Sunday, February 24, 2008

11 Steps for Effective Delegating

Delegation, put most simply, involves the assignment of a specific task or project by one person to another, and the person’s commitment to complete the task or project. It is one of the most important skills demonstrated by successful leaders and one often neglected or overlooked by "overworked" leaders. Effective delegators spend time planning work assignments and organizing resources to achieve business goals in the most productive way possible.

When you delegate, you not only transfer responsibility to another person, but also accountability for maintaining established standards.

Effective delegation can have short- and long-term benefits for you, your staff, and your organization. When you delegate, you can reduce your workload and stress level by removing from your "to-do" list tasks that others are qualified to do. This increases the time available to you for focusing on projects that require your particular skills and authority, as well as higher-level tasks such as long-term planning and policy development.

For the most effective delegation, follow these guidelines:

1. Encourage your staff to share their special interests and time availability for new projects.

2. Build a sense of shared responsibility for the unit’s overall goals.

3. Avoid dumping only tedious or difficult jobs on your staff. Instead, delegate projects and tasks that spark staff interest and can be enjoyable.

4. Provide possible career opportunity for a staff member by delegating projects, tasks, or functions that involve high visibility with your manager or a high-level manager in another organization.

5. Delegate to people whose judgment and competence you trust. Your ability to select the right person reflects your skill in making decisions and setting goals.

6. Recognize that delegation is a learning experience for you and your staff, and offer training or coaching as needed.

7. Develop trust in a less skilled staff member by delegating very structured assignments and providing the support needed for the person to develop increased competence.

8. Whenever possible, delegate an entire project or function, not just a small piece; this will likely increase motivation and commitment.

9. Create clear guidelines for follow-up, monitoring and feedback.

10. Maintain open lines of communication. Say “Let me know if you run into any problems you cannot handle.”

11. Clearly define goals, expected outcomes, and measures of success to minimize wasted time and resources and ensure the task, project, or function is completed successfully.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Feedback For Virtual Teams


Today’s global business environment requires more and more leadership teams to operate from a distance. So how do you provide effective feedback when you don’t see your leaders on a regular basis? Here are some guidelines for effective long-distance feedback.

Don’t leave feedback to chance.
Giving feedback to long-distance team members requires you to make a more formal effort. Random, in the moment feedback is not as easy because you cannot observe behavior on a day-to-day basis. To make sure feedback happens:

1. Set up regularly scheduled calls for one-on-one discussions.

2. Ensure that every time you are in the same location, you devote at least a small portion of time to one-on-one development discussions.

3. Consider enlisting an on-site ‘surrogate’ coach (such as an HR manager) to assist you in your development efforts. Discuss with your direct report the concept of co-managing their development with a neutral on-site resource that can work with you to provide timely and meaningful ongoing feedback and coaching.

4. Utilize technology. With communication tools such as voice mail, e-mail and cell phones, ‘out of sight’ does not have to mean ‘out of touch’. Work with your direct reports to establish mutually acceptable means for giving and receiving ongoing feedback.

5. Focus on personal, as well as professional. Building a strong relationship with a virtual team member requires extra effort to get to know the person as an individual, not just a direct report. Find ways to integrate more personal ‘water cooler’ talk into your virtual communications (share information about family, weekend plans, hobbies, celebrations, favorite foods, etc.). Getting to know each other better will help alleviate the awkwardness of long-distance, impersonal feedback sessions.

5 Ways to Think More Creatively

The ability to think creatively is a valuable thinking skill that leaders can apply when faced with problems that require a fresh approach. What is creative thinking? It’s the ability to generate fresh alternatives, visualize new possibilities, formulate new approaches to getting things done, and open yourself to new information that does not support your existing assumptions about the way people should do things at your company.

When you think creatively, you create new value for your unit and company—in the form of more efficient processes, more innovative product ideas, and better ways to serve customers.
How to get your creative juices flowing? Here are five techniques:

1. Challenge the process and assumptions
Challenging your beliefs about how things should be done in your organization can generate valuable new ideas. To challenge assumptions, ask questions such as “Why do we believe this process should be handled only in this way? What if we did it this other way instead?”

2. Anything goes
Be willing to entertain ideas that strike you as provocative and even downright preposterous at first. Some of these ideas may ultimately lead to new ideas that can be turned into practical value. Premature evaluation can kill creativity.

3. Write tomorrow's headlines
Sometimes imagining what might be possible in an ideal world can help you generate useful new ideas or solve a nagging problem. Imagine what the future newspaper headlines would say when you've achieved your goal.
4. Gather others’ perspectives
Deliberately inviting people who work in other parts of the organization to share their views of a problem or challenge can help you see that there is more than one way to perceive a situation.
5. Create the right environment
By far the most important ingredients for creative thinking are having an open mind and not being defensive or territorial about your ideas. Create a supportive environment where people feel they can generate ideas freely, without being judged or criticized.

6. Use the phrase “up until now…”

This is a powerful response to “we’ve never been able to do that”, “we tried that and it never worked”, or “but that’s impossible!”.

How to Conduct a SWOT Analysis


Use a SWOT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relative to your company, unit or group, or a program you want to evaluate. The SWOT analysis lets you focus on specific areas and discover actions that can help build on strengths, minimize or eliminate weaknesses, maximize opportunities, and deal with or overcome threats.

Steps for Conducting a SWOT Analysis:

1. Select an individual to facilitate the SWOT analysis

2. Brainstorm a company or unit's strengths
Go around the room and solicit ideas from participants. Areas of strength for a company or unit include: leadership abilities, decision-making abilities, innovation, productivity, quality, service, efficiency, technological processes, and so forth. Record all suggestions on a flip chart. Avoid duplicate entries. Make it clear that some issues may appear on more than one list. For example, a company or unit may have a strength in an area such as customer service, but may have a weakness or deficiency in that area as well. At this point, the goal is to capture as many ideas on the flip charts as possible. Evaluating the strengths will take place later.

3. Consolidate ideas
Post all flip charts pages on a wall. While every effort may have been taken to avoid duplicate entries, there will be some ideas that overlap. Consolidate duplicate points by asking the group which items can be combined under the same subject. Resist the temptation to over-consolidate—lumping lots of ideas under one subject. Often, this results in a lack of focus.

4. Clarify ideas
Go down the consolidated list item by item and clarify any items that participants have questions about. It's helpful to reiterate the meaning of each item before discussing it. Stick to defining strengths. Restrain the team from talking about solutions at this point in the process.

5. Identify the top three strengths
Sometimes the top three strengths are obvious and no vote is necessary. In that case, simply test for consensus. Otherwise, give participants a few minutes to pick their top issues individually. Allow each team member to cast three to five votes (three if the list of issues is ten items or fewer, five if it is long). Identify the top three items. If there are ties or the first vote is inconclusive, discuss the highly rated items from the first vote and vote again.

6. Summarize strengths
Once the top three strengths are decided, summarize them on a single flip chart page.

7. Repeat Steps 2-6 for weaknesses
Similar to strengths, areas of weakness for a company or unit include: leadership abilities, decision-making abilities, innovation, productivity, quality, service, efficiency, technological processes, and so forth.

8. Repeat Steps 2-6 for opportunities
Areas of opportunities include: emerging markets, further market penetration, new technologies, new products or services, geographic expansion, cost reduction, and so forth.

9. Repeat Steps 2-6 for threats
Areas of threat include: entrance of a new competitor, legislation or regulations that will increase costs or eliminate a product, a declining product or market, and so forth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ten Leadership Lessons From Ronald Reagan

In honor of President's Day, this post courtesy of Karla:


