the most seductive leadership mistake

How to Avoid the Most Seductive Leadership Mistake

This leadership mistake is seductive–we know because we’ve been there. It feels good. It feels logical. And it’s the fastest way to stunt your growth as a leader.

Have you ever sat in a leadership meeting or training and thought, “Oh, it’s so good they’re finally talking about ________. So and So (insert your favorite under-performing manager’s name here) needs to hear this.”

We hear that all the time.

  • “Karin and David, these tools are great! I just wish my boss was here to hear your message. She really needs your Winning Well tools to be effective.”
  • Or “Are you going to do this training with the IT department? They could use a bit of confident humility (and by that I mean humility).”
  • Or “You know who makes that leadership mistake all the time? Our CEO.”

We heard it just the other day. We had been part of an all-day leadership offsite. The executive had delivered some tough messages and then brought in several keynote speakers to provide inspiration and tools to help.

She texted us the next day.

“I’m SO frustated. I’m seeing a lot of signs that ‘This message must not have been for me and my team.’ “

The SASRNT Syndrome

One of the perks of being authors is that we get to make up our own syndromes. We call this behavior the SASRNT syndrome, which stands for So And So Really Needs This. It’s often easier to address another’s leadership than to work on your own.

SASRNT syndrome happens when you hear an important message, or learn a new leadership tool, or technique and you think, “Oh you know who needs this? My boss, my colleague, my spouse.” And you run off and encourage them to implement the new idea, before trying it yourself.

Of course that other person – your boss, your colleague, your spouse – may need what you want to share, but think about how you would react if the roles were reversed.

Your employee comes to you and says: “Hey team leader, I think you’d be a much better team leader if only you’d read this book or attend that seminar.” How would you react? Honestly?

If you’re like most people, you’d immediately be on the defensive. None of us like being told we’re not good enough. We resist whenever we feel we’re being sold, even if it is something that would help us.

How to Avoid This Leadership Mistake

We get it. There are tons of poor business leaders out there. The statistics are hard to argue and we see it all the time.

The company we were working with at the offsite had a lot of smart people working very hard and they also have some new challenges that require new perspectives, thinking, and tools.

The minute we start thinking of who else needs the messages, the tools, and the techniques we’re hearing about, we miss an opportunity to grow.

Because at the end of the day, the person you’re in the best position to influence is you.

BE THE LEADER YOU WANT YOUR BOSS TO BE

The most powerful approach is to apply what you’ve learned and to cultivate a pocket of influence and excellence around you.

When your managers treat you poorly, treat your people well. Where your managers tolerate mediocrity, act with and expect excellence. Where they act like victims, empower yourself and your team.

Have compassion for them and for your people. They may not know what you know, but they’re doing what they can. In time, they may even ask you for help.

Lead first, where you are, with what you have. Keep growing. Then invite others to join you on the journey.

You can read more on building pockets of excellence in our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul.

Forced Ratings - Awful Problems and What Leaders Do Instead

Forced Ratings – Awful Problems and What Leaders Do Instead

Forced Ratings Cause More Problems Than They Fix

Recently we were working with senior leaders in a global company who faced a challenging morale problem. They hired talented capable people who were producing good work – but their talent was leaving. Leaders at every level were frustrated at the forced ratings performance management system.

Tracie, the Senior Vice President of Product Management, summarized the problem: “We’re wasting time and energy competing against each other. I’ve got good people on my team and I’d keep every one of them, but I have to rate everyone on a bell curve – so someone gets told they’re not doing a good job even when they are. No wonder they leave.”

It goes by many names: forced rating, stack ranking, and bell curves. You rate people’s performance by comparing them to one another. Those who finish lowest in the ratings are put on performance improvement plans, aren’t recognized for their performance or are even told to leave.

These systems are appealing because it seems like the formula (keep your top performers, replace the low) will ratchet up performance as everyone competes to be at the top of the ratings.

Problems That Prevent Performance

In practice, however, these forced ratings systems run into real-world challenges. There are several problems with stack ranks and bell curve rating systems:

  • You create contradictions as you hire great employees, but then tell a segment of them that they’re not great after all.
  • You create internal competition rather than outward competition.
  • You create strong incentives to game the score rather than play the real game of serving your customer.
  • You’re asking people for their least-best effort (what they have to do to stay alive) rather than their true best.
  • Leaders don’t learn how to lead and manage for sustainable results.
  • Managers aren’t allowed to reward genuine performance when talented performers end up on the low end of the rank.

Forced rating systems are helpful when a leader needs to jumpstart a large organization that’s caught in a morass of sloth, no accountability, and poor execution at every level. A quick ranking to identify truly poor performance and remove it from the organization sends a message that things are changing.

In essence, forced rankings are used to compensate for poor leadership. Successful frontline and middle-level leaders frequently succeed despite, not because of, forced ranking systems. These systems become another barrier they have to overcome on the way to sustained results.

Forced ratings are an attempt to compensate for poor leadership.

For the long-term, however, the answer to sustained transformational results isn’t forced rankings. If the problem is poor leadership, it should be fairly obvious: fix the problem.

Motivate Your Team: The Alternative to Forced Ratings

If you’re struggling to reboot the leadership in your organization, or if you’re a team leader who wants to transform and sustain breakthrough results, start here:

  • Hire fantastic people.  Identify the competencies your top performers share in common and interview for those traits.
  • Cultivate and create systems that help top performers to excel. What is the number one frustration that prevents your team from excelling? What can you do to remove it or lessen its disruptive impact?
  • Align compensation with what you really want. If you need a team to perform at an objective level of excellence, compensate them for that performance. Don’t turn the team against itself with artificial comparisons that don’t benefit the work that’s done for your customers.
  • Invest in your leaders and managers – formally or informally, with budget or without the budget. No excuses. Give your managers and leaders the tools they need to succeed. If you need a place to begin, check out the free Let’s Grow Leaders Facilitator’s Guide that accompanies Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul.
  • At a minimum, equip and expect yourself and your managers and leaders to:
    • Set clear, shared, mutually understood expectations that include purpose & meaning and the MIT behaviors that lead to success.
    • Train and equip their people to perform well.
    • Hold themselves and their people accountable.
    • Help team members to grow with training, coaching, encouragement, and challenge for high performers.
    • Celebrate success.
    • Hold leaders accountable for their results and how they achieve them. I often see senior leaders talk about how they expect their team leaders to perform, but they never actually reinforce the behaviors or hold their direct reports accountable.

Your Turn

Remember, you can’t replace the work of a human leader with a formula. Invest in your leaders and hold them accountable for leading.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts about forced ranking systems or your #1 tip to make them unnecessary.

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur: Even if You Work for the Big Guys

Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving. Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely, and you’re an entrepreneur. It’s tempting to industrialize this work, to make it something with rules and bosses and processes. But that’s not the heart of it. The work is to solve problems in a way that you’re proud of.” – Seth Godin

One of the real joys of what we choose to do in life is working with leaders across a wide range of companies, big and small, established and new. So many of the challenges and opportunities are similar.

Almost every company struggles in some way, shape or form, with staying focused on what’s really important. Holding tough conversations is a real issue for most managers around the globe.  And, attracting and retaining the right talent for your key positions and culture never goes away.

There are also some challenges that seem to trend with company maturity and size. With start-ups,  there’s usually a scrappy, “How can we?” attitude that makes the folks at every level thirsty to Own the U.G.L.Y. and make things better. Love that. Of course, there are usually some operational challenges and growing pains, but that’s another post.

We’ve had some exciting opportunities recently to cross-pollinate some of the mindsets and best-practices we’re seeing from our start-up clients with some of the leaders in more established cultures with legacy operating norms (and vice versa). Of course, this is big fun for me,  since I spent 20 years at Fortune 50, Verizon, and now run our own fast-growing entrepreneurial start-up working to make a global impact.

Here are just a few of my thoughts.

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur

  1. Make Every Hire Matter
    I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who’s staffing strategy was putting “butts in seats.” They’re hiring for values alignment, key skill sets, creativity and gung-ho. People are pricey and there’s no margin for a bad hire. Now running my own company, I know there’s nothing more vital than building an A team. You may find our free Winning Well Interviewing guide helpful.
  2. Accountability is the Fabric of Success
    What I see in these scrappy, successful companies is a tenacious focus on executing the plan. When necessary pivots occur, there’s a quick huddle and smart decisions around what’s got to go to accomplish the next strategic move. “I didn’t get to it,” doesn’t go over real well when the visionary CEO is staring at you wondering why.
  3. Own Your Outcomes
    When you’re an entrepreneur, you can look around for someone else to blame for your problems (e.g. the market, the economy), but at the end of the day, they’re still your problems. Entrepreneurs know the blame game just wastes time. I love this Fast Company article on the topic. Their #1 piece of advice is to “shape your life experience.”

    Entrepreneurial thinking is about where we place the responsibility for our experiences. Although it’s not realistic to think that we have complete control of all our experiences, it’s martyrdom to think that we have none. An entrepreneur is someone who is deeply engaged in his or her experience of life and willing to do the daily work of transforming it. Very successful entrepreneurs take the time to analyze their lives and to look closely at their vision and their purpose in life.

    They put their lives on paper. They take the time to construct mental images that guide them on their journey. While most people are winging it, they put their life mission and business vision and goals on paper. Then they go to work executing their plan.

  4. Put a stop to B.S. Meetings
    I learned this one fast. As an entrepreneur, when you calculate the hourly rate of everyone in the scene, yikes, it adds up. Learn to make your meetings the very best use of everyone’s time.
  5. Pilot New Ideas and Fail Fast
    My experience at Verizon is that we stayed at initiatives too long… riding that horse, way past its death… for political reasons, face-saving reasons, inertia reasons…
    I don’t see that in the start-ups I admire. They experiment and are willing to get over the sunk costs to do what really makes sense.

Your turn.

Let’s start a conversation. What advice do the big guys have for the start-ups? And the startups have for the big guys?

How Do I Fire Someone and Still Win Well?

Firing With Compassion: How Do I Fire Someone and Still Win Well?

Managers often have to fire people, but there is a huge difference between managers who do it well and those who make it a terrible, humiliating experience. Firing someone is one of the most difficult things most managers will ever do. Even so, removing a person from your team is an important part of winning. Removing poor performers tells your contributing people that you value their time and effort.  When you remove troublesome individuals you help everyone become more productive–especially you. A troublesome poor performer can soak up to 80 percent of your time when you don’t take proper care of the situation.

What Inspired This Post

We had an overwhelming response to David’s recent post, Employee to Valuable to Fire? 6 Leadership Strategies. It takes courage to establish clear standards of behavior and hold even your “high performers” accountable for destructive behaviors.

This has inspired several of you to ask us an important follow-up question, “So, what if I have to fire someone, who’s a really nice guy, but is not the right fit and is really struggling? I’ve trained. I’ve coached. I’ve found a mentor. I just don’t think they can get there from here… can I fire them and still be a Winning Well manager?”

As we share in Winning Well.

Now you might think Winning Well managers have everyone focused on the right behaviors, hold them accountable, and inspire greatness, so there would be no need to fire anyone. Sadly, even the strongest managers find themselves in situations where the best solution for all parties is to part ways. Winning Well managers know how to fire someone with grace and dignity

So yes, if you’re going to win, there will come a time where you need to fire people. How you do it determines if you win well. This trips up many managers.

As we were in the early stages of writing together, we were surprised at how similar our experiences were when it came to letting someone go. Both of us had numerous examples of people for whom we had done everything we possibly could, finally had to have the tough conversation to let them go, and then they sent us a friendly Facebook request and we’re still in touch.

They don’t all go that way of course. And it’s important to understand the gravity of the situation. We totally agree with a client who shared, “If you ever reach a place where you can affect a person’s livelihood and family without a second thought, then it’s time for you to resign.”

A Mindset Shift

One fundamental mindset to embrace before you can help your people achieve results together is not everyone is meant to be part of every group, team, or organization.

On the surface, this may seem self-evident, and yet you’ve probably been part of an organization or team that suffered because those with the responsibility to ensure fit and mission alignment did not do their job. At the heart of terminating employees with grace and dignity is the understanding that the human being in front of you has strengths and value–strengths and value that just don’t work in this current position.

If you need to fire someone, it doesn’t really matter if she did something wrong or simply isn’t an ideal fit. We’re talking about a mindset you bring to the process: This isn’t personal, and not everyone is meant to be part of every team.

One of the most important pieces of the termination decision is the awareness that when you help someone move on, you serve that person too. This is a vital part of knowing how to say good-bye: realizing that you don’t do an employee any favors by tolerating poor performance, mission alignment, or abuse of co-workers.

How Do I Fire Someone and Still Win Well?

Every situation is different of course. And please involve your HR manager to do this well. On top of that, we offer this perspective.

First, do your homework. When you prepare properly, you make it less likely you’ll run into problems with termination decisions. That’s why we stress the importance of clear expectation. If you get frustrated with an employee’s performance, but your expectations weren’t clear, that’s your fault, not hers. Be diligent with clear expectations know your company’s policies and procedures, and go through the right processes to help the person perform or prepare for the termination.

Now let’s assume you’ve done all the work leading up to the termination decision. You’ve clarified expectations, provided necessary training, given appropriate second chances, and still it did not work out. And now your stuck with “How?”

Human Resources professionals will rightly tell you to keep the conversation short, clear and direct. Generally, in the presence of a witness, you will tell the employee what is happening, have her pack, and escort her off-site. Don’t apologize. Be aware of security issues; we’ve both conducted termination where we had extra security planted around the corner if things got “crazy” with an employee who became abusive or threatening.

When You Want to Say More

When your heart calls for more than a simple, straightforward response keep in mind:

  1. It’s not about you.
    It can be tempting to express your own difficulty or emotional anguish about letting someone go. Don’t. A simple, neutrally-worded statement along the lines of “These conversations are not easy” is adequate.
  2. He’s not performing, but he’s not bad.
    Be clear about the behaviors that are a reason for the termination. Referencing the behaviors, not the person.
  3. She has a future and could use some hope.
    Help her to fail forward. When terminating someone for something stupid he/she did (like an ethics violation) you could share your experiences of others who have bounced back “You don’t have to let this define you. I’ve seen many people who have bounced back and had vibrant careers.”
  4. Allow space for questions.
    It’s compassionate to say something like, “I know this can be a lot to take in. Do you have any questions about the process or what happens next?”
  5. You can say goodbye.
    We’ve never regretted taking a moment to connect and say goodbye. If you were close, it’s okay to say something personal if it feels right.

Compassionate leaders stay compassionate. Stay firm, don’t back-pedal. But it’s okay to say, “Good-bye,” and, “You can survive this.”

Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

Executive Visits: 5 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

You know executive visits are important. And let’s face it, they come more naturally to some of us than others. Executive visits can backfire, or they can be brilliant. They can be casual or deliberate.  Sometimes just wandering around is exactly what you and your team need. You just show up and listen, smell and feel.

AND I would argue that the leaders I see best leveraging executive visits as a key component of their communication plan design their visits as deliberately as they do the rest of their strategy.

They consider carefully–why am I showing up? What do I want my team to think, feel and do as a result of my being there?

And they show up to answer that question.

5 Ways to Focus Your Executive Visits For More Influence and Impact

Before we start,  I’m going to assume you’ve mastered the essential elements of MBWA (management by wandering around) versus OCHTC (“Oh crap, here they come.” If you missed that popular post, start here. 

Beyond that, here are four approaches to strategic executive visits that can help reinforce and build a Winning Well culture.

Clarity

The Purpose: Sharing Vision; Reinforcing MIT Goals and Behaviors; Leading By Example

The Approach: On a visit like this, you’ve got one or two strategic priorities you want to be sure everyone understands.  There are lots of ways to do this. Do your homework and find out about your local role models of desired behaviors — spend time with them and celebrating them. Strategic storytelling works great for a visit like this. Share your personal (or customer) stories connecting what you’re asking people to do to why. 

One of my favorite clarity approaches to executive visits in my Verizon store executive role was to just spend time on the floor of the store, talking to customers and modeling the behaviors I was insistent on reinforcing. It’s hard to argue that a behavior doesn’t work when they see your leader modeling the way.

Capacity

The Purpose: Learning–Do your employees have the training, tools, and resources they need to succeed?

The Approach: Lots of listening. Lots of questions.

  • What do you need to really improve the customer experience?
  • Is the new system making your job easier or harder? Why?
  • What additional training do you need?
  • What do you wish I knew about _______?

Commitment

The Purpose: Building trusting relationships and increasing accountability.

The Approach: Reinforcing expectations and key behaviors. Paying attention to what’s really happening and the customer experience.

In Winning Well, we share an example an executive who, despite a culture of “Gotcha” in field visits went out on a commitment tour each year.

Bill is a retail store director who lived in a trust but verify culture. What this meant was that he and every executive above him were expected to constantly show up in stores to experience what was happening as customers would.

Is there a bird’s next over the the front entrance risking bird poop on the customer’s head? Are customers being served in a timely way? Did the store look inviting, with all light bulbs on and everything dusted and ready to go? Were the employees up to speed on the latest products and services?

There was no question. Knowing an executive could stop in at any moment kept everyone on their toes. The stores were undoubtedly cleaner and the customer service was better as a result.

Of course, these visits were always stressful. The general sentiment was “no such thing as a good visit”–the best you could hope for was “not a bad one.”

Which is why Bill came up with an idea to change the experience.

Every summer, instead of the usual pop-in store visits, Bill rented a van, wrapped it in the company logo and fun graphic and hit the road visiting all his stores.

The schedule was announced ahead of time, and there was one big rule: Employees would receive only positive feedback, celebration and fun.

If something was wrong, Bill would quietly call the manager’s attention to it. If it was a small thing like an unplugged sign, he would just plug it in and fix it himself while no one was looking.

These tours had a clear goal: To notice what was right. He did his homework and cane prepared with all kinds of recognition, along with a token of appreciation for every employee.

His operations manager came along and took tons of pictures of every visit. Every evening they created an upbeat collage that included the names of everyone recognized and why. The “postcard” was emailed to the entire region every evening.

The other store directors jokingly referered to the month as Bill’s “love tour,” but Bill was confident enough to withstand the razzing.

The truth is, the employees loved the love.

Results skyrocketed during that time. The employees wanted to be on top of their game when the tour stopped by their store, and, as you can imagine, there was not a birds nest in sight. Everything was dusted and ready to go, and the employees knew all about the latest products and services.

These planned visits caused everyone to go through their checklists and remember what a great experience looked like.  this was so much more effecitve than a “gotcha ” pop-in visit.

Yes, Bill still had to show up unannounced at other time. Winning Well requires holding people accountable. But the love tour helped remind employees of what they were capable of doing and built commitment.

Curiosity

Another vital type of executive visit, which seems to be quite hard for some executives, is a curiosity tour. It can be tricky.

The Purpose: To set aside what you think you know and truly listen to employees and customers.

The Approach: Show up humbly and ask strategic open-ended questions. Talk to as many folks as you can in as many roles as possible. Talk to customers. Resist the urge to talk too much or to “sell” why their struggle isn’t real. Listen. Take notes. And really consider.

Every single time I’ve gone out on a curiosity tour, I learned something useful. When I work with clients I take this approach too. You wouldn’t believe how many times an executive will ask me, “How in the world did you figure out that was an issue?” and the answer is almost always the same.

I asked.

You can too.

No matter what kind of executive visit your planning, if you can show up with true confident humility with a balanced focus on results and relationships, you will make a positive impact.

Connection

And sometimes the most important reason to head out is to show up human to build trust and connection.

The Purpose: To build relationships

The Approach: This works best when you appear to show up with no “agenda” but just eager to learn more about your team and let them learn more about you as human beings. Sometimes this can be done around a fun teambuilding event, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t forget to let them see a bit about who you are and why you do what you do.

Related Thoughts

Town Hall Meetings: 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Leadership Message

My Fast Company Article on Listening: 7 Ways to Build a Culture of Listening

5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

 

Too valuable to fire?

Employee Too Valuable to Fire? 6 Leadership Strategies

Is Anyone Ever Too Valuable to Fire?

Have you ever worked with an obnoxious colleague who seemed to be protected because the employee was considered too valuable to fire?

Maybe you’re a team leader who has one of these brilliant bullies on your team.

If so, you might not be surprised at what I watched happen at a corporate leadership development program I was facilitating. The HR Director had set out materials on every table – including dishes of candy.

A tall, lanky man entered the room, went straight to the back row, asked the HR Director and his own supervisor if he had to attend the program. When they told him he needed to be there if he wanted to lead a team, he threw a tantrum.

He picked up the dish of candy, threw it against the wall, swept the papers from the table, and unleashed a string of profanity.

In most organizations, that behavior would be a “career limiting move” so I was curious how the HR Director and his supervisor would respond.

They walked away.

I asked the HR Director how she was going to address his behavior.

She replied, “Oh that? That was tame. He’s been far worse, but I’m not allowed to address his behavior. The CEO says he’s too important to lose. He’s really smart and we need him on this project.”

Too Valuable to Fire?

If you’re a leader who tolerates abusive behavior, harassment, or bullying because the employee is smart or talented, you’re making a big mistake.

Think about the messages you’re sending to your team.

First, you’ve told your team that you’re weak. You’re not a strong enough leader to create a positive work environment.

Next, you’ve told your team members that you don’t value them. If you did value them, you would ensure they were treated humanely.

Finally, you’ve told everyone that this kind of abuse, harassment, and bullying is okay. You’ve planted seeds for even more chaos and disruption.

The reality is: no one is too valuable to fire. If you’re doing work that requires a team of people working together, no one brilliant person can do everything themselves.

It’s easy to get caught in a trap when you think you either have to tolerate the bad behavior or else lose the talent. Fortunately, that trap is an illusion. You have powerful leadership tools and choices to make. Here are six leadership strategies to help you deal with an employee who seems like they’re too valuable to fire:

  1. Pick Your Problems

Leaders recognize that they don’t get to chose if they have problems. It’s not “if problems” but “which problems.” The choice is Which set of problems do you want to have? Before you can do anything else, you’ve got to face reality: you have a serious issue here and you’re going to have serious problems.

Which problems do you want? The problems where everyone leaves and the team degenerates into chaos or the problems where you figure out how to address the issues and build a high-performance culture?

  1. What Does Success Look Like?

One of your most important leadership responsibilities is to capture, communicate, and clarify what success looks like for your team. When you’re interviewing, when you’re onboarding, when you’re meeting with your people…consistently reinforce what success looks like. What results will you achieve together? How will you achieve them? How will you work together, treat one another, and build healthy professional relationships?

Clarify what success looks like from the beginning and you’re less likely to hire, much less have to fire, someone for abuse, harassment, and bullying behaviors.

  1. Develop Early

As you work with your people, pay attention to their development from the first day. Use the Competence / Confidence model to quickly give them the feedback they need to grow. Brilliant bullies are often in the upper right quadrant because they aren’t as good as they think they are – they’re undermining their own performance by driving others away.

It is much easier to deal with a behavioral performance issue when you first see it than to address it once it is entrenched.

  1. Ditch the Diaper Drama

One of our favorite Winning Well leadership behaviors is to speak the truth directly, but in a way that builds relationships. Don’t wrap the stink in layers of self-protection (the way that modern diaper pails do) to cover the stink, but don’t solve the problem.

Directly address abuse, harassment, and bullying by describing what you’ve observed. Often, just the act of describing what you saw and heard will help the other person adjust their behavior.

I once had a high-value employee yell at me: “I’m tired of you acting like Hitler.” (His report was three weeks overdue and he’d run out of grace period to get it done.) I responded with the “Notice” step from the INSPIRE model: “I noticed that you just called me Hitler. Last I checked, I hadn’t committed any genocide.” Then I followed up with the “Probe” step: “What’s going on?”

When he was calmly confronted with his own behavior, he calmed down and we were able to talk about the real issue and make an agreement that we would never use that kind of language again.

  1. Manage Up – Quickly

If you suspect (or know for certain) that your boss doesn’t want to lose this person, get in front of it. Don’t do anything without their buy-in. You don’t want to have to back-pedal on a major decision and lose credibility. Talk with your boss about the behaviors, the impact on your team, the way it affects performance, and the alternatives they’re willing to accept.

You can also ditch the diaper drama in this conversation: “What level of abuse and harassment are you willing to tolerate for this person’s performance?”

  1. Rally the Team

One of the most awesome examples I’ve ever seen of a manager who had to deal with an employee too valuable to fire was Allan, a senior engineer facing a global product launch. He had a brilliant, but abusive, team member who was a key contributor to the project. The entire team had spoken with him individually about this person. Allan had done everything he could and it was time to terminate.

He spoke with senior vice president who told him: “I won’t stand in your way if you want to let this guy go, but this is totally your call. You are still responsible for getting the product launch done on time. It that doesn’t happen, it will likely mean your job.”

Allan chose to terminate the problem employee’s employment and then met with his team. “That employee is no longer with us,” he told them. “We still have to meet our deadline. I believe in us and I know we can do it, but without him, it’s not going to be easy. How can we do it?”

The team was grateful, energized, and innovative in coming up with ways they could meet their deadline. Productivity soared.

“It was a major gut check,” Allan shared with me, “I was worried about my own job, but I’m so glad I made the decision I did. I chose to believe in my team – and I’m glad I did.”

Your Turn

You might be wondering what happened to the company where I met the candy-thrower.

I explained to the executive team that if they didn’t confront this man’s behavior, they should stop wasting money on leadership development (because your behavior tells your people that you don’t actually value leadership), should spend the money on recruiting (because no one will stick around to deal with that every day), and prepare to miss their next product development deadlines (because the caustic atmosphere was killing everyone else’s productivity).

Leave us a comment and share your best practices when confronted with an employee who seems as if they’re too valuable to fire.

Employee Engagement - Avoid Tremendous Leadership Mistake

Employee Engagement – Avoid This Tremendous Leadership Mistake

Employee Engagement – Play the Game, Don’t Game the Score

When you see low employee engagement scores, what is your first reaction?

I spoke with a company executive who was upset with his engagement scores. “The numbers are horrible,” he said. “Can you help us with some team-building?”

I replied, “Probably not.”

He looked at me with a combination of shock and amusement.  He wasn’t used to consultants telling him they didn’t want his money.

“Okay, tell me why not?”

It’s not that I wasn’t willing to help – of course, I would. But when morale stinks, employee engagement scores are down the drain, and your people are upset, team building isn’t the solution.

In fact, it’s a tremendous mistake that will almost always make things worse.

Start With Why

Low employee engagement scores are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Leaders who are Winning Well focus on playing the game, not gaming the score. That means they don’t try to manipulate the score with team-building, pizza, or incentives – they stay focused on the critical behaviors that drive performance and results.Employee engagement - play the game don't game the score

Employee engagement is no exception. Focus on the score and you’re lost. Instead, play the game: focus on the behaviors that create the score.

When I asked the executive why his people were upset, he wasn’t sure.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that there were significant breakdowns of clarity and commitment. There were problems communicating major organizational changes, one mid-level manager who had become territorial and was needlessly frustrating other departments, and front-line leaders who were driving talent away by scaring people into performance.

Fix The Real Problem

Don’t try to motivate your way out of a mess. Fix the mess. (Tweet This)

For this executive, that meant apologizing for the communication problems, getting the right information out to everyone, listening to and addressing the concerns his people had about the new process, and taking aside the territorial manager for some one-on-one coaching and accountability. Then he invested in leadership development for his front-line leaders and we worked with the middle-level managers to reinforce the front-line leaders’ new focus on results and relationships.

Don’t use team-building in response to problems or low morale. Fix the communication problems. Improve the process issue that prevents people from doing their job.

Icing On The Employee Engagement Cake

Team-building is often loathed and panned by employees and managers alike because it can be such a waste of time – a well-intentioned, but a completely ineffectual response to a problem that takes real work to solve.

Done properly, real team-building is the icing on a good cake.  It takes a solid foundation and makes it something truly special.

Imagine trying to spread frosting on a cake that is only half-cooked. You’d a have a nasty, goopy mess that ends up in the trash. You can’t frost a half-baked cake and you can’t use motivation or team-building in place of fundamentals.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: How do you make sure you’re not trying to “motivate your way out of a mess”? Or if you’ve got a particularly awful example of this mistake at work, you can share that too.

Communicating With Executives When Your World's on Fire

Communicating With Executives When Your World’s on Fire

When your world’s on fire, and you’re working around the clock to survive, it feels like the last thing you have time for is formal updates. And of course, the bigger the fire, the more the senior team needs to know what’s going on. What’s the secret to communicating with executives efficiently so you can stay focused on critical operations?

Communicating With Executives: Lessons Learned

It was 2012 and  I was leading the outsourced call center channel at Verizon Wireless when we found ourselves in the middle of a literal firestorm.

The Waldo Canyon Fires were raging through Colorado Springs and were wreaking havoc on the Garden of the God’s adjacent to the call center which had 1100 human beings taking Verizon calls. Just across town, we had another call center which, with just a quick shift of the wind, would also be in the path of the fire. Most of the homes in the area had been evacuated and the firefighters had turned our call center parking lot into a base camp for fighting the fire.

First and foremost we had employee safety concerns. Was everyone accounted for? How could we best support those in distress? Who needed help? How would we communicate?

The next concern, of course,  was the massive operational impact of 20% of our team not able to get to work, and the growing wait times, frustrated customers, and the downward customer experience that comes from the cocktail of angry waiting customers and overloaded humans doing the best they can.

What’s our capacity at other centers? How fast could we cross-train the specialty functions that were handled from those centers? Could we bus employees to the nearest centers? How much overtime could we squeeze out, and for how long? What if the centers were destroyed? Could IT pull off a temporary center or a work at home strategy? How would we keep customer data safe in a scene like that? How should we modify our HR policies during this time? The list was long…and complicated.

We were doing the best we could, my team had been working around the clock. Everyone was completely exhausted.

The C-suite needed an update.

So I scrambled. I quickly pulled together all the details. I summarized our HR and cross-training strategies in an email. Sent another update on the IT concerns. Then another email with the real estate contingency plans.

My phone rang. It was the senior leader headed into the meeting for a C-level briefing.

“Karin, I’ve just searched my email for the name Karin Hurt. Oh, lots of emails here. Now guess what I’m doing now? Highlighting them all and hitting delete…yup now they’re all gone.”

She continued.

“I get that your world is literally on fire and what you and your team are doing is very important. I trust that you’ve got it handled. But I can’t handle all this info. I’ve got five other major issues to read out on and I’ve only got 20 minutes.

Send me a new email with five bullet points. Tell us how you’ve got this under control and what else you need.

5 Questions to Answer When Communicating With Executives in Times of Crises

I was crushed. We were working hard! I wanted the C-level team to understand the brilliance of our plan and to see how hard the team was working. But at a strategic level, what they needed most was to know: What happened?  So what? What’s next?

If you find yourself in the midst of a firestorm, here are 5 questions that can help you form your executive briefing.

  1. What happened?
    Consider this a newspaper headline. What happened and what’s the current and potential human and business impact?
  2. What have you done?
    Summarize key actions, timelines, and impact.
  3. What’s next?
    Outline next steps and timelines
  4. What’s in jeopardy?
    Ditch the Diaper Genie™ and be real with what’s at stake and what could go wrong, as well as the downstream impact on other projects and business priorities.
  5. What do you need?
    Where do you need help? What additional resources or support do you need?

Of course, you need to be prepared with all the details and to engage in deep discussion of why you chose your path and other options you considered. But a strong executive summary will save everyone time, get you the support you need, and and let you get back to what matters most– fighting the fire.

Your turn. What are your best practices for communicating with executives in times of crises?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons DIVDSHUB

culture matters: DTR and your new hires first 12 months

Culture Matters: DTR and Your New Hire’s First Year

Think back to your first twelve months at your company. I imagine you spent a lot of time thinking about the culture and how you fit in. Your new hires are doing that too. There’s a lot to consider before they can truly commit. How can you make a difference?

Culture and DTR

A young manager approached us after our keynote in Chicago.

Do you have a minute? I’m not sure exactly what I want to say… but this is what I’m processing about culture after hearing you and your stories.

I’ve been with my company a year… and I know what I value and what matters most, and I THINK I can make an impact on the culture. BUT I look around and I seem to be the only one who rolls the way you’re talking about– focusing on results AND relationships. Fostering true collaboration. Speaking the truth…

It would be a lot easier to move to another, more progressive, company with a better culture like_________ (she inserted a few possibilities here) where the values are more aligned. I mean I COULD work to change the culture HERE… I like these guys, okay… but CAN I CHANGE THE CULTURE AT LEAST FOR MY TEAM? AT WHAT COST?

I mean when you think about it, it’s a lot like a dating relationship. The whole time you were talking I kept thinking. Exactly WHY am I staying? What can I GIVE? What will I RECEIVE?  Is this the RIGHT company for me?

I heard all you were saying about building a Winning Well culture, and trust and real conversations… and I just thought, ‘Yikes. I really have a decision to make here. I have to DTR with my company (translation: for those of you who’ve been out of the dating scene a while DTR= define the relationship)’.

You guys get it right? You are in love. You are in love with each other and you’re in love with what you want to do in the world too.

It’s not REALLY THAT DIFFERENT? I mean, is it? ALIGNMENT MATTERS.

At about the year mark, you really need to decide… am I going to commit to this company? To be all in? Or should I start looking around a bit more, before I decide?

And then it got really real.

Because after a while once you’ve invested 10 or plus years with a company it’s just too late to change.

I mean the relationship might not be that great, but…. you’ve got all these sunk years in…  so people stay, but the commitment is sketchy. I see that all around me. People staying at my company because it’s the easy choice, but their passion is gone. I don’t want to end up like that.

Culture Matters: Questions Your New Hires Might Be Asking Themselves in Their First Year

Here are few questions your new hires might be asking themselves in their first year.

  • What matters most around here?
  • Do those things matter to me?
  • Are these my people?
  • Do people care about me?
  • Are people like me succeeding here?
  • Are my skills and contributions valued?
  • Are my leaders as committed to me as I am to them?
  • Do I matter?
  • Can I make an impact?
  • What will this place look like in 10 years?

How would your new hires answer these questions? How would you?

See Also. Make Your New Hire’s Day: 7 Ways to Improve the New Hire Experience

Photo Credit Daniel Horacio Agostini

get things done leading when life isn't fair

Get Things Done – Leading When Life Isn’t Fair

Get Things Done by Changing Your Question

Sara leaned back, crossed her arms, and sighed.

“It’s not right! My VP expects me to hit these numbers, but customers want updates, and research is focused on new products and won’t give me the time of day. How can I get things done with all this?”

She shook her head. “I guess I’ll go down to R&D and tell them they’ve got to change their attitude or the company’s going to end up in the toilet. This just sucks!”

When Life Isn’t Fair

Can you identify with Sara?

You’re working hard, you take your work seriously, and then you’re confronted with obstacles. Problems. Challenges.

They’re not your fault.

You didn’t ask for them, but there they are, staring you in the face, keeping you from moving forward. You can’t get things done.

Every leader is faced with unfair, difficult circumstances at some point. That’s just life.

Many people will spend years or even their entire life stuck in the quicksand of ‘not-fair-despair.’

But it’s also the moment where leaders are born.

Stuck

Sara was stuck because she hadn’t asked herself the most important question that every great leader asks of both themselves and their team.

She was stuck because her focus was on her problems: other people’s expectations and attitudes.

She was stuck because she chose to see herself as a victim.

If you’re there now, it’s okay. It means your human.

Just don’t stay there.

“Why me?” and it’s cousin “What’s wrong with those people?” are horrible leadership questions. They suck the energy out of you because they give away your power.

The good news is that you can transform your energy, instantly reclaim your power, and get unstuck in just a few seconds.

Three Worlds That Will Transform Your Leadership and Help You Get Things Done

It only takes one question.

It’s a question every great leader asks and its only three words long.

“How Can I…?”

Those seven letters may not look like much, but they are the foundation of leadership.

With those three words:

  • You return your focus to your own power and ability to act.
  • You tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans.)
  • You vastly increase the odds of finding a solution (because you’re looking for them!)
  • And you take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control – yourself.

Restore Your Power

When Sara asked “How can I…?” she finished the question with her goals.

Eg: “How can I work with R&D to find a solution to the customer updates and meet my numbers?” Or, “How can I work with my VP to meet or modify my sales goals? “

With that one “How can I?” in mind, Sara generated a list of potential solutions that didn’t involve forcing someone else to do something.

This question works for teams too.

When I served as an elected councilman I watched our mayor at the time, Joe Rice, transform a room full of stymied constituents, staff, and representatives with one question:

“We can find 1000 reasons why this won’t work. Let’s try a different question, ‘How can we do it?’”

In a matter of seconds, everyone’s thinking changed.

This powerful question is at the heart of leadership. Leaders take ownership for themselves, others, and the world around them. You cannot lead without first taking responsibility.

What About…

1) When you ask “How can I…?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Use this follow up question from our coaching model: “What might I do if I did know?”

Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?”

2) Responsibility doesn’t mean co-dependency. You are responsible TO your team, not FOR your team. To your organization, not for your organization. To your spouse, not for your spouse.

Your Turn

What problem are you and your team facing that you’re not sure how to solve? How can you pull together and figure it out? (See what I did there?)

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts or your favorite way to move out of victim-thinking and back to responsibility and leadership.

Massive Failures - What Great Leaders Do Next

Massive Failures? What Great Leaders Do Next

What do you do when you’ve screwed up and everyone knows it? Your failures weren’t just mistakes in judgment…you let yourself down. You didn’t keep your commitment. You hurt people you are supposed to help. Your team looks at you with disappointment.

Now what?

We recently spent a week in Germany sharing Winning Well practices with project managers from throughout Europe and the Middle East.

One of the most striking aspects of our travel in Berlin was the way in which Germany has chosen to confront its own history.

In the center of Berlin you will find monuments to the millions of victims of the Nazi regime. Holocaust education is mandatory for every student. Sections of the Berlin wall remain along with memorials to those who were killed trying to cross that border.

The ways in which Germany has acknowledged and taken responsibility are solemn and humbling examples of how to address your own failures so you can rebuild your influence and credibility.

big mistakes what great leaders do Holocaust Memorial photo

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany

 

  1. Don’t Hide
    Germany has chosen not to run from its past. It is literally out in the open for everyone to see. When you screw up, break a promise, or hurt someone, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Acknowledge it. Own it.
  1. Apologize
    German leaders up to this day have apologized with statements of shame and repentance. Many leaders struggle to apologize for fear that it will make them look weak or ruin their credibility. The opposite is true. It takes strength to apologize and a straightforward apology builds your credibility. It signals that your team can trust you and it models how they should behave when they let one another down.
  1. Learn and Make It Right Going Forward
    When you’ve hurt someone or broken your word, do what you can to rectify the situation. These actions and commitments don’t erase what was done and, depending on the severity of your behavior, you may not regain the trust of those you hurt, but they do give you a chance to rebuild your credibility, influence, and relationships. Following large reparation payments and support for survivors, Germany has committed itself to human rights and living up to ideals of human dignity, diversity, and respect.

Progress Not Perfection

It’s not perfect.

Germany continues to struggle with anti-Semitism and the challenge of welcoming refugee immigrants while integrating new arrivals into a culture that strives to live up to its ideals of diversity and respect.

Your team doesn’t expect you to be a perfect person. They’re not perfect and when they see you screw up, own your failures, and move forward, you make it more likely that they’ll trust you and be able to do the same.

Final Thoughts

We recognize that for some readers this may be a challenging article. We do not mean to make light of the pain you have experienced nor would we suggest that you should readily trust someone only because they have apologized.

For others, we recognize the challenge that comes with discussing what has become the embodiment of evil in our age. We do not intend to make light of these events nor make false equivalencies between a leader’s broken promise and the systematic extermination of human beings. Even so, the principles that apply here apply to us all.

Lead well – the world needs you.

Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring to Build Trust and Connection

Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring To Build Trust and Connection

Are you looking for a meaningful activity to build trust and connection at your next leadership retreat? Do you have high-potential employees who need greater exposure? This easy-to-facilitate exercise can go a long way in jump-starting connection and conversation.

An Easy Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring

The larger and more spread out my team became in my executive roles at Verizon, the more I valued the time to get my managers off-site for a quick leadership retreat—even if it was just a day at the Holiday Inn down the street. A leadership retreat provides a great opportunity to align on your team vision, and to have the UGLY conversations that matter so much, but are hard to have in the midst of the day-to-day fray.

Although the exercises I linked to above were staples in my leadership retreat bag of tricks, the one I’m sharing with you today is arguably one of my favorites for deepening relationships.

This was a variation on my “bring-a-friend” staff meetings, where each of my direct reports would bring a “friend,” ( a high-potential employee) from their team to join our staff meeting, to give them exposure to the strategic thinking and decision making processes that happened at the executive level.

In this case, we brought our next tier of succession planning candidates in to join my executive team and me for the afternoon of our retreat to hold “speed mentoring sessions.”

The Design

We set up small tables around the room, and each of the leaders manned a station and the mentees flowed through spending 10 minutes at each station. The mentees controlled the conversations, and each took on a different flavor.

Although none of us had any experience with “speed dating” we were intrigued by the concept of short, focused interactions to look for areas of common interest.

Each participant was asked to come prepared with any ideas and questions they had for the leaders on the team. The “mentees-for-the-day” were in complete control of the conversations and could use the time however they wished.

The Questions

I was intrigued at how deep the conversations went in just 10 minutes. Each mentee took a different approach. Nearly all conversations sparked a dialogue that continued way past the leadership retreat.

Here a few they came up with:

  • “What’s my ‘brand’ with you?”
  • Why wouldn’t you promote me?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
  • What makes you fail?
  • What are you working on developmentally?
  • Did you ever take a job that was a bad fit? What did you do?
  • What characteristics are you looking for in a leader?
  • How do you think I am doing?
  • Just what makes you so passionate about leadership development?

The Feedback

The feedback we received was amazing. I was worried that the time was too short, or that the feedback from so many people in a short time frame would be overwhelming. Participants agreed that it was “intense” but would do it again with exactly t same design.

  • “It was helpful to see the patterns and consistency in the feedback.”
  • “I could tell everyone was being really candid and had my best interest at heart.”
  • “I liked that we could control the questions and decide where we wanted to take the conversation with each person.”
  • “It was great to see so many different perspectives on the same question.”

The conversations continued later that day, on a break or walking to dinner. Can you mentor in 10 minutes? Of course not. Can you spark a connection worth exploring further? You sure can.

I’d love to hear your best practices for your leadership retreats and leadership training. Drop me a line at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com or comment here.

You can also check out our FREE book group facilitator’s guide to our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results– Without Losing Your Soul.  (Lots of our clients use Winning Well as pre-reading for their leadership retreat.)