stretch goals: how to motivate your team

Stretch Goals: How to Motivate and Challenge Your Team

It’s that time of year. All around the world teams are being handed stretch goals that feel more like a delusion than a challenge. If this is happening to you, and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, don’t give up hope.

I’ve felt that sinking “There’s no way to pull this off” feeling more times than I can count—and yet most of the time, the team rallied to the challenge and achieved more than they ever thought possible. You can too. Time to rally the team.

6 Ways to Approach Impossible Stretch Goals

It starts by making big goals feel small and then getting curious about new ways to approach the work.

1. Break down the numbers

I was listening to a Senior Vice President tee-up my keynote to his frontline team.

His math to achieve the stretch goal was brilliant. If they could move the needle 1% on a key performance metric, they would save 2 million dollars! And if they saved that money, 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%. And he had clearly communicated a compelling “why” that got their attention.

That afternoon, we worked so that every manager left that meeting with specific behavioral commitments to improving their results  (which we collected in an online forum.)

I did a similar math exercise when I was in my sales exec role.

Instead of setting a goal of moving our team from 2% of our revenue coming from small and medium business sales to 20% (which we eventually achieved) we simply asked each sales rep to close one small deal (of at least 5 lines).

We knew it would only take 80% of the team hitting that manageable target to gain real momentum. Five lines sounded quite doable and in a few months, most of the team was there and had gained confidence they could do more.

2. And then stop talking about the numbers

The focus on the number is to make the big goals feel small. AND talking about numbers doesn’t actually build confidence or competence. Once you’ve broken down the goal resist the urge to make your daily conversations about the number—instead focus on consistently performing one or two vital behaviors you know will make an impact.

3. Uncover best practices

Pay close attention to who is knocking the results out of the park and why. Don’t just ask. Get out there and observe them in action. They may not even know why they are successful.

4. Encourage innovative ideas

If it’s really a stretch, it’s unlikely that just executing flawlessly on your current plan is enough. And it’s likely your team has ideas on how to work smarter. In our recent research, 40% of participants said they lacked the confidence to bring forward a new idea, and 67% said the reason they didn’t share their ideas was that no one asked. Be specific about the areas where you could use your team’s best thinking.

Note: See more in our article in Recruiter: Breaking the Safe Silence: Building a Culture Where People Share Their (Good) Ideas

5. Build friendly team competitions

Pair off your team into performance-enhancing diads. 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 achieve 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.

6. Change up your weekly one-on-ones

Our clients who regularly use our weekly MIT one-on-one huddle planner (which you can download for free here) tell us it’s made an incredible impact on their ability to hit their targets. It helps keep the team focused on specific behaviors in terms of results and relationships, as well as talking about how the manager can help remove barriers

Your turn: What are your best ideas for helping your team achieve stretch goals?

See Also:

How to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

Best Kept Secrets: Getting Your Team to Share Best Practices

how to lead when your team is exhausted

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted

Most of us get there from time to time. You’re stuck in a season where everything feels urgent. It’s one thing to push yourself, but what do you do when you know your team is exhausted too?

That Moment When Your Team is Exhausted

“I’m so sorry,” Karin whispered before he could even say hello. It was Sunday afternoon, and the third time she called that day. After a long week of crises, the senior team needed more updates  – on top of the heroic efforts the team was doing all weekend to improve the situation.

Her Ops Director, Tim, graciously spoke what they both knew was technically true, “Karin, no worries, this is my job.” But after a long couple of weeks,  she knew he was tired. They all were.

She hated to keep pushing, but Tim was the guy with the answers. She needed him and he knew it. But it was a Sunday and his family needed him too.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you lead well when your team is exhausted?

7 Ways to Lead Well When Your Team is Tired

You can’t possibly lead well from a constant state of urgency.  And if you’re living in a world where chronic urgency is the norm,  something’s wrong. But when the going gets tough, plan your triage.

1. Strategize Failure

Sure, the business needs you to do all the things. But the truth is that not all activities will have the same impact on your results. Help your team understand what matters most. Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission. Make it okay to be less than perfect on some deliverables so they can focus on the behaviors and activities that will have the biggest impact.

2. Visualize the Win

To offer hope, help them visualize what’s on the other side of this stressful mess. Brainstorm creative tactics and alternative approaches to achieving success, including leveraging talents and skills outside their normal job description. Help your team visualize and talk about what it will feel like when they’ve succeeded.

3. Celebrate Progress

When you’re under intense stress, it’s hard to think about finding time for celebration and recognition—after all, every minute not spent working on the work comes at a cost.

And, your team needs to notice you noticing.

Find small ways to celebrate and have a bit of fun along the way. Your team will be more energized and productive when know you care about them and the work they are putting in. It can also be good to plan and communicate a “when we get through this” celebration plan that gives the team something to collectively look forward to.

4. Manage Your Own Stress

If you’re freaking out, your team will too. Stress amplifies as it rolls downhill.

5. Provide a Little Leave

The normal response to overwhelmed is longer hours and fewer breaks. Review their calendars and help them find white space.  Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Stepping back will leave room for creativity and more efficient approaches.

6. Check-in on the Whole Team

Your highest performers won’t complain. They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done. You may not even know they’re tired. Initiate the conversation. Establish regular check-ins to see how everyone’s doing.

7Encourage Collaboration & Sharing of Best Practices

Fast-paced pressure creates silos. Catalyze best practice sharing. Eliminate redundant work. Benchmark how other departments are approaching similar issues. Ask for help from unusual suspects. You’ll get support and it will enhance their development.

And most importantly, if you’re thinking, “yeah exhausted is just a way of life around here,” it might be time for a “How can we?” conversation. “How can we achieve the high-performance we want, without leading a frantic lifestyle and burning out our team?” Or as Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say “choose calm over crazy” and find sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.

 Your turn.

What are your best practices for leading when your team is exhausted?

6 Reasons Your Staff is Keeping You in the Dark

6 Reasons Your Staff Keeps You in the Dark

Do you ever feel like your staff keeps you in the dark?

Do you ever wonder if they’re going out of their way to keep you out of their way?

That seems ridiculous. AND, it’s entirely possible.

Here’s the scary part if you’re looking to build a courageous, truth-telling culture. The higher your name is on the org chart, the more likely this is happening to you.

(As we write this, we’re envisioning our favorite direct reports Facebook messaging one another “Should we tell them we did that to them too?”) This “keeping you in the dark” thing happens to most leaders from time to time—even the best-intentioned.

When the pressure for performance is high, your team really cares, and they’re not getting the support they need—they may be tempted to work around you.

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves.

To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

6 Reasons Your Staff Keeps You in the Dark (and What to do Instead)

  1. Rush To Fix It – Did you ever have a boss that tries to fix every problem themselves, without fully understanding the subtleties of the scene? It can wreak havoc, right?  Keep in mind that your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating a concern may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Calling the supplier directly may derail negotiations. Instead, ask how you can best help. Our 9 What’s Problem Solving model is a great process for helping your staff think more critically and solve problems on their own. Solve Problems - 9 Questions to Help Your Team
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. If you want them to be more transparent, be more transparent. We’ve seen managers who simultaneously encourage their team to bring them issues AND coach them not to breathe a word to their boss.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. And after all, if you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Work to help your team recover from setbacks and mistakes. Sharing some stories of your own mistakes and poor choices can help too. Empowering them with the D.A.R.N. method for delivering bad news can also make a big difference.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue.  Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm what needs to happen next AND what needs to move down on their list to make room for that. We’ve seen too many managers leaving their boss’ office cursing under their breath regretting bringing the whole thing up.
  6. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy for them to share. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

You get more of what you recognize and appreciate. If you want courageous transparency, thank your team for shedding a little light on what you really need to know.

Your turn.

What are your best practices to encourage your team to tell you the truth?

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.

How To Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

Our MBA Orientation committee debated whether was this too much pressure.  The second week on campus, teams of first year MBA students would have 48 hours to research and make recommendations on a real business challenge for a large, high-profile company and package and communicate their recommendation to a high-profile audience.

Clearly, it’s more than a “game” when potential employers and university leadership are involved. I served as executive communications consultant, equipping them on presentation skills and packaging a compelling story, and then visited their case rooms up until the late night pancake “breakfast” critiquing their rehearsal and helping them fine-tune.

Every team was given the same challenge, information and resources. What was fascinating was how the teams varied in their approach to team dynamics and interaction. I got an insider’s view to most of the teams and watched the teams and their presentations transform (a few didn’t think they needed any help, but that’s another story.)

How to Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

I spoke with several of the teams that made it to the final round–mostly curious about how the most successful teams accomplished so much so quickly.

You guessed it–they had a balanced focus on results AND relationships, confidence AND humility. #winningwell

1. Quickly Identify Each Team Member’s Strengths (and Challenges)

The strongest teams didn’t waste time jockeying for position or covering up weaknesses. They weren’t afraid to say what they were good at, “Oh, when I worked for the World Bank, I used to work on this kind of stuff all the time, let me lead the analysis.” Or where they weren’t, “I don’t have much of a finance background, that’s why I’m here to round it out, BUT I’m GREAT at PowerPoint.”

2. Work Extremely Hard at Communication

Every team had International students studying in their non-native tongue. This often meant slowing down to repeat or find different words to explain a complex idea. The teams that won well understood the deep value their teammates were bringing to the table and took extra time to ensure they were heard and understood.

3. Invest in the Long View, Even in Short-Term Projects

Sure they all wanted to win the 48-hour challenge, but they also knew that the relationships they were building would last at least two years as they worked together throughout the program, and of course could become a powerful network down the road. They kept the big picture in mind as they managed their interactions.

4. Establish Formal Norms

Before they began they wrote down the big rules for team functioning AND they called each other on it when someone was out of bounds. This happened most during times of stress, “We agreed we do a little one-minute dance party when the stress got to much.”

5. Offer (and Receive) Candid Feedback

There was no time to sugarcoat. They cut through the B.S. and feedback was offered and received with the understanding that they all had the same big goal. When their second year coach, or someone gave them ideas to improve, they quickly said “Thank you,” took the advice, and made their presentation tighter.

Here’s a quick interview with one of my favorite winning well teams.

To learn more about these leaders you can click on their LinkedIn profiles.

Alison ScharmanMohamed BoraieShengnan WangSunghooh Huh,Will Boddy

Thanks to my nephew, Jared Herr for producing this video.

Need help accelerating your team’s development, or communicating more effectively? Please give me a call 443/750-149.

5 Ways to Surface Team Conflict and Live to Tell About It

We all know deep in our hearts that teams need conflict.

Conflict is “healthy.”

Leaders and teams have been talking about Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming, performing model since the mid 1960s.

Teams were storming long before that.

We get it intellectually.

We’ve even seen the value of addressing conflict play out practically.

But conflict is uncomfortable.

Sometimes addressing conflict does more harm than good.

Stirring the Pot

I am a pot stirrer.

If you have ever worked on a team of mine, you know I am constantly encouraging you to “air and discuss your concerns” with one another.

I will listen (for a minute) and then immediately send you back to the person with whom you need to engage.

People love that or hate that– that too, can create conflict.

When the pot gets stirred, and the going gets tough, that’s when the calls usually come in from all parties. My stance remains the same.

“I don’t need to hear the play-by play. Everyone gets an extra smile from my heart for working it through. I’m glad you are talking. Have as many secret meetings” as you need. I won’t take sides.”

The biggest worry seems to be, “what if I get exposed?” The truth is, there are at least two sides to every story. I know that. If your boss has any sense, she knows that. If YOU are the boss, same rules apply.

Once the storming is over, I love to ask “what did you learn about how to do conflict better?”

The truth is I ask myself this same question every day.

Sometimes I screw it up.

Conflict is never handled.

Conflict Survival Tips

Here’s what folks have told me they have learned (from addressing conflict in real situations). I hope this helps.

  1. Don’t wait too long.
    Your issues become less relevant and feel more stupid to the recipient as time passes.
  2. Own it.
    No one wants to hear “everyone is saying” comments
  3. Carefully consider the input of others
    Don’t let your response feel like retaliation
  4. Watch your facial expressions when giving and receiving feedback
    Everyone is watching those more than your words
  5. Be prepared to give specific examples
    Even if you are absolutely right, it’s difficult to digest and even more difficult to take action without the details.
  6. ??? My list goes on but, I’ll stop here and let you play. what would you add?