“In his lifetime, Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world and to free the slaves of Communism.” That's how Lady Thatcher started her great eulogy of Ronald Reagan, summarizing in one sentence his personal qualities and his great achievements. This combination of highly admirable personality and great accomplishments has made Ronald Reagan the most popular American President in the past half a century and one of the most important American Presidents in history. So what were the leadership qualities that made it possible for Ronald Reagan to achieve such a status in American history and in the hearts of the American people, including his political opponents?
1- The Messenger, Not The Message
A key aspect of leadership that is often forgotten is the fact that people will follow a leader only if they liked him or her personally, before even considering the message, or the mission, that the leader is proclaiming. Reagan was a likable fellow. He was described by people who worked for him as a kind, humble, and decent person who was void of meanness and pettiness. To become an effective leader you must start with yourself, and do the necessary self examination that leads you to refine your personal qualities and strengthen your character. Without this, nothing will work.
2- Have A Great Vision
“America is too great for small dreams,” said Ronald Reagan. And this is also true for great leaders, who won’t be satisfied with small dreams. Instead of trying to get just an edge over the Soviet Union, Reagan went after the total dismantling of the “Evil Empire.” And he succeeded. If you want to be a great leader, ask yourself and your team: What is the greatest dream we can possibly have for this organization?

3- Communicate Your Vision To Gain Followers
Having a vision of what needs to be done is crucial for a leader. But what truly distinguishes a leader from others who might also have the same vision is the ability to communicate this vision in such a compelling way as to attract followers who become excited about the vision and commit to achieving it. Napoleon declared that “The leader is a dealer in hope.” To deal in hope you must be able to package it, describe it, and sell it to others so that it becomes theirs. Communication skills, therefore, is crucial to the effectiveness of leaders. Reagan was not just a good communicator, but was called, “The Great Communicator.” He was able to articulate complex issues in simple, often visual, ways that enable people to understand them and get excited about them. His most famous application of this was his continuous referring to the United States as The Shining City on the Hill. Who can’t actually ‘see’ this vision and feel good about it?

4- Offer Hope, and Act to Achieve It
Reagan was described as an eternal optimist. He offered Americans a positive, uplifting vision of America and its future. Former President George Bush said of him, “Our friend was strong and gentle. Once he called America hopeful, big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That was America and, yes, our friend. And next, Ronald Reagan was beloved because of what he believed. He believed in America so he made it his shining city on a hill. He believed in freedom so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals. He believed in tomorrow so the great communicator became the great liberator.” President George Bush observed, “He came to office with great hopes for America. And more than hopes…Ronald Reagan matched an optimistic temperament with bold, persistent action.” It’s important for leaders to hold an optimistic view of the world, so that they can stir the aspiration of people who will then follow with enthusiasm to achieve great accomplishments.

5- Lead, Don’t Micromanage
A key problem many leaders fall into is when they micromanage everything. This inability to delegate not only deprives the work being done from the contributions of the entire team, which are always better than those of one person, but it also de-motivate the talented people working around the leader. By not having the freedom to do things themselves in their own ways, they lose interest in their work and become mere robots doing only what they are told. In dictatorial regimes like the old Soviet Union, the results have been dramatic loss of productivity, quality, initiative, and innovation. The collapse of the Soviet Union was the natural result. A company can suffer the same fate if a leader is too managerial and doesn't create a participatory culture at work.

6- Don’t Become a Prisoner of Your Own Perceptions
Even though Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire, this did not prevent him from negotiating and dealing openly with the leaders of that Empire, following his policy of Trust But Verify. He proved to be flexible in his thinking and was able to free himself from the limits of a rigid dogma and adjust his views of his enemies, turning them into partners in building world peace. To be an effective leader, be careful not to become a prisoner of your own rigid perceptions of others and the world. Adhere closely to your core human values but open up your mind to different interpretations, views, and possibilities.

7- Admit Mistakes, Change Course, and Move On
Upon facing a devastating blow to his policy of intervention in Lebanon with the attack on the barracks that killed 240 American soldiers, Reagan quickly realized the futility of his policy, ordered the withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, and abandoned his policy of intervention there. Another president, perhaps with less flexibility and more ego, would have possibly started a war there to retaliate the incident and demonstrate America’s strength. America could have been mired in un-necessary fighting there for years, perhaps with thousands of casualties. Reagan’s quick change of course enabled him to move on to achieve greater goals, such as the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. Leaders understand that strength requires restraint. A great leader is one who knows how to manage both his weaknesses and his strengths, and those of the country, or the organization, he is leading.

