4 Performance Words – What Seth said, and What I think

Seth Godin recently blogged about performance, and outlined four kinds:  Bad, Good, Remarkable, and Personal.  Here is the whole post.

In a world where we too often treat performance with labels like Right person/Right seat or A player / B player / C player – it is good to just use words that we all know.

Leading performance is about not walking by the work without letting people know what you see.  It is about getting their view of the work and what they see in others.  It about celebrating things being done, asking a few questions to plant seeds that might lead to a different view of the work, and challenging people to a different level of involvement and ownership.  Try these:

  • Where did you see passion in someone else’s work this week?  How can we celebrate that?
  • How did you personalize your work this week and who benefited from it?
  • What work do you have in front of you that has a chance to be remark-able in how you do it?  What will make it worthy of that label?

Of course you ask these questions, listen, and always revisit them.

Personally, I would drop Bad and Good in favor of Absent and Solid.

I like reading Seth – his thoughts are generally remark-able.


Rule 2 – Individual (not leader) owns the agenda

(This is the second blog in a series outlining the key rules for making one on ones work.  Here is a link to the first:  Rule 1 – Be in the same room together)

I stood in front of a group of human resource professionals and asked them Whats the #1 reason leaders would resist a regular one on one schedule? Their answer – Time.  It is a reality that another commitment, especially one that takes preparation, is going to be an issue.  This is one of the key reasons that Rule #2 exists.  While this time together requires presence from the leader, it requires only minimal preparation because the agenda is 100% driven by the individual.  Here are two reasons why.

First, the number one need for people at work is knowing what is expected of them. Gallup created a twelve question survey they could use to assess employee engagement at work.  They called it the Q12, and the very first and most important question was I know what is expected of me at work. Each day, new problems or opportunities arise in a business, and with each comes an event that could change the nature of the work that someone has to do. The key to a one on one is doing the five R’s around work duties:  refine, revise, reorder, reinforce, or remove.  Since it is a fundamental need for every person to have some level of focus in their work, they will have the strongest desire to own any activity that helps them achieve that.  The one on one is that activity.

Secondly, it addresses one of the top issues with any leader, the ability to effectively delegate work. The #2 best-selling Harvard Business Review article of all time is Management Time:  Who’s Got the Monkey? Leaders have long struggled with taking on too much work from their people.  The inherent question from the leader in the one on one conversation is –What do you need from me? There are four basic needs a leader has to be ready to address.  The need for . . .

  • A listening year
  • Encouragement to overcome a frustration
  • Coaching to see/define other options for getting through a barrier
  • Help prioritizing/re-framing an overbooked to do list

Notice your work is not on the list.  There will likely be some commitments for a leader after a one on one, but most should revolve around working with other leaders to deal with competing organizational priorities.  There is a natural need for leaders to take on the work of their people (for that perspective read the article).  The one on one all about helping the individual achieve a state of 3 Mores/1 less:  MORE focused, MORE autonomous, MORE  successful, and LESS stressed.  In that state, everybody wins, especially the leader.

More to come on one on ones.  If you are interested, here is a sample template for getting started.

Rule 1 – Be in the same room together

According to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children 8-18 spend 7.5 hours per day using entertainment media, 4 minutes playing outside, and 3.5 minutes per day in meaningful conversation with their parents. Hmmm . . . .

I toured a company called Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor last month and was shocked to find a technology company that did not use email to communicate.  All project management was done with post-its on the wall and communication happened face to face.  When someone needed to address the group they called out the name of the team, everyone stopped their work, and communication happened.  The business has experienced solid growth and the they have enabled several product launches that prove their methods are effective.  By the way, this is also a place where all coding is done in pairs – two people sitting next to each other and working together.  You cannot work alone on anything.

In a world where everything seems to be going faster, maintaining the right pace in how we interact is still important.

Great leadership starts with purposeful facetime with people.

Step 1 – Be physically present with the people you lead.

Yes, that is impossible for people leading virtual teams.  So to you I ask – What would that presence look like for you?  How close can you come to ‘physical’ presence?

After 20 years working on corporate teams, being married, and being a parent I am passionate about enabling one single thing – great conversations. When I created this template, I thought of a meaningful 30 minutes together between a leader and follower.  If we spend 30 minutes, one on one, every two weeks with each of our people, that works out to  a guaranteed 15 minutes of purposeful conversation per week with each person, or 3 minutes a day.

Hmmm . . . still only 3 minutes a day.  Too much . . . Really?

Watch yourself this week – How is the quality conversation time looking for you?

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.


Can the CEO Coach? 2 Myths that get in the way

I learned by diving in – Why can’t they?

This statement was not meant to be mean or pass the buck, it was born from the frustration of seeing senior level leaders not rising to the occassion after being given significantly more responsibility.  I see it happen too often.  It is a painful scenario, and it is one that can be avoided.

When the focus is put on answering the question – How did we get here?, the root cause ends up being some attitudes/assumptions that started the motion down the wrong path.  Here are the top two:

Myth #1 – I did it all on my own, why can’t they. Really?  As a parent, many times a day the thought creeps into my head “When I was little I had the same challenge, and I just figured it out .”  Nobody ascends on their own.  Whether its a spouse, mentor, friend, or some other significant person – someone stepped in hand helped you through rough spots.  Solution: Commit 30 minutes a week to review goals, review progress, and answer questions (called a one on one)  Here is a link to a template if you need one.

Myth #2 – It is okay to lose some of  my money while they learn.  Why do they not feel safe? Have you ever had the angst of telling your parents that you had an accident with their car?  It was one of those conversations that teens through the ages have crafted countless schemes to avoid.  We grow up, get a job, and all of the sudden we make a mistake that costs our organization thousands of dollars, and it is like we were a teenager again.  Solution: Make it okay to make a mistake, provided you own it and have a plan to fix it.

When people become leaders of leaders, they realize how difficult it is to work through others to get results, and sometimes the default is to either leave them alone to figure it out, or step into their lives and help manage the details.  Ken Blanchard called this Seagull Management.  Fly in, dump, then leave.

Find an answer somewhere in the middle.  Don’t be a Seagull.

Questions to help the work get done (and the team to be built)

Seth Godin had a recent post titled Two questions behind every diagreement.  In it he shares two questions that will help move through/solve every disagreement:

  • Are we on the same team?
  • What’s the right path forward?

By definition, you cannot have a team without common goals and group decision making power, and getting there requires conflict.  These are two great questions, but let me add a few more to help you apply this in your own team and move things forward:

1. Are we on the same team? –> What is the issue?  What is the outcome we want?

2. What’s the right path forward? –> What are three steps that will move us ahead?  What 1 step will I own?  What 1 step will you own?  What 1 step will we BOTH own?  (remember 1 + 1 + 1 = 3)

If you cannot answer/agree on #1 don’t skip/move ahead to #2.  The key to #1 is addressing the issue and not the person – ie.  If the issue is someone or what someone else needs to do to make my life easier, then the whole discussion is about winning and not solving a problem.  That means you are the problem –> so step back, take a deep breath, apologize, and step back into the discussion with a different mindset.

If you get to #2, the best way to build teamwork is to own work together.  If a solution takes 20 steps and 3 months, focus on the next 3 and 48-72 hours.  Progress/success builds relationships between people and teams are created along the way.  I can hear the complaints now – – But this is a very complex problem and 3 steps is too small. My next question:  Is the issue that the problem is too complex or We are not agreeing on/owning a solution as a team?  In either case – either start moving forward or punt the problem to another team.

fyi – If anyone on the team has a goal to sit back and let someone else fail so they can either:  a) Ride in and save the day or b) Play the I told you so card – – – they should be given one chance to hit the reset button, and then removed from the team.

Thanks for planting the seed Seth.

Building a Leadership Development Program from Scratch

I was presenting at the SHRM conference in Illinois and had a chance to sit in on a presentation by Benjamin McCall.  It was a solid and thought provoking presentation, and my big takeaway was the question How would I build a leadership development program from scratch?

It reminded me how times have changed around doing things from scratch.  A personal example for me is baking.  I grew up thinking everything – pie crusts, cakes, and even muffins were only made from scratch.  While I love to make bread, cinamon roles, and even pancakes from scratch, most of the time it is much easier to get it from a box or a store.  I started my leadership development career thinking the stuff from the box was what needed to happen.  If the name Ken Blanchard, Center for Creative Leadership, Executive MBA, University of Michigan, or Harvard was on the label then it was great.

Then I went to a small company and was asked to build one from scratch, for one person, and with a limited budget.  The other condition was that it had to work because our business growth strategy was depending on the leaders from this program to open the offices in our plan.

What I learned is that there are some core benefits that all participants in these programs takeaway, and it has very little to do with content.  I also learned that the two core benefits, self-awareness and peer communities could be provided even if it is a small company.  trU Tips 21 is coming out next week and I will provide an outline of how I would answer this question.

I still stop when I hear the words Center for Creative Leadership or Ross School of Business or Harvard, but I know now that anyone can make something  really good from scratch.

Finally – the key currency to support this being done well and on your own – time from you and the rest of the leadership team.  That is the magic ingredient.  More to come in trU Tips 21 . . . . . .


Rethinking The Leadership Book Club – 3 Tips To Increase The Impact

I can remember two instances in the past year where peers have shared the ‘exciting’ news of how their organization was doing a book club for leadership development, and internally I was thinking it was a dumb idea.  My belief was if studying a book together was leadership development then you were in trouble.  I am not sure where that idea started, but it was there.

I was wrong.

More recently I interacted with several small companies and heard stories of how transformational the experience was for leaders hungry for learning and support.  I was reminded how people getting in a room voluntarily because of their desire to grow is ALWAYS a good thing.

Here are 3 ideas to make sure your book club has the desired impact.

  1. Get CEO/Senior Leader involved: Half the benefit (or more) is having different levels of the organization involved and getting to know each other.
  2. Rotate leadership: Ask others to lead the discussion and coach/mentor where needed to help them prepare and reflect after it is done.
  3. Focus on self-observation and action: Have people apply ideas by first watching how the they/the organization/others do certain things today.  Share the observations, then focus on one or two things to go apply after the book is done.  A good move is to brainstorm “How can we apply this?” and have people vote for a couple favorite ideas.  CEO – leave the voting to the team.

Any other ideas?  I would love to hear/share them.

Here is a link to my top shelf of books that, if my office caught on fire, I would grab and let the others burn.  (fyi – this is my tribute to Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury – who died this week at 91.)

3 Simple Habits To Help Strengthen Teams

Are there things about you that people do not know?  We all know the answer to that question – but is anything on that list that others need to know?  Maybe you love to problem solve.  Maybe you led a team of 20 people at one point in your career.  Maybe there is some part of the business you want to learn more about.  Maybe you get 150 emails a day and prefer phone calls.

Are there things about you that others see and you do not?

Several years ago a friend shared some feedback with me that we still laugh about. He told me that whenever he told a story, I usually followed up with a better one. I did not realize it – but watched myself for a few days and there it was – the proof.   It was funny, and I was unaware of it.   In JoHari Window language, it was a BLIND SPOT.Talent Management tool - JoHari Window

If you are not familiar with it, here is a link to a short YouTube video that explains it.

Talent management is about having great conversations.  When we talk, we develop relationships with the people around us, and at the core of those relationships is knowledge that we bring to every interaction.

Here are 3 tips to continually develop your team and teamwork.

TIP 1: As part of any team meeting spend 5 minutes asking/answering these questions:

  • This week – What are two wins?  What is keeping me up at night?

These questions are almost guaranteed to  keep a steady flow of HIDDEN items that will be valuable for the team to know.

TIP 2: When you have an off-site and you are looking for ways to get people sharing/laughing – have everyone answer the following questions for themselves and their teammates.  Next, go around the room and have others share first, seeing if they matched answers with the individual.

  • What is one thing I am really good at doing?
  • How do you know I am having a good day?
  • How do you know when I am stressed?
  • How do you know I am listening / not listening?

After this, watch the JoHari Window video and ask the questions:  What came out in our last discussion that could be considered HIDDEN? A BLIND SPOT?  What is the impact of having that information in the OPEN area for you?  For this team?  What is one way we can be more purposeful about these conversations?

TIP 3: I often use a tool called the Team Member Fact Sheet to get people talking.  Using it as a tool to get to know new teammates or test the knowledge of existing teams.

Talent management is about great conversations.  Go have one!

Tracking My Happiness – Final Report

Several posts ago I gave an initial update on my commitment to join a happiness survey that was discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article.  Here it the link to that post.

I have completed it after 50 entries and 17 days.  Here is what the data says:

  • Top activities for happiness:  restaurants, exercising, being with customers, vacation, parties.
  • Bottom activities for happiness: balancing checkbook, meetings, taking care of children, working alone, watching television.
  • I am 2x as happy on Saturdays vs Sunday.
  • Thursday is my top day of the week – 25% higher than Friday. (today is Thursday – so I am happy about that)
  • I am 4x happier doing activities I don’t have to do but want to do vs doing things I don’t want to do but have to do.
  • There is a direct correlation for me between high focus and high happiness.
  • There is a direct correlation for me between happiness and productivity.

Many things make me smile when I review these results – mainly because they tell a story.  For example, as a parent much of my attention (and this is MY choice) in the last 3 weeks hast focused on homework, transportation, and getting children to bed and up in the morning.  My takeaway – I need to work on my attitude – and create some fun moments for us (good timing – spring break is next week).  I can only imagine what their happiness report would say about me. 🙂  I am okay with not liking the checkbook, meetings, and working alone.  I also think I need a bigger television. 🙂

I mentioned in my first post that this would be a great activity for any company to do with high potentials or leaders.  For smaller companies it is nice because it is free (it works with straight email, but requires an iPhone for easy data collection when walking around).  I still think it is best done by groups of 3 people, and then having a general report out to the whole group.

Talent management is based on self awareness that feeds into a great conversation.  This activity has the potential to provide for both.

I will post next week on how our talent management processes (one on ones, performance conversations, etc.) actually create some of these reflective/conversation moments if done well.

If you tried this, what was your experience?  What questions would you ask me after seeing some of my results?  Here is your chance to coach me.