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Fundamentals: One-on-one meetings

29 May
partnershipLeadership is socially demanding. Interaction with those you lead (and hopefully serve) is necessary. I’ve found that it is very unlikely that we as leaders will consistently behave as we wish to – recognizing, coaching, supporting, developing, empowering and engaging…more – without creating some type of structural space/time and process to enable it. A practice that I use and recommend is creating a norm around meeting with each member of your team for one-on-one discussions to focus on their personal learning and performance.
Commit to meeting with each of your direct reports on a consistent frequency. For me, the minimum is 30 minutes bi-weekly. It’s their meeting, so I ask them to schedule the time in open space on my calendar at a time that works for them, booking 3 – 6 months into the future. I’m available for more if they want or need it. Our meetings do get moved as needed, but very rarely cancelled.
I require a written update around a loosely structured agenda built around roles I want to play as their leader:
  • to provide recognition – My Accomplishments (what have you accomplished since we met last?)
  • to serve their needs and support them – My Needs (what can I do that will be helpful to you?)
  • to build trusting relationships – FYI’s (no action needed updates), My Team (skip-level updates)
  • to engage and develop – My Development (what have you planned or accomplished to learn, experience and connect to develop yourself?)
  • to coach and empower performance – My Project Updates (what’s the status / how are you planning to progress?)
The purpose of the written update sent in advance is it allows us to make better use of our time together discussing and responding to the situation rather than using our limited time describing it.
Feedback I’ve received on the process:
  • I get a sense of satisfaction reporting my progress and it forces me to acknowledge ownership of my work.
  • Conversely, knowing the time is coming where I will report on my status and what has been accomplished (or not) also motivates me; I want to avoid having nothing to report but excuses.
  • I like having the consistency. It’s easier to get my needs met without feeling I need to “interrupt” as often.

I’ve provided the same update to my bosses over the years and the process makes me better. One thing that is certain is that if I, as the leader, didn’t set the expectation and require the process, entropy would set in; preparation and the good use of our time would end and I’d likely have what most others do with their time.

Committing to this structure and process makes me a better leader and my team members better performers. It also scales really nicely for those of us that manage global, remote or virtual teams.
If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.
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There’s no such thing as a great company

10 Mar

There are great teams and not so great teams. The best companies are networks of great teams. When you look at organizations, there is a huge range in performance team by team by team. There are differences within high performing teams compared with underperforming teams. These differences impact not only business outcomes, but lead measures like the ability to attract and retain talent that create the valued product or service that customers trade money for.

In 1994, a HBR article titled Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work (J. L. Heskett et al.) introduced a model that is widely referenced and used. This year, DDI published their DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast. In it, they illustrate an adapted version of this value chain based on their huge biannual leadership study. Integrating the two looks something like this:

I do this to illustrate a (simplified) sense of cause and effect. The best companies are made up of great teams. Great teams have high quality leadership that build a uniquely positive work environment / climate. This leadership and context supports team member engagement in work that allows them to contribute their strengths. While the local leader exists within a system – enabled or confined by talent systems and process, as well as the broader management culture – it is the leadership of the local manager that has the greatest impact on the engagement and performance of their team. While leaders are as much a product of this system as they are nodes within it, positive deviants exist and they make the most significant difference. Most team members’ knowledge of and beliefs about the organization are driven by how the organization is presented and exemplified through their local leader’s words and behavior.

Curt Coffman and his partner Kathie Sorensen have taught me a lot about how local managers drive engagement. Most engagement research consists of reporting data collected from a large sample of employees from a broad set of teams and organizations – how do a broad range of factors impact engagement. Coffman’s research surfaced drivers of engagement by finding the correlation between employee responses to questions and team performance. For example, while a question like, “I’m fairly compensated…” is a highly rated hygiene factor that individuals rate as highly influencing their level of discretionary effort and intent to stay, It’s important to everyone regardless of performance level. However the question “My manager really knows me” is rated significantly higher on high performing teams than low performing teams. This research shows that highly engaged teams delivering superior results are different and the key differences are under the control of and most influenced by the local leader.

Despite more than a decade campaign to refocus leaders on achieving greatness through allowing talent to contribute those things they are truly great at, we remain fixated on being “not-bad” by trying to put in what’s not there or improve what we are remedial at. Good is not the opposite of bad. It’s entirely different.

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

There’s no perfect job. The ideal for most people, when they are asked to describe it, is an enriched and empowered variation of what they are doing now.

SO WHAT?

Glad you asked. Leadership matters. How we feel about our contribution at work matters too. Focusing on these two things will make you and your organization more effective.

Leaders – Focus on leadership drivers of engagement. How would those you lead respond? Ask them?

  • What are the outcomes that you are accountable for?
  • Do you feel that you really know me? Is there anything you’d like to know?
  • Do you see additional opportunities where you could contribute your talents and abilities?
  • What’s the best (most meaningful) recognition you’ve ever received at work?
  • What are you doing when you’re doing what you’re best at?
  • Who was the best manager you’ve ever had? Tell me about what he or she did that you liked so much?
  • How do you feel you best add value to the organization?
  • What are the strongest teams in our organization? Tell me about the strongest team you’ve ever been a member of?
  • When have you grown most professionally in your career?

Each of us must better understand our strengths and use them more. This will serve our personal interests, benefit our organizations and the stakeholders we impact – family, community, etc.

What, in your experience, causes an organization to be seen as great?

Come on down

28 Jan

“Being charismatic and wrong is a really bad combination.” – Jim Collins

This post is about questions. There aren’t enough questions being asked and those that are asked are often really statements disguised as questions. I don’t hear (or say) “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” nearly enough. Answers and solutions are praise worthy; questions to ensure a problem is defined, not so much. I’ll share a few different ideas related to questioning in posts to come.

A lesson I learned from Jim Tull has really influenced how I think about learning, persuasion and influence. Jim presented Argyris‘s Ladder of Inference as a way to model situations where you’re trying to reach agreement. Imagine an issue you have very strong beliefs and opinions about. If you apply the Ladder of Inference to your situation, when it comes to this topic, you are at the top of your ladder. You act based on these beliefs and you feel good about it. You’re living your values. Then, you’re confronted with a person or situation that challenges your “position” on the issue. They’re on the top of another ladder. To reach agreement – which yields benefit you want – you need to get on the same ladder. So if an agreement is to be reached, either someone’s changing ladders or you’re both going to move to a third ladder. Otherwise, no agreement. So how do you go about this process of determining who’s switching ladders, where to build a shared ladder, or deciding that your position is more valuable than the benefit?

Questions of Inquiry vs. Questions of Advocacy

It turns out that most people try to accomplish this challenge from the top of their ladder – using advocacy – the equivalent of suggesting the person leap from the top of their ladder to the right ladder, your ladder. Advocacy develops a position (or moves up the ladder) and consequently, strengthens the attachment of other parties to their position(s). The skill is to go down the ladder – using inquiry. Inquiry is based in questions about what others believe to move down the ladder. This is not a new obscure idea. Stephen Covey has popularized the principle (Habit 5) “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Once you’re down you’re ladder, you can learn and understand their “data,” interest, rationale, etc. and also review your own. Without inquiry, we cannot empathize. Without feeling understood, you are much less likely to find mutual purpose. And, without mutual purpose, you’re not likely to reach an agreement or solution. If we have no agreement on the problem (shared purpose), we will most likely not agree on the solution (shared benefit).

Curiosity of how others form their positions and how their interests are served by maintaining these positions is undervalued and underutilized. It really doesn’t follow the social order, making it that much more powerful and differentiating for the skilled. Why is inquiry not practiced more? Perhaps:

1. an attempt to appear confident and of strong conviction in your position due fear of being taken advantage of or belief that seeking to understand will bring you to a less powerful position (fear or lack of confidence)

2. seeing situations at hand as zero-sum (bad logic or bad motive)

3. lack the skill to explore your and others’ positions and seek mutual benefit (ignorance)

Being interested is often more persuasive than being interesting. When someone truly feels that you understand them, yet still do not draw the same conclusions and agree with them, the natural response is curiosity. What additional information do you have? How are you ending up somewhere else? This is the time for advocacy. You are now serving their need and not your own. You don’t concede your position (or values / beliefs) by working to understand others’ positions and how they arrived at them. You can always climb back up. Though, be forewarned, you may learn something that will cause you to choose not to.

Additional Reference:

http://www.solonline.org/pra/tool/inquiry.html

http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Yes-Negotiating-Agreement-Without/dp/0140157352/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240334060&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-what-Matters/dp/014028852X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240334517&sr=1-1

TPOV: Good News Fast, Bad News Faster

16 Jan

Today, I was reminded of an impacting Teachable Point of View (TPOV) from Mike Wells, CEO of Wells Enterprises – makers of the worlds best, Bluebunny, ice cream. When introducing the company’s updated “Fundamentals,” Mike communicated a principle for communication that resonated with me immediately as one that I share, support and advocate. I read it on the handout provided at the all employee meeting I attended as he said the words, “Good News Fast, Bad News Faster.” I can’t remember the words he used. I left knowing that he meant the organization believes in recognizing, celebrating and rewarding success, but it also depends on each person to confront reality and make problems visible to allow the team to provide support, problem solve, and act accordingly. It agrees completely with a couple of ideas I regularly express to my teams and colleagues:

1. never, EVER, hide a problem

2. If I have to take a hit now or later, I’ll take it now

An example: A high performing consultant from my team sent an email to a group of managers with an excel spreadsheet as an attachment that he learned minutes after sending was a pivot table that contained confidential information. He immediately called my cell phone and told me directly what happened and who it went to. I then called my boss and IT. Within about 10 minutes we had surgically removed and destroyed the message and attachment from each recipient’s mailbox, identified who had opened the email and whether a copy had been saved locally, and replaced the message with an attachment including only the information intended to be sent. The next day, I took the opportunity to recognize the employee that made the mistake for modeling our values. His response – “I made the mistake and wanted to make sure you (me) weren’t surprised and that we got it fixed before it got out of control.”

