Wednesday, December 30, 2009

8 + Team Development Models


Team development refers to a process and activities for improving team performance. Team development activities can range from simple bonding exercises to intensive, multi-day team development retreats.

Team development is usually used when an interdependent team needs to improve the way they work together to achieve shared goals. If a team is facing challenges, dropping balls, blaming each other, etc., diagnostics and treatment are often necessary.

There are several proven, effective team development models available. A leader should pick one, learn it, and use it consistently. Organizations can also benefit from using a common model. As employees move from one team to another, a common framework and language exists to help the new employee assimilate faster.

Leaders will often use a team building facilitator to help them get started, until they can use the process on their own. It's important to select someone with experience and expertise - I'd recommend interviewing several and talking to references.

Here are 8 commonly used team development models, including links to learn more about each one. As an added bonus, I've also thrown in my own simple model.

1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Developed by Patrick Lencioni, owner of The Table Group. The five dysfunctions are:
Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results.
I've used this model and would recommend it. It's fairly simple to understand and you can purchase a Field Guide with activities to support each stage of the model.

2. Tuckman’s Model
Many team development models use some variation of Bruce Tuckman’s classic 4 stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, and performing.
It's helpful to be able to anticipate the typical stages any team will go though and understand how to move them through each stage.

3. Glen Parker’s Model 
Based on his book, Team Players and Teamwork. I like the team survey that accompanies this one.

4. Drexler Sibbit model
Developed by Allan Drexler and David Sibbet (see picture). One of my favorites, and I've used it a lot.  The big disadvantage of this one is it requires certification, as it's mainly for OD consultants.

5. Katzenbach & Smith’s model

Based on the book “The Wisdom of Teams”. I've read the book - it's very good - and have used parts of the model.

I'm not as familiar with the next three models, but they are classics and came up a lot when researching this post:

6. Lafasto and Larson model
Based on the book “When Teams Work Best”.

7. Hackman model
Based on the book “Leading Teams”.

8. GRPI model
Stands for: Goals, Roles, Processes, and Interpersonal relationships.
Based on the book “Task Oriented Team Development”.

The Great Leadership model:
Quite honestly, I often wonder if we "professionals" make team development overly complicated for leaders. Many of the team assessments I've used seem to be self-serving, designed to sell team development products, services, and books.
Would a better approach be for a team to simply ask themselves to define what kind of a team they would like to be? Just define their own team behaviors and goals, then rate themselves and choose what they want to work on to improve? I’ve tried this, and it seems to create a lot buy-in and positive energy and gets to the point a lot faster. Then, when finished, go out for beers and pizza. (-:

These are the models I’m most familiar with, but I’m sure there are many more. What's your favorite approach to team development? Is there a team development model you like that’s not on this list?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Management Best Practices or Just an Illusion?



Thanks to Marc Effron, from the Talent Management Network, for bring this to our attention:
Recent research may shake your faith in management gurus who claim that specific business practices cause high performance. In A Random Search for Excellence, researchers report that companies' sustained high performance may simply be luck.

Their research shows that luck alone can account for above average performance for many years. They conclude that many of the best selling management books of recent years aren't really identifying high performing companies but instead are studying firms "with performance profiles that are statistically indistinguishable from fortunate random walks."

I just read the report myself – here’s a summary:

 The genre of management research that we refer to as the “success study” is flawed, including In Search of Excellence, Good to Great, Breakthrough Company, What Really Works, Stall PointsBuilt to Last, and Profit from the Core.

 The reason they are flawed is because they measured the wrong things and set the bar too low. Deloitte backs this up with lots and lots of statistically analysis and explanation, most of which I found too complex to follow.

 Deloitte is currently conducting its own “success study”, but they’ll use a better algorithm that will better define “great performance” and demonstrate true cause and effect.

 They say the flawed science behind these studies doesn’t mean you should ignore the advice from these authors and gurus. Sure the recommendations can be useful, more in the manner of “fables” than evidence-based advice. For example, no one would read “The Tortoise and the Hare” and go out and bet on a tortoise. Rather, people take from this tale the idea that there is merit in perseverance while arrogance can lead to a downfall.

This report reminds me of what Marshall Goldsmith calls “The Success Delusion”, which explains why it’s hard to convince successful leaders and companies to change. They often attribute their success to habits that have nothing to do with success – it’s closer to superstition than actual cause and effect.

I see the same thing with the “study a bunch of successful leaders and list the traits” genre of books and reports. I've gotten to the point where I won't even read them any more. Instead, I stick with what I believe to be research-based proven models (CCL, Lominder, DDI). But at the end of the day – who knows?

Red is gray and
Yellow white
But we decide
Which is right
And
Which is an Illusion?
From Nights in White Satin, by The Moody Blues.

BTW, can you see the hidden tiger in the picture above?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Excuses and Challenges

This is the time of year that we often take stock of ourselves, and reflect on what we’ve achieved over the last year.

How did we do on our goals, resolutions, or development plans from last year?

Did we achieve what we set out to do? If not, why not?

Before you answer that question, take a look at this one minute video from Nike:




This video inspires me to not let excuses and challenges get in my way as I start the New Year.

How about you?

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gambling on Leadership Potential

Why is it so hard to predict the success of leaders before we hire or promote them to the next level? We hear about the failure rate of new CEOs and senior leaders all the time, and hear from the “experts” how shortsighted and ignorant we are for not being able to get it right.

OK, now I’m one of those idiots responsible for identifying the next generation of leaders, so excuse me if I get a little defensive here. The reason our success rate is barely better than 50%, maybe worse depending on what study you’ve read, it that IT IS DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT THE FUTURE!

Sorry for shouting. I’ll give you two examples to make this point.

1. Drafting NFL quarterbacks.
Pro football has the most sophisticated succession planning and development system on the planet. Future quarterbacks are identified and groomed from the moment these little future stars play their first Pop Warner game. They are groomed and scouted through high school and college. The NFL spends millions on scouting departments, Wonderlic tests to measure intelligence, combines, and all sorts of ways to measure and assess a player’s ability. They watch hundreds of hours of tape, studying the player perform under pressure. You would think pure physical abilities would be WAY easier to assess than leadership ability, right?
Well, if it were so easy, how do you explain:
- Matt Leinhart
- Jamrcus Russell
- Ryan Leaf
- Akili Smith
- Art Schlichter
- Cade McNown
- Dan McGwire
- Steve Pisarkiewicz
- Todd Marinovich
- Jim Druckenmiller

Would anyone care to bet your mortgage on Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow?

These “can’t miss” quarterbacks were all taken in the first round and all turned out to be colossal busts! The failure rate of quarterbacks selected in the first round is so high that some teams are afraid to spend a first round pick on a quarterback.

2. Picking stocks.
Wall Street hires some of the best and brightest MBAs from the top schools and trains them to be stock market analysts. They spend millions on the more sophisticated modeling software, they study the industries and companies they are responsible for, and work their fingers to the bone on the behalf of their clients. Yet, some would say a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.

When it comes to predicting the success of quarterbacks and stocks, it seems the best pickers in the world have about a 50.5% success rate. That’s just a little better than the odds of winning at roulette or blackjack at the casino.

Again – it’s impossible to predict the future. There are just too many variables. Call it chaos theory, call it whatever you want, but until someone invents a time machine, 50.5% may be the benchmark.

When it comes to leadership development, even the best companies don’t get it right all of the time. However, they do a better job at it than most of their competition and even a 20% improvement gives them a huge competitive advantage.

Before we turn to the blindfolded monkeys, are there some things we can do to stack the deck a bit in our favor? Sure – we can:

1. Cast a wider net and create an environment and infrastructure where everyone has the opportunity to reach their high highest potential. 50% of 1000 gives you a much larger pool of candidates than 50% of 100.

2. Improve our ability to recognize talent early and use all of the tools at our disposal to accelerate their development and prepare them for potential roles.

3. Use consistent, reliable criteria to select for potential, instead of strictly relying on past performance or meaningless criteria.

4. Support our high potentials once they are promoted and give them a better chance to succeed (give them a mentor, a coach, feedback, etc…)

Do these things, and do them well, and then roll the dice. Hopefully we’ll get it right slightly more than half the time, and be able to admit it when we get it wrong and minimize the damage.

What do you think? When it comes to assessing leadership potential and leadership selection, is 50.5% a realistic expectation, or can we do better?


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Using “Deliberate Practice” as a Coaching Technique

In 2008, Geoff Colvin wrote the bestselling book "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else".

If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it, although in my opinion, the original article first published in Fortune gets to the point a lot quicker and gives you all you need to know about the concept.

Colvin’s main point is that people are not born with all the natural talent and abilities that will make them great it life. Other than some physical attributes that may give an athlete an advantage in a particular sport, everyone can achieve world-class performance through “deliberate practice” in his or her chosen field - business, music, sports, etc.

Colvin explains, drawing several research-based conclusions, that the secret – deliberate practice – is designed, can be repeated a lot, requires constant feedback, is highly demanding mentally, and isn’t much fun.

He goes on to say, “If it seems a bit depressing that the most important thing you can do to improve performance is no fun, take consolation in this fact: It must be so. If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and they would not distinguish the best from the rest. The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won’t do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.”

Although the concept of deliberate practice sounds good in theory, he doesn’t go into a lot of detail on how to implement it.

Also, if there’s a training program out there on how to implement the concepts, I couldn’t find it.

So how can a leader use deliberate practice as a coaching technique to help their employees improve their performance?

First of all, we need to start with the assumption that the employee really wants to be great at what they do. In other words, the motivation must come from within; the leader can’t force this desire on someone.

Let’s assume most employees really do want to be the best at what they do, and are willing to work for it (I know, that’s a BIG if, but hang in there with me).

Try this step-by-step approach to implementing the concepts of deliberate practice as a coaching technique:

Preparation:
1. Identify 3-4 critical activities that separate great performers from the rest. For example, for a salesperson, it might be the ability to get an appointment, listen, and close. There may be more than 3-4, that’s OK, this is just a place to start. If you don’t know what they are, you might need to interview and study some high performers, read a book, or find some other way to learn from the best.

For each activity:

2. Identity someone who does it really well. Write down exactly how that person performs the activity. Again, you might need to interview or observe them. Identify what they do, their thought process, any anything else that differentiates how they perform the activity from average performers. Using the same sales example, for closing skills, it might be the repeated use of trial closes.

3. Figure out how the activity can be learned. In most cases, according to the theory, there is a “teacher” involved. In the business world, this person could be a trainer, coach, mentor, manager, or expert. In the salesperson example, this could be a sales trainer or the sales manager.

4. Determine how the activity can be practiced repeatedly. Practice activities could include role plays, simulations, and rehearsals. In the sales example, it might include role playing trial closes with the manager or a sales trainer.

5. Set up a feedback mechanism. The person needs to have a way to know how well they did. In the sales example, this could include observing the sales rep with a client and providing feedback after the call.

6. Repeat process for each critical activity.

The coaching discussion:

1. Have the employee read the article ahead of time in order to prepare them for the discussion.

2. Check for motivation and commitment.

For each activity:

3. Describe the activity in detail.

4. Ask the employee to self-assess themselves (scale of 1-10) for the activity. Provide your assessment as well.

5. Ask the employee to set an improvement goal. For example, they see themselves as a “6” in closing, ask them how much better they want to get (7-10).

6. Explain how the activity can be learned and practiced. This becomes your deliberate practice plan (really just another way to get at an IDP).

7. Repeat process for each activity.

8. Agree on next steps.

That’s it! The process may sound deceptively simple – yes, it’s not brain surgery, and probably nothing that you haven’t already been doing in a less structured way. However, in practice, it’s going to require a lot of discipline, hard work, and support from the leader. Oh, and it’s not fun.

Try it out, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 10 Talent Resolutions for 2010

DDI asked me to contribute to their Top 10 Talent Resolutions for 2010.

They are counting them down on their Talent Management Intelligence blog and will publish all of them in an upcoming client newsletter in January.

Mine was just published today. I'm looking forward to reading the rest!

From Talent Management Intelligence:

Have you made your resolutions yet? To wrap up 2009, DDI asked 10 thought leaders in management, human resources and training and development what talent resolution they think organizations should make.

Throughout the month of December and through January 4, DDI will count down 10 nuggets of wisdom from:

#10 - Barry Stern, Vice President Consulting Services and Delivery at DDI—“Live in the crisis mindset”

#9 - Ellen McGirt, Senior Writer for Fast Company magazine—“Be the love.”

#8 - Dan McCarthy, Blogger and Leadership Development Manager—“Repair the reputation of leadership” :

#7 - Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School— “Pull your head out of the sand”

#6 - John Hollon, Editor of Workforce magazine—“Walk the talk “

#5 - Matt Paese, Vice President, Executive Solutions at DDI—“Vaccinate: for growth”

#4 - Alexandra Levit, author and Wall Street Journal columnist—“Manage your millenials”

#3 - Heather Daigle, blogger and human capital specialist—“Ask more, tell less”

#2 - Mike Hoban, Senior Consultant, DDI—“Quit sacrificing talent”

#1 - Josh Bersin, CEO and President, Bersin & Associates—“Expand succession management to talent mobility”


Monday, December 7, 2009

The December Leadership Development Carnival

The December Leadership Development Carnival is up! This month's edition is being hosted my Mark Stelzner from Inflexion Point.

Check it out here. Mark's done a great job organizing over 30 posts from your favorite leadership and HR bloggers into a blustery winter theme.

We've also unveiled our new logo this month. Thanks to Becky Robinson and John Sellards from Mountain State University for the contribution.

The next Carnival will be January 3rd, 2010, hosted here at Great Leadership.



Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Cowardly Manager’s Guide to Dealing with Poor Performers

Dealing with a poor performer has to be one of the hardest responsibilities of a leader. Great leaders confront performance issues head on. They provide feedback, coaching, counseling, and if all else fails, real leaders fire underperformers. It’s all part of earning your scars as a leader.

Cowardly managers come up with all kind of creative ways to avoid dealing with performance issues. Here is a summary of many of the actual methods I’ve encountered:

1. Teambuilding.
Instead of dealing with the the one bad apple, drag the entire work group through “teambuilding” sessions with the hope that the poor performer will be “outed” and fixed.

2. Assessments.
Instead of simply confronting the employee, have the employee take a battery of assessments in the hope that they will figure it out for themselves.

3. Call HR.
Hire an HR person to take care of all employee disciplinary problems so managers don’t have to bother.

4. Transfer the poor performer.
Pass the poor performer off to some other sucker.

5. Training.
Ask the training department to fix the poor performer.

6. Hire someone else to do their job.
I’m not making this up – I happens all the time. But wait, there’s even a more ludicrous option, you can…..

7. Promote them.
Really. It happens. Shocker.

8. Delegate it to another employee.
Ask someone else on your team to “mentor” the problem performer. It would be a good “development opportunity”, thus killing two birds with one stone.

9. Delegate up.
Have Mom or Dad deal with it.

10. Work around the performance issues.
Otherwise known as “playing to their strengths”. In other words, strip all the hard parts of the job away until the poor performer can handle it.

11. Wait for retirement.
Either yours or the poor performers.

And when all else fails, just stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. It won’t, but while you’re waiting, the moral and performance of your entire team will be dragged down like an anchor. When that happens, give a copy of this guide to your own manager, and hope you have a coward for a manager and not a real leader.

What are some other ways you've seen wimp managers avoid dealing with performance issues?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2009 Global Top Companies for Leaders

Hewitt Associates, The RBL Group and FORTUNE just announced their 2009 Global Top Companies for Leaders (not to be confused with the annual Hay Group CEO Magazine Best Companies for Leaders).

Here's the press release from Hewitt:

November 19, 2009
Global Leadership Study Finds Top Companies Remain Committed to Developing Strong Leaders Regardless of Economic Conditions

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. — IBM, Procter & Gamble and General Mills head the 2009 list of Global Top Companies for Leaders, the most comprehensive study of organizational leadership in the world. The Global Top Companies for Leaders study is conducted by Hewitt Associates, a global consulting and outsourcing company, in partnership with The RBL Group, a strategic HR and leadership systems advisory firm, and FORTUNE. This year's winners were selected and ranked by an expert panel of independent judges based on criteria including strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leader development on a global scale, impact of leadership in communities in which they operate, business performance, and company reputation. The 2009 list, attached below, can be found on Fortune.com today and will appear in the December 7 issue of FORTUNE, on newsstands November 23.

When comparing the Global Top Companies with more than 500 companies around the world, Hewitt identified one distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart from their peers — even during the economic downturn, Global Top Companies remained committed to building leadership capability within their organizations. In other words, tighter budgets and fewer resources forced these organizations to think and act smarter and more creatively about what really mattered when it came to leadership — but they didn't lose focus.

"Strong leadership is a critical element in helping global companies successfully compete, yet many organizations lack the know-how and infrastructure to create a robust pipeline of leaders for future success. Simply put, they lack the discipline to build leaders," said Robert Gandossy, global practice leader of Leadership Consulting at Hewitt. "Our research and experience tells us that while leadership talent is in short supply around the world, the Global Top Companies for Leaders are still able to groom a near-constant supply of world-class leaders . . . year after year and regardless of economic conditions. This capability gives them a unique advantage over their competitors and will poise them to emerge stronger — and more quickly — out of the economic downturn."

"The quality of the leadership within a company helps meet the expectations of investors, customers and employees, and sets the stage for growth," said Norm Smallwood, co-founder of The RBL Group. "So developing the next generation of effective leaders is perhaps the most important undertaking of a forward-thinking company. The Global Top Companies for Leaders understand the urgency of a robust leadership culture and are learning to master how to build and sustain one."

Since the study's inception in 2002, Hewitt has identified a set of standard leadership characteristics embodied by companies that possess a winning leadership culture, including the 2009 Global Top Companies for Leaders. Leaders at these organizations are passionate and committed. Their leadership programs are practical, relevant and aligned with business goals. Top Companies have an intense focus on talent, and they are deliberate about who they hire, who they coach, who they promote, and who they reward. Finally, leadership development at these organizations is an institutionalized practice and mindset.

In addition to this standard set of leadership traits, Hewitt's research identified four other critical areas that set the 2009 Global Top Companies apart from other companies around the world:

Leadership remains a critical priority — in good or bad economic times. According to Hewitt's research, all companies ranked cost pressure as the single most pressing challenge over the next three years. Stabilizing cash and debt positions and balancing immediate cost pressures with long-term growth were key priorities in 2009, and they will remain a top priority as the global economy begins to recover. However, Global Top Companies also plan to have an intense focus on ensuring they do not abandon key leadership and talent efforts in favor of shortsighted goals. As A.G. Lafley, chairman of the board at Global Top Companies winner Procter & Gamble, explains, "All the value we create comes from our people — that doesn't change if we are in a recession or if we are growing rapidly."

Succession planning is deliberate and consistent. All Global Top Companies have a formal succession planning process in place, compared to only 72 percent of all other companies. Almost all (95 percent) have developed succession plans specific to the CEO or an emergency plan, compared to just under two-thirds (63 percent) of all other companies. Succession plans at Global Top Companies are also more likely to offer specific elements to ensure the capabilities and depth of their pipelines are strong. Eighty-four percent of Global Top Companies identify a leader's current performance against his/her future potential, compared to just 64 percent of all other companies. In addition, 88 percent offer 360-degree feedback, compared to just over half (56 percent) of all other companies.

Leaders clearly understand what is expected of them as leaders. Leaders at the Global Top Companies understand what is expected of them and are held accountable for their actions. Seventy-two percent of Global Top Companies rate the ability to effectively develop other leaders as one of the top five leadership skills most critical to their firm's success, compared to just 39 percent of other companies. More than three-quarters (76 percent) also rate "demonstrating company missions and values" as one of the top five most important factors in determining strong leadership performance, compared to 57 percent of all other companies.

"We are a company that has succeeded in having its leaders take responsibility for assessing talent, engaging talent in 'what's next' conversations and looking at moving talent across lines, businesses, geographies, and functions. We think deeply about our leaders of tomorrow," said Ted Hoff, vice president, IBM Center for Learning and Development.

Developing the next generation of leaders is a priority. Hewitt's research shows that Global Top Companies recognize that the ability to attract, assess and develop leaders across roles, functions and geographies is a necessary and differentiating strategy. All Global Top Companies formally identify high-potential talent, compared to 68 percent for all other companies. All of them also have formal processes for developing leaders, (compared to 77 percent of other companies) and use leaders as teachers and mentors (compared to 55 percent of all other companies) in these efforts. As a result, 96 percent of Global Top Companies say they are attracting the quality leadership talent they need to be successful, compared to just 65 percent of all other companies. As Dr. John C. Lechleiter, chief executive officer of Global Top Companies for Leaders winner Eli Lilly, notes, "There were a lot of people here to help us win the last war, but we need to develop people to win the next war — all the while continuing to ground ourselves in the company's values. We take the long view in respect to people development; we still talk to people about building careers here."

About Hewitt Associates

Hewitt Associates (NYSE: HEW) provides leading organizations around the world with expert human resources consulting and outsourcing solutions to help them anticipate and solve their most complex benefits, talent, and related financial challenges. Hewitt works with companies to design, implement, communicate, and administer a wide range of human resources, retirement, investment management, health care, compensation, and talent management strategies. With a history of exceptional client service since 1940, Hewitt has offices in more than 30 countries and employs approximately 23,000 associates who are helping make the world a better place to work. For more information, please visit www.hewitt.com.

About The RBL Group

The RBL Group is a strategic HR and leadership systems advisory firm. For over 25 years, its principals have collaborated with leading global organizations to strategically align corporate and business strategy to ensure sustainable high performance through the integration of theory, applied research, and practice. The RBL Group has trained and redesigned some of the best-managed companies in the world, helping them achieve significant improvements in bottom-line results. It is recognized internationally for innovative research and publications on Leadership, Intangible Assets and Strategic HR, including hundreds of articles, more than 400,000 books sold, numerous industry awards, and recognition as outstanding educators and advisors by leading business publications. For additional information about The RBL Group, its principals and expertise, visit www.rbl.net.

Global Top Companies for Leaders

Featured below is the list of Top 25 Global Companies for Leaders, announced today on Fortune.com. Conducted by Hewitt Associates in partnership with The RBL Group and FORTUNE, this list was selected by an independent judges panel, consisting of world-renowned authors, professors, business executives and executive coaches:

1. IBM
2. The Procter & Gamble Company
3. General Mills, Inc.
4. McKinsey & Company
5. ICICI Bank Ltd.
6. McDonald's Corporation
7. General Electric Company
8. Titan Cement Company S.A.
9. China Mobile Communications Corporation - Shanghai Ltd.
10. Hindustan Unilever
11. Natura Cosmeticos S.A.
12. Colgate Palmolive
13. TNT N.V.
14. Deere & Company
15. Whirlpool Corporation
16. 3M Company
17. Cargill, Incorporated
18. Olam International
19. Eli Lilly and Company
20. PepsiCo, Inc.
21. American Express Company
22. Lockheed Martin Corporation
23. Intel Corporation
24. Infosys Technology
25. FedEx Corporation

Contact:
John Yocca for The RBL Group, x214, john@sternassociates.com

Monday, November 30, 2009

High Potential Notification Guidelines: Not Too Heavy, Not Too Light

Most organizations have a process for the identification and development of "high potentials", those high flying, rock star, future leaders of the organization.

One of the most frequent questions I get when I work with a leadership team on succession planning and leadership development is around notification. "Do we tell them, and if so, how do we tell them?"

Most of the guidelines I've read on this topic are rather theoretical and dry, and not specific enough for the average manager to implement.

I thought it might be helpful to use the current Bud Light "Not Too Light, Not Too Heavy" beer commercial as a metaphor, along with handy word tracks to illustrate three common notification methods and the associated consequences of each. (That's what happens from watching too much football over the holiday break.)

These scenarios are based on my own real-world experience - having been at various times a high potential, having managed high potentials, and from managing high potential programs at different organizations. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.








Too Light:



Manager: "Pam, I've got a new opportunity for you. I'd like you to lead the new branding task force, in addition to your regular responsibilities. While you're at it, how about if you start having regular meetings with old Charlie, our VP of Marketing? I'll bet you two would have a lot of interesting things to talk about."

Pam: "Oh, OK, I guess so.... but why me? I've got a full plate already, and this assignment is completely outside of the scope of my job. What am I supposed to talk to Charlie about? I've never even met him?"

Manager: "Hey, don't worry about it, this is all a part of your development. By the way..... how attached are you to where you're living now? Would you consider relocating? Have you ever been to Buffalo?"

Two months later:

Manager: "What do you mean you're resigning? We have big plans for you... why, you were going to be the next VP of Marketing!"

Pam: "Well, that sure would have been nice to know. That's the position my new company has offered me. I'm leaving here because you kept throwing all these random "opportunities" at me, and then you told me I'm going to have to relocate to Buffalo!"

Too Heavy:


Manager: "Dwight, I've got great news for you. Now you have to keep this a secret, because I'm not supposed to be telling you this (wink wink). Me and the rest of the management team just did this "high potential assessment" exercise, and guess what? You're going to be the next VP of Marketing! We ranked you and all your peers on this nine box matrix, and you were the only one in the "A1" box. Yeah, that's you, Dwight old buddy, you are an A1!! Congratulations!"

Dwight: "Uh, gee, thanks. That's great, I'm honored. So what does all this mean?"

Manager: "Well, first of all, if you're going to be a VP, you need to start acting like a VP. I'm going to have you start to run some of my meetings, and working with me on the budget. Oh, I'd like to have you coach a couple of your co-workers; that would be good practice for you, and I'm sure they'll appreciate learning from the best. This is going to be great, we'll have you ready for that VP position in no time!"

Two Months later:

Manager: "Dwight, I need to talk to you about something. Your co-workers have been complaining to me about your behavior. They say you've been acting really obnoxious lately, running around like someone anointed you their boss. I have to say, you've been getting a little arrogant with me too. Oh, and old Charlie isn't feeling too well these days. I can't believe he said this, but he thinks you've been slipping something into his coffee. Is this true?"

Just Right:

Manager: "Jim, I'd like to talk to you about your career path and your development. First of all, I want you to know that I'm really impressed with your work, and I see you as having potential to grow beyond your current responsibilities. I'm not the only one who feels that way, the rest of the management team does too. You're seen as someone with a lot of creativity, vision, and leadership ability."

Jim: "Wow, that's awesome. Thanks! I'm glad to see my hard work has been noticed. While I really love what I do, I have aspirations to do more."

Manager: "That's great. How do you feel about Marketing? You seem to have a real knack for that kind of work. It's a growing department, so there may be opportunities in that area if you're interested."

Jim: "Sure, that sounds great. I have a degree in Marketing"

Manager: "Well, let's talk about how we could get you ready for that kind of an opportunity if it ever opened up. Of course there's no guarantees, so let's make sure your development plan is focused not only on this option, but others as well, in addition to making you stronger in your current role. First off, how would you like to lead the new branding task force? I know it would be a stretch for you, but it would be great development and exposure, and would help develop your influence skills as well. I could talk to Charlie, our VP of Marketing, about being a mentor for you."

Two years later:

Charlie retires, Jim is named as his replacement, and everybody lives happily ever after.

In summary, follow these guidelines for high potential notification:

1. Don't tell someone they are an "A1", a successor, or even a "hipo". Skip the labels.

2. Do let your best people know that they are valued and discuss potential future opportunites (with no gaurentees).

3. Be clear with people about their development plans. Let them know if a project is for development and why.

4. Careers and development should be a two-way discussion. Find out what the employee desires and inform them about company needs.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give the Gift of Development Gift Pack

I'm pleased to welcome a new sponsor to Great Leadership, Lominger, a division of Korn/Ferry International.

I've been using Lominger products since they were founded back in 1991. I like them because they are research based, easy to use, with roots going back to the Center for Creative Leadership's approach to leadership development. In fact, one of their founders, Michael Lombardo, co-authored the classic 1988 book "The Lessons of Experience", which is still used to define leadership development best practices.

FYI, For Your Improvement, has always been the most well worn leadership development resource on my bookshelf. It's my favorite tool for helping managers create their individual development plans. I will no longer lend it out, because no one ever wants to return it once they start using it.

Just in time for the holidays, Lominger has introduced the Development Gift Pack—the perfect set of tools for developing (yourself), coaching (direct reports) and leading (teams). For a limited time you can save 45% on four of their top development books.

The Development Gift Pack is for:

- Managers or individual contributors for self-development
- A resource for managers to help develop their employees and teams
- A resource for HR pros, coaches, consultants, and trainers to help develop others

This unique Pack includes:

•FYI For Your Improvement™ 5th Edition—a development book based on 50 years of research
•FYI for Teams™ 2nd Edition—includes 200 easy-to-implement team development tips
•YOU: Being More Effective in your MBTI® Type—a leadership development book built around the 16 MBTI® personality types
•Broadband Talent Management™: Paths to Improvement—helps uncover new ways to approach individual performance needs.

You get all four for only $139.00 - a savings of $113.95!

Looking for that perfect "Secret Santa" gift for your manager, employees, clients, or partners? There's no need to go out and battle the crowds on Black Friday. Why not give them a gift that will keep on giving - the gift of development!

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Disclosure: In case it isn't blatantly obvious, this has been a sponsored post. However, I stand behind everything I said about Lominger and their products. They really do rock.



Monday, November 23, 2009

A Leadership Crisis or a Branding Issue?

It sure has been a tough year to be a leader.

In the summer of 2009, Development Dimensions International (DDI) surveyed 1000 US workers employed across industries and throughout the United States. Concentrating on specialists and professionals in non-leadership positions, they asked individual contributors how they feel about their jobs, their opportunities for growth, engagement levels, and skills they desired to develop.

There were 6 key findings in their “Pulse of the Workforce” report.

One of them was……. drum roll please….

Individual contributors are disappointed in their bosses and managers.

Shocker. No surprise here. And dissatisfaction with leadership isn’t just a US issue.

A survey of the UK workforce (3,000 adults surveyed by OnePoll), conducted on behalf of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that 50% believe that they could do a better job than their current manager and a similar number (49%) said they would be prepared to take a pay cut, in order to work with a better manager.

We’ve been hearing about the “leadership crisis” for years now. Just for fun, try searching “leadership crisis” and you’ll find thousands of headlines going back to 2001, from every industry, and from every part of the world.

There is also no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks, bemoaning the lack of leadership and telling leaders what they need to do to snap out of it. Lee Iacocca wrote a bestselling book a couple years ago, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?”, where he “sounds a howl of anger against the sad state of leadership in the U.S. today”.

I hate to say it, but I’m almost getting numb to the whole “leadership crisis” thing. It’s getting tired.

However, there was another finding from the DDI survey that I found even more troubling:

Sixty-two percent of the individual contributors surveyed have no aspiration to assume a management role.

This anti-leadership sentiment showed up in several other areas of the research. Survey respondents were asked if they could leapfrog to any position in their organizations, what role would they take on. Very few, just 32%, find their boss’s job or even more senior positions appealing.

It seems leadership has a serious branding issue. I wouldn't be suprised to see "leader" on next year's "Worst Jobs" list.

If you think we’re in a leadership crisis now, we’re going to be in an even deeper crisis if we don’t do something to make the role of a leader more appealing to our best and brightest.

So what can we do to address the real or perceived lack of leadership talent, as well as the branding issue?

First of all, I really don't believe we have a leadership “crisis”. In any population, you’ll always have a bell curve of performers. So for leaders, 10% of them are bad, 10% are great, and the other 80% somewhere in the middle.

So based on that assumption - here’s my 5 step proposal:

1. Cut the Deadwood.
See “Real Leaders Fire Underperformers”. Let’s start holding leaders in all sectors accountable. Its a few bad apples - the 10% - that are getting all the attention and causing all the problems. Throw the bums out.

2. Stop the whining.
See Marshall Goldsmith’s “Bashing the Boss”. In it, he says when you complain about your manager “You demean yourself. If you are so brilliant that you can consistently judge your boss, and your boss is so stupid that he merits endless hours of critique, why do you report to the idiot? Ultimately, when we discredit our boss, we discredit ourselves. The people around you will not say so on the outside, but on the inside they may be thinking you are an even bigger loser than your boss.”

For another similar perspective, see Jack Welch’s “Are You a Boss-Hater?” Welch says “We realize there are days when it can feel as if everyone around you is inept. Companies, after all, are composed of people, and people screw up, reward mediocrity, play politics, and otherwise commit myriad organizational sins. But the “everyone’s dumb but me” attitude is dangerous. Not only is it a career-killer, but it’s also simply not a realistic perspective on business.”

It’s true. It’s way to easy to point the finger at “leadership” when times are tough, and stand back smugly on the sidelines and complain.

3. Recognize and Celebrate the Great Leaders.
To some extent we do this, but no where near as much as we should. Bad news never has sold as well as good news. Great leaders are all around us, and we need to expose people to them as role models and mentors. Here are some, and here’s some more, and some more. And how about this guy!
These are the people we need to think of when we think “leader” – not the bums.

4. Improve the Selection Process.
Help aspiring leaders make the right choice. Promote for leadership potential, not just high performance.

5. Develop Leadership.
For all those leaders in the 80% category – let’s help them become better leaders, through training, coaching, and development. The idea of a natural born leader is a myth, and we need to stop perpetuating it. Leadership is a skill that can be learned. The great ones are great because they’ve worked hard at it, harder than anyone else.

What do you think? What else can we do to improve our worldwide leadership brand?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Maximize Collaboration and Reach Consensus in Under an Hour

In my last post, I described 5 decision making options leaders can choose, depending on the amount of time allowed and input and buy-in needed.

This post will describe a process a leader can use to help a group reach an efficient consensus decision.

First of all, it’s important to define what’s meant by “consensus”.

Here’s a definition that’s worked for me:
“Consensus is a decision that every member of the group has had input to, understands, and is willing to support.”

Note that consensus does not mean that everyone agrees with the decision 100%. It mean’s they’ve had their say – and have been listened to – and at the end of the day, are committed to supporting the decision. The final decision is owned by the group.

The leader also needs to decide on a “fallback” method in case the group cannot reach true consensus. Otherwise, in theory, if just one person is not willing to support the decision, the meeting can go on forever.

The two most common fallback options are:
1. The group votes, majority rules.
2. The leader decides.

The threat of a fallback is a deterrent – it rarely has to be used, however, having it will motivate a group to give and take in order to reach a consensus.

Here’s a general process to use when making a consensus decision. It’s a way to ensure everyone has a say, generates energy, and can quickly move a group to a decision they can all buy in to and support.

The leader should check for agreement at the beginning and end of each step. Consensus building is a series of small agreements as you scale the mountain – you don’t just leap to one big agreement at the end.

1. Frame the decision.
Agree on what is being decided. Test your decision statement to make sure it’s not too narrow in a way that limits your options. For example, instead of “choose between a Honda Pilot or a Ford Explorer”, the decision might be “choose the best mode of family transportation”.

2. Generate alternatives.
This is the time to brainstorm. Follow the rules of brainstorming (anything goes, don’t evaluate, build on each others ideas, etc…) and write each idea on a flipchart of whiteboard (or a virtual whiteboard if using web conferencing).

3. Clarify alternatives.
Take some time to allow questions for clarification. This is not the time to evaluate an idea – or to agree or disagree – it’s strictly to make sure everyone understands each alternative.

4. Narrow down the choices.
Add up the total number of ideas and divide by 3. So if 30 ideas: 30/3=10. In this case, give each team member 10 sticker dots (can be purchased at any office supply store). Have the group place their stickers on the alternatives they like the most. Make sure you tell this group this IS NOT the decision making process – it is strictly an efficient way to “take the temperature” of the group to see which ideas rise to the top and sink to the bottom. There are many ways to do this, but I usually say one sticker per alternative to keep it simple.

5. Keep and discard.
Start with the alternative with the most votes and ask: “It looks like this one got the most votes – how about if this one stays for now?” If everyone agrees, then circle it. The go to the alternative with no votes, or the least, and ask: “OK, this one didn’t get any votes – can we eliminate it?” If no one objects, draw a line through it. If someone strongly objects – ask why. Give them time to make their case, and then move on to the next.

Although this may sound like a long and tedious process, it actually can go pretty quickly. The group often just decides they’ll go with the alternative with the most votes. A leader can also suggest combining ideas, by asking “So what is it about option A that you like so much? Can we add something to option B to satisfy that need?”

There may be times when it’s appropriate to choose multiple alternatives. In fact, that’s often the case. For problem solving (i.e., “best ways to reduce expenses”, or “best ways to generate revenue”), it’s typical to leave with a list of alternatives.

6. Summarize the decision(s), and decide on who’s going to do what by when.
This is the test of true commitment. Usually when a group reaches a true consensus decision, the energy and commitment is so high people are clamoring to sign up for action items. If all of a sudden the room goes quiet and no one is making eye contact, chances are you missed a step in the consensus building process.

Then, pass out pins, have everybody stick a pin in their finger, and sign their names on the flipcharts in blood (just kidding).

Consensus building is hard work for a leader – it takes a willingness to “roll the dice” and be open to any alternative. Big egos need to be set aside. However, the time and work invested will yield not only higher quality decisions, but implementation will be faster and smoother because everyone will be committed to the outcome.


Monday, November 16, 2009

5 Decision Making Options for Meeting Leaders

Leaders often need to make hard decisions.

Our current president recently said “by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it. So typically, if something’s in my folder, it means that you’ve got some very big, difficult, sticky, contradictory issues to be wrestled with.”

Yes, it can be lonely at the top. But it doesn’t always have to be. There are times when a leader may want to involve others in the decision making process.

There are five ways a leader can do this. None of them are “right” or “wrong” – it all depends on the degree of involvement required and how quick the decision needs to be made.

5 Decision Making Options:

1. Tell
“I want to inform you of a decision I’ve made and give you an opportunity to ask any questions.”

2. Test
“I’m thinking of choosing option A to solve the problem – what do you think?”

3. Sell
“I’m thinking of choosing option A to solve our problem – let me convince you why I think it’s a good option.”

4. Consult
“I need to select an option, and would like your input on which to choose.”

5. Consensus
“We need to make a decision, and I’d like us to make the decision together.”

The chart below can help a leader choose the best decision making option. If a decision needs to be made right away – and little involvement is needed, then the “Tell” method is perfectly appropriate. Examples of when this method might be used include emergencies (“the building is on fire – exit the front door now!”) – or trivial matters, where the leader does not want to waste everyone’s time.



As you can see from the chart, the more buy-in needed, the more time it usually takes to make a decision.

There are pros and cons for each option. Obviously, the ones requiring less involvement are faster. However, with little involvement, there is little buy-in and commitment, and a missed opportunity to incorporate multiple perspectives.

Again, each of these options has it’s time and place. The important thing is for a leader to be clear with the group which option is being used. This helps set the right expectations and informs people how they need to prepare. When a leader bounces back and forth between options and doesn’t tell the group, it confuses and frustrates the team – as well as the leader.

Consensus will provide the highest degree of involvement, collaboration, and commitment. However, if mismanaged, attempting to reach a consensus decision can turn into the meeting from hell.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to reach a consensus decision in an efficient way – usually in less than an hour.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Should Leadership and Management Development be a National Priority?

Thanks to Adi Gaskell, from CMI and a regular Great Leadership reader and commenter, for bringing this November 10th press release to my attention. He says “It's been very popular here in the UK with the likes of the BBC and Daily Telegraph running stories on it. I think it could run well on your blog.”

I did a Google news search and it looks like the U.S. press hasn’t picked up on it yet, so consider this breaking news. Might even be a first for Great Leadership. (-:

Has the leadership “crisis” gotten so bad that we need to turn to the government for help? It apparently has in the U.K. I’m afraid we’re not too far behind in the United States. The federal government is already managing General Motors. And for any private sector organization that took a government bailout, they’re being told how to pay their executives.
Take a look at the press release, then my commentary at the end. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Half of workers quit jobs due to bad management
10th November 2009
Better Managed Britain campaign launched to bring about skills transformation

Almost half of workers surveyed (47 per cent) have left a job due to bad management, figures from CMI today revealed.

A new survey of the UK workforce (3,000 adults surveyed by OnePoll), conducted on behalf of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) also revealed that 50 per cent believe that they could do a better job than their current manager and a similar number (49 per cent) said they would be prepared to take a pay cut, in order to work with a better manager.

Ruth Spellman, CMI chief executive, said: “The figures reveal the depth of the crisis of confidence in UK management and leadership and the enormous toll bad management is taking on the UK economy and people’s wellbeing.” Tonight, CMI, as the champion of management and leadership excellence in the UK, will meet with representatives from the three main political parties at the launch of its Manifesto for a Better Managed Britain to demand that urgent action is taken to transform management and leadership performance.

