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.

8 Questions To Ask Before Starting Succession Planning

Succession planning is a great conversation.

For the organization, it puts plans in place to be used in case of a sudden departure of a key person.  It also identifies talent gaps that can be discussed and dealt with before they become emergencies.

For your best people, it creates a vision of the future for them and identifies ways to challenge/develop them over the coming years.

Then there is you, the executive.  Maybe not such a great process.  You are putting plans in place for after you are gone.  You are sharing the talent you have worked hard to hire and develop with the rest of the organization by allowing them to be considered for key roles in other areas.  Do we avoid these conversations?  The numbers would say yes.  First number – only 35% of the CEO’s in the United States have succession plans.  Second number – personally only 45% of us have wills.

Talent management is about great conversations.  Here are eight questions to ask a leader before starting a succession planning effort:

  1. I am excited about this process.
  2. I think this is an important process to do each year.
  3. I have talked to all my direct reports about what they want to do in the future.
  4. I have done this before and I feel comfortable/skilled at the process.
  5. I will make the time (10-20 hrs) to do this work over the next 2 months.
  6. I am willing to accept input from other peers on my succession list . . . and I will use it.
  7. I am willing to allow key players from my team to be on succession plans for other groups.
  8. I feel good about setting up my groups/the organization to be successful after I move on.


Here is a link to this form with a number scale attached.

By naming our reasons for being reluctant, we can at least talk about them.  By letting those reason stay hidden there is very real potential to erode trust on the team and leave great talent(people!) unchallenged and unclear about what opportunities exist for them in the future.

I would opt for the great talent management/succession planning conversation started by these 8 questions.

Friday Fun – The cumulative effect of Happy moments . . .

In his interview about happiness in HBR, Daniel Gilbert makes the following statement:  “…the frequency of your positive experiences is a much better predictor of your happiness than is the intensity of your positive experiences.”  It is not the big initiatives, but the cumulative effect of the little things we do at work and at home to generate smiles that makes the biggest difference.  While we are thankful for some research – Did we really need some PhD to tell us that?

So what can we do with this?

Every culture treats humor differently.  For example, I am not sure a That Was Easy button or a zany sound effects box would work in a bank.  What about comments about what people are wearing, or smiles received or handing a sucker to a customer with a smile?  Anything where we purposely create one of those moments that Gilbert talks about will make a difference.

Maybe a good Friday goal would be to generate 6 smiles in other people.

Here is my first try:  A great video about how making people smile caused a shift in their behavior.  It made me smile, and is just good clean fun.  Take a look.


A great question to end your week (or your meeting)

It was a situation I had been in many times before.  Presenting to a group (this being a group of students at Grand Valley State University) and enjoying the interaction.  I was talking about my business/journey, talent management, and connecting back to their topics of diversity and ethics.  I did what every speaker does during a session, I paused and asked “Are there any questions?”.  Quickly a hand shot up in the back from a student who had been engaged all night.  Then he changed my week with one question:

“Through all of your startup, What are you most proud of?” 

Know that my week had not started well, and I had been second guessing this commitment to speak.  My mind quickly went to the faces of a team I had just been talking with that were bringing a different level of energy to their leadership.  I thought of a friend who had recently shared he was adding a one on one with his regimen and using my scorecard.  I thought of the energy my family had put into helping me get started.  I am not sure what I shared, but it was only a portion of the great thoughts that entered my head.

The trajectory of my week changed at that moment.

I love this question.  It makes people think of successes, of relationships they cherish, and of things in their lives that went right.

Try this at a meeting or offsite somtime with your team.  I have even seen it done where people are asked before to bring in an artifact (picture, items, etc.) that identifies something they are proud of.  It will lead to smiles and intimate knowledge of what makes people tick. 

So as you end your week, take a couple of minutes to ponder and answer the question “What am I most proud of?”

trU Tips 17+ – Three comments that drove me to write it

Yesterday I published volume 17 of trU Tips – this is a follow-up post. (I introduced a tool called the Talent Calendar)

The source of my trU Tips is usually something that has been planted in my brain or belly that just bothers me.  This months trU Tips came from three comments that are etched into my memory:

  1. “I can’t afford leadership development” (from a CEO)
  2. “I tell my people when they start – I am busy so you will not see me much.  If you need me let me know.”
  3. “Should I ask my boss for an evaluation?  I don’t want to get in trouble, but I would like to know how I am doing.” (from a senior leader after SIX months of thinking about it – and they were identified as a high potential by their organization)

In my almost 3 years of consulting I have worked in a half dozen different industries and companies from 20 to 80,000 employees.  I get called to help leaders prepare for and manage high growth/change, and when something is broken (team, individual performance, organizational structure).  In the latter my role is to help get things back on track.  In both situations I use the same tools: personal perspective (what I call trUYou™) and conversation.  The outcomes we work towards are at the heart of this calendar and captured in what I call trUPerformance™.  I am convinced(and have seen it work over and over again) that if a leader committed to the 10 hour outlined in this calendar many of the issues I see(and they feel) around individuals and teams go away.  Can they spend more time – Yes!  Is there a lean calendar coming?  No.

