Nothing is certain and life is unpredictable. How can you lead effectively when you don’t know what’s going to happen next and everything seems to be spinning out of control? In this episode David discusses how to find a leadership path through whatever challenging circumstances come your way.
Last week we talked about mistakes managers make when delivering performance feedback. So, today let’s flip the conversation around. Let’s talk about how to make these conversations extraordinary. Start by giving your employees a structured way to reflect on their accomplishments. And, prepare them to be a partner in the conversation.
8 Reflection Questions to Help Your Team Reflect on Their Accomplishments
I’m offering eight questions to help your employees reflect on their accomplishments. Every business is different, so pick the ones that are right for your team, and send them out in advance with the expectation that they will come prepared for the conversation. If it’s too late for this year, no worries. Tee this up in your first one-on-one or staff meeting of the year as a structured approach for next year’s review.
If they know you’re going to be asking these questions, they may be even more inspired to look for ways to make a more strategic contribution to the business.
1. What are you most proud of?
This is always a good starter question. It’s great to see eyes light up as people share their proudest accomplishments. And the answers may surprise you.
2. How would you describe your contribution in terms of ROI?
Probes: How would you quantify your contribution to the business in terms of business outcomes? What metrics have improved and why? Which KPIs are not where you would have hoped? Why? What behaviors or activities had the biggest impact on these results? What behaviors or activities were a distraction to accomplishing these outcomes?
Even “softer” accomplishments can be reported in terms of numbers. For example, instead of saying you conducted leadership training, think in terms of outcomes (e.g two team members were promoted; absenteeism improved 20%, 10% improvement in year-over-year employee engagement results.)
3. Which project was the most impactful to the business?
This is another way to talk about how the work they are doing contributes to strategic business priorities, and recognize the important work they are doing.
This works well, even for frontline employees who may not be involved in projects with a capital “P,” to give them an opportunity to talk about ways they have contributed to improving the business. If they don’t have any examples, this is a great opportunity to explore how they might find a more strategic way to contribute next year.
4. How have you grown professionally?
Probes: In what areas have you developed? What new skills did you learn? Which areas of your performance have most improved?
5. Who did you help the most this year and how?
This could be an employee they developed, a peer they’ve cross-trained, or the work they did with a customer or supplier.
6, And, who was most helpful to you and how?
The bonus for you on this one is that you can see which of your team member’s names keep coming up as most helpful, and recognize them for going out of their way to help others.
7. What’s your biggest lesson learned?
What did you learn and how? How will you apply that learning in the future?
8. What got in the way?
Probes: And how can I help?
How about you. What would you add? What questions would you offer to prepare your employees to reflect on their accomplishments and have a more meaningful performance conversation?
What do you do when everyone gets an “A” for effort, but the results are disappointing? How do you encourage your team while building a recovery plan?
6 Ways to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing
It’s easy to lead when your team is on fire with fantastic results. You’re happy. Your boss is happy. Your team is happy. But even the best leaders face tricky circumstances when, despite great plans, long hours, and hard work, the results aren’t there.
Today we share six ways to encourage your team while you work on your recovery strategy.
1. Acknowledge the Stress
If you’ve got people who really care, failure means big-time stress. Sometimes what your team needs first is a bit of empathy.
Karin remembers one black Friday when she was leading a large retail sales team. She’d been up since 4:00 AM and was driving to as many of her hundred-plus stores as possible to ensure everyone was implementing the plan. They needed a huge day to make their numbers for the quarter. As the hourly text messages came in from their automated reporting system, she could see that despite all the planning and execution they weren’t even close to hitting their forecast.
When the Regional President’s number popped up on her phone (he also was getting the automated texts), she was prepared for an angry rant. Instead, he said,
Karin, pull over the car. I need to talk with you. I know how stressed you are right now. The results are disappointing. But we had a great plan, and I’m out in the stores too and people are doing the right things. After today is over, we’ll figure out if there’s anything we can do differently next time. But for now, stay safe. And bring only positive energy into those stores.”
It’s like this reminder from Stell Efti, “Stress just means you give a ____(insert F-bomb here).” If your people do, acknowledge that passion.
2. Take Accountability
When results are disappointing, it’s tempting to look for someone else to blame.
“We would sell more if the product line were different.”
“Our attrition would be better if our competitor wasn’t paying more.”
“My quality results would be higher if I wasn’t assigned to the late shift.”
“The employees would be more engaged if this wasn’t a union environment.”
Finger-pointing just wastes emotional energy. Own what you can, and focus on what you can control in the situation.
When Karin’s sales team complained that they needed a different product mix, her favorite response was, “sell the bananas on the truck.” If you have bananas, find the people who need bananas, and meet their needs. Drive to where the banana eaters live. Stop wishing you had mangos. Align your team around what IS in their control, and ask “How can we?” questions.
3. Stay Focused on the Game, Not the Score
When your results are disappointing, it’s tempting to make the conversation about the numbers. But talking about numbers doesn’t change them, behaviors do.
Help your team reflect on the wins. What behaviors ARE working? What best practices move the needle? How can you adapt those best practices to work in other contexts?
Work to identify the critical few behaviors that will have the biggest impact—and have those behaviors at the center of every conversation.
4. Own the U.G.L.Y.
One of our favorite techniques for getting underneath disappointing results is our Own the U.G.L.Y. exercise. Ask 4 simple questions.
U-What are we underestimating?
G-What’s got to go?
L-Where are we losing?
Y-Where are we missing the yes?
5. Celebrate Progress
When you’re so far away from your goal, it can feel silly to celebrate anything, but that may be exactly what your team needs to regain their mojo. Setting milestone goals and incremental wins can inspire renewed confidence.
6. Keep Perspective
Resilience research shows that people are more likely to recover from a setback if they understand that this problem is just one aspect of their life, not “pervasive.” Meaning, just because you didn’t make your goal doesn’t mean your whole life is a wreck. Help your team keep perspective on what matters most in their lives.
What would you add? What’s your best advice for encouraging your team when results are disappointing?
If your team ever says something like “We can talk about this, but nothing is going to change” (or worse, YOU feel that way), then this episode is for you. In this episode, David shares one critical skill to help you get results and make things happen. It’s not hard – and with this one small shift, you’ll gain credibility, energize your team, and achieve results you’d only talked about.
They’re the phrases that should send a shiver up your spine if you want to lead for results. I’ve heard them from team members in every industry imaginable. You might recognize them:
“I’ve just stopped trying.”
“I give up.”
“Just go along to get along.”
“When someone bothers to tell me what to do, then we’ll worry about it.”
“What’s the point?”
“It doesn’t matter what you do.”
“They don’t care, so why should I?”
“Everything they say from the stage don’t mean anything for me and my life.”
Every time I hear one of these, I shudder.
These are the words whispered by the walking dead – maybe they haven’t left your team or company yet, but there’s no life left in them. They’re just shuffling through the day, going through the motions, like zombies.
If you have people in your team or organization talking this way, one of two things has happened:
1) You have discouraged your team by failing to lead.
2) You have a very negative team member who will be discouraging the rest of the team. (And they’re still there because you’ve failed to lead.)
Either way, it’s time for you to lead. Every person wandering around …
thinking that their effort makes no difference …
feeling that no one cares …
feeling frustrated and refusing to take responsibility …
They’re a walking tragedy of vital human life stunted and withering away. (Not to mention tons of lost productivity for the organization.)
If you want to lead for results, I applaud you. We desperately need good leaders.
But leadership means responsibility. If you have disheartened people on your team who have stopped trying, that’s on you. The reasons are usually straightforward:
a lack of encouragement or appreciation
outright hostility and abuse
absurd systems prevent them from being effective
no autonomy or ability to make meaningful decisions
they don’t trust you or one another
These are a leader’s responsibilities. And if you’re leading, you’re responsible.
Lead for Results
As every reader of Winning Well knows, you can treat people well and lead for results. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together.
are empowered to make meaningful decisions …
understand the purpose behind what they’re doing …
trust their leadership and their team …
feel appreciated for what they do …
feel they’re making a difference …
are held accountable for their contribution …
They own the outcomes, are energized, proactively solve problems, and personally invest in what they’re doing.
Which team member would you rather have?
Where to Begin?
1) If you are leading a team that shows signs of the zombi-fication, honestly assess your motivations.
Are you leading for results and relationships?
If not, I invite you to start small. Pick one area—perhaps encouragement—and honestly show appreciation. Or maybe start by removing a frustrating system that prevents people from doing their best work.
The point is, don’t change everything all at once. You can’t do it and you’ll frustrate yourself. Start small.
If you’re not sure where to start and you have any team members you can trust to give you honest feedback, ask them. Or do a DIY 360 evaluation and pick just one thing—the most frequently occurring item and address it.
People are remarkably graceful. When they see you work on being effective, your credibility soars.
2) If you are in an organization characterized by the zombies, build a cultural oasis.
You’ve got a clear goal, you’ve made sure everyone knows what matters most, but your team still won’t collaborate. It’s a frustration many leaders face. If this happens to you, it may be because you’ve only got halfway to the clarity your team needs. In this episode David shares where to start when your team won’t collaborate.
It’s a business cliche – people hate meetings. But I don’t think that’s true – we just hate bad meetings.
Why are so many meetings a soul-sucking waste of time? In this episode you’ll get several quick tools to ensure your meetings get results – and that people will want to attend them. Sound impossible? Tune in and transform your meetings forever.
To be more productive, embrace the secret of every time management system.
You want to be a productive leader, but your to-do list has more tasks, projects, and goals than you can possibly achieve.
The never-ending list can feel overwhelming. Leadership means a continual stream of information, problems, decisions, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, apps—and that doesn’t include the strategic investments in people and projects that will help you build a better future.
It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.
Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader
There are two mental shifts that will help you end the overwhelm and achieve the results you want.
There’s So Much
It’s not your imagination. There really is more on that list than you can possibly get done.
What do you do with that reality? Does it stress you and paralyze you?
If so, the problem isn’t with your list. It’s with your perspective.
Here’s the reality productive leaders embrace: there is always more to do than you can do. It’s a fact of life.
Right now you could check in with your boss, answer your emails, build a spreadsheet, talk to an underperforming team member, make a to-do list, help your child with her homework, work on your most strategic project, listen carefully to a peer, call a customer, hold a developmental conversation with a mentee, take a luxurious bath, go to yoga, read this article, call a dear friend, check your social media, adopt a cat, clean out the stale food from your refrigerator, and a thousand other tasks.
The list is endless. It always is and it always will be.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, the difference is that you’re more aware of your choices. When you’re relaxed on a beach, there are still a thousand other things you could do with that moment – you’re just not thinking about them.
To turn the problem into power, embrace the fact that you can’t possibly do everything.
You never could and you never will. The list is always infinite.
When you surrender the unrealistic hope that the list will somehow go away and acknowledge that it is always there, always has been, and always will be, it frees you to focus.
You’ve Got Serious Limits
Our son loves to multitask. He’ll watch a YouTube documentary while trying to clean his room. Inevitably, one of these tasks wins (and it’s usually not the room.)
The problem is that multitasking is a myth. He’s shifting his attention back and forth between each activity (or not shifting it at all).
It’s another tough reality for most of us to accept: in addition to the fact that there will always be an infinite list, there’s a very limited amount of you to go around.
The second mindset shift that will help you be a more productive leader is that you can only do one thing at a time.
Finish that one. Or move it forward as much as you can, then move to the next.
This is the secret of every time management and productivity system: There’s always more than you can do and that you can only do one thing at a time.
So how do you choose what to do?
Mind the M.I.T.
There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.
We prefer to keep it straightforward: What’s your M.I.T. (Most Important Thing)?
What is the most important strategic outcome your team will achieve this year?
Today, what is the most important thing you will do?
What are the two or three critical behaviors that will produce the best outcomes for you and your team?
As a productive leader, your M.I.T. often shifts from day to day. Today, it may be to clarify your strategy for the year. Tomorrow, it may be to address an underperforming team member. The next day, your M.I.T. may be a coaching conversation or working with a colleague and your boss to get alignment on their M.I.T. It may be to ensure you finish what you’ve started.
Mind the M.I.T. means that you know what’s most important and do it first, if at all possible. Do it before the inevitable rush of interruptions, problems, and fire drills.
It takes humility to accept your limitations and choose excellence somewhere over presence everywhere.
It takes self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge that today’s M.I.T. might be a walk in the woods or time with loved ones.
It takes determination to ignore what’s easy and do what matters most.
When you focus on your daily M.I.T., help your team understand the strategic M.I.T., and know their daily M.I.T. behaviors, you will unleash your team’s energy and transform your results.
To help him be a more productive leader, one Winning Well reader told us that he posted these words from the book on his office wall so he can see them every day:
Focus On the MIT.
To be a more productive leader, embrace the infinite need, remember that you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on the behaviors that will make the most difference for you, your team, and the results you want to achieve.
Leave us a comment and share: What is your best secret to maintaining your focus and productivity?
Lead a Meeting that Gets Results by Clarifying Who Owns the Decision
“This is so stupid—you asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m just going to shut my mouth and do my work.” If you’ve heard this or said it yourself, you’ve experienced a critical mistake many managers make when they lead a meeting: lack of clarity around decision ownership.
If your meetings aren’t working, look at your clarity of decision-making. Fuzzy decision-making leads to frustrating meetings.
People hate feeling ignored. Unfortunately, when you ask for input and appear to ignore it, employees feel frustrated, devalued, and powerless. In contrast, when you are clear about who owns the decision and how it will be made, people will readily contribute, the team can collaborate, and are far more likely to own the outcome. Clear decision-making improves results and relationships.
Four Ways to Make a Decision When You Lead a Meeting
This isn’t difficult, because there are only four ways to make a decision when you lead a meeting:
1. A single person makes the decision.
Typically, this would be the manager or someone she appoints.
In this style of decision-making, you might ask your team for input and let them know that after hearing everyone’s perspective, you will make the decision.
2. A group makes the decision through a vote.
This might be a 50-percent-plus-one majority or a two-thirds majority, but in any case, it’s a decision by vote. With this option, you ask everyone to contribute input, and they know that the decision will be made by a vote at a specific time.
3. A team makes the decision through consensus.
Consensus decision-making is often misunderstood. Consensus decision-making means that the group continues the discussion until everyone can live with a decision. It does not mean everyone got his or her first choice, but that everyone can live with the final decision. Consensus decision-making can take more time and often increases everyone’s ownership of the final decision.
4. Fate decides.
You can flip a coin, roll the dice, draw from a hat, etc. There are times where flipping a coin is the most efficient way to make a decision. When time is of the essence, the stakes are low, and pro-con lists are evenly matched, it’s often good to just pick an option and go. For example, if you have 45 minutes for a team lunch, it doesn’t make any sense to spend 30 minutes discussing options. Narrow it down to a few places, flip a coin, and go.
Each way of deciding has advantages, but what’s most important is to be very clear about who owns the decision.
Start With How
When that frustrated person said, “You asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother!” he was under the impression that the team would decide by vote or consensus when in reality it was the leader’s decision. This type of confusion wastes tons of precious time and energy and sucks the soul from your team.
The next time you lead a meeting, take time before the discussion begins to state how the decision will be made. You get yourself in trouble (not to mention that it’s unfair, disempowering, and quite soulless) if you suggest a vote and then change back to “I’ll decide” when you think the vote won’t go your way.
Before discussion begins, be clear about who owns the decisions. How will this decision be made?
Be specific. For example, you might begin a decision-making session by saying, “Okay, I’d like to spend the next 40 minutes getting everyone’s input, and then I’ll make the decision.”
Or, you might describe the decision to be made and say, “We’re not going to move forward until everyone can live with the decision.”
You might even combine methods and say, “We will discuss this decision for 30 minutes. If we can come to a consensus by then, that would be great. If not, we’ll give it another 15 minutes. After that, if we don’t have consensus, I’ll take a final round of feedback and I’ll choose, or we’ll vote.”
You save yourself grief, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings when everyone knows up front how the decision will be made. You also empower your people to be more influential because when they know who owns the decision, they also know how to share their information. Do they need to persuade the single decision maker, a majority, or the entire team? They can choose their most relevant information and arguments.
Think about the next time you will lead a meeting to make a decision with your team. Who owns the decisions? Is it you, the team through a vote, or the team through consensus? We’d love to hear from you. What questions or comments do you have about clarifying who owns the decision?