We will make mistakes. We will form imperfect plans and then imperfectly execute them. It is certain. This does not and should not limit our drive for excellence, even as Toyota states it in their Lexus brand – the pursuit of perfection. If you are a purpose driven person that acts on ideals, you are pursuing an asymptote. This principle that tells employees bad new faster is an expectation that is liberating. Do not play not to lose. Do not waste valuable time and resources hiding information and strategizing how to skirt ownership or place blame because you are afraid to share what is now reality with your team. The message is also clear that when bad news is presented to you, don’t punish the informant to teach them to fear making mistakes and keep them far from you.

Though not common, I’ve witnessed great individuals, relationships and teams that are truly safe and open. When something happens, there is little or no inhibition to discuss it. It may be a lucrative opportunity, a total disruption to the status quo, or a threatening mistake made by the team. They are able to lay the issue out, walk around it and look at it from various points of view and assess:

  • is this real?
  • what is happening here? how does it work? how did it happen?
  • what does it mean to us? who does it impact?
  • is there a lesson to be learned? is there a weaknesses that is revealed?
  • is there an opportunity to exploit?
  • what will we do?

The environment is engaging with heightened arousal in focus and curiosity. There is ownership and accountability. There’s no burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. Run to the issue. Assess what it is, does and means. Own it. Move forward.

This TPOV creates competitive advantage and is a fundamental to a learning organization. It takes what most organizations fear and run from – their richest lessons – and uses them as fuel for success and growth for talent and the organization.

Personal Best Performance: Learning from Your Successes

22 Dec
Personal Best Concept

Personal Best Concept

I love to succeed. I love to do things that I’m good at for as many people as possible, providing me plenty of examples (or evidence) that I am successful and high levels of esteem are justified and secure. Building this self-efficacy is both important and constructive to motivation. Individual satisfaction and meaning occur when we are contributing Personal Best Performances.

Applying the Hedgehog Concept (Jim Collins, 2001) to our individual careers yields higher performance and more Personal Bests.

A Personal Best has 3 components:

  1. Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
  2. Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
  3. Organizational Value – the contribution needed or opportunity to create value.

I have developed a tool for helping clients identify Personal Bests. I have used this approach with a broad group of customers with favorable results. If you’re a consultant, helping a client through this self-discovery process is impacting. In my experience, clients have valued the exercise and some have used the process with those that they lead. If you’re a leader, using this process with your team members is an effective way to support their development and build a stronger relationship, both supporting higher levels of engagement.

Personal Best Interview

Purpose: The purpose of the Personal Best Interview is to guide your thinking about personal development to help you make your greatest contributions through efforts that are personally meaningful and satisfying.

Directions: Answer the questions below to help you identify high-impact development goals for your personal development and to prepare for development discussions with your Manager, mentor or other coaching resource.

Personal Best Examples: Describe 2 – 3 examples of experiences when you felt most enthusiastic and positive about your work.

For each Personal Best Example above, what about that experience made it such a positive and motivating experience for you?

What are your talents (those things you’re good at and can constructively apply at work)?

What are you passionate about (Those things you are motivated and enthused to do at work)?

What contribution can you make to the organization leveraging your talents in an area of passion?

What do you not want to do? (What would you like to avoid doing? (e.g., relocating, shift changes, roles)

What are your career goals and plans? Do they position you to contribute more personal bests?

Short-Term:

Long-Term:

What do you need to learn, become more skilled at, and experience to make your best contribution to the company and achieve your goals?

  • Focus on WHAT to develop or change rather than HOW at first.
    •  Example – “develop the ability to develop and communicate strategic plans to align your team and achieve objectives” rather than “complete strategic thinking training.”

What barriers or development needs could keep you from making your best contribution and achieving your goals?

4 Stages of Contribution

22 Dec

A common area of opportunity to help many of the technically brilliant people I enjoy working with – scientists, engineers, supply chain experts, even financiers – is career development.  These colleagues become frustrated with their perceived inability to engineer and control career advancement when transitioning beyond individual contributor roles where relationships, interest-based negotiation and influence skills become important to get results. In my experience, this results in a presenting problem like (generalized examples):

Career paths are not established and communicated clearly enough…

The organization doesn’t value the technical skills that create value here…just look at who gets promoted…

There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for me in this organization…

each of which may be true. The problem with these beliefs is that they are totally passive and the expectation is to fix “them” or change how “they” do things. These are difficult expectations to fulfill. However, there is a change that each person can make that is totally under our control and with a much higher probability for success.

A model that I have found helpful is Novations’ 4 Stages of Contribution. I first saw this model in a conference session jointly presented by one of Novations’ consultants and a learning & development manager from Intel. It has influenced the career development processes and tools I have designed and implemented. Since the model focuses on the contribution or performance of an individual rather than position, it integrates well with strengths-based approaches, which I advocate.

Careers are moving from position focus to contribution focus to increase impact and influence. Flatter organizations and critical individual contributor talents need not mean career ceilings. High-performance is achieved by aligning talent with opportunities to deliver greater contribution in-position, laterally, through advancement, or in a role that’s currently undefined. In fact, it is this ability to mine the greater contribution that can be made from each role that truly differentiates top talent and their organizations from the status quo.

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