It is as simple as this calendar, and at the same time it is not easy.  Within the conversations will be disagreements, mis-communication, minds that are distracted to bigger problems, feelings of mistrust, and a host of other barriers.  I am an optimist, and figure that if I can get two people to quiet the world for 30 minutes/once a month, then the barriers will be overcome.

Are there any of these barriers that you see most often?  What has been effective in working through them?

trU Tips #16a – One on Ones and Leadership

Since you are my faithful readers that want to engage with me daily/weekly to talk about leadership – both of groups and self, with a splash of developing culture in organizations, I thought I would add some thoughts that did not make it past the 430 word trU Tip limit. (here is a link to trU Tip 16 if you missed it).

There are three things that are critical to making a One on One really work:

1. What is my job?  I am still surprised how hard it is for people to define this.  The list is either really long and detailed, or so generic that it would be impossible to use to recruit a new candidate or help with guidance/accountability for anyone in their job.  My goal over the next couple months is to create a tool to help people do this – – – if you have any input or want to help let me know.  I think it could be very cool, but maybe a bit scary to unleash a bunch of people with a clear sense of purpose or asking for just a little leadership from their manager.  More to come . . . .

2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER Reschedule:  This might be impossible, but can we all agree on one thing – it is important that people Trust you as their leader, right?  In Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he makes the point that People judge themselves based on their intent, and judge others based on their actions. 

Here is a scenerio:  Leader tells everyone in a staff meeting how important they are and he/she will start doing one on ones to make sure they are getting support they need and any issues/changes that are happening get clarified quickly.  In first six meetings, three get cancelled.  Leader thinks:  We are doing one on ones just like the book!  I really care about my people.  People think:  He/She said it was important, but must not think it is that important.  Just another example of . . . . .   

3.  Make it a Followership tool:  Remember the ownership of this conversation rests with the individual, not the leader.  The leader’s job is to:  1) Show up  2) Follow-up (on commitments) 3) NOT Gobble up time (ie.  show some restraint from making their agenda the most important.

Recently I was talking to a leader that was kicking off an organization wide effort to help managers become coaches for their people.  The barrier I saw – they had no habit around one on ones and generally people did not have enough clarity in their roles to ask for help.  If they had this form/habit, their vision has a chance to be real.  Without this form/habit, it will be still be great training, but as for the ROI . . .

If you were going to add one thing to my list or one piece to my one on one form what would it be?

Leader/Manager as Culture Builder

I have been asked to read and review David C. Baker’s new book Managing Right: For The First Time.  I write in books.  I circle, highlight, and dog ear pages I want to return to.  This posting is based on one of those pages**Special Offer for my blog readers:   If you are interested in reading this book yourself, the publisher has given me 10 copies to give to my readership.  I liked the book because of the simple wisdom it shares and how it fits nicely into a mentor/mentee or group study.  Email me if you want a copy – 

Manager = Culture Builder  (from Chapter 15:  Creating and Sustaining Culture)

I can hear it now – “You want me to worry about culture?  I am a manager trying to keep my head above water learning the job and reacting to all the change above me and below me, and now you tell me I am a culture builder?” 

Culture is the sum total of all your choices – this statement from David Baker caught my eye because it is simple and scary.  It reminds us that everything we do contributes to the environment (culture) we create.  A lot to digest, so let’s focus in on one thing that Baker calls out in his list “Enemies of Culture”.

The first enemy of culture for you as the leader is the technically proficient or very capable jerk.  I love the blunt language.  There should be a name for the person who uses their knowledge to elevate themselves and to step on others.   Jerk fits.

I have learned to ask certain questions when receiving the “They are really smart but everyone hates them.  Can you help?” call.  The first question is “Why do you want to keep them?”  I have to hear a compelling reason and a strong commitment from the leader or it is not worth my time.  I know from experience that 80+% of the people that are stepping on people do not know it, and when they get hit with that information they will need to see some extremely strong support to help them be successful or it will not work.

Action:  Here is a template I published for a performance conversation that makes it next to impossible to side step this situation as a leader.  Every performance conversation needs to be very explicit around: 1)  What you do on your job and 2) How you do it (ie: culture).  This enemy should receive high marks for being smart, and a substantially below standards for being mean.  

I can here the reaction now.  Scott – it is not that easy

Just to let you know, I did not say it was easy, but I feel very comfortable saying it is that simple.  Remember, as a leader the Culture is the sum total of all your choices.  Make the choice to address this enemy.

