How to make 2018 your best year ever.

5 Ways to Differentiate Your Performance in the New Year

“But I exceeded all my objectives. Why am I not rating ‘leading?’ ”

It’s a frustrating conversation no matter which side of the desk you’re on. The truth is, in most companies, meeting or exceeding your objectives is not enough to stand out. In a stack-ranked world, you’ve got to make a bigger strategic impact.

5 Ways to Differentiate Your Performance in the New Year

Whether you’re looking for ways to take your own performance to the next level, or to help a frustrated team member stand out, here are a few proven strategies to make  2018 your best year ever.

1. Know what matters most.

Have you ever noticed it’s not necessarily the times in your career that you worked the longest or hardest that got the most positive attention? Sure sometimes there’s a correlation, but chances are it’s more a matter of finding that sweet spot where your skills and talents matched a strategic business need and pointing all your energy in that direction. You’ve got at least 37 priorities on your plate, you can’t exceed expectations on all of them. Talk to your manager,  know what matters most, and be sure you nail that.

Ask:

“What’s the most important thing I (or my team) needs to accomplish to really impact the business this year?”

Or, I know everything on this scorecard is important, but if I had to fail at something, which of these metrics matters the least, and what do you want me to really blow out of the water?

Or even, “Imagine we’re sitting here this time next year, and you’re blown away by my (my team’s) performance… what would I (we) have accomplished?”

2. Fix something broken.

What’s not working that’s driving everyone crazy? What process could be made more efficient? What can you do to improve the customer experience (not just once) but systematically? How can you make work more efficient not just for you, but for your peers as well? Find something broken and fix it.

3. Build a clear cadence of communication.

Be the guy that makes everyone’s lives easier through a clear cadence of communication up, down and sideways. Treat everyone’s time as a precious resource. Hold meetings that people actually want to attend. Come buttoned up to one-on-ones with your manager, with a clear agenda (this tool will help).

4. Strengthen strategic peer relationships.

Great work never happens in a vacuum. Invest time in building strategic peer relationships where you truly understand, and help one another to achieve, your interdependent objectives. Nothing frustrates senior managers more than dysfunctional turf wars that distract people from doing the right thing for the business and for your customers. Your competition is not the department down the hall, it’s mediocrity.

5. Invest in your own development.

I once had a mentor who said, “Some people have 10 years of experience and other folks have 1 year of experience 10 times.”  Even if you’re not changing roles, be sure you’re constantly learning and growing. Have a clear development plan that stretches you and helps you contribute more to the business each year.

If you want to truly differentiate your contribution–go beyond what’s necessary for today, and work to make a broader impact for your customers, for the business, and for those around you.

Your turn. What’s your best advice for building a year of truly differentiated performance?

See Also our Fast Company Article: 10 Common Excuses that Silently Damage Manager’s Careers

How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

When I started my first HR job at 26, my boss handed me a stack of books and two pieces of advice. (1) Always read what the client is reading and (2) learn to “talk trucks” (meaning, “learn the business, kid.”) Straight out of grad school and fired up about all I thought I knew, the reading part was perfect for me. I think she was worried I’d be telling the guys three levels up what to read (and think), and far better to meet them where they were with a little humility.

And the second piece of advice, “talking trucks,” learning the business so well that I could add real value and perspective to the conversation, was PRICELESS.

I spent as much time learning the business as I did doing HR. Back then I thought when someone said,  “You’re the least HR-y HR person I know” that was a compliment. My approach didn’t always sit well with some of the old-school HR execs, who would remind me to “Remember who’s side I was on.” My team and I stayed the course, and always strove to be business people first, who happen to have expertise in HR.

A decade later when I pivoted from HR exec to a variety of field executive assignments in customer service and sales, I was shocked at how few HR managers supporting my team truly understood the business. They’d come in talking about constraints and rules and time to hire stats that all sounded like a big “why we can’t” do the things that, with a bit of HR creativity, we surely could.

Four Ways to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

Today we work with a wide range of clients from fast-growing start-ups to those with large corporations with employees scattered around the globe. A clear common denominator of those executing well, growing deliberately in size and margin, and building engaging cultures,  is they have a strong, STRATEGIC HR team, who get it, and because they do, they have a seat at the table. They influence from the inside.

If your HR team isn’t there quite yet, here are a few good places to start

  1. Align HR process measures to business outcomes.
    When I took over in my first executive HR role, one of the first things we did was change our scorecard to align with business outcomes. Of course, we kept some vital HR favorites (e.g  attrition in the first 90 days; time to fill positions; diversity distribution) but we added in revenue and customer experience targets as well. My team went nuts at first. “We can’t control NPS, why should our bonus depend on it?” Welcome to every manager you’re supporting’s world. They can’t control it all either. Great teams share common goals, and as HR professionals we need to be part of the team, not outside. How you train new hires impacts the customer experience and sales. The employee engagement support does too. If our programs, policies, and procedures don’t ultimately have a business impact, we’re focused on the wrong things.
  2. Share sensitive information.
    If you can’t trust your HR team with sensitive information, why in the world would you entrust them to manage your companies’ most important asset– your people? If you don’t have an HR team you can trust, fix that. If you do, err on the side of letting them in. The number one reason people can’t think strategically is that they lack information and context. Share what you can. Have them sign internal NDAs if that helps. But the longer you wait on sharing your (fill in the blank here) merger intentions, location closings, reductions in force, new product launches, etc. the less time they have to be proactive and help you plan a solid execution strategy. HR practitioners all over the world complain of being brought in too late in the game to make a difference. They’re left punting–doing the best they can with the situation they’ve been handed and frustrated with what they know they could have done if they only had a few more months to plan and execute.
  3. Rotate them through a field assignment.
    Do you have a high-potential HR manager you’re grooming for a larger role? I know it feels like cutting off your right arm now, but an 18-month assignment in a field role could make all the difference. If they come back to HR, great, they’ll understand the business pressures so much more. If they chose to stay in the field, they’ll be applying all their HR knowledge to building great cultures and leading effective teams. Either way, you win.

    A pivotal point in my career was when a senior leader I had been supporting as an HR business partner, looked at me and said, “Karin, you’re young in your career (I was then) and if you don’t go get some field experience soon, the very best you can be here is a VP of HR. I think you can do more. If you want to go back into HR after the field assignment, cool, you’ll be that much stronger.” Three months later I found myself leading a bunch of B2B call centers for which I had no experience. Now I was not telling people how to lead, I was leading from the deep end and learning the business through a fire hose. Then I rotated back into HR for a turnaround effort of the training organization, and then back to the field to lead a 2200 person retail sales team (a role for which every ounce of HR training came in helpful.) If you want your HR team to truly understand the business, let them lead it.
  4. Foster a “how can we” attitude
    I still run into companies that view their HR teams as police or a hurdle to get through. Work with your HR team to listen carefully to new ideas and strategies and start with a “How can we?” attitude to identify creative ideas to be part of the solution. 

Your turn. How do you help your HR team to be more strategic?

I enjoyed speaking at the SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. We are happy to be a recertification provider. Please drop me a note at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com to learn more!

 

One awful but common leadership practice and what to do instead

One Awful (but Common) Leadership Practice and What To Do Instead

It’s nearly a leadership cliché:

“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.”

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a harried manager barking these words at you. You may even have said them yourself.

I’ve delivered many keynote programs and workshops where frontline leaders in the audience approach me afterward and proudly announce how they are in the habit of telling their people not to bring a problem without a solution.

Some of them even mean well. They believe that they’re helping their people. Others just want people and their problems to go away. They’re usually surprised at my response:

Please stop.

Unintended Consequences

Here’s the thing, if you’re in a leadership role, yes, your executives can fairly expect you to think things through and bring solutions (particularly when you’ve got bad news – see the D.A.R.N. Method). You’ve got the experience and responsibility to be able to own your problems and look for answers.

However, your employees are a different audience. Telling employees not to bring a problem without a solution is careless and lazy.

They may not know how to problem solve. They may lack critical thinking skills. They may not have the training or information they need to arrive at reasonable solutions.

The problem with telling people “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is that when they don’t know how to come up with solutions, you’ve essentially just told them, “Don’t bring me a problem.”

Now you’ve got people mucking about with problems they can’t solve and that they won’t bring to you. The problems fester, productivity and service decline, and everyone is frustrated.

There’s a better way.

Help Employees Learn to Think Critically and Solve Problems

The answer is definitely not to play the hero and jump in with answers. The immediate problems might get solved and work continues, but next time an issue comes up, your team still can’t figure it out for themselves and, worse, you’ve now taught them that if things get difficult, you’ll just figure it out for them.

Yes, you’re the hero, but say goodbye to your own productivity!

What they really need from you in these moments are your questions: the kind of questions that focus on learning and the future. Questions that generate ideas and solutions.

Examples include:

  • What is your goal?
  • What did you try?
  • What happened?
  • Do you need a specific skill or tool to be able to solve this?
  • What would you do next time?
  • What do you think will happen when you try that?
  • What will you do?
  • Super-bonus question – keep reading to learn this powerful tool!

Assuming that your staff have the basic skills, training, and materials they need to do their jobs, this conversation doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes. For a complex project, it might take the time required to drink a cup of coffee, but it shouldn’t take much longer than that.

Now, you might be wondering what to do if the person replies to one of your questions with, “I don’t know.”

Don’t despair – it’s time to use the super-bonus question. When a team member says, “I don’t know,” most managers will then jump in and supply the answer, but not you. There’s a better way.

“I don’t know” can mean many things. Rarely does it mean the person has zero thoughts about the issue.

More often, “I don’t know” translates to:

  • “I’m uncertain.”
  • “I don’t want to commit before I know where you stand.”
  • “I haven’t thought about it yet.”
  • “I don’t want to think about it.”
  • “Will you please just tell me what to do?”
  • “I’m scared about getting it wrong.”

Your job as a leader is to continue the dialogue – to ease the person through their anxiety and train their brain to engage. This is where the super-bonus question comes in.

With one question you can re-engage them in the conversation and move through “I don’t know” to productivity.

When someone says, “I don’t know,” your super-bonus question is: “What might you do if you did know?”

Before you judge this tool, try it.

Try it with your children, with your co-workers, or with the person next to you in a coffee shop. In any conversation where someone says, “I don’t know,” respond with a gentle, “What might you do if you did know?” and watch what happens.

It’s like magic.

The person who was stymied two seconds ago will start to share ideas (often good ones) brainstorm solutions, and move on as if they were never stuck. It’s amazing and hard to believe until you try it.

The super-bonus question works because it addresses the source of the person’s “I don’t know.” If they were anxious or fearful, it takes the pressure off by creating a hypothetical situation: “If you did know…” Now they don’t have to be certain or look for your approval and they become free to share whatever they might have been thinking.

If they hadn’t thought about the issue or didn’t want to think about it, you’ve lowered the perceived amount of thought-energy they must expend. You’re not asking for a thesis on the subject, just a conversational “What might you do…”

Our brains can do amazing work when we remove the emotional blocks. When you do this for your team, you train their brain to engage, to push through their ordinary blocks, and increase their performance. Ultimately, they will be able to have these conversations with themselves and will only need to bring the very serious issues to you.

You’ll know you’re succeeding in asking healthy questions when a team member tells you: “I had a problem. I was going to come and talk it over with you, but then I thought, you’re just going to ask me all these questions. So I asked myself all the questions instead and I figured it out.”

Celebrate those moments and encourage them to start asking those questions of the people around them. You’ve just increased your team’s capacity for problem-solving, freed up time to focus on your work, and…you’ve built a leader!

Your Turn

Before you bark “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” remember that when a team member has trouble thinking through a problem, good questions are your best solution.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in your team?

Four Powerful Ways to Get Helpful Feedback From Your Peers

I’m sure you ask your boss for feedback. And, I imagine you’re checking in with your direct reports regularly on how you’re doing. If you’re like many managers we work with, you may be less inclined to ask your peers for their perspective.

Why? Let’s face it, your peers are not always the friendliest source. In some companies, peers can feel more like “competitors” for resources, a position in the stack rank, or bonus funding. And it’s just possible peers in other departments are the folks most ticking you off: the finance guy who doesn’t see the value in funding your project; or the woman in IT who always has 10 reasons why what you want can’t be done.

Four Ways to Get Helpful Feedback From Your Peers

Your peers see how you act under stress and behind closed doors in ways you might not show your boss or your team. Like the time I regretfully let the F-bomb fly at a peer (#NotRecommendedWinningWellBehavior).