8- Use Humor
Reagan used humor almost all the time. He used it because he himself was ‘a jolly good fellow’ as the song says, and because he knew that the smile that humor generates is the shortest distance between two minds. And he skillfully used humor to avoid answers that create animosity and problems, as well as to win crucial arguments in difficult public encounters. In attacking the US Congress’ delaying of turning his policies into laws he said, “I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.” Some of his humorous comments reveal how he did not take himself too seriously even as President of the most powerful country on earth. “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting,” he said.

9- Stay Human
In his eulogy of Ronal Reagan, Former President George Bush relayed the following story, “Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble. The Good Book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man? Other people who worked closely with Reagan told of how he used to greet everyone he met with respect and generosity of spirit, whether that person was a president of another country or a waitress at a dinner he attended. He was pleasant and gracious to all without regard to rank, title, position, or any other social status. A leader must not feel he is above the people he leads, but that he is their servant. That how Reagan felt and acted. And that’s why people followed him lovingly.

10- Lead a Balanced Life
One of Reagan’s admirable traits was his total devotion to his wife Nancy. In his eulogy of Ronald Reagan, President George W. Bush said, “In a life of good fortune, he valued above all the gracious gift of his life, Nancy. During his career, Ronald Reagan passed through a thousand crowded places, but there was only one person, he said, who could make him lonely by just leaving the room.” Reagan was often accused of not working hard enough as a President, taking a lot of time off to be with his family and his horses at his ranch. Using humor to deflect this accusation, while confirming it, he said, "It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" Reagan was a great example of a leader who kept his life in balance. He did not allow the demands of his work, even at the highest office in the world, to overtake his obligations to his family. In this regard, management consultant Stephen Covey writes of the importance of doing “First Things First.” Leaders who keep a healthy balance between work and play, and have a role for family and friends in their daily lives, not only succeed as great leaders, but also manage to lead a happy life.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leadership Derailers vs. Weaknesses


The Center for Creative leadership’s research on executive success and failure identified the significance of “derailers”, and how they differ than just mere weaknesses. They studied leaders who made it to at least the G.M. level, but then their careers had involuntarily stalled, or had been demoted, fired, or asked to take early retirement.

A derailer is not just a weakness. We all have many weaknesses that we may never choose to improve or need to master. A derailer is a weakness that requires improvement if we are to realize our potential.

Why Do Leaders Fail?
- During the past decade, the number of headlines reporting significant problems with leadership behavior has increased dramatically.
- Derailers such as lack of integrity, arrogance, inability to adapt to change, and lack of focus have led to the failure of many talented managers. These derailers often lead to ineffective organizations.

CCL identified the following list of derailers that will at some point in a leader’s career, if not addressed, will stop the leader from advancing cause them to fail:

Inability to Change or Adapt During a Transition:
-Failure to adapt to a new boss
-Over-dependence on a single skill and/or failure to acquire new skills
-Inability to adapt to the demands of a new job, a new culture, or changes in the market
Problems with Interpersonal Relationships: Personality characteristics seen as:
-Insensitive
-Manipulative
-Demanding
-Authoritarian (lacked a teamwork orientation)
-Self-isolating
-Aloof
-Critical
Failure to Build and Lead a Team:
-Failing to staff effectively
-Can’t manage subordinates
-Poor leadership skills
Failure to Meet Business Objectives:
-Lack of follow-through
-Too ambitious
-Poor performance

CCL also found that certain events in a leader’s career often triggered these fatal flaws to surface:
-A change in boss
-A radically different job
-A reorganization/culture change
-A performance problem handled ineptly
-A clash with a boss
-A trail of little problems/bruised people
-An expatriate assignment
-Failure to learn from mistakes
-Overusing strengths
-Going it alone

Most leadership derailers will not cause the fall of an entire organization. But they can certainly lead to a failed career. The question you need to ask yourself is: “What type of derailers would cause a leader in my organization to fail?”

There are derailers unique to many organizations and management levels. For example, a lack of creativity is a big derailer in an advertising agency compared to a manufacturing plant. Also, a lack of strategic focus might be a derailer to an executive but not a hindrance to a mid-level manager.

The biggest difference between a weakness and a derailer is that no strength can compensate for a derailer. Maybe a leader has a weakness in public speaking. This can be compensated for if they are strong at building relationships and motivating others. The same can’t be said for a leader who is dishonest. No matter how strong a person might be in other leadership competencies, this derailer will limit his or her ability to succeed.

Preventing Derailment
In order to prevent derailment, leaders should:
-seek feedback throughout their careers
-seek developmental opportunities that can help overcome flaws
-seek support and coaching during transitions
-be aware that new jobs require new frameworks and behaviors

Organizations should:
-consider zig-zagging career paths over vertical ones
-give lots of “how you did it” feedback instead of “what you did”
-not consider one failure “off the track”
-allow managers to complete job/assignments

Tough Feedback Tips


We all dread it – the feedback session to:
· Address a serious behavior or performance issue
· Deliver news that will be an unpleasant surprise to the recipient

Tough feedback is just that . . . tough. And while we may not ever get to a point where we look forward to sharing difficult information, there are ways to make these conversations less difficult.

The Proactive Approach to Difficult Feedback
One of the biggest reasons tough feedback is so tough is that we realize what we are about to share will shock, disappoint, or even anger the recipient. However, if you think about it, it’s not necessarily the information that causes the shock, disappointment or anger, it’s the fact that the recipient never saw it coming. The difficult news seems to come out of the blue and completely contradict the recipient’s perception of the circumstances.

The common misperception of management is that people can’t handle bad news – WRONG! People can’t handle news that contradicts their frame of reference. If you want to make tough feedback less tough, focus on how to eliminate the shock and disbelief factor. Here’s how:


· Clearly define and set the employee’s and your expectations up-front. People don’t go from stellar performers to substandard overnight and they definitely shouldn’t become aware of this fact for the first time at their annual review. Leadership development is ongoing and expectations should be clear and agreed upon up-front. Employees should know exactly what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and what needs to be done to make improvements.

· Give feedback throughout the year. Don’t just “save it up” for the formal review. Again, no one likes surprises, especially bad ones, so don’t keep people in the dark. If an employee has been reminded about a specific behavior issue eight times throughout the year and has failed to make an improvement, the performance downgrade will be less shocking (and less difficult to deliver) during the annual review.

· Focus on the task and the expectations around the task – not the person. Give clear examples of actions that do not meet the expectation set. Feedback should not focus on personality, emotions, or even social styles. It’s about the task, behaviors and expectations.
· INEFFECTIVE: “You are too controlling and need to calm down.”
· EFFECTIVE: “In today’s meeting, when you interrupted Dan, Jane and John to share your ideas, you made it difficult to gather full team input. Please let others complete their thoughts before you share yours.”

· Make a plan with dates to discuss and update expectations – and document it. Tough issues should be documented and managed throughout the year. Keep checking in with the employee to re-state and clarify both your expectations and his or hers. Keep an accurate understanding at all times about how you both feel the person is doing relative to developmental issues. This understanding can only happen if you schedule planned meetings throughout the year to review and discuss.

Whether spoken or unspoken, expectations have a powerful impact on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. They play a key role in driving our attitudes. Research shows that employees who have clearly defined, well communicated expectations find more satisfaction and success in their work than people whose expectations remain unspoken and unrealized.

Think of these questions the next time you are preparing to talk with an employee about expectations around a tough developmental issue:
· Am I serving this person by not being honest and up front about their performance?
· Were the expectations explicitly stated to this person? Did he/she demonstrate understanding of the expectations? Was I proactive in communicating the expectations? What is my part in this?
· What were the employee’s expectations about this development issue? Were they clearly stated to me? Did I demonstrate my understhanding of his/her expectations? Did our expectations of the developmental issue/opportunity match?
· Did we communicate clearly and often about progress around the issue?

The B.E.E.R. Model for Difficult Feedback
The following model provides you with an effective process for creating and delivering difficult feedback. Try to include all four elements in your feedback to employees.
B – Behavior: Identify what the employee is doing or not doing that is unacceptable.
E – Effect: Explain why the behavior is unacceptable, how it hurts productivity/ business performance.
E – Expectation: Explain what you expect the employee to do or not do to change.
R – Result: Identify what will happen if the employee changes (positive tone) or what will be the consequences if the behavior continues (negative tone).