3 Habits To Help Great Leaders Be Good Managers

Managing is about being face to face with people and helping them work through the steps to success.  Great leadership is often draped in words like vision, inspiration, and determination.  But even great leaders have to put on the manager hat and address the needs of their direct staff.  Here are three habits that will make that happen.

1.  Get to know your people:  Building trust starts with knowing someone.  When I walk into start-up companies it is common for people to hire friends and family first.  They do that because the relationship is there, and with relationships comes speed in decision making and patience with stress behaviors/poor decisions.  One tool I use with all clients is what I call a Team Member Fact Sheet.  Use this in your onboarding process(after you hire) to get to know your people and for them to get to know you. 

2. Commit to regular/uninterrupted One on One Time:  At least monthly you should be sitting down with every direct report and checking in.  30 minutes is ideal, but 15 minutes is acceptable.  Two key things about these meetings.  First, you do not allow interruptions.  Show them your commitment by delaying calls from anyone (including spouse and CEO).  Secondly, give the agenda to them.  I will be publishing a template later this month to enable this, but this being their time is key.

3.  Memorize these questions: What do you need from me?  Outside of this task list, what other significant things are happening for you?  The focus of one on ones from a manager perspective is in the first question.  If the tasks are well defined and the success measures are in place the celebrations (getting things done) or problem solving (getting stuck/behind) will happen.  I NEED are two very powerful words for followers to say, and very difficult because too often NEED = WEAKNESS in the minds of people.  The second question allows you to learn what is happening outside of work.  Don’t be surprised if they start asking you this question.

Robert Hurley shared 5 principles leaders can adopt to demonstrate trustworthiness and increase trust across their organizations.  Here is the full post, but the 5 points were:

  • Show that your interests are the same.
  • Demonstrate concern for others
  • Deliver on your promises
  • Be consistent and honest
  • Communicate frequently, clearly and openly

These principles are embedded in the actions I shared. 

Lead well!  And manage a little along the way.

5 Habits To Build a Trust Savings Account

Lots is made about telling the truth.  As a parent of four children I vividly remember several occassions using the parent-ism “We are not leaving this room until someone tells me who . . . . . .  “.  It is amazing what can happen and nobody remembers how or why.  Maybe a pick your battles posting should be in the queue somewhere. 🙂

People want leaders to tell them the truth.  In this economic downturn I have been impressed by the many stories from clients and friends on the transparency moments that leaders have had with their people. 

The lesson we teach our children is the energy it takes and the damage it does to others when we keep a lie (or half truth) going.  As adults, this lesson does not leave us.  But there are times when we have to be evasive or withhold the truth.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Sale of a business / Negotiation of a purchase:  When a legal non-disclosure is in place we have to keep things secret.
  • Letting someone go because of bad behavior/poor performance – Call it professional courtesy, but we don’t always air dirty laundry and allow people to leave for better opportunities or personal reasons.

Dave Ramsey preaches an emergency fund in case we have an unforseen event and we do not want to overdraft our account.  Think of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth as a deposit into a Trust Savings Account.  Here is the complexity, every person on our team has  separate account, and will add to it and withdraw at different rates. 

Here are 5 habits that help maximize money going into the truth emergency fund, and minimize overdrafts:

  1. Know the needs of your people around truth.  Some want straight talk, others want more one one on discussions, and still others want to know early.  The Birkman Method does a great job revealing these individual needs.
  2. If you are often out of the office – set aside time (Fri pm, Mon am) when people know you will be around to answer questions.  Make a habit to ask people What are you hearing?.
  3. Allow all your direct reports to see your schedule and add meetings if needed.
  4. Coach your leadership team to tell the same story you are telling and adopt the same habits.
  5. NEVER – roll out a big change to the organization without first telling your leaders and equipping them to tell the truth when asked all of the What?  Why? How? What about? questions.  Always have them follow-up with one on one conversations within 24 hours, especially when jobs are affected.

I know everyone has a story around this topic.  Anything to add to the list?

Wisconsin SHRM 2011: My presentations

As promised to those who attended, below are the links to the presentations I gave at the 2011 Wisconsin SHRM conference.  As I reflect back on the questions and the conversations around each topic, I am especially drawn to the feeling around talent management that their needs to be more top down practicing of these habits.  The economic environment is Wisconsin is comparable to Michigan because of what has happened to manufacturing, and yet imagine the untapped potential of the people who are working that DO NOT have development plans.   In my resilience presentation a majority of the attendees were worried about the commitment and attitude of a workforce that is pretty battered.  At the core of talent management is a conversation to build/rebuild trust and invite people to start looking towards a better future.  It is important AND it does not have to be expensive.  Remember that I detest expensive initiative!  🙂

Look for trUTips #15 to talk about how to create a great development plan – no matter what your performance evaluation looks like.

I made the 2011 SHRM WI Promotional video!

My Wisconsin SHRM Talent Scorecard presentation:

My Wisconsin SHRM Resilience presentation: