What Interviewing Curve Balls Say About Your Culture

I was recently interviewed by Fast Company on the effectiveness of “curve ball questions” in the interview process.  When I received the call, I was intrigued. Surely there would be a pro and con, and I was happy to be the con artist.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hiring managers conducting deep interviews to get beyond the BS. But judging competence on a 30 second response to “Who would win a battle between Spiderman and Batman?” places heavy value on a candidate’s ability to BS eloquently rather than lead.

Insightful introverts will lose in this game every time. That is a tragedy.

5 Messages Oozing From Curve Balls

  1. “We’re really smart, hope you can keep up (we don’t know about you, but we’re the bee’s knees.)”
  2. “I’m in charge, figure me out (I’m more important than you.)”
  3. “We love to play games (that make you feel uncomfortable… get used to it.)”
  4. “Form matters more than substance (we value a great gamer… are you tough enough?)”
  5. “There’s more where that came from (we expect you to learn to throw curve balls with your team and teach your high-potentials the art.)”

I’ve watched enough Little League to know that nothing feels more powerful than a curve ball.

But you’re bigger than that. Think wiser.

Yes, yes, go deep in an interview. Here are some ways.

Conduct behavior-based interviews. Dig deep and find out what matters most to them, and how it aligns with your culture. Look for ways your candidates set themselves apart. 

Want to build a game-changing culture? Call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

How to Stop Having Stupid Staff Meetings

I asked the crowd, “Raise your hand if you’ve been to a really stupid staff meeting.” Every hand in the room went up. “Keep your hand up, if you find most staff meetings in your career could have been more efficient.” Nearly all hands stayed raised, with the exception of the new kid, who’s in his first job, sitting next to his current boss. He grins knowingly and stays quiet.

Most meetings suck, but staff meetings are amongst the suckiest. Interestingly, my experience has been that the higher the pay grade of the people in the room, the more stupid they become. And, wasted time gets even more expensive.

Why? Because they’re usually scheduled on regular intervals for a pre-determined period of time, rather than for a specific purpose. Often there’s an agenda, but seldom a concrete plan on how to maximize the experience.

I asked, Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter: Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations about this phenomena:

“They’ve gotten bad because people aren’t thinking about them and take for granted that people will show up. Information sharing is never a good reason to meet–that can be done in different ways. If you don’t have topics that need real conversation, cancel the meeting. If you’ve got real substance to discuss, hold the meeting, but only for as long as you need, with the people who need to be there. Don’t add a “Let’s go around the table for general updates” to fill the time.

3 Great Conversations to Have at Staff Meetings

I asked Paul for some pointers for the best way to generate real conversations at staff meetings

1. Cultural Conversations

Use staff meetings to gain alignment on cultural issues and how you’re going to respond to specific situations. “Let’s kick this around” topics are great.

  • “Let’s talk about how we’re going to address supervisors who are getting great results the wrong way.”
  • “How are we going to respond when someone is chronically late?”
  • “What’s really getting in the way of people using our new system?”

2. The Elephant in the Room

Ask your team, “What are the conversations we’re not having that we should be having?” And then, go there.

3. How We Lead

“Let’s talk about how we’re leading our people. What’s working well? Where do we need help?” It’s particularly valuable to give people a chance to ask for help. “I’ve got this situation and I’d like to get your best thinking…” And then, watch colleagues think out loud about your situation.

Meetings matter. Don’t waste this important opportunity to build powerful connections.

Paul Axtell CREDIT Cindy OfficerFor more information about Paul and his book and for additional resources, visit his site. 

 

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

Succession planning, done well, creates brilliant competitive advantage. Poorly executed, at best it’s a waste of time, and often creates serious havoc on long term performance.

All words I’ve heard in the last 15 days: “Oh, we’re too small to need a formal process.” “Our business is moving so fast we don’t have time for that.” “We’re baby boomers and we don’t know how”(trust me, I would never have included this one until I heard it TWICE this week from different companies looking for help). And the scariest of all, “We’re a family owned-business so the decision is obvious.”

1. Talking People Before Priorities

Before you can decide WHO you need to be sure on WHAT. Think future vision and the competencies that will make that possible. Write them down. Then map your people against those possibilities. Choosing people for tomorrow based exclusively on today’s performance will slow you down.

2. Cloning

What often passes for “executive presence” is a desired mold. Be careful. Sure you want poise, effective communication, and a tidy together look, but the quirky challenger may just what you need to take your strategy to the next level. Too many like minds lead to uninspired strategy.

3. Letting Diversity Trump Common Sense

If you complete your 9 box succession planning grid and it’s all balding white guys with a dry sense of humor in box 9 you clearly have a problem. If it’s a perception problem. by all means challenge one another and make it right.

However, I often find this is less of an issue of discrimination at the succession table, than a problem with hiring and focused leadership development down the line. You can’t make anyone ready for the next level by talking yourselves into it or putting diversity multipliers on executive compensation.

The worse thing you can do is pad your “grid” by sliding diverse candidates into blocks where they don’t belong. Sure, identify opportunities for accelerated growth to make up for lost time. But NEVER promote an unqualified person for diversity reasons. You hurt them, your business, and weaken your diversity strategy.

4. False Consensus

You know you have a true box 9, high potential when every head at the table is chiming in with a resounding “Yes!”

A succession planning conversation without conflict is useless. The very best talent reviews involve robust discussion and lively debate which leads to important next steps (e.g. “You’ve got to know my guy better;” “She needs a stretch assignment.”) If I support your guy so you support mine, the business loses.

5. Ignoring the Plan

The worst succession planning sin of all is going through the motions, and then reverting to the old patterns “just this time” when it comes to promotion. Trust me, they next thing on everyone’s mind the next time you want to hold such a meeting is “Why bother?”

Don’t short change your talent strategy. The right people, at the right place, at the right time, will change the game. Be sure you’re prepared.

 

Karin Hurt, CEOIf you’re struggling with succession planning, I can help. I’ve facilitated hundreds of succession planning discussions over the years from the executive level, through merger integration, and at the frontline. Succession planning is worth doing well. Please give me a call for a free consultation, 443-750-1249.

5 Ways to Become a LinkedIn Ninja

Building a strong LinkedIn network takes time. Scrambling to build a profile and connections when your current position has suddenly become “qualified manager seeking opportunities” is not attractive. I hear this again and again from my speaking audiences– stories of folks who waited too late and then had to scramble.

And if you think LinkedIn really doesn’t matter, know that Pew Research  found that 98% of Recruiters and 85% of hiring managers use LinkedIn.

Even if you’re absolutely sure you’ll never need another job again, know that for many professionals, LinkedIn is their go-to tool to see what the folks they are meeting are all about. A strong LinkedIn profile could be the tipping point for landing that board position, or inspiring your current employer to notice the diversity of your background and how your professional point of view is playing in the marketplace.

5 Ways to Become a LinkedIn Ninja

No. LinkedIn is not paying me to promote their site. I’m just worried that many in our LGL tribe have profiles that could use a little Ninja-like magic.

1. Leverage Your Weapons

LinkedIn provides you with all the tools you need to have your very own, completely free, easy to use, personal branding website. Why not?

Most underused tool:  Blog posting

Yes. You can write a blog about anything pertaining to your expertise, and upload it to your profile. People read them, and learn about you and something you care about. This is brilliant. I wonder now if I ever would have started my blog if this were an option a few years ago. Even if you’re not considering becoming a blogger, a few well-written points of view will differentiate you from the crowd.  P.S. If you’ve done this, add your link to the comments and I’ll help promote.

Second most underused tool: Video

Put on some make-up and brush your hair. Put up a black sheet against your kid’s bedroom wall, and share your professional message. It doesn’t take much to make your profile pop with video.

2. Prepare

Ninjas show up strong prepared for battle. They do their homework. Get a great headshot in professional clothes. Take time to flesh out your profile with accomplishments (including % improvement etc), not just actions or job descriptions.

3. Take an Interest in Others

Pick a few salient interest groups and show up, first Ninja like, commenting, sharing information and inviting a few folks with shared interests to connect. Once your “group contribution level” grows, you can start initiating and engaging your own conversations, which I guarantee will draw attention to your message and catalyze new connections.

4. Exert Effort

Consistency is key. Carve out 15 minutes a day a few times a week to show up. Accept invitations, invite a few others. Take the stack of business cards you brought home from the conference and send each an invitation to connect along with something of value (e.g. a link to a great article).

5. Know the Nuances

Take a minute to understand how LinkedIn works. The biggest mistake is not turning “notify your network” to “off” when working on profile changes. If you screw this up, everytime you change a word due to spell check, your crew will be notified. Turn it off, make your changes and then notify them all at once with your spectacular new profile.

That’s a start. I’d love to hear your stories of LinkedIn Success. I envision a day when every LGL subscriber has a rock-star LinkedIn profile serving them well.

Experts Share Advice on Inspiring Breakthrough Results: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our March Festival is all about inspiring breakthrough results. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Festival is all about “Spring Cleaning” for your leadership or team (e.g. renew, refresh, planting seeds). New contributors welcome.

The Internal Side of Breakthrough Results

The achievements of an organization are the result of the combined efforts of each individual. – Vince Lombardi

Wally Bock of Three-Star Leadership reminds us that breakthrough results and business success take more than smarts. Guts and discipline count, too. Follow Wally.

Michelle Cubas of Positive Potentials reminds us that breakthrough results are often like “overnight sensations.” We all know or heard of people who have come “out of nowhere” and were the next big thing. Stop there—Not true. See why . . .  Follow Michelle.

Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding points out that breakthrough leaders are curious.  They enjoy turning rocks, are willing to get dirty and courageously face the squiggly things they discover.  And those discoveries inspire change and results.   Follow Chery.

Bruce Harpham of Project Management Hacks helps us learn how George Washington laid the foundation for breakthrough results in the American Revolution and beyond. He mastered these four career hacks before he turned 25. Follow Bruce. 

Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America advises that breakthrough results can be achieved by companies that proactively build trust into their business strategy. If you don’t think a business case for trust exists, this article may change your mind. Follow Barbara.

Scott Mautz of the Make It Matter blog helps us discover a formula that expresses how an organization’s energy is derived, and provides the four questions leaders can ask themselves to avoid sapping precious energy from the quest for breakthrough results. Follow Scott.

From  Matt McWilliams of MattMcWilliams.comThese four words are what helped a shy assistant nearly set a company record for sales…in her first week. Less than two years later, she scored in the top 1% on the SHRM exam as she transitioned into HR management. It all started with these four words.  Follow Matt.

Jennifer Miller of the People Equation explores what happens when you’re just plain stuck. Try these four tips to help you break through the mental clutter.  Follow Jennifer.

Michelle Pallas of Michelle Pallas, Inc. asks and answers: “Want breakthrough results? Change you!” Follow Michelle.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame  shares that you can’t achieve breakthrough results until you have the confidence to show up and lead from your truth, not from behind an illusion of perfection.  Follow Alli.

LaRae Quy of Mental Toughness Center observes that when we stop striving to do our best, we become complacent. We settle into a comfort zone that produces mediocrity, and it takes mental toughness to break out of that rut.  Follow LaRae.

The External Side of  Breakthrough Results

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited gives pointers on setting goals with your team that will achieve breakthrough results. Follow Beth.

David Couper of Improving Police suggests that to inspire breakthrough results, a leader must: deeply listen to others (including dissent), oversee a quality training program, model an engaged style of leadership, create a system of improvement, be data-driven and sustain improvements. Follow David.

David Dye of Trailblaze, Inc. shares the most important five minutes you’ll spend to get clarity, accountability, and breakthrough results after your team stumbles upon a breakthrough idea. Follow David.

From John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement blog: Breakthrough results don’t always require remarkable innovation or even radical change.  Often incredible results are the result of creating a system that is continually improving and over time hundreds of actions build and help achieve breakthrough results.  Building such a management system takes great care. Follow John.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference shares that as leaders we can get caught up in the hard-core metrics when we’re measuring results, but what if we also focused on heart? Heart delivers a confidence to make the places we work and live better with each week, month and year. Follow Jon.

Skip Pritchard of Leadership Insights shares, “Have you ever seen the massive pumpkins that compete for the world’s largest title? Thousands of pounds, these champion growers credit the good seed, good soil, and good luck. What I learned about breakthrough results mirrors what I learned from these monster pumpkins!” Follow Skip.

Jesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center points us toward research study into teams that create breakthrough results, identifying these six benchmarks of high performance teams. How does your team stack up? Follow Jesse Lyn.

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context shares how respect is incredibly important. In the quest to create workplaces where people can find meaning and do their best work, she believes that we need to aim much higher. Follow Linda.

frontlinefestival-300x300-300x300Call for Submissions. The April Frontline Festival is about Spring Cleaning for your leadership or team (e.g. renew, refresh, planting seeds). Please send your submissions no later than April 10th. New participants welcome. Click here to join in!

3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

“Oh she didn’t copy me on purpose.” “He’s withholding information to make my life harder.” “Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.” “Why would she put something that important in email?” “What’s that supposed to mean anyway?” “Why did she copy my boss?”

Some teams spend more time second guessing the intent behind poor communication than working to improve it.

3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

 

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
-George Bernard Shaw

1. Assuming mal-intent

Sure people play games… but not most of us, most of the time.  Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.

I’ll never forget the time a peer executive left me off a meeting invite. Our departments had some competing priorities, and I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of his intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when he asked me to move one of my meetings around so he could attend. As the drama unravelled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that, an oversight.

We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.

2. Hiding behind email

Email is fast and easy, but rarely effective for important communication. Never assume “they got the memo,” and your work is done. Don’t use email as a way to communicate bad news, or as a way to escalate over a peer’s head by copying their boss.

The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email’s a great supporting tool, but rarely plays well as the lead medium.

3. Failure to write down decisions

I’ve seen great teams with excellent communication skills break down because they miss this simple step. High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with next steps and timeline.

With all that discussion, I often find team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.

Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.

Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team–trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.

talkingteams-02-3DFor specific exercises to get your team talking, download my FREE ebook, Talking Teams: 9 Easy to Implement Exercises to Inspire Confident Humility and Achieve Breakthrough Results. 

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Employee Engagement

Great entrepreneural companies have a passionate spirit that feels like a gust of warm wind sweeping you off your feet as you walk through their door. It may be a bit hectic, but you want to tighten your shoelaces and run along. I’ve been working with some of these guys on strategy and growth, and it’s an exhilarating journey.

There are challenges of course, but I’m not finding them in the employee engagement arena. Employees are volunteering to help with the enthusiasm of Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter. 

I’ve also seen companies rush to get (or stay) big, and lose their edge. Vision turns into secret plans for the inner circle, lawyers cautioning against transparency, building a diversity “strategy” that translates into babble and ratios, leaders turning to HR for employee engagement, and somewhere along the line, someone deciding it’s time to start “stack ranking” performance.

As you become bigger, never forget the joy and freedom of being small.

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Engagement

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.” -Aescuylus

1. Be Real, Fun, Involved, and Empowering

An entrepreneurial CEO recently brought me in to help build leadership bench strength. Rather than “train,”  we built a vision, identified priorities and then a business case for a program with a significant spend but a massive ROI.

The CEO stayed out of the room until the team presented their “case” along with theme music and dramatic visuals at the end of the day. His eyes glistened, and his comments were brief, “If this works, this will be gold.” Then he laughed and said. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He then came back with a large, professionally printed version of a previous plan to tackle the same issue that had failed. He said one word. “Execution.”

After his eight word caution, he funded the project.

They executed flawlessly.

A well-mannered, “I believe in you, don’t screw this up,” goes a long way.

2. Keep the Vision Visible

Despite the obvious common sense nature of this statement, I’m always surprised at how rare this is. Sure you’ve got to hold some stuff close to the vest, but if you’re having employees sign “non-disclosures” right and left or are keeping your true strategy confined to a small inner circle, know there are a lot of dots not getting connected and a lot of brains thinking small because they don’t have the perspective to think bigger.

Folks feel the secrecy, which leads to a fast growing feeling of “If you don’t trust me, why should I bother?” Bothered and included leads to brilliance. Share enough information to stir positive, proactive angst.

3. Stay Humble

Small companies have the common sense to know they can’t know it all, and are not afraid to learn, read, and bring in extra support. I’ve only heard, “I really need to get smarter in this arena” from the small guys.

When you think you already know, you don’t learn.

In a fast-changing world, the confident and humble will outsmart and out run “I’ve got this.” Every time.

Be real, open and humble. Think smaller to think bigger.

employee engagementToday’s image is a word cloud based on your awesome comments (and emails) on Friday’s post, defining “employee engagement.” If you missed the chance to add your definition click here 

 

The Real Definition of Employee Engagement

Ever since Gallup revealed their findings that 70% of workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged in their work, “employee engagement” has been all the buzz. Quite frankly, none of this is new, and anyone reading this blog knows that and is working hard to change the game.

Tonight, I started to write a different post (which I’ll save for Monday), but got sidetracked when for grins, I looked up Employee Engagement in the Urban Dictionary, searching for a pithy opener. I was shocked by the search results:

urban-dictionary

employee engagement isn’t defined.

Can you define it?

Game on.

Let’s do this!  Please leave your best definitions in the comment section here, and I’ll upload your responses (or just go for it and upload your own to Urban Dictionary). What an opportunity to tell the truth. Of course consider the medium–you’ll want to be “hip.”

P.S. my son Sebastian (9) reminded me the other day (after I commented on how “hip” he looked) that neither of us would know “hip” if it bit us in the butt… but “the way we looked now, was about as good as it gets.”

With that said, I’m quite sure our hip crowd is up to the challenge.

5 Ways to Strengthen Trust With Weak Ties

I would describe our meeting as a roll of the dice. Perhaps someday we will upgrade our relationship to “weak ties,” but yesterday we were just 2/850 at the Great Ideas Conference chatting through our freebie Hyatt sunglasses over lunchtime brisket and gluten-free potato salad. “Joe,” the CEO (named substituted for anonymity and rhyme), seemed genuinely intrigued by our LGL mission. He works with significant innovators (with a capital I– think people who will invent the next product you must have and will be willing to spend too much for.)

“Karin, what I’d be most interested to hear from you is how you build trust with weak ties. We depend on that. Getting true innovators to connect with and trust one another online and around the globe is a vital ingredient of real progress.”

Game on. I’ve got perspective (as Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory is arguably my favorite communcation theory of all time), but I’m sure our LGL tribe is up to the challenge. Let’s go help Joe (and others ready to go) make positive change in our world.

5 Ways to Strengthen Trust With Weak Ties

All the components of the Green’s trust equation still apply (credibility + reliability + intimacy/ self orientation)

1. Share expertise (Credibility)

Share your good stuff. Showing up with real expertise will attract other curious and innovative souls. The more people are talking about your ideas, the higher the probability of being introduced to other experts with complementary or challenging views.

2. Respect Others Consistently (Reliability)

I’m always amazed at the stupidity of those who check out credentials before helping. Or treat folks differently based on letters behind their name or klout scores. Discriminatory respect ignores the strength of weak ties theory. Treat everyone with deep respect and you’ll be known as the “really great guy (or gal)” others “just have to meet.” The brother of the intern you met in the forum may turn out to be just who you need on your next project.

3. Do What You Say (Reliability)

It’s certainly easier to blow off a commitment to a weak tie than a colleague. You don’t have to help everyone, but if you say you will, do.

4. Be Real (Intimacy)

Don’t be a snob or tell us how wonderful you are, just show us through your ideas and engagement. Share a bit about yourself as a person. Be honest about where you’re stuck. Whether you’re around the world or sitting in the cube next door, human beings want to work with other human beings.

5. Give generously without expectation (Self-Orientation)

If you’re just out for yourself, people will smell it and tell their weak ties. Social media makes it easy folks, to warn the world. In my own collaborations, I’m consistently being warned of when to steer clear. “Trust checks” are often only a DM (Twitter Direct Message) away. (See also:  7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down.)

People trust people who know what they’re doing, who show up consistently with a generous heart. Be that guy, and your weak ties will quickly tighten into trusted bonds of true collaboration.

Other LGL Fun

Karin Hurt, CEO

I’ve had some fun with media interviews this week. A Fortune article on the hottest job trends, and Blogging and Marketing Tips by Experts on FirstSiteGuide and a round-up of most vital leaderhip characteristics. Tip: Blogging is a great way to give generously. Check out Matt Banner’s updated guide to starting a blog here.

The Score Isn’t the Game

Sarah’s face winced as the hourly stack rankings beeped through her smart phone. She didn’t have to say a word, I knew that look from the inside out. I’ve been on the frantic receiving end of such beeps. Hourly results coming in 15 times a day–quality, efficiency, sales–all neatly stack ranked as a constant reminder I wasn’t doing enough. And just in case the beeps didn’t get my attention, at least one or two of the hourly blasts were typically followed up by a call from my boss, “Have you seen the numbers?”

Sarah interrupted my painful flashback. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to huddle the team. We’ve got to get to 94 by the end of the day.” “What are you planning as your key message?” I asked. She looked at me as if I was crazy, “94.”

When I met with her team later in the day and asked what success looked like, I got more of the same.

“94, 540, and 56.” Well, at least they were consistent.

5 Ways Focusing on the Score Lowers Performance

Metrics matter. A balanced scorecard, with well-selected KPIs, will reinforce your strategy and align actions with goals. But when the metrics are the message, the business suffers. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, check your messaging. Don’t let the urgency of a stack rank distract your team from a long-term win.

1. False Sense of Competition

A sure sign the stack rank is holding you back is an inflated sense of internal competition. If, “We’ve got to beat Joe” is a louder rally cry than “Make a genuine connection with every customer,” or ______(insert your most important business behavior here), your smack talk is backfiring and it’s time to regroup.

2. Gaming

I’m always astounded by the creativity and lengths some employees will go to game the system. If they would spend as much time improving the quality of their work than working the work around, they’d be knocking results out of the park. Talking only to metrics encourages such gaming, which wastes time and often gets people fired.

3. Volatile Performance

You can’t truly respond to metrics on an hourly (or even daily) basis. And your reaction is likely more annoying than helpful. If metrics go up when you rant, scream, or dress like a superhero, and then come right back down, take a step back and plan a consistent approach to reinforce key behaviors, again and again– five times, five different ways.

4. Unintended Consequences

If “I fixed this, but broke that” sounds like the sad country music soundtrack of your team’s performance, you’re likely focused on one or two KPIs, rather than the key game-changing behaviors that will lead to lasting performance. In every business there are one or two vital behaviors that will improve your overall scorecard. Be sure you’re focusing on those early and often, and use them as foundation from which to build.

5. Stupid Decisions

This happens at all levels, but can be particularly disastrous when an executive becomes focused on a short-term adrenaline shot to force up results. “Oh sure we can bring on 500 people in 10 weeks to get the contract” is not rational thinking. Focus decisions on what will lead to consistent upward trends and sustained performance.

The secret to sustained results over time is identifying the behaviors that matter and executing on them every day. Respond to consistent improvement and celebrate upward trends, not flash in the pan reactions to an urgent call to action.

improve customer service

The Score Isn’t the Game

Sarah’s face winced as the hourly stack rankings beeped through her smart phone. She didn’t have to say a word, I knew that look from the inside out. I’ve been on the frantic receiving end of such beeps. Hourly results coming in 15 times a day–quality, efficiency, sales–all neatly stack ranked as a constant reminder I wasn’t doing enough. And just in case the beeps didn’t get my attention, at least one or two of the hourly blasts were typically followed up by a call from my boss, “Have you seen the numbers?”

Sarah interrupted my painful flashback. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to huddle the team. We’ve got to get to 94 by the end of the day.” “What are you planning as your key message?” I asked. She looked at me as if I was crazy, “94.”

When I met with her team later in the day and asked what success looked like, I got more of the same.

“94, 540, and 56.” Well, at least they were consistent.

5 Ways Focusing on the Score Lowers Performance

Metrics matter. A balanced scorecard, with well-selected KPIs, will reinforce your strategy and align actions with goals. But when the metrics are the message, the business suffers. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, check your messaging. Don’t let the urgency of a stack rank distract your team from a long-term win.

1. False Sense of Competition

A sure sign the stack rank is holding you back is an inflated sense of internal competition. If, “We’ve got to beat Joe” is a louder rally cry than “Make a genuine connection with every customer,” or ______(insert your most important business behavior here), your smack talk is backfiring and it’s time to regroup.

2. Gaming

I’m always astounded by the creativity and lengths some employees will go to game the system. If they would spend as much time improving the quality of their work than working the work around, they’d be knocking results out of the park. Talking only to metrics encourages such gaming, which wastes time and often gets people fired.

3. Volatile Performance

You can’t truly respond to metrics on an hourly (or even daily) basis. And your reaction is likely more annoying than helpful. If metrics go up when you rant, scream, or dress like a superhero, and then come right back down, take a step back and plan a consistent approach to reinforce key behaviors, again and again– five times, five different ways.

4. Unintended Consequences

If “I fixed this, but broke that” sounds like the sad country music soundtrack of your team’s performance, you’re likely focused on one or two KPIs, rather than the key game-changing behaviors that will lead to lasting performance. In every business there are one or two vital behaviors that will improve your overall scorecard. Be sure you’re focusing on those early and often, and use them as foundation from which to build.

5. Stupid Decisions

This happens at all levels, but can be particularly disastrous when an executive becomes focused on a short-term adrenaline shot to force up results. “Oh sure we can bring on 500 people in 10 weeks to get the contract” is not rational thinking. Focus decisions on what will lead to consistent upward trends and sustained performance.

The secret to sustained results over time is identifying the behaviors that matter and executing on them every day. Respond to consistent improvement and celebrate upward trends, not flash in the pan reactions to an urgent call to action.

5 Mistakes to Avoid During a Restructure

Times of downsizing and restucture require every ounce of confident humility you can muster. Your team is starving for information, reassurance, guidance and support. And quite frankly, I’m amazed at how many leaders totally screw this up. In part I blame lawyers that scare the humanity and common sense out of otherwise sensible human beings. But mostly, it’s layers of people not thinking through what it means to be at the other end of the conversation. Every one of these mistakes comes from real stories I’ve heard or witnessed in the last year.

1. Communicating Prematurely

“We’ve got some exciting changes next year which will include an important restructure to streamline efficiencies and operations. More to come after the holidays.” Seriously? Queue the massive energy drain, distraction, resume writing, sleepless nights, worried conversations, LinkedIn surfing, and butt kissing. Don’t communicate until you’ve got tangible information about structure and process. I’m all for transparency, but vague vision without information does nothing to inspire trust or engagement. Wait to say something until you know what you’re doing.

2. Restructuring in Waves

Common in large companies, “the planning team” thinks it make sense to go one department at a time. I get it from a workload point of view, but consider the ripple effect. The stress and rumors circle the company like a wave of hands moving across the stadium. “Where are they headed next?” “How many people got laid off?” “What process did they use?” “Did the good guys land?” You’ve taken what could have been a month’s worth of restructuring and spread the pain and suffering out across nine months to a year.

3. Sloppy Administration

“My direct report just found out his job was eliminated by an email, before I even knew it.” Even I couldn’t believe this stupidity. As it turned out it was a glitch in an HR system that got the proverbial cart ahead of the horse. I’ve experienced it directly too. I once received the entire restructuring plan, including all impacted names, intended for another “Karin.” I deleted it immediately and told the sender. A disgruntled employee could easily have sent it to the Wall Street Journal.

4. Not Thinking Through the Details

“I’ve got 60 days to find a job.”

“And what happens if you don’t?”

“I get a package.”

“What does the package include?”

“They haven’t decided yet.”

Before you tell someone there job is impacted, image the next five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes. If you don’t have the answers, get them first.

5. Underestimating the Angst

“And it’s important that no one miss a beat during this time, we’ve got work to do.” Of course that’s true, but if people are worried about their livelihood, they’ll put first things first. Pretending a big deal is no big deal will just reduce your credibility. Be available for support and as a sounding board. Give them the time they need to process, and they’ll likely go back to work more focused.

Restructuring is often a necessary, bold leadership move. Be sure your execution is as solid as your plan.