Are you seen as a team player? Do you share resources or just look out for your own team and objectives? How do you act when things don’t go your way? Chances are your peers have a pretty good sense of how you act when “no one is looking.” See also Eight Reasons Your Peers Rate You Low on Your 360 Assessment  

Here are four ways to get more helpful feedback from your peers.

  1. Make It About More Than You

    Like it or not, sometimes your peers may also see YOU as a competitor and question your motives for seeking out feedback. Your request for insight is more compelling when you ground it in a desire to improve the business or the customer experience.  “What do you think I could do differently to create an even better experience for our customers?” “I really care about our team effectiveness, what specifically do you think I could do to help our team collaborate better?” “This project is on such a tight deadline, what specifically can I do to make our work processes more efficient?”

  2. Model it

    Want great feedback from your peers? Start by being a great feedback giver. Be the guy who your peers can count on to tell them the real deal. Be generous with your specific and timely praise, and develop trust so that they are interested in what else you have to say. It will be that much easier when you turn around and ask, “And how do you think I could be more impactful?”

  3. Get Specific

    “Do you have any feedback for me?” Is likely to be met with a generic “No, man, you’re doing great,” response. This might feel good, but is not all that useful. Instead try, “What is one behavior I could change that would make me more impactful on this project?” Or, “I’m really working on improving my communication skills, can you give me one suggestion to help me improve my communication with you?”

    Once they give you one idea, then you can always say, “Great! Thank you. What else?”  Or you can take it one step further and conduct a  DIY 360.

  4. Respond

    If they’re right, act on it. And if you think it’s B.S., ask a few more folks for their perspective. The best way to get more feedback is to accept it graciously. Even if you don’t agree, always say thank you.

    See also: How Do I get my peers to trust me?  

Your turn. What are your best tips for soliciting feedback from peers?

improve customer service

Three Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Customer Experience

I love NPS programs (Net Promoter Score)--when they’re designed and executed well. When I was at Verizon,  The Ultimate Question was required reading for every manager on my team.

And today, most of my clients use NPS in one way or another and we work to ensure that their internal metrics are helpful indicators of the view from the outside.

But when implemented poorly, I’ve seen NPS programs tick off valued customers who otherwise were having a reasonable customer experience.

If you haven’t kicked the tires on your NPS program for a while, be sure you’re focused on the three vital areas.

Three Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Culture

  1. Incent your employees to play the game, not game the score. Last week I was eating at a diner at BWI airport. I couldn’t help but overhear as the overly cheesy waiter with the bad jokes and the mixed up drink orders serving the couple at the table next to me offered to “Take 5 bucks off their bill right now” if they would take the online survey  and “Rate me a 5 out of 5 for the exceptional experience I have provided you. Oh, and be sure to mention my name.”  When employees are incented by the score, they’ll care more about the rating than the experience. Even if those customers took the five bucks, their score is clearly not an indicator of their experience that day. No one walks away a promoter after being bribed.
  2. If they tell you it’s broken, do what you can to fix it. A few hours after the diner incident, my client called with an emergency change in plans and asked to put push our meetings back a day. I called the hotel chain where I have stayed close to 400 nights and asked if I could modify my reservation. I was informed that they would be happy to move the reservation up (still staying two days) but that I would still be responsible for paying for the night I had to cancel. I was frustrated, but the policy was on their side. I wasn’t going to make a fuss. Until… I went to the hotel (which was practically empty) and one thing after another went wrong… only decaf coffee in the room, shampoo not refilled, dirty everywhere, unfriendly staff. So when I logged in to their Wifi that night and they asked me to take a survey. I did and rated them a 3 with all the reasons. Within 10 seconds another window came up asking me for my room number so they could make it right. Then the next window that popped up was inviting me to leave a Trip Advisor review!  (Which I didn’t, out of long term loyalty to this company). It’s a week later and no one has contacted me to “make it right” as promised.They would have been better off not setting that expectation, and certainly not inviting detractors to leave a Trip Advisor review!

    And…
  3. Take the long view on detractors. Of course “making it right” is a good start, but doesn’t do much good if you don’t fix the root cause of the issues. I’ll never forget my first week on the job as a call center director. My team leaders were all stressed out, with more work to do than they could possibly get done. When I did an analysis of how they were spending their time, I found they were spending hours a day calling back customer detractors (people who had rated us less than 5 on the NPS). Most of these detractors had issues that could be categorized in one of three categories. There were NO plans in place to identify and discuss themes at a center level and to address the root cause. Yes, yes, call your detractors and do what you can to make it right. But don’t forget to use the data strategically to fix the process and policy issues driving your customers crazy.

Customers don’t care about your internal customer scorecard. Be sure every employee on your team knows what matters most. Focus on the game, don’t game the score.

How to Delegate Work

How to Delegate Work – One Secret to Ensure Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumbled and shook my head. For what seemed like the 37th time that week, an assignment I’d delegated had not come back on time.

I was so tired of chasing down unfinished tasks and stressed because the time I spent making sure those things happened was taking me away from other critical tasks.

It wasn’t that my people were unmotivated or incompetent. They were awesome: they loved their work and were good at what they did. Like you, however, they often faced a day full of competing priorities and unexpected crises that had to be handled quickly.

Fortunately, I discovered a solution…

Freakin’ Frustrating

You know you’re supposed to delegate.

You understand that you can’t achieve breakthrough results on your own, that leadership means achieving results through relationships, and that when you delegate, you multiply yourself.

You know all that, but delegation can still be, in the words of one of our clients, “So freakin’ frustrating!”

How often have you delegated something, only to find yourself many weeks later thinking, “Whatever happened to that project?”

It happened to me so many times – until I learned one vital step about how to delegate work effectively.

This one delegation secret changed everything for me and ensured that almost every delegated assignment came back on time and complete.

What would it mean for you if you never had to chase down another unfinished assignment or project? How much time would you save? How much more productive could you be?

How to Delegate Work So Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

Surprisingly, this is a delegation process very few leaders use and yet it is simple and you can use it right away. Before I give you the tool, let’s take a quick look at delegation.

Delegation is the act of sharing responsibility and authority for a task, project, or outcome with another person. This definition is important – you’ll see why in a moment.

Before you delegate, you want to make sure of three things:

  1. The person you delegate to has the information necessary to succeed.
  2. You have time to delegate effectively. If you must train the other person before you can delegate to them, allow time for this.
  3. Finally, the task you want to delegate isn’t part of the work that only you should do. For instance, you don’t want to delegate a performance conversation that your management role requires you to have (believe it or not, we’ve seen people do this.)

Okay, so let’s say you’ve checked off those items. It’s time to delegate: you clearly describe the outcome and set a clear finish line for when the assignment will be completed.

Most leaders do that much, but there is one more critical step and this is what changes everything:

Mutually schedule a time to receive the task.

For example:

If the prototype is due on the last day of the month, make an appointment with the person to meet with you and show you what they’ve done.

If the assignment is to survey customers, prepare their comments, and provide a recommendation, set a specific time on a specific day when you will meet together and they will share what they did.

A specific time. A specific day.

When someone knows they will be sitting down with you at a specific moment in time, the task won’t get buried and forgotten. If there’s a real possibility that they won’t get it done, most people will come talk to you. Then you can provide coaching or help them manage their workload.

When you mutually schedule an appointment to receive the task, you’ve started from a place of active accountability. Most people won’t show up to that meeting empty-handed. (And if they do, it’s time for a serious INPSIRE conversation.)

Yeah But…

When we share this delegation tool, leaders often have two “Yeah, but what about…?” reactions.

The first is “Yeah, but this will take too much time.”

The reality is that it will save you time. A five-minute meeting to receive the task saves you countless hours of wasted time chasing down incomplete work.

The second is “Yeah, but what about longer projects? If you wait until the end to meet, it’s too late.”

That’s true. For longer projects, schedule periodic updates where the person you’ve delegated to will bring you a progress update, an outline, or whatever intermediary step is appropriate. The key is that they bring something to the meeting that shows their progress.

Your Turn

Remember that when you delegate, you’re still responsible: you share responsibility, you don’t give up responsibility. You are still responsible to ensure your team achieves what it is you delegated.

Schedule the follow-up at the same time you delegate the task and you’ll never again waste time chasing down forgotten assignments.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts, questions, and tips to delegate so that nothing falls through the cracks.

meeting

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

“This is so stupid–they asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m going to just shut my mouth and do my work.”

“Arghhh. We keep rehashing the same conversations. Why can’t we make a simple @#%*&% decision?”

“I don’t know why we even try! We make a decision and by the time we get back together, no one has done anything we agreed to.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve heard these words so frequently, in focus groups, in one-on-ones, and even behind closed doors with seasoned managers. If you’ve been working in organizations for any period of time, you may have said them too.

Everyone hates bad meetings. And bad meetings are everywhere.

If you want to be a great manager, build a reputation of running great meetings, and watch for an immediate improvement in who shows up and what they contribute.

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

  1. Communicate a clear objective for the meeting.
    Be clear up front.  Determine if this a “Where are we going?” discussion, or a “How will we get there?” conversation.  If you’re not clear, you don’t have a fighting chance of an organized dialog. Yes. You can have both conversations in the same meeting, but not at the same time. Put it on the agenda. Reinforce it in your opening remarks. Heck, put it in the meeting invite: “By the end of this meeting, we will have decided __________.”People want to know that something will be accomplished with their time. Make that “something” perfectly clear.  One of our Winning Well clients has started including this message in their Outlook invites

    This meeting’s goal is to reach a decision on xxxx, and to begin to define how we will achieve this, we need your best thinking on _______.

  2. Be clear on how decisions will be made.
    Nothing is more frustrating to people than asking for their opinion and ignoring it. Be clear up front as to how the decision will be made.“I need to make this decision, but I would love your input”

    or “We’re going to decide by consensus”

    or “After 30 minutes of discussion, we’re going to take a vote.”Of course, the most important part of this approach is to make a plan and stick to it. If you say the decision will be by consensus, and then hate where the conversation is going and just make the call yourself, you would have been better off making the decision in the shower and communicating it well.

  3. Establish accountability for every decision.
    For every next step stop and ask “Who will do what, by when and how will we know?””Joe’s got this” is not sufficient.” “Joe will talk to Sue and make a decision about X by Friday and send us an email with what they came up with,” works better.

Very few managers run meetings well. Can you imagine the possibilities if you were known as the go-to for holding a great meeting?

Mind the MIT Let's Grow Leaders

Four Questions to Keep Your Team Focused and Working on What Matters Most

When I look back on my career at Verizon at the times my teams truly knocked it out the park–the times we increased results exponentially and led the Nation in results or had a major turnaround pulling a team out of the abyss, there is one common characteristic. We had the team laser-focused on the one or two critical behaviors that mattered most at the frontline– and they were doing them consistently.

Seems so basic and easy? Right? And yet it’s so easy to get distracted–focusing on the 27 other “critical” metrics on your scorecard, or the merger, or some special project, or…

4 Questions to Keep Your Team Focused on What Matters Most #MindTheMIT

If you’re looking to get your team FOCUSED on what matters most… it starts by IDENTIFYING what matters most. And then, consistently reinforcing those behaviors (as my teams would descirbe “Like a maniac”) through every means possible.

What Matters most?

  • What do our customers really need from us–consistently? (Not 37 things. Pick one or two.)
  • What values have we committed to?
  • When we walk away from our work, what will we be proud to have accomplished?
  • Win or lose, how will we know we’ve done our very best?

Which actions have the most Impact?

  • What are the critical behaviors that drive your results?
  • If we could only do one thing, which behavior would have the greatest impact?
  • What invisible behaviors might we forget? (eg: sleep, time with others, fun)

Where Do I / we need to say No?

  • What are we choosing to do instead of our MIT?
  • How can we make a different choice?
  • What are silly, creative, impossible ways to do things differently?
  • Where do we need to have tough conversations?

How Will I/we stay Disciplined?

  • What are my/our biggest distractions?
  • How can we ensure they don’t derail us?
  • How will we keep the MIT in front of us all the time?
  • How will we hold ourselves accountable for maintaining focus on the MIT?

To make it easier for you to use this tool, you can download it for free here. 

Executive Leadership: One Temptation Most Successful Executives Resist

If you’re an executive (or aspiring to be one) this time I’m writing for you. Not my usual M.O., I usually write for your teams (and how to help them deal with you 😉 But today, I write to you. Why? Because when senior leaders practice winning well behaviors, the culture shifts that much faster– and results not only go up, they stay up– and teams feel excited about what they’re up to.

The Temptation

In a recent conversation, “Mary” a senior leader at a Fortune 15 company shared the moment she “Got it.” That moment when she realized the easy temptation that was holding her back from being the best she could be in her role.

“I had five key functional areas I was responsible for, four of which I understood inside and out because I’d grown up in the business. I was confident in those arenas and showed up strong. But in a National Operations role, I also had responsibility for ‘fleet’–yup, the trucks.”

I thought, “Well, I don’t have to pay too much attention there.  I’ve got people for that. I’ll just concentrate on the aspects of the job where I can truly add value and trust my team to do what needs to be done with the fleet.”

And then one day, my boss, Carl, asked me to come with him to visit one of our garages. He opened the hood and said, “Mary is this oil supposed to be black?” I had no idea. “Mary, do you know why it matters?” Nope. “Mary, what’s the number one priority for the fleet department?” That I knew, thank God, “Safety, ” I shared confidently.

Carl continued, “I need you to go find out and understand the impact black oil has on safety. And, Mary, you can’t avoid learning about parts of this role just because you don’t like them. You’ve got to know enough to be able to inspect what’s going on.”

5 Things You Must Know About Every Functional Area You Oversee

As an executive, your job is all about strategy and execution across a large scope and scale. And like Mary, you likely have five or so functional areas you oversee. And if you’re like most execs we work with, there’s one area you particularly dislike. Yes, it starts with what Jim Collins calls “Getting the right people on the bus.” But to really rock your role as an executive, you also need to know every aspect of your role enough at least well enough to discern the following:

  1. What the data is really saying.
    When you’re not close to the business it’s easy to look at a good metric and say “Hmmm, looks great.” Take the time to dig past the averages and look at the outliers to know what’s really going on.
  2. What’s possible.
    The folks on your team who’ve been doing this forever may overlook new approaches because of they’re comfortable with the way things have always been done.  More about my experience with that here in my executive sales role at Verizon.
  3. Who’s crushing it.
    A key part of your role is ensuring the right people are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. See also: 5 Reasons Your Recognition is Backfiring
  4. The right questions.
    Asking the right questions will serve you well for two reasons: they encourage your team to think more strategically and come up with more creative solutions; AND, the better questions you ask, the more you’ll learn.
  5. Where the business is most vulnerable.
    If you’re not well-versed in an area, it’s easy to miss the “black oil.” Be sure you’re having the “own the ugly” conversations in every aspect of your business.

Are you (or do you work for) a Winning Well executive?

We would love to interview you as part of our Winning Well research. Please let me know if you (or an executive you know) would be willing to chat. 443 750 1249.

Managing Your Boss: Get the Support You Need in 10 Minutes a Week (Includes Free Tool)

When’s the last time you had a really great one-on-one with your boss? If your answer is anything but “in the last 2 weeks,” you’re not alone. A great cadence of good one-on-one meetings is unusual. Why? Well first,  everybody’s busy. It’s easier to cancel a meeting with a direct report than with your boss. Or perhaps, your one-on-ones drag on, lack preparation, or generally feel like a waste of time.

Whether you’re the manager, the one being managed, or both, one the easiest ways to take your performance to the next level is through great one-on-one meetings.

How to Hold a 10 Minute (MIT- Most Important Thing) Huddle

Of course, you need more than 10 minutes a week to build a great relationship with your manager. You need time to get to know one another as human beings and to focus on long-term goals and career development. What I’m about to share here is not a substitute for those vital sessions. This tool is for the in-between times: to help you stay focused each week to clarify expectations, to ensure the MIT stays the MIT, and to get the support you need.

It works like this. You schedule 10 minutes a week with your boss and come prepared to discuss the following:

  • What’s the Most Important Thing you accomplished last week? (This gives you an opportunity to ensure you boss is aware of the good work you are doing)
  • What’s the Most Important Thing you’re working on this week? (This helps clarify expectations and ensure alignment)
  • What support do you need? This gives you a structured time to ask for help AND also makes it easier on your boss if you keep a running list of anything that’s not urgent and can wait.

Our Winning Well clients who are using this approach tell us it’s done wonders to streamline their communications, clarify expectations, and eliminate wasteful work.

You can download the free MIT Huddle Planner here

3 Consequences of Promoting the Smart, Successful Jerk (with video)

Oh he’s good. Very good. He gets sh__ done. It’s hard to argue with the results. So what if he’s ruffling a few feathers… with his team, with his peers, with HR, with IT?  The better he does, the better you look. And so you choose to look the other way, shrug your shoulders and chalk it up to the cost of genius.

And that may work. For a while. If you’re lucky you can get him promoted and cross your fingers that someday he will be in a position to return the favor. Which of course is a roll of the dice with a guy like that. But then again, you certainly don’t want to be on his bad side.

Another shoulder shrug, and there you are defending his obnoxious moves, helping him to move on and get out of your hair.

3 Consequences of Promoting the Smart, Successful Jerk

  1. Everyone’s Taking Notes
    I’ve been in enough focus groups across enough companies to tell you–when you promote the jerk, people assume it’s the jerk behavior that sealed the deal. No one assumes they got promoted in spite of their obvious lack of couth. You’ve just sanctioned destructive behavior that people now justify to themselves as the “only way” to make it.
  2. You Instantly Tank Your Credibility
    Even if you spend most of your time leading as a Winning Well manager, you’ll lose the hearts and minds of those looking up to you believing it’s possible to get results–without losing your soul. Promoting a jerk who gets (short-term) results without looking at the impact on the relationships they need to sustain them, is a credibility busting move with the true A players you need for lasting success. The minute you’ve made the announcement, they’re looking around for a smarter boss to work for, who gets the bigger picture.
  3. You Fuel the “Why Bother?” Factor
    When the “witch” gets promoted, there’s going to be a certain segment of your box 9  high potential employees who are going to shout “No way. If that’s what it takes, I’m not interested.” They won’t say much, and they’ll keep up appearances–but the extra effort will likely go elsewhere. True A players are always working hard… it’s just a matter of where they’re investing their energy.

Don’t underestimate the consequences of supporting and promoting a high-potential jerk. Sure, it’s the path of least resistance. But can you imagine the impact of investing strategically in their development to help them grow past it? Recovering jerky A players rank among some of the best leaders I know.

Take the time to go there.

 

A Fresh, Fast, and Fun Way to Focus Your Team

If you’re like most managers, you’re neck deep in performance agreements, stretch goals, and the dance between managing your boss’s expectations and warning your team not to sandbag. How you spend January can make the difference between a breakthrough and mediocre 2017.

Too many managers take the goals handed to them, wring their hands for a day or so, and then pull the team together to figure out how the heck they’re going to accomplish all THAT and still “Do their day job.” That approach will get the job done, but it’s unlikely to unleash breakthrough innovation or a head-turning year.

A Fresh, Fast, and Fun Way to Focus Your Team (or Yourself)

One of the most important questions you can ask your team (or yourself) is “What will it take to make 2017 the very best year of your career?” In my exec role at Verizon, this was always one of my favorite questions. It’s amazing how few people start their year thinking that way.

We now build that question into the strategic planning work we do with teams. Here’s one easy DIY exercise you can do to help focus your team (or yourself).

The End of Year Letter

Ask each member of your team to write you a letter, as if it were January 2018.  This can be done in email, or the old fashioned way. Just be sure you save it, so you can review at midyear and again this time next year.

It’s helpful to give them a few prompts. Here are some to get you started.

Dear __________ (insert your name here, if they report to you; if you are doing this for yourself use your bosses’ name).

2017 was the very best year of my career.

From there, pick some sentence starters as prompts for them to complete.

We totally changed the game by ____________.

The most important thing we accomplished was ___________.

Everyone is looking to us to understand how we ___________

I (we) got so much better at ______________.

Our customers are delighted because_______________.

I really improved my working relationships with __________ by___________.

Feel free to make up your own. You don’t need to pick many. The point is to ask your team members to reflect individually about what an extraordinary year would look like and then to identify specific behaviors and actions to help them get there.

I encourage you to proactively write a similar letter to your boss, and to ask them to pull it out mid year. It’s amazing how motivating this can be.

Let Us Help You Jump Start Your Team in the New Year

In our strategic Winning Well workshops and off-sites we always include exercises to get past the “Ugh, how can we get all this done?” mindset to identifying what matters most, isolating key priorities and behaviors.