Leadership Goals – Do They Pass the Pressure Test?

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Have you pressure-tested your goals lately?

While every leader needs to set a clear direction for their company and their teams to succeed, few ensure that the goals are ready for implementation. Most leaders create a vision, mission and values.  They typically include strategies, goals, imperatives, and budgets.  The plans are most often encapsulated in glistening PowerPoint decks that take months to complete and almost as long to truly read.  Yet, few manage to clearly articulate the simple and potent targets required to motivate their employees to outperform their competition.

If you are setting company or team goals for the upcoming year, make sure that they pass the following 5 tests before moving to implementation:

  1. Clear and Simple: When defining what you are going for, keep it simple.  Think in terms of what you would put on a billboard versus what you would include in an article.  In our experience, anything more than 2-3 critical goals is too many.  If you find yourself with more, keep asking yourself which ones carry at least 50% of the weight in terms of importance until you whittle down your list.
  2. Understood by the Team: It is one thing to create clear and simple goals with your executive team.  It is another to have your employees be able to articulate the goals and how their day-to-day tasks align with achieving them.  Until the masses can explain your goals in a few simple sentences, you have work to do.
  3. Perceived as “Just Possible”: For achievements to be meaningful enough to change behavior, they must be perceived as just possible by both leadership and their teams.  Goals that stretch probabilities too far are as demotivating as targets that are too easy to attain.  It is worth it to spend the time to find the right balance.
  4. Inspirational: Putting a man on the moon certainly moved a generation.  For a leader to inspire teams to engage in the inevitable struggles associated with achieving stretch goals, the direction and potential results need to be meaningful and relevant enough to promote high performance.
  5. Measurable: For a goal to be effective, you must know when you have succeeded or failed.  The metric must be clear, simple, and unarguable.  It must be for a specific time period and be perceived as a fair and accurate reflection of where you stand.

To improve performance, effective leaders know that they must set clear and meaningful goals that inspire the troops before asking for results.

5 Key Criteria for Managing High Performance

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An optimized workforce can lead to a 14% increase in project completion, a more than 5% increase in productivity, and a 4.9% increase in high performers — numbers that go straight to an organization’s bottom-line.

The above data is based upon research from Success Factors and certainly makes sense to us.  A high performance environment is what you need to attract, motivate, and retain the top talent that can execute on your strategic priorities.

Leaders who understand that their success is dependent upon those around them know that effectively managing performance is central to achieving their goals.

If you want to take your performance management processes and systems to the next level, make sure that you incorporate the following 5 criteria:

  1. Clear and understood by all team members: To drive increased performance, every team member must understand the exact performance standards and expectations.  They must be able to articulate in simple terms both success and failure for their role and their team.  Without clear boundaries, the pressures of ambiguity, doubt, and frustration will overcome good intentions.
  2. Credible and relevant: Not only do the performance standards need to make sense vis-à-vis the strategic goals, but they also need to be perceived as achievable.  If employees do not think that it is humanly possible to hit the targets or if they know that they can miss the mark without repercussion, you need to make some changes to create believability and accountability before moving forward.
  3. Consistent and timely: To be impactful, success metrics cannot change with the wind and should be as close to the “performance event” as possible.  Like the leader board at a golf tournament, the more transparent you make people’s performance status – the better.
  4. Perceived as fair: You are dead in the water if your team thinks that the performance standards or measurement process are unjust.  To increase your chances of success, include key stakeholders in defining performance standards, metrics, timing, and reporting.  If you lose the perception battle, frustration will derail your efforts to measure and improve team performance.
  5. Trusted by the individual: Even if your overall team performance metrics are perceived as fair, each individual on the team must also trust the feedback that they receive about their personal performance.  Mistrust of individual performance status greatly decreases accountability and undermines team success over time.

To improve performance, good leaders know that they must provide individuals with an accurate reflection of their performance status as often and as consistently as possible.

4 Signs that You Have a Weak Performance Management Process

High performance environments bring out the best in their people.

They also provide their teams and people with an accurate and timely sense of their current performance status.

