Lifeguards for Leaders: Who is watching?

I am a father of four.  With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm.  Here is one of those moments . . . . .

Who is watching your new leaders or new teams?

At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything.  I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons.  Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂   Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time.  There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart. 

My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams.  My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools.  Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:

  1. Mentors:  Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
  2. Six month transition plans:  New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team.   Formal written plans helps make this happen.
  3. Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training.  Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network.  Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it. 

One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard: You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc?  Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?

Lots has been written about leadership transitions.  Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months.  Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary. 

A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings.  I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around. 

  • How safe is your pool for new leaders / teams? 
  • Who is your lifeguard?

Want to develop as a leader? Focus on these three adjectives

Leadership is not easy.  It does not get any easier by the endless number of competency models, development programs, books, blogs, and opinions that seem to get thrown at new leaders.  In case you were wondering, I don’t have an answer on a sure fire way to become a great leader in the next 300 words.

What I offer is a solution to something I see in leaders at all levels, and that is an incredible talent for getting work done but a struggle building relationships with peers and their team.  Here are three adjectives that should be part of the selection and development of any leader.  If people are willing to use these words to describe a leader then they are  doing something right.

  • Transparent – What are your priorities?  What are you worried about?  Often the speed at which you are operating and the dozens of things you are dealing with at any one time make it hard for people to know what you are thinking. 
  • Consistent – Respect comes before like for leaders.  Do people know what to expect from you around vacations?  Lunch breaks?  Professional development requests?  Deadlines?  Personal calls?  Celebrations?
  • Authentic – Regular people laugh, cry, have bad hair days, and sometimes have to say they are sorry for something they did or said.  Leadership models too often paint a picture of someone who sounds more like Superman or Wonder Woman.  Leaders do all the things regular people do – with a balance of providing strength, energy, and passion for an effort.  This one is probably the toughest.

So what do these adjectives look like in practice?  Here are a few tips:

  • When taking over a new team, take time to find out what they do and don’t pretend to have all the answers.  (authentic, transparent)
  • Develop standard events around communication, performance discussions, follow-up to questions/issues, and celebrating special events. (consistent)
  • Get to know the outside lives of your people and let them get to know yours. (transparent)

There are many more, but hopefully this starts the discussion.  Feel free to share some important things that I might have missed.  I don’t know everything. (transparent, authentic)  🙂

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

I facilitated 30 people from a department doing a basic what is your behavioral style activity that divided the team up into 4 styles.  I made the comment that it is not uncommon for a senior leadership team to be almost 100% concentrated in the more task focused groups in an exercise like this.  I asked the leaders in the room to raise their hands.  The count was 5 task focused to 1 people focused.  Surprising to them, but not to me.

This TrustBUSTER™ is almost 100% focused on people who tend to put task (getting job done) before people (building relationships).  This happens for two reasons.  First, executives have been rewarded for getting work accomplished.  Their talents for achievement, problem solving, and energy to overcome obstacles helped bring them to the c-suite.  They are used to winning.  If you are on their team it works.  If you are on another team it often looks like TrustBUSTER™ #7.  Secondly, communication and change management come after the debate and decision-making has already happened within the executive team.  Unfortunately, it is the communication plan and ensuing change management that gets overlooked because all the energy has gone into the decision.  Without providing the reasons why this is a good move for the overall organization, teams will fill in the blanks.  This is where people begin to assign reasons for the change that are based on what they perceive is important to the leaders.  Is it reality?  Without any other information, perception becomes reality.  Enter TrustBUSTER™ #7.

How do leaders avoid this?  Here are three steps to making this TrustBUSTER™ less of an issue:

  1. Be diligent about establishing goals and resolving conflicting goals as part of the planning process.  This team should leave this process ready to support the decisions that were made.
  2. Communicate WHY a decision is made when rolling out a change to your teams.  Be transparent about the reasons and get their input during the decision making when possible.
  3. Focus on building relationships and trust all the time.  There will be decisions you have to make where you cannot share the entire WHY.  Having built trust will make forgiveness available when it is needed.

Listening at growth companies . . . avoiding TrustBUSTER™ #5

Here is another perspective on TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little – for the growth oriented companies. (read the previous post on this topic to get the whole picture on the TrustBUSTER™ list

While I am not a fan of using employee surveys as replacement tool for solid management of people, I do believe in them.  For the company that has lots to do because of their growing business, growth company guru Verne Harnish offers and interesting perpsective in his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.  His perspective is covered in a chapter, and the subtitle to it is De-Hassle Your Organization

The basic message is that the #1 demotivator for people is problems/hassles not getting resolved.  His solution for listening, asking three questions to start:

  1. What should we start doing?
  2. What should we stop doing?
  3. What should we continue doing?

The follow-up is key in any gathering feedback effort, and he covers it masterfully in his book so I will not recite it here.  Harnish markets to growing companies, but any organization could leverage his wisdom.  I love these questions. 

Any questions you would like to add to the list?

Here is what I think. . . TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little

TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little

A study was shared with me once that calculated the average time a doctor listened to a patient before making a diagnosis was 23 seconds.  For many of my visits that number has actually proven to be long enough.  But for a complex medical issue, Twenty-three seconds is not long enough.  In my experience working with the results of employee surveys, not enough listening is always a root cause of the top issues.

Here are some broad generalizations on listening. 

  • As people become experts at doing something, they become less adept at listening. 
  • When individuals are rewarded for being great at doing and made a leader, most feel the need to talk louder to make sure things happen.
  • A high salary has to be justified by knowing everything and never letting people see your mistakes.

I will let someone else to worry about the issue of twenty-three seconds for doctors, lets talk about how this applies for leaders. 

LEADERS:  The ability to hear what people need and understand what is going on in an organizations is probably the most important skill a leader will need as they move up the organization.  Recently a client shared with me that they were concerned about the statistic that 60% of people currently in jobs are open to moving to another job as the economy improves.  Their response?  Begin to provide the CEO time to meet with small groups of people so he can hear what they are thinking about.  Listening for leaders is about slowing down.  The cost? Free!

ORGANIZATIONS:  The top three ‘listening’ processes in an organization are performance evaluations, one on ones, and staff meetings.  Why do I say this?  Listening to individuals requires face time in a setting where they are comfortable and the agenda is about them.  Ken Blanchard offers guidelines for one on ones of meeting every other week for 15-30 minutes.  How many organizations do that?  As for performance evaluations, how many managers see this as listening time vs “I have to get through this and get their signature so I can turn it in and get credit for it” time?  Then there is the staff meeting.  Does the agenda promote open listening or lots of talking with no questions or debate?

Do we need to do employee surveys?  They do serve a purpose and there is always benefit in asking people’s opinion. The mistake is leaning on the surveys as the primary way that listening happens in an organization.  It is supposed to be supplemental data to ensure that good listening is happening.

How effectively do you use the ‘big three’ listening times mentioned above?  How would you grade yourself on this TrustBUSTER™?  How would others grade you?

B Players: 3 Things Leaders Can Do to Energize Them

Good News!  Getting B players more energized, engaged, and acting like an A player is not an expensive initiative.  The reality?  It will take a time commitment from leaders.  Here are three moves you can make today to raise the energy level and commitment of  your B players.

1.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Leaders need to spend time monthly talking about the performance of the business, quarterly talking about the near term goals, and yearly reviewing the goals and vision for the business.  B’s are out there looking for leadership, some clear direction, authenticity, and something to get excited about – so give it to them! 

2.  Regular One on One Time: As leaders, we look at our solid players and give thanks they are low maintenance.  When the demands on our time increases the common response is to take them for granted and slip into a more no maintenance mode.  Nothing says you are valued more than time, and people need to feel valued before they will get excited .  What if you sat down monthly with your B’s and started asking questions like:

  • What challenges are you/the team experiencing this week?
  • What questions are you hearing from people about the business?
  • What do you see out there that needs fixing?
  • What questions do you have for me?

After you ask a question just listen.  If having regular one on one time is new be patient.  It might take several weeks or  months for people to open up because they need to see your commitment to them.  If you listen and follow-up on any commitments you make trust will increase and engagement will follow.

3.  Help Them Set Goals:  B’s are generally doing the core part of their job very well.  Use the yearly evaluation time or one on one time to affirm their value, offer support to help them grow to meet personal goals, and invite them to help fix a few things or guide some change.  B’s are not looking for a 60 hour work week so they might appear hesitant.  If they have some personal constraints that restrict them from giving the business extra time get creative.  Whether it is testing a new system, meeting with customers coming in for a visit, or taking a new person under their wing to help them learn – there is untapped potential with these solid team members.

Remember, LOW maintenance is not NO maintenance.  Pay a little attention, be authentic, and invite them to jump in.  What would be the impact on your business if 50% of your B players poured some extra energy into solving one problem, finding one more customer, or identifying and implementing one efficiency improvement?

Is it possible to hire all A players? Three Realities

It makes great headlines to talk about hiring “A” players.  Guy Kawasaki makes the statement that “People need to hire people smarter than they are”, but the reality is “A players hire A players; B players hire C players.”  In his book Topgrading, Brad Smart outlines an approach that is designed to ensure 90% of your hires will be A players in the role they are hired into.  Few would argue that having great people doing the right things is critical for a business to be successful.  To start this discussion, here are three realities for hiring A players.

1.  Organizations have a tendency to transform A’s into B’s and C’s: What keeps A’s acting like A’s?  The Gallup organization did extensive research that resulted in identifying 12 questions(Q12) to measure engagement, among other things.  The first three questions say a lot about what keeps A’s acting like A’s:  1)  I know what is expected of me at work  2)  I have the tools and resources I need to do my job  3) I have an opportunity to do what I do best everyday.  At the core of keeping A’s acting like A’s is communication.  This includes keeping them informed about changes in the business and listening to their questions/needs/opinions.

2.  Hiring people ‘smarter than they are’ is hard.  It takes a tremendous amount of self-confidence and cultural support: This starts with the CEO, and their willingness to allow their executive team to lead, which might result in them not have all the answers all of the time.  A key challenge to hiring smarter people is delegating the work (because they are better able to do it) and giving them space to make decisions.  This will put leaders in a position to not know all the decisions being made all the time.  So, the CEO needs to provide some space to bring information back and leaders need to be comfortable saying and allowing the comment “I don’t know, but let me look into that.”

3.  Hiring – Do people really have the time to be that rigorous? Hiring the best people for a job takes a clear understanding of the role (job description), a vision of how this role will impact the direction of the company (operational/strategic objectives), and time to really get to know the candidates.  In Topgrading, Brad Smart outlines a rigorous process that could easily take 6+ hours per candidate.  Teaching managers the reason for these three pieces and the importance of spending time to find great people is critical.

If you are a CEO trying to attract and keep the best talent, it is worth a 2-3 hour discussion with your team to explore this topic and find ways to fine tune your hiring and onboarding of  people so they are successful.   Some questions to consider in that process:

  • How do you define A players, B players, and C players?
  • What do you see as impediments in your own organization to hiring A players?
  • What are practical ways you have seen to make sure A’s do not get turned into B or C players? What are you doing?  What should you be doing?
Some other good reads: