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)
What is within your control?
As I talked to the leader he explained a very complex situation that included a hierarchical leadership structure, a workforce that had to stay, and a customer that often spoke up in frustration. I listened for ten minutes and then asked a single question – What is within your control? The first response was all the things he did not control – so I repeated myself. What is within your control? The next response was the feelings that were created by the whole situation, so I repeated myself with a twist – What part of this situation do you control? His final response was a list of a couple of things that mattered and a great conversation ensued.
Great conversations start with a question. Many conversations with leaders start with challenges, frustrations, and sometimes just pleasantries. It is when we get to the place where we name our place in an issue and what we see as our goal/ownership that the conversation becomes great. What makes it great is that we demonstrate our trust in the person/relationship by sharing our absolute version of the truth – regardless of the risk. What also makes it great is that we can openly disagree as part of the conversation by allowing space for others to offer their truth.
I believe trust is a gift, and when someone around me is willing to share something that could be used to hurt them or could cause conflict with a teammate my first move is to be grateful they are willing to share. The next step is to identify what needs to be done with the idea. As leaders, recognize there are three reasons behind a powerful statement:
- Just needs to be said. (We just need to listen).
- It raises and issue/problem that needs to be solved.
- It raises the thought of a potential issue/problem that needs to be explored.
The challenge is that leaders are too often wired for #2 and #3 happens by accident because we choose to ignore it vs just parking it in a place that allows further inquiry or conversation. And #1 – that is in the Husband 101 class that we all need to keep retaking. 🙂
Listen differently today. What do you hear? What is your natural response to truth being expressed?
For those of you in Michigan, you know the name Rich Rodriguez. He coached football at Michigan for several years and was fired for not being successful. The ironic thing is that he was successful before Michigan (West Virginia) and he has had success since (Arizona). The story I have about him is about being a new neighbor. I was teaching a class and in small talk I met one of his neighbors in Ann Arbor. She told me a story about him moving into a house that had 6-12 trees in the front yard and he did not like trees so he cut them all down when he moved in. The neighbors were angry, and by this time he was also not winning on the football field, so the story ended with they were still angry and ‘he was a bad coach‘ on top of it.
Leadership is about managing change, and part of managing change is picking your battles initially until key people know you and trust you. In any role there are a few key people that have to be on your side, and the key to success initially is taking steps to build trust with them. These are called stakeholders, key people, or sometimes just neighbors. A leader has 3-12 months to win over these stakeholders.
I specialize in leadership transitions, and one rule is not allowing a new leader fire anyone for 3-6 months. My second rule for a new leader is to get a ‘grace’ period light on deliverables for about 3 months so they have a chance to build relationships with people. When they do get deliverables they need to be heavily focused on getting wins with the people that need to trust and support a new leader when they do make mistakes, and mistakes are a given.
Back to Rich – as a leader and homeowner he can do whatever he wants. His mistake at his house was cutting down every tree before people got to know him – which was only made worse when he did not win on top of it. Ironic thing, he did the same with the program and alienated many people so fond of traditions he cut (like a weekly radio show) that when he started to lose more than win they did not support him. The lesson, as a new leader ask before you cut down any trees – maybe by asking first which trees need to be cut down. What does that sound like in a conversation? Imagine interviewing all your new team and asking:
- What questions do you/the team want to ask me?
- What is working here?
- What needs to be fixed?
- What is one thing I could do to make you more excited about your job?
Listen well and they will tell you which trees to cut down. My experience tells me that their list will look eerily similar to yours.
It is not that Rich Rodriguez is not an effective coach – he has proven he can win in the right situations. His problem is that he does not adapt well to situations where he has to be patient and cannot just cut all the trees down at once. What kind of leader are you?
Here are my proven processes on change. I use them because they are people-centered and less focused on the outcome and more on emotionally moving people through the change. Still performance focused, but people-centered.
The most important part of professional development is writing the goals. We can talk about it, we can get excited about attending a great class or program, but in the end what we do with what we have learned is the ROI! Sure it takes support, maybe some coaching, but it has to start with defining a target we can focus on. The goals and action plan are critical.
I was leading a book study with a group of entrepreneurial leaders, and as usual one of the conversations we had inspired me. Also, as usual I had about 15 minutes to share some tips I have learned around writing goals and it was not enough. So I wrote an article on LinkedIn titled Leaders – Write Better Goals for Yourself: 3 Critical Mistakes And How to Fix Them. If you are at or near evaluation time for yourself or delivering evaluations for others, take a look. My goal, as always, is to equip leaders with the tools they need to have more impactful conversations around growth and development.
Could you share it with your LinkedIn community? Thanks for the help in starting a conversation around this.
Also – Here is a worksheet I use with clients to help them write better goals as they go through their own evaluation/development
I saw an economist yesterday describe a perfect storm around talent with numbers. These are for my immediate area:
- Unemployment under 5.5%
- Job listings outpacing job seekers
- Flat wages for 3 straight years
The good news:
- People are coming back into the workforce that were not in it a year ago
- People are leaving organizations for new roles (see wages info above – seems to be the only way to get a raise)
So what does that all mean to you as an employer?
My observation – if you are not skilled at looking for talent, you will likely live into the headlines and feel the shortage. Let me explain:
I do a couple of hiring projects a year for some of my partner organizations that are struggling finding people. Here are the two things that I always see when I start a project. (Always is a risky word – but these have been true for all of the roles I have helped with):
- A posting that lacks a compelling reason to work for you. Example: I helped a charter school hire an HR leader. They were struggling finding the right person and I noticed in their listing no mention of kids, the market they served (urban / high poverty), and their mission (every child deserves a quality education). We made some of those critical changes, re-posted, and found a young and energetic candidate that was from the area and reflected the racial makeup of the district. Recruiting is always a challenge – but step 1 is this simple.
- A process that focuses on an external listing and does not leverage the greatest organizational sales team in the world – which is the people that come to work everyday. LinkedIn is just another tool, but if it is used correctly it can be a way to leverage the networks some of your people have to get word out to their groups/networks to generate leads that helps you find people that might not be looking. LinkedIn also gives candidates a way to rigorously check you out. The question I got one time was “What if they ask a few ex-employees and they get scared away?” My only thought is “What if they accept the job and get an earful at the next soccer game after it is too late?”
Here are four tips that build trust from Day 1:
- Spend time in the process. Phone screen, initial in-person, 3-4 hours on-site, and a final conversation where they get to ask all the questions as you hand them an offer. I use topgrading for all full interviews – no cat and mouse interviewing to test their skills at interviewing. Candidate – You tell me your story that includes ups, downs, frustrations, and what your old bosses will tell me when I call them (and I will call all of them). I don’t care if you were fired from a role, and it would be helpful to know why and what you learned from it. My promise – Open access to anyone you want to talk to, plenty of time to ask questions, and encouragement to contact anyone they know that is connected with the organization to vet what they are getting. When candidates start commenting on how thorough your process is and how it stands out for them versus some of the other experiences they have had you know you are doing it well.
- As soon as there is personal contact – all communications happen with a phone call. This includes the “Sorry, we are not going to ask you back for a next round of interviews. Do you have any questions for me about the process or feedback?” There is always the time argument, especially the hiring managers. I don’t argue, because the more people that think that the better chance I have of taking your best people.
- All of my time commitments are hit – no excuses. Note to hiring managers – if you get busy and two weeks pass without you being active in your selection process you send a very strong message to candidates – my time is more important than yours and I will likely lead that way. Most people will choose NOT to work for leaders like that, except the desperate ones. If I commit to a call by Thursday, even if the process is going slow, I call Thursday. I am amazed at the positive feedback from people for just using the manners I was taught as a child.
- The admin/receptionist is part of the interview – through observing and interacting. I want to know how they treat people that they think are not part of the decision making process. That is why they always come through the front door several times and I ask the admin to watch and give me their opinion. This is the same reason senior leaders go to dinner with the CEO and spouses are included. If the vibe from the spouse is not positive, then the candidate is not hired.
Here is a link to the role summary and focus sheet I use to either build or boil down a job description to something that can be used. I also offer other templates around talent and performance if you are interested.
Talent is tight, and yet there are still things you can do to stand out because too many companies still don’t get it.
Are you adaptable?
I am reminded of a conversation I had with Greg Hartle who spent 18 months doing something I thought was crazy. He started with $10 and a laptop and travelled around the US meeting people in transition and helping them. He blogged about it, took odd jobs when he could, and spoke to groups about his journey (fyi – before his trip he almost died from kidney failure – so there was quite a story there).
One observation he made was that the key ability he saw as critical to the people he was meeting in career transitions was the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. For me, it was a simple, yet profound statement as I work with organizations and leaders in growth transitions. Here are two thoughts . . .
1. It does not mean abandon your values and beliefs. Adaptable is ‘able to change or be Are you adaptable? Success in business and in life means understanding and managing the changes that approach. Transitions as leaders, parents, spouses, friends are full of moments where the current way of doing things/reacting will not work, and we have to ask ourselves – in order to fit or work better in some situation or for some purpose.’ If you have to work for an organization with a social focus – great! If we are being asked to build a process around sales so others can do what we do and do it the same way and we resist – hmm?
2. It does mean that when we find ourselves stuck or frustrated, the first question we need to ask is “What about this situation frustrates me?” At the core of our answer is the issue, and in my experience most often the issue is in our recognition of the change and how we will have to adapt to operate in the new normal.
One habit that helps this – When entering change conversations – once we process the issue and the end goal, to simply ask “To be successful, what do we need to: Keep doing? Start doing? Stop doing?”
As a person – I go back to Greg’s observation – “Based on what challenges I face – What do I need to: Learn? Unlearn? Relearn?”
Let me lend a different lens to your network – It is your number one resource for learning and professional development. How is yours?
I found myself in several conversations with people over the past month who were lamenting the pain and anguish of networking. Many were struggling to make the commitment to networking as part of their search for work. I have spent the last decade speaking to groups about the importance of building relationships – and that conversation generally leads back to networking. I know it is hard, and I also know it is probably easier for me because of how I am wired.
4 Fallacies of Networking
- Networking is a lot of work – I shared my monthly goal for networking events last week and the group was surprised. My goal = 2 per month. What counts is any gathering of a group of people and my goal is simple, meet one or two people that I will follow-up with a written note. That is it. My goal is not quantity, just quality. Chamber of Commerce events count, but so does a Booster Board meeting or high school sporting event. If I do this consistently for a year it results in (at a minimum): 24 events, 48 written notes, and roughly 12-15 follow-up cups of coffee.
- Networking is an event – I have a goal of 2 events, but that is not really the end, it is just a piece of it. Networking is a mindset. Here is how I view networking based on my beliefs:
- I believe that hearing the stories of others is important.
- I believe that it is important to find other people that share my passions/goals, and the only way to do that is to hear stories and share my story.
- I believe that the end point of getting to know others is a relationship that will continue into the future.
- I believe in the importance of building relationships.
- Networking is inclusive – LinkedIn is a main way I keep track of my network. I made a decision to kick all LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networker) out of my network. I want people in my network that are active, positive, and people with which I have a professional connection/opinion. That does not include everyone, and not letting someone in my network does not mean that they are bad, it just means they don’t fit my network. I also have a habit where I review my LinkedIn connections once or twice a year and take people out of my network. I look through and if I do not recognize or remember them I delete them. I also delete people that post daily or mainly sell with their posts.
- Networking is Kissing Up to people you don’t like – I love this one, because it is generally from people who are looking for reasons not to do it. If the goals of networking are to get to know others, have others get to know you, and learn things through connections/conversations, then you will have to talk to people that you would not invite to dinner. An important part of networking is always being open to listen and learn, regardless of the source. From my perspective, networking is about learning, and if it is done correctly you meet new people, build some great relationships, and you learn lots of new things.
I attended an event earlier this year with someone I had not seen in a while, and they gave me feedback that it seemed like I knew everyone. The reality, I knew about 20 people of the 800 people that attended the event, and most I had met since starting my business. Remember my goal? In 5 years my networking effort adds up to roughly 120 events, 240 written notes, and 50-75 cups of coffee.
I know networking is hard. There are events I go to that I do not have the energy for and end up leaving early. I also miss events because I have other commitments as a husband or father that are more important. Networking does not have to be your top priority, but it does have to be a priority if you are looking to grow professionally and have a positive impact on your community.
One of my earliest posts was around how so many people appear, for lack of a better term, crazy at work. The post was Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner. In researching the topic I found data showing that in any given year 28-30% of adults experience a mental or addictive disorder. That point I was making then, when we are stressed we often slip into that space of not being our rational selves.
Have you ever uttered these words?
- What’s wrong with me?
- Does what I just shared make any sense?
- Am I just an idiot?
- Can you help me make some sense out of this?
- I just need someone to listen and tell me if I am nuts, or just bad at my job?
There are lots of reasons we get to this place, and it would take far to many words to explore that space. Here are four tips for getting out of it.
- Why am I here? The Birkman Method and the research behind it found that when needs are not being met, stress behavior results. All of these questions above indicate a certain level of stress or panic. Simply asking yourself this question – – and after you write down the reasons, cross out all the sentences with they/them/everyone/someones name. Hopefully, what is left is I/me/my. Always try to focus on what you control, which is your actions/feelings/reactions/narratives you have created around a situation.
- Find a safe outlet, repeat step 1. Remember the movie The Shining, when Jack Nicholson utters the famous “Here’s Johnny” line? When we spend too much time alone we don’t do well. We break-up and challenge the narrative in our head by getting it out to another and getting a different perspective. Find a friend you trust and that can empathize with you and get their opinion.
- What do I need to address first? How will I do that? In a space where we feel confused and overwhelmed, it is important to focus on the most critical things first. These often get lost in our narrative. Asking yourself this question sets up the next step.
- What is my next step? There may be ten things we need to do, so see all of them and pick one. Since getting out of this loop is a journey, it is important to stay connected to those individuals that are safe sounding boards for you as you work your way back to a place where you are feeling at your best. Keep revisiting and nurturing those relationships that are part of step 2.
When you hear the questions shared above, whether they come from your own mouth or from another – – – > Listen. It is through our process of filtering the noise of our thoughts, fears, concerns, frustrations, experiences, intuitions that we identify what we need to address first. Then we need to act.
Launching my own business taught me (and continues to teach me) the lesson of stepping back from ‘crazy’, sifting through what is real/imagined/important, and stepping back into it with a plan. With the caveat – Repeat as needed.
Let me leave you the quote that is attached to my computer screen, and is a subtle reminder of this whole space.
Do not allow the fear of what if to ruin the joy of what is
Today a new trU Tips comes out, and the topic is mentoring. One word that will be prominent in this edition is the word GIFT.
My work is in the space of development and transition (some call it personal growth), and in that space I get to have conversations with the leaders and followers – so I get to hear both perspectives. As I think back on all these conversations, several themes emerge:
- Underestimate the value people put on getting time with them.
- Fail to leverage their own network for support in self development / development of their team/themselves.
- Make up reasons not to ask their leader for one on one time or help.
- Look to their organization or leader to drive their personal development.
There will be many gifts given this holiday season, and I always encourage leaders to give the gift of time. If there is a magazine you love or a book you get excited about sharing, why not make that a gift and include a couple of hours of your time to discuss it as they read it. If you are looking for ideas, here are the books I share (my library) and a few tips for making a book a real gift by including your time.
The late Zig Ziglar, a champion for individual ownership/growth, was once asked by a leader after one of his talks, “What if I develop someone on my team and then they leave?” His answer, “What if you don’t develop them at all and they stay?”
We do have choices, and the choices we make with our time tells others what we value.
Make your gifts matter.
My words started the conversation “Did somebody feed the dog yet?”
The response started with the words “Well, she did not do what I asked her and . . . . . “.
It was the language of an excuse.
The thing that stuck in my mind was I will accept reasons, but please don’t give me excuses. As I watch leaders and teams work through things, I have seen how excuses create lines for battle. He said . . . . She said . . . . They said . . . . It gets messy really fast. When emotions are raised by assigning blame first, it is hard for most people to step back and talk through it. Excuses generally point outward at the environment or actions of others, and lead to blame and away from solutions.
When we focus on getting some reasons out on the table, it requires us to ask a few more questions to establish what assumptions or knowledge are being brought into the conversation. Establishing this allows ownership to emerge. The focus can then be on a decision they made that got in the way of something getting done or getting fixed, and what the action plan looks like.
Two great practices this week are to listen:
- When something happens or your outcomes are questioned, do you give an excuse or ask a few questions and focus on reasons something happened or did not happen? How does it effect the conversation?
- As you interact with your team, what do you hear more of – excuses or reasons? What is the impact of sharing excuses vs reasons?
I am holding out hope that some day my simple question gets answered with something like:
I am watching my favorite episode ever of Dog with a Blog and thought I would finish it before I fed our hungry dog. That was probably not a good decision, because the next episode was my second favorite ever, so let me shut off the TV and take care of it.
I could be waiting a while, but I know the expectations I need to share and the questions I need to ask in the future.