If people do not know where they stand, it is difficult for them to improve.  Imagine if you were running a race and did not know the position you held in the field nor find out the results until well after the finish.  As kids, we received grades at school ranging from A to F.  We always knew where we stood in the classroom from our test scores and on the sports field by the number of wins and losses.

Once we got to work, things got fuzzy.  Although most companies have overall budgets and targets, it is often not clear where people stand compared to their peers or compared to a set of clear, consistent, accurate, and trusted performance standards.  Like race results that occur months later, the dreaded end-of-year performance review does little to improve or motivate performance.

If you observe any of the following four characteristics, your performance management process could probably use a significant lift.

  1. Gaming: In weak performance systems that do not expose individual performance, people are able to game the system and fake their performance.  When success metrics are unclear or if there are too many metrics, it is easy for people to “cherry pick” certain strengths or overemphasize unimportant accomplishments.
  2. Politics: When feedback about performance status is unclear, people will innovate and focus on relationships to get rewards and avoid failure.  Cronyism thrives and performance suffers.
  3. Doubt: If there is the slightest doubt about what defines both high and unacceptable performance, confusion and mistrust will lead to more frustration, increased employee relations issues, and decreased performance.  This often results in a surge of lawsuits and a plea from managers for training to improve their ability to have difficult performance conversations.  While communication skills are always helpful to managers, the problem typically lies in unclear targets and performance expectations, not in the conversations themselves.  Performance ambiguity allows low performers to hide and makes it very difficult for anyone to get a sense of where they stand in order to improve.
  4. Attrition: When relationships rule, high performers without strong relationships will eventually leave to work in a more performance-based, rather than a relationship-dependent, environment.

If you want your leaders to drive high performance, ensure that your performance management process is clear, understood, credible, accurate, trusted, timely, and perceived as fair by those being measured.  Anything less will inhibit your organization’s ability to thrive.

Five Lenses of Change Leadership™

While successful corporate change often seems impossible, it can be and has been done.

The Five Lenses of Change Leadership™ provide a proven framework for designing and implementing successful corporate change efforts.  The lenses enable leaders who are pursuing large scale corporate change to expand beyond their preferred lens to increase the likelihood for success.  To put the five lenses in perspective, let’s start by examining why most corporate change efforts fail.

Top 5 Reasons Corporate Change Efforts Fail

    1. Not supporting people during change.  This creates resistance, fear of the unknown and is often exacerbated by a lack of change skills in employees and leaders.

 

    1. Confusion about the purpose of change.  When leaders are not clear and forceful about the need to change, people create an overly limited sense of what is possible and are confused by the mandates.

 

    1. Lack of commitment by established powers.  Whether caused by conflicting interests or leaders being closed to new ideas, a perception of anything less than 100% alignment between key stakeholders is a recipe for disaster.

 

    1. Structures not included in the change.  To be successful, behaviors and structures must be congruent with the proposed change.  If people perceive that you are trying new things in “the same old ways,” you will struggle.

 

  1. Lack of understanding of how they are supposed to change. People want to know specifically what they need to do differently.  If they are not learning new skills or not being rewarded for changing, you do not have enough reinforcement or feedback built into your change process.

We created the Five Lenses of Change Leadership™ to provide a proven framework overcoming these five challenges.

Five Lenses of Change Leadership™

003A lens is a way of looking at one important aspect of change.

Using all the lenses together ensures a complete picture of the change.

By using different lenses separately, you can bring various aspects of the change into greater focus.

Successful Change Leaders understand and utilize each of these lenses.

To start, we define each lens as follows:

I.  THE RELATIONSHIP LENS encompasses the way people relate to tasks, processes and other people as they accomplish their work. This lens examines human needs, relationships, teamwork, attitudes, skills, motivation and satisfaction in the work environment.

II. THE CULTURE LENS is the meaning, purpose, norms and values people associate with their work.  This lens examines meaning, purpose and values expressed by organizations through written and spoken communications, activities, events and ceremonies common in the work environment.

III. THE STAKEHOLDER LENS represents the interests and politics of key parties who have a vested interest in the work effort.  This lens examines power, conflict, and coalitions among those who have stakes to protect and interests to advance. 

IV. THE STRUCTURE LENS comprises the goals, roles, tasks and processes used to organize the flow of work.  This lens examines the goals, roles, formal relationships, job designs, work processes and rules that are used to organize and accomplish work.

V. THE INFORMATION LENS refers to the data and tools available to people who make decisions and take action.  This lens uses reliable benchmarks, information, tools and data to diagnose problems, measure results and calibrate actions to support desired outcomes.

Preferred Lens Assessment

Now that you understand the various lenses, your first task as a leader is to understand strengths and weaknesses.

This understanding allows you to pinpoint areas where you already demonstrate a high level of skill as well as those areas where opportunities exist to strengthen your skills as a Change Leader.  The same process should be used to indicate which lens is most and least used within your organization.

Many of our clients find it helpful to writing the name of the lens or lenses in the appropriate quadrant on the chart below to create a common starting point.  In working with our clients, we use a 50-question assessment to identify lens preferences.

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Once you understand where you fit on the lens assessment, your next step is to support others in the areas where you are strong and get help in the areas in which you are weak so you can create a more balanced and successful change effort.

For example, an introverted or domineering leader should seek help with the Relationship lens to understand others’ experience of change and to help the team move through the phases of transition. Specifically this means getting help with: (1) announcing a change, (2) facilitating change meetings to explore concerns about a change, and (3) overcoming individuals’ natural resistance to change.

Alternatively, a leader (or an organization) more focused on tactics and execution should pursue help with the Culture lens to create a compelling Road Map for change and give people a purpose and vision that they can believe in.  This includes steps such as (1) identifying key drivers of change, (2) creating a shared group vision (building on corporate vision), and (3) identifying key obstacles to the change.

In Conclusion 

Change is hard.  Successful large scale corporate change is rare.  We know that a balanced approach to change offers the greatest chance for success.  If you are a leader pursuing change, do not underestimate the power of embracing relationships, culture, stakeholders, structure, and information to get the job done.

The chart below provides an initial framework to help leaders balance focus, actions, and approach to increase the odds for success.

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Interviewing the So-Called Millennials

At the turn of this century, there was much talk about how to spell the word “millennial” (double “l” and double “n”) as well as what this generation of young people soon to enter the workforce would become. Born after 1979, the so-called millennials are now in their early thirties and have been studied enough to be able to draw some conclusions about their attitudes and behavior—both of which have an impact on the way they might more effectively be interviewed so that, once hired, you can predict how they would operate on the job.

We know that they were raised in an inclusive and diverse environment; that they rely a great deal on social networks to keep plugged in to family and friends; that they were probably overprotected by their parents and have an inflated sense of confidence from the constant encouragement of adults concerned about raising self-esteem. We also know that they are highly educated. Though they are likely to be qualified intellectually and technically, can you be sure about their ongoing commitment to the company and motivation to work hard?

As an interviewer, you want to hire the most talented and those most likely to be engaged and perform at a high level. Here are some specific tips on how to interview millennials:

    • To test their commitment to previous jobs, ask for specific examples of when they went “above and beyond” requirements. You want proof that their motivation to work hard came from dedication to the boss/team/company and not just a paycheck.

 

    • To determine the level of commitment toward your open position, ask what appeals to them about the job and how they want to contribute. Of course, this line of questioning could be answered predictably in a positive way; it is your further behavioral probing that can dig beneath the surface to the truth beneath pat answers.

 

  • All the while, be careful not to drill the candidate. Millennials can be oversensitive and, in general, do not respond well to stressful interviews. The more relaxed, honest and forthcoming you can be, the more they will respect you and the organization.

Once they have been hired, be prepared to accommodate their strengths as well as their weaknesses. With their need for social interaction comes the strength of working on a team. With the need for positive feedback, provide recognition for a job well done. With their reliance on others for their own measure, be sure to give them coaches who will support and encourage them.

With these shifts in the way you interview and the way you integrate them into the company, you will have millennials who perform well and are likely to stay on the job.

Top 3 Warning Signs that Your Training is Irrelevant

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Irrelevant means not connected with or relevant to something. Synonyms include insignificant, unimportant, and immaterial.

Training that has little connection or applicability to current business issues typically gets “rejected” by high performing organizations as irrelevant…and rightly so.  Sometimes the rejection is subtle and people do not apply what they have learned.  Sometimes the rejection is more pronounced when people do not attend programs, training budgets get cut, and training sessions get cancelled.  Regardless of how it happens, training that is not important and linked to the business strategy should get rejected in favor of more results-oriented investments.

While it may be obvious to business leaders that they should invest only in areas aligned with key strategies, we continue to find training organizations that press ahead with learning and development initiatives even though there is no clear link to business priorities.  This lack of alignment causes training, and often Human Resources, to be out of step with “the business.”  This lack of relevance creates managers who reject “training events” because they see no meaningful improvement in on-the-job performance or business results.  This lack of business value means that “training events” fall to the bottom of the list for participants.

If you are observing any of the following warning signs, chances are that your training approach could use a lift: 

  1. Not Enough Time
    “Managers do not allow time for their people to be taken away from their jobs to attend training.”
    This is a sure sign that your training initiative is not providing enough value in the eyes of the participants or their bosses.    Savvy leaders do not send people to training unless it has a direct impact on hitting their targets or developing and retaining their top talent. 
  1. Not Enough Support or Budget
    “We do not have enough executive support or budget to design a full learning solution, so this event is better than nothing.”
    You are treated as you behave.  Unless you treat your performance projects like a change initiative, you will create a negative and self-fulfilling prophecy about one-time training events—single events that do not impact the business or transfer skills back to the job. 
  1. Not Enough Marketing
    We need to do a better job marketing what we are offering to employees so we can fill these classes.”
    Regardless of company size, we have yet to see a good learning solution fail due to a lack of marketing.   Seats in training are filled not by publishing a snazzy class calendar but by training that makes a measurable difference. Before ramping up your marketing efforts, make sure that the solution is adequately funded by the business, properly supported by management, and designed to increase current or future on-the-job performance.

Without clear business alignment, training will continue to be one of the most ineffective business processes in your organization.

Don’t Just Sell…Tell a Story – 3 Steps to a Persuasive Story

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People do not want to be sold.  Rather, they want to be helped and moved.

If you need to influence an important buyer, don’t “sell” or “present” – tell a compelling story instead.

When it comes to sales presentations, focus on creating authentic stories to move and captivate your target buyers.  For the story to be authentic, it must be genuine to both the teller and the listener.  Some sales presentation professionals will tell you to “do and say whatever it takes” to close the deal but this is one of the biggest misconceptions about both sales and storytelling.  Not only is that approach unethical, but telling an exaggerated or made-up story decreases your chances of success by reducing trust.

Truthfulness is one of the most important elements of storytelling and sales.  For a story to be effective, the storyteller must be 100% congruent with the story and know it thoroughly.  How you look, what you say, and how you say it must all be in alignment to truly reach your audience.

To change minds, make sure that your story weaves together heartfelt anecdotes and compelling facts and follows three simple rules:

  1. Have an Intriguing Point View. When it comes to being influenced, people prefer to be prompted to think differently than to be told what to do or how to think.  Good stories always have a compelling message or moral that makes people examine how they are thinking and acting. Great stories tend to grab the audience’s attention right from the start.
  2. Frame Examples and Facts to Your Audience. While good storytellers retain the major fabric of their stories, they never tell the story in the same way twice.  Experts tailor their illustrations to the situation and select supporting facts that resonate with their audience.  This can be the difference between a well-crafted story that transforms a relationship and one that fails to persuade its audience. While the greats make it look easy, being able to tailor your story to the situation takes extensive preparation and research to flex to different audiences.
  3. Believe.  To be engaged, your audience must feel conviction.  Your belief becomes evident through your choice of images, metaphors, words and body language – the more personal and relevant the story and the more vulnerable you seem, the better.  Be yourself and speak from the heart.  If the audience senses doubt or uncertainty, you can lose them.  And don’t underestimate the power of authentic passion.  As long as you are not blinded to alternate views, strong emotions can hold the interest of listeners and make a good story great.

When used correctly, stories are powerful tools of persuasion.