Connect, Influence, Inspire: A Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert

Great leaders connect with, influence and inspire those around them. Bill Gessert, who has served as President of the International Customer Service Association since 2007, has spent his career creating forums and opportunities for leaders to connect and grow. And so, on the eve of Customer Service Week, first founded by the ICSA in 1988, I offer this Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert.

Leadership and Connections

Q: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

A: Early in my tenure as a “leader” I learned the sometimes painful lesson that as a leader, I don’t have to do EVERYTHING. That was not easy for me because I am very much a self-starter and am driven to see things get done. My philosophy of leadership has evolved to an understanding that to be truly effective, I need to rely on others their skills, abilities, ideas, and creativity. I work hard to recognize and understand what others bring to the table and then utilize their skills and abilities appropriately. Also, I believe a leader must be passionate about what they are doing. That passion is contagious and brings out the best efforts and results of others.

Q: Your leadership seems to be very much about creating connections. When and how did you realize that learning to connect was important?

Not soon enough! There is no reason to “go it alone” when there are so many people out there that know as much or more than I do. Connecting people is really one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. And when you make connections that matter, everyone benefits. When you make positive and meaningful connections, those people often return the favor at just the right time. Making connections – good ones – is a skill.

Q: How does involvement in associations help leaders to grow and develop?

A: Associations are ALL about connection. When we connect with others in our industry, people with a shared vision and goal, we are bound to learn and grow. One of the things we try to do at each conference is build time into the schedule to allow people to connect. We even include activities to help foster positive connections by helping people find their common ground with others.

The collective experience and knowledge of the “group” will always trump the individual. Associations create that “group” in a powerful way that makes everyone stronger. Leaders need to be exposed to the wide range of thoughts, ideas, emerging tools, and the thought leaders within their industry in order to develop their own skills and abilities. I’ve always felt one of the key attributes of effective leaders is remaining humble enough to keep learning. Associations, when they are working correctly, are a great source of learning opportunities.

Q: As a leader of volunteers at the ICSA, how do you encourage participation and shared leadership?

A: I think encouraging participation and spreading leadership around all begins with sharing the mission and vision of your group. Why do you exist? What do you provide that people cannot get anywhere else? What is your purpose, both today and into the future? And how are you going to get there? All of that has to be shared before people will choose to engage. This is especially true in a volunteer organization like the ICSA. We have accomplished a great deal in our 31 years of existence and it all pours out of a shared understanding of our mission and vision.

Also, from a very practical standpoint you have to recognize that people have only so much bandwidth to give to the Association’s work. It is important to not only understand that but to function out of that understanding. In other words, don’t ask someone to do something that just will not fit into the time they have to give to the Association. As a leader, it is important to talk to all your key volunteers and gain a realistic idea of how much time they have and what can be accomplished with that time.

Finally, never underestimate the power of recognition and thanks. Failure to say thanks for your time, effort, and results is the fastest way to disenfranchise a solid contributor to your team. I’ve gone back to sending hand written “thank yous” because I know how very much those have meant to me over the years. I find it more personal and sincere. It takes a bit more time (and I hate my handwriting) but the extra effort of writing those notes is always notices and deeply appreciated

Customer Service Week

Q: Can you tell me about why the ICSA felt like it was important to formalize a week to recognize customer service professionals?

A: The ICSA created National Customer Service Week for two reasons. First, as a means of celebrating the incredible efforts of front line service providers. We believe in regular and frequent recognition of the efforts of service professionals. But setting aside this one week ensures that there will be a focus on celebrating their work.

Secondly, National Customer Service Week was also created to increase the understanding and awareness of the vital role that customer service plays in building and maintaining loyal customers. The profitability of any organization is directly impacted by the quality of their service. National Customer Service Week is a time when the ICSA works to bring this fact into light and increase the awareness of the value of customer service “professionals.”

Q: What leadership lessons can be learned from the evolution of customer service week?

A: Jeanne Bliss wrote a wonderful book entitled, Chief Customer Officer. In it she shares how several outstanding and successful companies have accomplished their success in large part because someone within the organization fulfilled the role of Chief Customer Officer. A person who represents the customers in every strategic meeting and across all of the “silos” that tend to exist in organizations.

Won’t You Please, Please Help Me?

When I was younger, so much younger than today,

I never needed anybody’s help in any way.

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

– The Beatles

Do you help when you can?

Not just your family or your team or when someone asks

But when you look up and see someone headed toward the same mistake you’ve already made or headed into some danger you’ve seen before do you speak up and help?

If someone were to you offer unsolicited help, are you prepared to hear them?

A Story That May Help

I was running through the woods on a beautiful Fall day. I passed a woman walking from the other direction. I smiled and she nodded, but she looked at me with a funny expression. I ran on a bit further straight into a scary situation. A strong and frenetic man was screaming obscenities and intensely thrashing around a very large stick. He was clearly stronger and crazier than me, so I quickly turned around and picked up the pace.

The woman I had passed earlier saw me coming back and said “yeah, I thought that guy was pretty dangerous. I thought about warning you.” I wish now I had asked her the obvious question.

As I ran on, I passed another young woman wearing headphones, headed toward the same sticky situation. I stopped her, and gave her the warning. She looked at me like I was crazy, put her headphones back on, and just kept running toward the man with the big stick. Hmmm, maybe that’s the reaction the first woman was worried about.

Perhaps the situation was truly dangerous, and perhaps it was not. I will never know. What struck me most was that there was an opportunity for the 3 woman in this story to warn and help one another if they were willing and open.

Could We Help One Another More?

I see similar behaviors in organizations. The sense of internal “competition” surpasses collaboration between individuals or workgroups. Or for some reason, people just don’t help when.

  • best practices are carefully guarded
  • mistakes are kept quiet
  • data is withheld
  • warning signs are not shared
  • key learnings are held close to the vest
  • people think it’s “none of their business”
  • ???

On flip side, I see people working alone when there are people all around who would be willing to help if only they asked by…

  • seeking out advice
  • looking sideways for what’s working
  • sharing best practices
  • collaborating and learning
  • ???

Won't You Please, Please Help Me?

When I was younger, so much younger than today,

I never needed anybody’s help in any way.

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

– The Beatles

Do you help when you can?

Not just your family or your team or when someone asks

But when you look up and see someone headed toward the same mistake you’ve already made or headed into some danger you’ve seen before do you speak up and help?

If someone were to you offer unsolicited help, are you prepared to hear them?

A Story That May Help

I was running through the woods on a beautiful Fall day. I passed a woman walking from the other direction. I smiled and she nodded, but she looked at me with a funny expression. I ran on a bit further straight into a scary situation. A strong and frenetic man was screaming obscenities and intensely thrashing around a very large stick. He was clearly stronger and crazier than me, so I quickly turned around and picked up the pace.

The woman I had passed earlier saw me coming back and said “yeah, I thought that guy was pretty dangerous. I thought about warning you.” I wish now I had asked her the obvious question.

As I ran on, I passed another young woman wearing headphones, headed toward the same sticky situation. I stopped her, and gave her the warning. She looked at me like I was crazy, put her headphones back on, and just kept running toward the man with the big stick. Hmmm, maybe that’s the reaction the first woman was worried about.

Perhaps the situation was truly dangerous, and perhaps it was not. I will never know. What struck me most was that there was an opportunity for the 3 woman in this story to warn and help one another if they were willing and open.

Could We Help One Another More?

I see similar behaviors in organizations. The sense of internal “competition” surpasses collaboration between individuals or workgroups. Or for some reason, people just don’t help when.

  • best practices are carefully guarded
  • mistakes are kept quiet
  • data is withheld
  • warning signs are not shared
  • key learnings are held close to the vest
  • people think it’s “none of their business”
  • ???

On flip side, I see people working alone when there are people all around who would be willing to help if only they asked by…

  • seeking out advice
  • looking sideways for what’s working
  • sharing best practices
  • collaborating and learning
  • ???

Full Potential Leadership: Convincing Them to Bet on You

Are you truly building your full potential? The choices you make now, will impact what jobs are available down the road. Moving up too quickly in one functional area may limit the diversity of skills you learn, and turn you into a specialist with limited future potential.

As Joanne Cleaver, says “over is the new up.”

When a strong, smart employee comes to me looking for help being promoted, I almost always encourage them to also consider “jumping out of an airplane” and trying a lateral job they appear to know nothing about. I ask them to think more broadly about their full potential.

I ask these sorts of questions:

  • Are you building yourself into a specialist, or building a reputation as a leader with broader capacity?
  • Have you tried moving into a new discipline
  • What are your unrealized gifts?
  • Which of your skills are the most transferable?
  • Should you consider moving sideways to expand your perspective and skills?

