with the actions associated with the answer.  Secondly, write down what people share in a single place – and make it a personal habit review the list every couple of months, maybe in your own one on one with your leader.  Here is an example of how this would work.

If your recent input is centered around comments like:  “Give me a heads up when a leadership change is happening in another group.  I have been surprised lately and received some questions from my own team that caught me off guard.” or “Let me know what you are thinking.  You have seemed distracted lately and I often wonder what I can do to help.”  Action plan – Need to focus/refocus on communication with your team and keeping them in the loop.  Maybe add weekly phone call/stand-up on Monday am for 5-7 minutes to check-in or carve out a 3 minute update from you at your team meetings.

Talent management is about great conversations.  We use 360 evaluations as a tool to help leaders get feedback from others on what they could do to be more effective.  Making this one question a habit integrates the 360 process into your conversations.

Process Trumps Solution – If relationships matter . . .

If relationships matter, then the process trumps the solution.

At a recent Family Business Alliance event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, family business expert Greg McCann shared this quote in the context of a story.  The story was of a older business owner who had just put together a plan for passing his business on to his wife and two sons after his death.  The plan assembled by his lawyer and accountants put one son in charge who was part of the business and desired the top job, and make the other two financially comfortable.  When McCann asked him when he was going to share the plan, his response was “when I die it will be part of my will.”  McCann’s only advice was simple – if you want this to work, they need to know about it now so that they can work out the details and any disagreements or problems can be addressed while you are here.  If relationships matter (this is a family, so this IS the goal), then process trumps the solution.

We can learn a lot in talent management and leadership about building relationships from family business.  I created a talent calendar with the single goal of defining the events (process) that produced the best opportunity to talk, listen, support, and problem solve throughout the year for a leader and a follower. While content is important, presence and process is the goal.

I am reminded of a study shared in the book SWAY by Ori and Ram Brafman.  A survey given to convicted felons about the judicial process and how fairly they were treated.  In the end, two factors emerged as significant on their perception of fairness.  As was expected, the inmates placed a lot of importance on the outcome, which was the sentence they received.  But almost equally weighted was how much time their lawyer spent with them.  Process matters.

If relationships matter, then open and honest dialogue during process of setting the goal is more important than the goal being set.  Talent management is about process and the relationships that happen when it is done well.