Believe it or not, the more you give feedback about uncomfortable issues, the less uncomfortable the sessions become. Tough issues do not have to mean tough feedback. Take a proactive, not a reactive, approach and you will help strengthen employee relations and head off many of those dreaded “sweaty palmed, sick stomach” discussions.

Thinking Strategically: 7 Tips for Seeing the Big Picture



  1. Think “what if?” With every idea or course of action under consideration, ask yourself and others, “If we implement this idea, how will other units and stakeholders be affected? What might be the long-term ramifications of this decision?”

  2. Broaden your perspective. When making an important decision, resist any urge to choose quickly from the first few alternatives that emerge. Instead, expand your range of alternatives by gathering ideas and concerns from your full range of stakeholders—everyone who has an interest in the decision or who will be affected by the final choice and its outcome.

  3. Grasp your company’s and unit’s strategies. By talking with your boss and knowledgeable peers, as well as examining annual reports and other company publications, formulate a clear statement of your company’s and unit’s strategies.

  4. Get your customers’ and competitors’ perspectives. Look at your group through your customers’ and competitors’ eyes. Ask, “What would I think of my group if I were a customer? A competitor? What would I see as my group’s strengths and weaknesses?”

  5. Stay informed. Use trade publications, business magazines, and other information sources to stay on top of important trends affecting your industry, customers, suppliers, and employees. Conversations with knowledgeable professionals and participation in professional associations can also help you stay informed.

  6. Join up. Volunteer for cross-functional teams and task forces. You’ll learn more about how the many different parts of your organization work together and what your peers’ challenges and needs are.

  7. Play strategic games. Use chess—and any other games that require you to envision a sequence of strategic moves and countermoves—to practice anticipating the long-term consequences of your actions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Try FeedForward Instead of Feedback

Adapted from Leader to Leader, Summer 2002

By Marshall Goldsmith

Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need to know how they are doing. They need to know if their performance is in line with what their leaders expect. They need to learn what they have done well and what they need to change. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of “downward feedback” from leaders to their employees. Just as employees need feedback from leaders, leaders can benefit from feedback from their employees. Employees can provide useful input on the effectiveness of procedures and processes and as well as input to managers on their leadership effectiveness. This “upward feedback” has become increasingly common with the advent of 360° multi-rater assessments.

But there is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on a past, on what has already occurred—not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.

Over the past several years, I have observed more than ten thousand leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles. In one role, they are asked provide feedforward—that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward—that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has 6-7 dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:

Pick one behavior that they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.

Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”

Ask for feedforward—for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.

Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such as, “That’s a good idea.”

Thank the other participants for their suggestions.

Ask the other persons what they would like to change.

Provide feedforward - two suggestions aimed at helping the other person change.

Say, “You are welcome.” when thanked for the suggestions. The entire process of both giving and receiving feedforward usually takes about two minutes.

Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.

When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, “This exercise was …”. The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as “great”, “energizing”, “useful” or “helpful.” The most common word mentioned is “fun!”

What is the last word that most of us think about when we receive feedback, coaching and developmental ideas? Fun!

Eleven Reasons to Try FeedForward

Participants are then asked why this exercise is seen as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing or uncomfortable. Their answers provide a great explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Athletes are often trained using feedforward. Racecar drivers are taught to, “Look at the road ahead, not at the wall.” Basketball players are taught to envision the ball going in the hoop and to imagine the perfect shot. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

2. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were “wrong.” Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” This tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative as it necessarily involves a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls, and problems. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions – not problems.

3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment. We all tend to accept feedback that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. We also tend to reject or deny feedback that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. Successful people tend to have a very positive self-image. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.


4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don’t know! For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow leader can give you ideas on how you can improve. They don’t have to know you. Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.

5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”. In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally (no matter how it is delivered). Successful people’s sense of identity is highly connected with their work. The more successful people are, the more this tends to be true. It is hard to give a dedicated professional feedback that is not taken personally. Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened! Positive suggestions tend to be seen as objective advice – personal critiques are often viewed as personal attacks.

6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. How many of us have been “helped” by a spouse, significant other or friend, who seems to have a near-photographic memory of our previous “sins” that they share with us in order to point out the history of our shortcomings. Negative feedback can be used to reinforce the message, “this is just the way you are”. Feedforward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.

7. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360° feedback reports for over 50 companies. The items, “provides developmental feedback in a timely manner” and “encourages and accepts constructive criticism” almost always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were “improved”, most should be perfect by now! Leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future.

8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback. Imagine that you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you “relive” this humiliating experience, your manager might help you prepare for future presentations by giving you suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way your manager can “cover the same points” without feeling embarrassed and without making you feel even more humiliated.

9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.” With this approach almost no time gets wasted on judging the quality of the ideas or “proving that the ideas are wrong”. This “debate” time is usually negative; it can take up a lot of time, and it is often not very productive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender, as well as the receiver. Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination and will tend to accept ideas that they “buy” while rejecting ideas that feel “forced” upon them.

10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative – or even career-limiting - unintended consequences when applied to managers or peers. Feedforward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful “fellow traveler” than an “expert”. As such it can be easier to hear from a person who is not in a position of power or authority. An excellent team building exercise is to have each team member ask, “How can I better help our team in the future?” and listen to feedforward from fellow team members (in one-on-one dialogues.)

11. People tend to listen more attentively to feedforward than feedback. One participant is the feedforward exercise noted, “I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever do at work!” When asked why, he responded, “Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart – that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying. In feedforward the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you’. Since I don’t have to worry about composing a clever reply – I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!”

In summary, the intent of this article is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When managers are asked, “How did you feel the last time you received feedback?” their most common responses are very negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving feedforward, they reply that feedforward was not only useful, it was also fun!

Quality communication—between and among people at all levels and every department and division—is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.
The term “feedforward” was coined in a discussion that I had with Jon Katzenbach, author of The Wisdom of Teams, Real Change Leaders and Peak Performance.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Leadership Development for C Players?

Developing employees can be time-intensive. Matching direct reports’ interests, values, and skills to growth opportunities requires energy and careful consideration. How can you optimize the time spent on this activity? By understanding who on your team should be developed—and who requires performance improvement.

To understand how successful leaders allocate their employee development time, it’s helpful to consider the return on management, or ROM, of developing your direct reports.

The Return on Management ratio

ROM can be expressed as the following equation: ROM = Productive energy released divided by management time and attention invested.

This ratio—which is more of a metaphor than an exact calculation—provides a framework for evaluating your strategic focus on daily tasks. Is your energy invested in activities that best contribute to your organization’s productivity and overall performance? If not, you are likely not spending your time on the “right” opportunities and challenges.

In the case of developing employees, the ROM ratio suggests that managers spend the most time working with the people that contribute the most and add the most value to the organization. This group would consist of both star performers and solid contributors. Based on such an assessment, the third group, your low-potential, low-performing employees (or C players), would merit the least management time and energy because they benefit the organization the least.

The first step: identify your C players

While the ROM ratio indicates that those who deliver mediocre performance and lack initiative deserve the least attention, you cannot ignore them. Instead, you must take the time up front to identify who the C players are, and then take decisive action.
Failing to address your low-performing employees can have a detrimental effect on the organization’s performance. These individuals often:

- Stand in the way of the advancement of more talented employees
- Hire other C players, which lowers the performance bar across the board
- Tend to be poor role models who encourage a low-performer mentality among their peers and direct reports
- Engender a culture of mediocrity which repels highly talented and ambitious people

Once you’ve differentiated these employees, you must decide how you will address them. Then, it’s best to act decisively—but with respect.
The second step: move them up—or out

Generally speaking, the strategy for addressing C players centers on performance. The first step is to try to move them up to an acceptable performance level. To do this, managers must:

- Provide them with clearly defined goals.
- Create a prescribed path and timeline for achieving those goals.
- Be explicit about the ways in which they must improve.
- Be willing to coach and provide candid feedback.

However, some employees may be unable—or unwilling—to improve their performance. The best course of action for these individuals is to move them out of their current jobs. This may mean trying to find them a different position in your organization where they may be more successful, or dismissing them from the company.
Dismissing C players

Before dismissing an employee, you’ll want to be sure that dismissing the person is the right thing to do, or if you have any other recourse. If you have exhausted your options, make sure you have the correct documentation both of the employee’s performance or behavior problems and the steps you’ve taken to help him or her improve. Finally, you’ll also want to consult with your legal and human resources departments regarding the dismissal regulations unique to your situation.

Dismissing an employee is often a painful process. It is helpful to keep in mind your ultimate goal in taking this action: to strengthen your talent pool in order to increase business performance. Your first allegiance must be to your organization, not to an individual. If C players remain under your supervision, you are compromising your company’s performance.

Also remember that letting employees languish in a job where they are not respected by their direct reports and peers only hurts them. Moving them out is not only good for your organization, but good for the employee as well.

Excerpted from the Harvard ManageMentor® online program "Developing Employees";
http://corporatelearning.hbsp.org/home/prod_harvardManageMentorTen.html

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Leadership Development for B Players

It’s easy to recognize the employees in your organization who bring in the biggest revenues or win awards, or the A players. But there are others that are also important: those who consistently meet expectations but are not standout performers. While these B players may not seek the limelight, it’s still critical for managers to recognize, value, and grow these employees.

These steady, reliable performers are your corporate backbone; they keep your organization going, day by day. These employees are valuable to your organization because they often:

- Have a deep understanding of an organization’s history and processes. They have strong institutional memory of what has worked—and what hasn’t. These people are frequently comfortable in their jobs and are likely to want to stay in them.
- Adapt to large-scale organizational change more easily than many A players because they are less threatened by it. They can help other people through the trauma of change by providing focus and reassurance.
- Were former superstars who left the fast track for a variety of reasons, such as establishing more work/life balance. Therefore, they may have the skills needed to take on more responsibility during crises.

To retain these core contributors, it’s important to develop them in ways that best match their competencies, potential, and desires.


Developing B Players

To develop these employees, begin the same way you would with your stars: seek to understand their most passionate business interests, deepest work values, and strongest skills. Find out what direction they’d like their career to take.

Don’t be surprised if members of this group are not eager—or able—to advance in the organization. Don’t push them, but allow them the freedom to stay where they are. Periodically check in with these employees to find out if they are interested in career advancement. You might also “test” individuals in this group to find out if greater accomplishment is possible. You may find that some of these B players may be capable of becoming stars if given the right developmental opportunities and encouragement.

Identify the employees that have growth potential and provide them with:

- “Stretch” assignments. The best assignments are those that offer employees challenges that encourage them to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. Match employees to these assignments carefully to ensure that they are not overwhelmed.
- Coaching. By entering into coaching partnerships, you share your knowledge and experience as a manager to help maximize employees’ potential and help them achieve agreed-upon goals. This ongoing, two-way process relies on collaboration and requires a positive emotional bond between coach and coachee.
- Training. Encourage employees to enhance specific job or life skills through training. Learning can take many forms, including: sessions provided by internal human resources staff, seminars by experts in a particular field, college or university courses, as well as online or distance-learning classes.

B players are also good candidates for lateral movements. Giving these employees new experiences, through job rotations or “sideways promotions,” can help keep them energized and productive.

Provide frequent affirmation

Make a deliberate effort to let these “supporting actors” of the corporate world know that they are important and that their contributions are recognized. For example:

- Tell them they are valued. Show that you have a genuine interest in them by letting them know how important they are to your organization.
- Listen to their ideas. When they have a suggestion, listen carefully. Take the time to respond thoughtfully and respectfully. If you act on a suggestion, be sure to give them credit.
- Praise their accomplishments. Be conscious of the aspects of their jobs that they are particularly good at. Tell them—and others—how much you appreciate their unique talents.
- Trust them. Show them that they have your confidence by allowing them to take actions and make decisions that are appropriate for their skill level.

Above all, accept them for who they are: solid performers upon whom your organization relies.

Make a point of discovering who among them has the motivation and capability to grow to positions with greater responsibility. Groom these people as you would A players by allocating them developmental resources and opportunities. But also respect those B players who are content where they are.

Excerpted from the Harvard ManageMentor® online program "Developing Employees";
http://corporatelearning.hbsp.org/home/prod_harvardManageMentorTen.html