And, I am truly grateful for the times in my career bosses and mentors challenged me in that same way and inspired me to work toward my full potential.

I’ve told my story of moves across HR, customer service, marketing, sales.. more than a few times. The truth is, I was able to take leaps across functions because other leaders have taken risks on me. My favorite line from a Sales Senior Vice President years ago, “Karin, don’t tell me you don’t know sales you’ve convinced us all to buy-in to these HR and leadership programs trust me, you can sell.”

So, I tell, my story, and people listen and then the natural question but, “how do I convince someone I am qualified?”

The truth is, I can’t break that down. I don’t exactly remember that part and I don’t have a great answer to this question and time and time again. I get stuck.

Time to Ask a Full Potential Expert

So, suppose you believe it’s important, and are prepared to take a risky move.

How do you convince someone to take a risk on you?

So I reached out to Joanne Cleaver, the author of The Career Lattice: how Lateral Move Strategies Can Grow Careers and Companies asked for some help.

They want to “lattice up”, but no one will give them a chance? What should they do?

Here’s her response:

The best way to make your case to a potential new boss is to show how you have already achieved results with a skill or responsibility analogous to the new challenge. For example, if you are trying to switch from a technology role in which you often interacted with marketing, to a marketing role that is a liaison to technology, show how you have managed a project from the point of view of marketing.

Build a concise case study that shows what you can do. (Simply saying, ‘I can do that!” isn’t enough.” )

Here’s how to build a case study:

•       Problem

•       Process

•       Solution

•       Results

•       One sentence each

Voila! You have shown yourself in action.

Use this case study formula to document your accomplishments as you go. You can use case studies in cover letters and interviews as you get to know potential new bosses.

Career lattices the emerging model for career paths because they are both flexible and sustainable. The skill of managing your career laterally is essential for working Americans of all ages and at all career stages, as I illustrate in The Career Lattice. By continually evolving your skills, abilities and peer network, you’ll qualify for tomorrow’s jobs today.

Great advice.

Have you convinced someone to take a risk on you?

Got Results? How to Succeed in Your Next Developmental Assignment

If you are a strong leader, with a proven track record of results and looking to advance, chances are you are going to be asked to take on a job you know nothing about. On paper, you will be completely unqualified. Welcome to the world of succession planning developmental assignments.

Much research has shown that the best way to prepare leaders for broader, more strategic responsibility is to move them into diverse roles and assignments. The Lessons of Experience, High Flyers, and The Leadership Pipeline,  all offer insights into why and how this works. Leaders who can produce results across a variety of organizational contexts become valuable utility players with broad perspectives on the business.Continue reading

The Great Leadership Development and Succession Planning Kit:A Book Review

I imagine most of you are familiar with Dan McCarthy and his insightful blog, Great Leadership. I also know that many of you are also bloggers, who, like me, have aspirations of “some day” turning your posts into a brilliant and useful book. Dan has done just that in his e-book, The Great Leadership Development and Succession Planning Kit. It turns out that 500 well-written posts, woven together carefully, can lead to an insightful, practical, and witty “how-to” guide for identifying potential and developing great leaders.

I’ve been on all sides of the succession planning and leadership development process, from developing tools and programs, to facilitating talent review sessions to being the topic of such discussions and “rotational assignments.” I was impressed by the depth and applicability for people working in any of these capacities. If you are an executive starting to build a program, you can easily save significant time and money with the head-starts he provides here. For HR practitioners and consultants, there are rich tools and practical guides you can use with or without adaptation. And, if you are leader at any level, in any box on the proverbial “grid,” this read provides insider insights as well as specific development content.

It’s organized into 4 sections: the foundation, succession planning, development, and leadership skills.

The Foundation

He begins with a compelling argument for why companies must invest in a strategic and deliberate approach to succession planning. He then shares models that fit various budgets and cultures. His four-stage leadership development model is easy to follow.

Succession Planning

He shares practical help on talent profiles and critical positions, and his humor resonates of a man whose seen just one too many talent review sessions, The 10 Dysfunctional Characters at a Talent Review Meeting, It turns out, I’ve met all those characters.

Development

He includes a plethora of tools, from on-boarding to executive education. For fun, he throws in some cool stuff like “20 Great Leadership Development Movies.”

Leadership Skills

So once you’ve selected someone or been selected as a target for development, what’s next? Here’s where Dan comes in with the practical advice like “Lipstick on a Pig: 10 Ways to Improve Executive Presence” and “18 Financial Terms Every Leader Should Know.” My own development plan must be on track since “financial acumen” is always on my plan (I prefer to surround myself with finance-types, rather than have to face too many spreadsheets), but I found I can use every one of his 18 terms in a complete sentence. Quick, someone call my boss before the next talent review.

Why Buy the Book?

So, why buy the book when you can get the posts for free? I love Dan’s site, and particularly enjoy his Carnivals where he brings together the perspective of so much great leadership thinking. It is much more efficient to have him do all the work for you, to organize what you need in an easy to use way. Simple and funny? Priceless.

About Dan

Dan McCarthy is the Director of Executive Development Programs (EDP) at the University of New Hampshire. He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and the new ebook, The Great Leadership Development and Succession Planning Kit.

Dan is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management.

You can contact Dan at danmccarthy@gmail.com.

 

Growing Leaders Salute:Interview with Dan McCarthy

As my regular readers know, on Saturdays I do a “Salutation,” about something warm and positive going on in the world. As I am meeting kindred spirits through my writing and leadership, I realized that some of the warmest stuff happening is coming from the people passionate about growing leaders. And so, I am expanding my normal Saturday gig to include a “Growing Leaders Salute:” interviews with great leaders dedicated to growing great leaders. Thanks, Dan McCarthy for being my first honoree.

Q: You have an interesting background both working within companies and with companies as a consultant as well as interacting with leaders through your blog. How do you feel these varied experiences have informed your leadership philosophy?

A: While I enjoy writing, I wouldn’t have anything to write about if it wasn’t for the work I’ve done inside companies, working with real managers, as well as my own experience as a manager. Writing about these experiences helps me get clearer on who I am and what I stand for.

Blogging has enabled me to widen my reach, but just as importantly, it forces me to stay current and continuously learn, by interacting with readers and networking with other leadership bloggers like you.

Q: Why do you write? What inspired you to write a book?

A: I’m lucky in that my work gives me a sense of purpose. I help to develop great leaders, and great leaders have the ability to have an extraordinary impact on their employees, their employee’s families, their organizations, and their communities. I feel a great sense of responsibility – I take it seriously – and I also get a great amount of personal satisfaction.

Deciding to write a blog – and then a book – was again an extension of that purpose. With a company, I might be able to reach and impact a few hundred leaders and aspiring leaders – maybe up to 1000 indirectly? But with writing, I have the potential to touch millions.

Q: Who have been your most significant mentors? How have they influenced you?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have had good, supportive managers. I’ve learned a little bit from each one of them. There’s not one that stands out more than the rest. Actually, I’ve only had maybe 1-2 bad managers, and as flawed as they were, I still learned a lot from them.

Q: You have worked with so many leadership compentency models over the years, acrosss a variety of industries. In your mind what are the top 3 leadership competencies
Hmmm, hard to say, it’s all so dependent on the organization. But if I had to pick 3, they might be leading change, leadership presence (which would include authenticity), and listening.

Q: What is the most important advice you would give to new leaders?

A: Ah, what a timely question! I just wrote a post that’s scheduled to appear on the 9/27 SmartBrief on Leadership, and then in my own blog on 10/1, called “25 Tips for Managing Your First Direct Reports”. I know 25 sounds like a lot, but I could have written another 25! But if I had to pick one, it would be Embrace your role as a LEADER.

This one’s not as obvious as it sounds. I managed employees for over 20 years before the light went on for me and I realized what an extraordinary and rewarding responsibility leadership could be. Don’t take it lightly.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see leaders make when developing others?

A: Well, if you asked me “what’s the biggest mistakes managers make”, I’d say it’s that they don’t develop their employees – and that’s too bad. But let’s assume we’re talking about leaders – those managers that have the best intentions but like all of us, stub their toes now and then. I’d say it’s feeling like they have to have all of the answers, instead of seeing their role as asking great questions. Giving advice is easy – but when you do, you’re missing out on a chance to develop. Asking the right questions gets employees to see things from a different perspective, and come up with their own answers.

Q: What makes you “skip to work?” (feel fully engaged, energized and ready go?)

A: Coffee. Lots and lots of good, strong coffee. (-:

Q: In your book you list “The 10 Greatest Management Theories, Models, or Methods.” How would you articulate your leadership philosophy? What is most important to you?

A: I wrote a post about this in 2008. In fact, everyone should take the time to write down their leadership values, rules, philosophy, etc.

As I look back at it, I think I’m still following each of these rules:

Dan’s McCarthy’s Leadership Rules:

  1. I fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.
  2.  As a leader, I hold myself accountable to the highest standards of behavior. When making a decision, I ask myself “would I be comfortable with the details of this decision plastered all over the Wall Street Journal or company intranet?” I look at myself as a role model, for my team and others. If there’s even the slightest chance of offending someone, then I keep it to myself. If I see a wrong, I’ll speak up. I won’t “let my hair down” after hours or off-site – as a leader, there is no “on” and “off” switch.
  3.  One of the most important things I’m responsible for is the development and growth of my employees. It’s up to me to make sure they are engaged in meaningful and challenging work that helps them stretch and grow. And in order to help develop others, I need to development myself.
  4.  I’m responsible for creating a team of “A” players. My goal is to hire, retain, and promote only the best. If someone is a C player, my job to is turn them into an A player or help them find another role where they have a better chance to be an A player. I will hold my team accountable to the highest standards or performance and behavior, and offer no apologies for expecting my team to work harder and behave more professionally than other teams around us.
  5.  It’s my job as a leader to ensure my organization’s work is strategic. That is, all of our goals and activities need to be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the larger organization. I owe it to my organization and to every member of my team to ensure our work is meaningful, and will have little tolerance for non-value added work.
  6. Any organization I lead will always have a strategy and goals. Any individual I lead will always have a set of objectives and a development plan.
  7.  I understand and embrace the importance of team meetings and individual 1 on 1s. These meetings are not a nuisance or distraction – they are the day-to-day manifestation of leadership.
  8. I need to be an advocate for my peers and my manager. Their success needs to be as important as my own success. I’m responsible for their development too.
  9. I should be positive and optimistic – about my company, our products and services, our clients, our goals, other departments, etc. I’ll challenge when appropriate, but it will always be with the intention of constructive improvement. Humor is OK – cynicism and sarcasm are not.
  10. As a part of a leadership team, it’s up to all of us to challenge, debate, and speak up when we disagree. But when we leave we leave the room, I’ll respect the final decision, publicly support it, and do all I can to help successfully implement it.
  11. My employees are bright, capable, responsible adults and I need to treat them that way. I am not all-knowing or blessed with superior judgment because of my title. I don’t need to be aware of all details, be involved in all decisions, or dictate how they do their work. Treating employees like children and micromanaging is the ultimate form of disrespect and poor leadership.
  12.  I’m still working on this one – but I need to listen and ask questions, and be open to possibilities. Listening as a leader means fighting the natural urge to evaluate and react, vs. listening to truly understand another’s worldview and consider the possibilities. (Then I can evaluate and react)

Q: What advice other advice do you have?

A: To me, the most rewarding aspect of leadership is developing others. At the end of the day, other than a maybe a handful of individuals like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, few will remember your business accomplishments. But – we all have the ability to help our employees achieve their goals, to help them grow, and to help them reach their full potential. Those are the leaders that will always be remembered.

I’ve been to enough retirement parties, and when the great leaders are celebrated, those are the kind of things they are remembered for, not their business accomplishments.

So what do you want to be remembered for as a leader? What would you like to hear people who you managed saying about you? Now, start doing those things today and tomorrow!

A Strategic Story about Strategic Storytelling

Over the years, I have used strategic storytelling workshops to help drive key messages, build teams, and enhance communication skills. Today, I share the story of how my interest in that began, and why I frequently use it in my leadership today.

The Strategic Story Behind Strategic Storytelling

The Dramatic Beginning

Many years ago back in my HR days, I spent the better part of a year working on an intensive front-line leadership development program. We had interviewed everyone, built the competency models, created the curriculum and worked with vendors to import expertise on specific topics. Then, the whole thing came to a screeching halt.

A big merger was announced, and the program was put “on hold.” Everything was changing leadership, organizational structures, priorities, funding views about certain competencies. It just wasn’t “the biggest rock” at that point. This stuff happens. I understood the dynamics, but I was devastated. All that work and there were still frontline leaders that needed development now. The work wasn’t changing at that level, and we had identified a need. The organization was full of young, inexperienced leaders. And we were young HR leaders, with passion and a cause.

I sat in the conference room with my co-worker with whom I had collaborated on this project. We just looked at one another. What should we do now? After we got over feeling sorry for ourselves, we got to work.

The Story Continues: Storytelling Workshops to Transfer Leadership Mindset

We decided that what we wanted to do most of all was to find a way to “transfer leadership mindset.” The best leaders we saw at the front lines were the ones who had some scar-tissue from experience, combined with other leadership competencies. If only we could help to accelerate the learnings of that experience to others. How could we do that? For free?

Our answer storytelling.

Without announcing our intentions (just a causal whisper to our bosses), we created a series of strategic storytelling workshops designed for various levels of the business.

In these workshops, we would ask each leader to reflect on their own values, priorities, and history and identify a personal story that reflected their approach to leadership. The stories would then be shared with the team, and each leader would offer feedback on their story and delivery. The themes from each story would be discussed and leveraged to create norms for the team (or organization). The participants would work to identify opportunities to incorporate strategic storytelling into their communication plans.

Once we had our strategic storytelling plan, we made appointments to meet with the friendliest senior leaders we knew to sell in our concept. We told our story of delayed funding, and our storytelling solution. We were met with what I can best describe as a “what the heck” response and an invitation to try it in various contexts and levels across the company. The best response was from the exec who had “used strategic storytelling for years.” He then pulled out a pencil-on-graph-paper strategic communication plan matrix with his 3 main messages for the year, and the various stories he would tell in different contexts and levels to reinforce it. Game on!

We held everything from large scale meetings of frontline leaders with storytelling circles to intimate executive teambuilding sessions. The best stories were the ones where the leaders allowed themselves to be vulnerable, which was particularly cathartic and important at this time of changing scenery. (We later captured this technique, key learnings, and a summary of the themes gathered from this key time in an ASTD Storytelling InfoLine (the link I include here mostly for nostalgia, not selling).

So now I ask you

What key messages did you take away from this story?

Afterword

In the years that followed, I have used the storytelling workshop concepts in my own leadership and have facilitated sessions with my own team. Yesterday, I shared a post on Lead Change Group on this and other “Do It Yourself” leadership techniques. I hope you will enjoy. DIY Leadership: Easy Leadership Programs You Can Run Yourself.

Post-Mortem of Success: Questions that Drive Sustained Results

Most great project managers know that it’s important to do a post-mortem after any major undertaking. In my experience, a post-mortem is much more likely to occur when something went terribly wrong. I have heard (and said) in the heat of frustration, “we just need to get through this now, but afterwards we need a very careful post-mortem.”

In this funny and insightful post, Lee Cash, shares the challenges with a traditional post-mortem and how to overcome some of them, The postmortem: what it is and how to survive one.

Postmortem: noun:

  1. An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease
  2. Discussion of an event after it has occurred
  3. A blame fest where, if you’re not careful, you get attributed with everything that’s wrong in the world

In essence, post-mortems are an attempt to review a recent calamity that has befallen the business with the noble intention of isolating the offending causes and making sure they never happen again. The practice nearly always takes the format of a face-to-face meeting (if possible) and involves all of the key players who had a role in the “hiccup”, and hence why you’re all now sitting in a room waiting for the fireworks to happen.

The post-mortem seems less urgent after an over-whelming success. Most of us just celebrate, and then merrily race off to fight our next crises, or build our next remedial action plan.

Why Do a Post-Mortem of Success?

I recently had a celebratory conversation with a leader who was experiencing some fantastic results after months of challenges and struggling metrics. This was turnaround at it’s finest. I was delighted with the progress and wanted to recognize him. We did all that and then, I asked, “what is working and why?”
That’s where we got stumped.
He had theories, I had theories the truth is, so many action plans and efforts had been applied to the problem, we were unsure of which were contributing to the solution.
A bit scary was it the entire cocktail?
How do we isolate the variables?
How would we sustain the progress if we didn’t understand what had worked?
How could the lessons be applied to other areas of the business if we didn’t understand them?

How to Approach a Success Post-Mortem

We decided a deliberate approach was in order. Yup, I ended that celebratory meeting by giving the guy more work. Why, because I believe in the long-run it will save everyone time.

He’s spending time…

  • considering and discussing. what were the expected outcomes of the various interventions?
  • observing: what behaviors have actually changed?
  • measuring: doing deeper dives into the analytics to look for patterns of improvement
  • listening: to folks about what feels better now and why?

Taking the time to understand what is working may be even more vital than learning from our failures.