The 7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

Skip level meetings always seem like a good idea at the time.  A little MBWA (management by walking around) never hurt anyone. Or did it?

Done well, skip level meetings are a remarkable tool in your Winning Well toolkit. Skip level meetings help you connect “what to why,” reinforce the MIT (most important thing), help you build genuine relationships, give you a chance to ask strategic questions to learn what’s really going on, and most importantly, to build genuine relationships.

Maybe that’s why after over 700 blog posts, the most read is 5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings. In fact, there are some days that this post from 2014 has more hits than whatever new is going on. And how we manage the skip level communication, is always top of mind with my consulting clients. 

Why the intrigue?

Because done poorly MBWA becomes OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come). If your skip level meetings are backfiring, or if you have a boss who could get better at this and you want to help them out, be sure to avoid these 7 traps.

7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

  1. Not Doing Your Homework
    Sure you’re their bosses boss. They should be glad you’re there, right? Hmmm…Want to ensure you make an impact? Learn what’s up with the people in the room. Get their names. Know what’s driving them crazy. Be able to speak articulately about a few of their biggest accomplishments.
  2. Showing Up Needy
    Yes, I get it. You’re sandwiching this skip level in-between really important calls with C-level execs, vital customers, your boss… Go minimalist here. What do you need? A closed-door in-between your skip-level meetings? Ask for that. Otherwise show up as low-maintenance as you can (and ensure your assistant gets this too.)
  3. Sticking To Your Agenda
    The real magic of skip-level meetings is never planned. Even if your team gave you a carefully crafted list of conversation starters, stay real and open to where the conversation may lead. 
  4. Talking Too Much
    Resist the urge. You will learn way more by listening. 
  5. Asking the Wrong Questions
    So often I see leaders ask leading questions that ensure they get told what they want to hear. You already know what you think. Have the courage to ask the questions that might surface answers that frustrate you. It’s better to know what people are really thinking. 
  6. Failing to Recognize Contributions
    Your people want to know that you know what they’re up to. Be sure you do and tell them.
  7. Neglecting to Follow Through
    If you promise to look into something, be sure you do. If you promise to get something fixed right away, do it. And just as importantly, be sure you close the loop and let them know. Making commitments without follow-through does more harm than not showing up at all.

Great leaders spend lots of time talking to the people closest to the customer. It’s worth the extra effort to dig deep and do it right.

The Morning After: 6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

“John” glanced excitedly at the conference room walls filled with easel sheets, plans and ideas. And then sighed deeply as he shuffled though his deep pile of notes and action items.

“Karin, I guarantee you, I’ll be a better leader tomorrow morning as a result of your Winning Well bootcamp. And I’m almost certain I’ll still be a better leader the following week, and maybe even the week after that.

It’s week three that worries me. How can I be sure to maintain the ROI and that I keep applying these Winning Well techniques when real life hits the fan?” 

John’s question is real. If you’re like most managers, you’ve left more than one training program with good intentions, only to fall back into old behaviors. So how do you make the training stick? 

6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

  1. Focus on one behavior change at a time.
    When you learn game-changing leadership techniques, it’s tempting to try everything all at once. After all, if these techniques produce results, you owe it to your team to use them. Right? Perhaps. But not all at the same time. Pick one specific behavior or approach you know will make the impact and integrate it into your leadership approach. Practice it consistently. Tweak it. Make it your own. Ask for feedback. Once you feel confident and competent in that behavior, the timing might be right to add in another technique. Too much change all at once will overwhelm both you and your team.
  2. Find an accountability partner.
    Change is hard, and it can be lonely. It’s much easier to give up when no one’s looking. Find someone you trust who understands what you’ve just learned (someone else in your training class is a great choice). Share the behavior you’re working on and make a commitment to check in with one another once a week to see how things are going and discuss challenges and brainstorm next steps.
  3. Invite your team on the journey.
    Tell your team what you’ve learned and what you’ve chosen to work on and why. Invite them to notice when it’s working and offer suggestions as to what you can do better. Your team already knows you’re not perfect, and they’ll be delighted to know you’re working on becoming a more effective manager.
  4. Teach what you’ve learned.
    One of the best ways to become a rock star at a skill is to teach it. Consider sharing some of the tools you’ve learned and teach them to others.
  5. Ask for feedback.
    Make it a point to ask for feedback on the impact your new approach is having on the people you’re leading. Ask open-ended questions about what you can do to improve.
  6. ww-winning-well-sidebar-impact-live-dec2016-370x370taglineWhen you screw up, apologize and try again.
    New habits don’t come easy. If you slip back into old behaviors, apologize and try again. Your team knows you’re not perfect. They just want to know you’re trying. 

    Training is important, but what matters most is what you do when you get back to your team. With just a bit of focus, you can ensure the strongest ROI for you and your team.

Give yourself (and your team) the gift of a fast start to the new year. Join our Winning Well event in MD this December. Click on the image to the left for more information.

 

Does Your Customer Feel Like a Commodity?

Once your product becomes a commodity, you’re hosed. Even your once loyal customers start looking around for where they can get your offering cheaper, faster, or with less hassle. Most companies get this and take deliberate steps to differentiate their products.

Sadly, as companies work to scale, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that they begin to de-personalize the customer experience in the name of efficiency. 

The Biggest Reasons Your Customer Feels Like a Commodity

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. If you’re not sure if you wandering into dangerous territory, watch for these symptoms of commodity-feeling behaviors.

You’re Force Feeding Processes for Your Convenience

Have you ever said, “We just have to train our customers to do it this way. They’ll get used to it?”

If how you’re “training” them is really in their best interest, they might see the value in changing the way you work together. But if your new process is clearly all about your own efficiency or to make things easier internally, customers will wonder why they’re the ones who have to do things your way.

I see this all the time when start-ups work to scale. They begin informing their loyal customers who’ve been with them from the start the new rules of the game. It’s quite possible they took a chance on you from the beginning, because you were creative, flexible, and involved them in the process. If they start to smell bureaucracy and overhead, they’re likely to start looking around to regain that “I’m special” feeling.

I’ve left several of the suppliers I used early in building my business for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone.

You’re Reading From a Script

If you can’t trust your employees to have a real conversation, then you’re hiring the wrong people or not training them well. Nothing says “You’re just not that important to us” more than a script.

They Know More About Your Product or Policies than the Person Who Answers Your Phone

By the time a customer picks up the phone, they’re looking for an expert. Be sure the person they reach is both confident and competent.

You Under-Appreciate Their Tenure

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employees quibbling over five bucks with a customer who has spent thousands over their tenure because some “policy” told them to.

You Make an Exception, But Offer a Lecture

I was at the hairdresser the other day when a woman came in to buy some shampoo with an expired gift certificate. The owner cited that their policy was quite clear to the person who had bought it. When the customer asked if there was anything that could be done, she cited the policy twice more and then gave in. After the owner honored it, she then gave the customer a lecture about expiration dates and how it’s really just better to give people Visa gift cards.

That customer bolted for the door as soon as she had her shampoo in hand. The owner lost twice. She was out the cost of the bottle of shampoo, and she had a detractor poised to tell the world about how she was made to feel.

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. Be sure you keep people feeling special as your business grows. 

Winning Well Bootcamp

5 Behaviors That Keep You From Getting Promoted

I run into them in every company I work with. Solid managers with real contributions. They work hard, they’re incredibly loyal, and they’ve been on the succession planning list forever. Much of the time they even have an MBA…AND they’re stuck. The promotions come and go. They’ve heard the pep talk so many times they can recite it in their sleep.

5 Behaviors That Keep You From Getting Promoted

Of course, there’s no easy way to know what’s holding any individual back. But I’ve done enough diagnosing, supporting, and helping to transform careers over the years that I’ve seen some consistent patterns. Don’t get stuck in these common traps.

  1. Relentless Self Promotion
    The minute people begin to think you’re more interested in your career than the organization’s mission you’re sunk. Do great work, find a sponsor, and stop tooting your own horn.
  2. Non Stop Energy
    Everyone loves a go-getter, do-it-all-fast kind of guy–at the frontline and middle manager level. But the time I spend in the C-Suites across a variety of industries reinforces what I’ve believed for a long time. Energy and intensity are great, but if you want to play with the big guys project an aura of calm, cool-headed control.
  3. Keeping Your Head Down
    You’re so focused on your team and your team’s results you miss the bigger picture. Work on strengthening your peripheral vision.
  4. Competing With Peers
    Real leadership takes more than being consistently at the top of the stack rank. Winning Well leaders know the important balance of results AND relationships. If it’s unlikely your peers will want to crack open some bubbly with you when you get that big promotion, chances are you may never get the chance to know.
  5. Inability to Let it Go
    Tenacity is one thing. But as they say, when the horse is dead, get off. Sometimes the answer is no, and you need to let it go. Winning Well leaders learn when to keep trying and when it’s time to move on (at least for the time being).

The Inspiration For This Post

One of my favorite clients has been using my Results That Last: 7 Roles Every Manager Must Master  program as the foundation for his mentoring circle work. Each week, they go through one module together, discuss the content and tools, and then they each go off and do the exercise with their teams before meeting again to review the next module.

Sometimes he brings in internal executives as guest speakers who are particularly good in the role they will be discussing that day. He’s also doing the 360 degree feedback tool twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the program. I love the approach, and he’s seen a significant lift in business metrics. (If you want to learn more how you can use the course in this way, or other creative approaches, please call me on 443.750.1249.)

 As various questions comes up, he’s been batting them my way for additional perspective. I was intrigued by the one that came up last week.

 If we were coaching a person that has been a supervisor or leader for 10 plus years … What has held them back?  What characteristics have they been missing or overlooked? What haven’t they done that others have?  (The road map is not paved or golden? Or is it?)

More about my online courses can transform your results

10 Things to Do When Your Team's Not Listening

Her call touched me deeply. She was trying so hard…to establish the right vision, to key in on the important behaviors, to scaffold and develop…and her team just wasn’t listening.

Perhaps you’ve been there too. You’ve got vision. You care deeply. You teach. You repeat yourself. But no one seems to “get it”?

Here are ten questions worth asking when you hit that wall–when your team is just not listening. Note this is a preview of Winning Well Insights from our new book. You can download the first few chapters for free here).

1- Do you say it in different ways?
People learn differently—some by seeing things, some by hearing, some through practice, and so on. As you practice communicating frequently, use different techniques. Try our Winning Well 6×3 communication strategy: repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, to communicate a new procedure, you might use email, a staff meeting, and one-on-one meetings for your three channels.

2- Do you say it often enough?
We have worked with so many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive. When asked if they communicated the issue to their team, they say “yes.” Here are a few of the answers we got when we asked, When was the last time you communicated the issue?
“Last year.”
“At that off-site the year before last.”
“We were in the hallway six months ago.”
“At the staff meeting last month.”
“In an email.”

If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated. Managers who win well communicate frequently.

3- Do you check for understanding?
An idea is rarely as clear to the listener as it is to the speaker. Ask your listeners what they heard, what they understood you to be asking, and what they understand the consequences to be.

4- Have you explained the “whys”?
Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders. Sometimes people’s lack of response results from not understanding the consequences of their action or inaction.

5- Are you ordering or inviting?
Invitation is the language of collaboration. We don’t mean the literal phrasing of the words (although that can make a difference too), so much as the attitude behind them. People know when you focus on relationships along with results. Do you communicate that you’re better than everyone else and they should serve you? Or do you invite people with mutual dignity to participate with you?

6- Do  you know what matters to them?
Everyone values something. If the values you promote conflict with your people’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard.

7- Do you have credibility?
If your team can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, expect to be ignored. Credibility is built, not demanded. If you don’t know what you’re doing in a certain arena, admit it and seek out others with the expertise to supplement what you do know. When your people can’t trust you or rely on you, but you insist on compliance, you fight an uphill battle you cannot win in the long run.

8- Do you listen?
If you don’t hear what people tell you, they’ll naturally think you don’t care, they’ll lose heart, and they will stop caring. To learn whether or not you’re hearing people, ask a few team members to share with you: “Is there anything you’ve been trying to tell me that I’m just not hearing?” Be quiet and listen. Thank them for sharing, and respond in time. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear. It takes both internal values of confidence and humility to truly listen without defending yourself. When you listen, you strengthen the connection with your people and learn what areas of training, execution, and accountability need attention.

9- Do you speak their language?
Do the words and concepts you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Do you share numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed—or vice versa?

10- What do you really want?
Whenever you have management challenges, the first thing to examine is your own motivation. Are you truly focused on results and relationships, or are other self-protecting or self motivations creeping in? There’s a big difference between wanting what’s best for the team and wanting what’s best for you. So what is it you really want? If the answer is submission—“I know what’s best, and they’d better listen to me”—then you won’t ever have a team that wins well. They will act out of fear when they have to and ignore you when they feel it’s safe. When you want more—for the group to succeed together, to make an impact—you’re on your way to Winning Well

If you feel as if no one’s listening, ask yourself these ten questions, be honest with yourself, and take action in response to your answers. Winning Well managers master these challenging communication moments.

Want to learn more about Winning Well? You can see our book trailer, and download the first few chapters for free by clicking here. 

What's the Real Problem?

Have you ever had a leak, repaired it, only to find the drip, drip, drip showing up someplace else? Or have you recognized a familiar employee engagement problem, and breathed an immediate, “Oh, I’ve seen this movie before” sigh of relief and began to apply your time-tested know-how, only to realize the sequel was far different from the original?

When Sebastian was little, our dining room chandelier started leaking. It didn’t take us long to realize the drip was related to the tub on the floor above. We caulked. We tightened up the faucets. The problem seemed to stop, until one day, it didn’t, and the water dripped down right into our lasagna. This time, the water all over the bathroom floor gave it away. Our leaky lighting was a result of over zealous bath-time fun. A quick conversation on bathing etiquette, and we never had the problem again.

So the other day when the recessed lighting in my new home office started to weep, I knew just what to do. “Sebastian, stop it!” “But Mom…. “of course he was right. As it turns out, the builders had missed an important piping connection.

Getting to the Root Cause of the Problem

What people bring to you is likely a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Pause. Get curious. Ask questions. Get the relevant facts. Here are three specific questions you can ask to help identify the real problem and not waste valuable time addressing symptoms:

1. What is different from what you expected?
In The Rational Manager, Charles Kepner and Benjamin Trego identify a problem as “a deviation from some standard of performance.” Simply put, what didn’t go the way you expected?

2. What has not changed?
This is a critical step that most managers skip altogether. When you identify a problem, it is helpful to know what has not changed. This helps eliminate issues that needn’t concern you.

3. Have I faced a similar issue before?

What’s the same? What’s different about this scene?

4. Why? Why? Why?
Once you’ve limited the problem to what it is and what it is not, look for causes by asking, “Why?” You will often have to ask several times.

You can waste incredible amounts of time in vain attempts to solve the wrong problem. Managers who win well don’t leap in with solutions right away. When they are presented with a problem, they pause, ask questions, and work to identify the real issue.

Winning Well Pre-Order Bonus

Winning Well-3DFor every copy of Winning Well that you pre-order, David Dye and I will send you a free custom-signed bookplate with your requested message.

Simply order Winning Well from your favorite bookstore (eg Amazon) or CEO Reads for bulk orders, then go to www.WinningWellBook.com. Click on THE BOOK, then on CUSTOMIZE YOUR BOOK, and submit your message in the form. When the book ships, we’ll send you a custom, hand-signed,adhesive bookplate that you can put inside the front cover.

Even better, there is no limit to the number of bookplates you may get. Get an affordable, customized resource for yourself and for all the managers in your life!

You're Busy, But Are You Productive?

I see them in every organization I work with–the super-busy, really stressed manager who gets in early, stays late, eats lunch at their desk, and still can’t get it all done. Sadly they’re also often resentful that their performance doesn’t warrant an “exceptional” rating or a promotion. They lament: “Can’t they see how hard I’m working? I’m sacrificing everything for this job.” The problem is not lack of effort, it’s effectiveness. Often this stems from letting other people set your agenda and spending too much time on tasks that add little value.

This week, I was interviewed for the terrific post by Kelsey Manning in the Levo League:  11 Differences Between Busy People and Productive People. It’s so timely for our LGL Accelerator week, that I’ve shared an exerpt here. I loved all 11 tips.

The Difference Between Busy and Productive

1. Productive people view productivity differently.

Get rid of that checklist mentality, stat. “Busy people concentrate on the task completion aspect of duties and responsibilities—maintaining a ‘checklist’ focus—while others embrace a broader perspective of contributions that measurably contribute to the higher strategic objectives of the organization, says Donn LeVie, Jr., a career strategist and former Fortune 500 hiring manager. “Workaholics ask: ‘What’s next on the list?’ while high performers ask: ‘What’s going to provide the biggest bang for the buck for the organization?’”

2. Productive people understand which tasks actually matter.

The tasks that feel urgent are not always the most important. Productive people understand that the point of any job is to deliver value. “It’s vital to understand which behaviors and actions are getting results and which are not,” says Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. “And then, you need to have the courage to stop wasting time on the behaviors that get no ROI [return on investment]. The biggest time-suckers are conference calls and unproductive meetings. Truly productive people don’t sit on conference calls that don’t add value. If you find you can multi-task through an entire call, that’s not an indicator that you’re productive, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t be on that call. Speak up and change the approach.”

Continue Reading…

How to Help Your Team Get Results FAST

You need to move results– quickly. It’s tempting to try everything you can to make things better.  But the all too common “throw everything at the problem and see what helps” approach may make things worse in the long run. Your team will be frantically trying to execute on too many cylinders, and even if results start to improve, you won’t know why.

When you need a quick turnaround, I recommend following this Winning Well F.A.S.T. model.

F-Focus

To move results quickly, focus is key. Resist the urge to fix everything. Identify and communicate the biggest priorities and break the work into manageable tasks. Focus on what each team member needs for success.

  • Communication: Align on 2-3 key leadership messages to share in every context.  Communicate them to the point of obnoxious… then communicate more. Check for understanding. Communicate again. Test it, “What do you think I most want to talk about today?” If they don’t shout out your priorities, you’re not clear.
  • Activity: Make big work small. It’s tempting to build action plans with lots of activity to show you are trying. Less is more. Too much action overwhelms and confuses. Identify 2-3 actions that will make the biggest impact and hit them hard. Reinforce with focused and consistent leadership messaging.
  • Outliers: Use data to get surgical in your approach. Know the outliers and give them focused recognition and support. Avoid broad-brush interventions. Focus just-in-time actions on those who need them. See Also: How to Break the 80/20 Rule

A-Acknowledge

When results aren’t moving, your team probably knows why. It’s tempting to start with answers–it’s far more useful to ask great questions and truly listen.

  • Slow down early and listen to concerns. Stop to acknowledge progress.
  • Competing Priorities: New initiatives are almost always piled onto existing workload. Acknowledge conflicting goals and competing priorities. Listen carefully to concerns. Prioritize. Give permission to stop. Some balls must drop. Decide which ones.
  • Progress: When you’re moving fast, don’t forget to pause at progress. Acknowledge small wins. Celebrate new behaviors. Recognize breakthrough thinking (see also In Defense of Wow)

S-Stretch

Fast-paced change provides great growth opportunities. Stretch yourself and others.

  • People: Fast paced change provides stretch opportunities. Provide special projects and stretch assignments. Turn strong players into teachers. Ask everyone what they must do next to achieve.
  • Boundaries, Assumptions and Rules: Stretch people to try new behaviors. Stretch boundaries, assumptions, and rules. Spend time asking the question, “What have we never tried before…?” Engage unlikely thinkers from outside the team.

T-Think

Go slow enough to think about what you’re doing and who you’re involving.

  • Stop stupidity: Every fast-moving project contains elements of stupid (e.g. time wasting tasks, old processes and reports that no longer align with new vision). Empower everyone to say stop as needed. See Also: Seth Godin’s Basting the Turkey)
  • Assess and Fine-tune: Carefully measure progress and fine-tune as needed. Watch for unintended consequences. Be ready to change course as needed.
  • Stakeholder: When moving fast it’s easy to exclude. Think about peripheral players that must understand your plan. Slowing down to include the right players early, leads to smoother acceleration.

When in doubt, go slow to go fast. A few deep breaths before launching will provide vital oxygen for the sprint ahead.

#resultsthatlast

3 Roadblocks You Must Remove For Your Team (before they go insane)

Even if it all feels warm and wonderful, your team needs you to remove roadblocks. If they’re frustrated with stupidity in the organization, they’re frustrated with you. Sure, they appreciate the check-ins about their kid’s soccer victories. And they want you to prepare them for the next promotion. But, if you’re not out there with them doing some basic blocking and tackling, I’d venture to guess, they’re frustrated. Be a backer, and remove these three common roadblocks.

Three Roadblocks Your Team is Longing For You to Remove

Roadblock #1:

You’re clear about what you want, but your colleague in the other department is sending an equally strong message to his team leading them in another direction.  Your team wants to achieve your vision, and feels your urgency, but they can’t resolve the conflict without involving you–and the other team feels the same way. The conflict is getting more intense because no one feels empowered to reach a compromise. Both teams worry that any level of “giving in” will tick off their boss.

  • The Roadblock: Lack of Leadership Alignment
  • To Get Results That Last: Meet with your peer (and include a few key team members as appropriate) and align on a path forward. Hold metaphorical hands and send a clear messages to both of your teams about what needs to be accomplished and how they must work together. Anything else will waste precious time and energy, and make them question your leadership tenacity.

Roadblock #2

You know what your boss is asking for doesn’t make sense for customers, employees, or shareholders.

  • The Roadblock: Your Boss’ Idea is Going to Hurt the Business
  • To Get Results That Last: When you let this go, you’re hurting the business, and seriously damaging the relationship with your boss you’re looking to protect. Trust me, your boss would much rather you take him off-line, in a private conversation and explain your concerns (listen carefully, she may have more information and an alternative perspective), than have you make a stupid decision.

Roadblock #3

Your team feels like they’re operating in the dark. They do the best they can to guess what the stakeholders want, but when they present their strategy, it gets shot full of holes and creates frantic rework.

  • The Roadblock: Unclear Expectations
  • To Get Results That Last: Identify the key stakeholders and discuss their vision and expectations before your team gets to work. If gathering them all in the same room (or phone call) isn’t wise or practical, do it one-on-one. If expectations aren’t aligned it’s better to work that out before the work begins. (See #1.)

When you remove roadblocks, the team feels like you’re on their side. Work gets done faster and with higher quality and less stress.

3 Ways To Challenge Your Team Toward Higher Performance

“But we’re already doing so much better than last year, when is enough, enough?” “Don’t you see how overwhelmed we are already?” “That’s not a stretch goal, that’s a delusion.” If you’re like most managers, at some point you’ve heard this kind of pushback from your team. Challenging your team to do more (often with less) is one of the biggest challenges of a manager. I’m a big believer in isolating the variables, and making the big goals feel small. Here are three easy techniques I’ve seen used well across multiple contexts.

3 Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance

1. Do the Math

The other day I was listening to the SVP tee-up my keynote to his frontline team. His math was brilliant. If they could move the needle .1% on a key performance metric, they would save 2 million dollars! If they actually achieved the goal on the scorecard it would completely change their margins and enable them to reinvest in some of the additional programs the employees really wanted. It’s pretty hard to argue that it’s impossible to improve .1%. That afternoon, we worked so that every manager left with specific commitment to improve (which we collected in an online forum.) When they all execute they’ll blow that metric away.

I did a similar math exercise when I was in my sales exec role. Instead of saying I wanted to move our team from 1% small and medium business sales to 10% which sounded like a ridiculous leap, I simply said I needed each sales rep to close one small deal (of at least 5 lines). I knew it would actually only take 80% of the team to hit that easy target, and that some were already over-achieving. Five lines sounded quite doable and in a few months we were there, and kept improving each month after that.

2. Pairing Contests

Pair off your team into performance-enhancing dyads (although they work like steroids on your results, they’re perfectly legal.) The idea is to pick someone who is high-performing in the skill you’re trying to cultivate and one who is struggling. Then you give them a joint target to hit. Any diads that makes the joint goal win a prize. Since the teams are only competing against their collective target, not one another, encourage the diads to share best practices with one another as well. Everyone wins. Results improve quickly.

3. Weekly Wins Recap

This may sound old school, but when executed well it does wonders to keep people focused on the right behaviors and warms up lines of communication.  Each Friday ask each member of your team to send you a quick email focused on these areas: what they feel best about what they accomplished this week (a great opportunity for you to do some informal recognition); a performance area they’re focusing on next week and what they plan to do to improve; and any help they need from you.

Builders make stretch goals feel easy by breaking it down.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

I’ve never met an executive who said, “My team’s just too strategic. I just wish they would focus on the day-to-day work.” Nope. In fact it’s quite the opposite concern. “How do I get my team to think more strategically?” “Karin, I just don’t think anyone on this team is ready to take on my role…. and I can’t get promoted until I find a successor.” And the phone call of the week is, “These millennials just don’t seem to get it. There’s no long-term commitment. I don’t think they care. (PS: if this one sounds familiar, click here and scroll down to download my FREE e-book Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial.) I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, if your team is not thinking strategically don’t write them off, until you take a good look at what you’ve been sharing. It’s impossible to connect the dots if you only see a third of them. If you wait until everything’s fully baked to share it with the team, they’ll never learn to be bakers. Not sure where to start without going out-of-bounds? Start here with these 7 strategic questions, that won’t get you fired.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

translator1. Why do we do what we do? Note: “to make money” is not the only answer. Dig deeper. I ask this question every time I go into a focus group. You would be surprised how few can articulate a compelling answer. Start here. Talk amongst yourselves. Challenge one another. I promise this is worth every minute of time spent not “doing work.”

2. How does our team’s work contribute to the company’s mission? This one’s more tricky. At the levels closest to the customer, it’s easy to feel like a bot, and that’s precisely where it’s most dangerous.

3. What do our customers really want? Your team knows. Write it down, and then be sure your policies and procedures align.

4. Who are our major competitors and what differentiates us in the market? My guess is that some of your team will be all over this and others won’t have a clue. Having the dialogue will offer great opportunities to explore perceptions and promote learning.

5. How does the way we do our work impact other departments? Some time spent here,  looking candidly from both directions, will save days (maybe weeks) of unproductive time.

6. How can we better articulate what we need to the departments we rely on? Make a short list and use it.

7. What’s the most important thing we’re working on and why? This one seems tricky, but it will open up a hornet’s nest… so why do we?  Resist the urge to blame others for stupidity. If something really feels stupid, have the managerial courage to lift up the concern. The best way to help your team to become more strategic is to teach them to talk strategy. Imagine the possibilities if you were “that guy.”

How to Succeed With Limited Resources

You don’t have enough time, enough resources, or budget– or maybe you lack all three. You may be surprised to know that’s exactly what stacks the odds of success in your favor.

According to research psychologist Adam Grant, increasing resources increases your likelihood of a project’s  success… but only for a while. There’s a critical point when too much money, time, or support actually hurts your mission. When we have fewer resources, we have to embrace the restraints and make careful decisions. When we’ve got everything we think we need, it’s easy to spend time and money on wasted efforts.

In her new book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson shares an important observation of the 500 fastest growing companies (as ranked by Entrepeneur magazine.)

“I was intrigued by the various ways these companies had funded their growth, rather than taking on outside cash. Only 28% had access to bank loans/lines of credit, 18% were funded by private investors, and 3.5% received funding from VCs: as many as 72% of these successful businesses were pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe these companies were successful not in spite of, but because of their constraints.”

I’ve seen this first hand, when I look back at the most creative times in my career and in how I’m approaching my business now, the best solutions came when we felt the most stretched.

I also watched the evolution at Verizon Wireless in this regard. When the going was easy, and so many customers were getting their first cell phone, it was no big deal to try something, and if it failed, no big deal. When constraints became tighter and competition stiffer, it became critical to make smarter choices at every stage of the game. It was critical to get feedback on what worked (and didn’t) more quickly. Whitney explains:

“Including constraints allows you to make a faster, more accurate prediction of the consequences of your actions, letting you determine which course of action will likely give you the best results.”

Embracing Constraints When You’re Not in Charge

So when I interviewed Whitney, I explained that most folks in our LGL tribe are quite influential–but for the most part, are not running the show. I asked her for her thoughts on embracing constraints, when you’re not in charge. She offered this advice.

  1. Do your best to stakeholder initial buy-in for your idea.
  2. Identify the minimum viable product–a prototype to test. This is the best way to prove-in your idea with minimum investment (P.S. any one who’s ever worked with me knows that I’m a HUGE advocate of pilot programs. Low risk, high value in convincing others to your point of view. It’s hard to argue with success.)
  3. Figure out how to speak the language of the folks you’re trying to convince. The finance crowd speaks and entirely different language than sales or IT.
  4. Then ask this question: If this prototype works, what does that mean for what’s next?
  5. Get the right people involved. Whitney astutely pointed out, “The people who have the hardest time with this are middle managers. They have the most to lose from a big mistake.” I agree. Having been in several middle manager roles, I also know that when you’re in the middle, feeling constraints from all angles, you’re also  in the best position to know what will make the biggest impact.