More than 1,500 leaders and managers have already pledged their commitment to CMI’s Manifesto, from organisations including PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Interbrand. The Manifesto, the result of extensive research, analysis and consultation, calls for managers, organisations and the Government to pledge their commitment to help meet the economic, social and political challenges facing Britain. It sets out the case for the Government to make the development of effective managers a national priority – with the public sector leading by example. Employers are called upon to develop professional managers and leaders in their organisations and to foster a culture where competence and accountability are paramount. The requirement for individual managers is to demonstrate professionalism, be role models and commit to continuous professional development.

68 per cent of managers surveyed confessed to being ‘accidental’ managers, not aspiring to occupy management roles at the start of their careers. Two in five admitted to not wanting the responsibility of managing people at all, while 63 per cent of managers say they had no management training. Only 28 per cent of managers hold any type of formal management qualification.

Ruth Spellman continued: “It’s not surprising bad management is such an issue in the UK. We invest less in our managers than our global competitors and it shows. It’s telling that the majority of individuals never set out to manage people, and have not been trained to do so. If we’re going to stay competitive internationally, the Government and employers need to address this worrying skills gap. In what other profession would it be acceptable for only a quarter of practitioners to hold a professional qualification? The sad truth is that UK managers are no longer regarded as professional, competent or accountable. By signing up to the Manifesto, policy makers, managers and leaders can demonstrate their commitment to raising UK plc’s game.”

Dan’s Commentary:

And just how is the government supposed to address the problem of bad management in the U.K.? In an interview with ePolitix, Spellman had these suggestions:

 Government should pledge to make development of effective managers a priority and to lead by example, by supporting professional management and leadership in the public sector.

 Tax breaks for employers investing in professional, accredited training should be common ground between the political parties and a key part of any Budget that seeks a Better Managed Britain.

 Government backing for the development of a Youth Academy for Management and Leadership.

 Government needs to ensure that more up-to-date and accurate labor market information on management and leadership practices, capabilities and qualifications is collected.

CMI is a respected organization, and I’m sure their proposals are well intended. However, they also appear to be somewhat self-serving, considering CMI is a provider of leadership and management training. That’s kind of like Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers calling for making weight loss a national priority, with tax breaks and funding for weight loss programs.

The proposal that I like the most is the first one. I’d love to see the government lead by example. And you know, the reality is, I’m sure a lot of their managers already are. It’s just that we only hear about the high profile failures from the media. I’ve personally met plenty of outstanding, role model leaders from the public sector. In fact, many of the leading executive education programs have heavy participation from federal agencies, so it’s not like they aren’t paying attention to leadership development. And let’s not forget the military – the U.S. Army has a world-class leadership development program.

Of all the proposals, the one that scares me the most is the last one. I could envision myself spending hundreds of hours pulling together the equivalent of a yearly Affirmative Action Plan for leadership and management development. Arrrgh! No thanks, that kind of “help” we don’t need.

So what do you think? What should the government’s role be, if any, in addressing the shortage of great leadership and management talent?



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

7 Elements of a Great Leadership Development Workshop

Whenever I’m designing a leadership development workshop, I’m always aware of the cost of pulling 20 or so supervisors, managers, or executives away from their work for anywheres from 4 hours to 4 weeks. The biggest cost of any training program isn’t the instructors, travel, facilities, and food. It’s not even the salaries of the participants. The most significant cost, and often overlooked, is the lost opportunity cost. For every hour a manager, or salesperson, or programmer, spends in a classroom, that’s one hour of lost productivity. For executives, the opportunity cost is even greater. That could mean one less deal being made, one less critical decision being made, one less meeting with an investor or customer, etc…

Being aware of these total costs gives me additional motivation to make sure every minute is well spent and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Here are some things I’ve learned over time that will lead to a great leadership development experience.

1. Executive and management involvement
I’ve already written about this topic – see “10 Ways to Involve Leaders in Leadership Development Programs”. Involve them right from start to finish, and everywhere in between. You’ll get a better workshop and the learning will be reinforced – that’s a given. However, here’s the real secret sauce of involving executive sponsors and the participant’s managers: they end up learning and role modeling as well! I’m not sure if there’s an official name for this phenomenon, but I’ve been calling it “the ripple effect”.
As you design – always bake in ripple throughout the process. More ripple = more ROI.

2. Participant selection
I’ve never been a fan of unscreened, open enrollment programs. I’ve found that careful participant selection can make or break a program. Consideration should be given to skill level, common interests, challenges, and needs, motivation, and diversity. Take advantage of activities, breaks, meals, and evenings to promote networking.

3. Pre-work and postwork
Think of any leadership development as a process, not just an event. With effective pre and post work, you can often build as much development before and after the workshop as you can during the workshop. Examples of effective pre and post work include:
- Pre and post meetings with the manager to review expectations and debrief learnings (see #1)
- Readings – case studies, books, and online articles
- Blogs, Wikkis, and threaded discussions
- Journaling (send them a nice journal with tips on how to journal)
- Shadowing assignments or interviews
- Conference calls or webinars
- Online training

4. Extraordinary content
I understand the value of self-discovery and learning from our peers – that’s all well and good. However, the best leadership development programs always include some amount of fascinating and incredibly relevant content. That is, helpful tips, new ideas, proven best practices… the kind of content that causes participants to light up, pick up their pens and start writing. The source of this content can be internal or external experts –there’s a time and place for both. Or, extraordinary content could be researched or purchased, and delivered by a skilled trainer.

5. Participant involvement
Extraordinary content by itself will not always produce learning, and certainly not development. Great leadership development programs always have at least 50% of the time devoted to doing. The “doing” can include action learning, case studies, discussions, role plays, white paper development and presentation, and simulations.

6. Participant insight
Every leader is different, and no workshop could possibly be designed to address each leader’s specific development needs. In order to ensure these unique needs are uncovered and addressed, build in assessment, feedback, coaching (peer or professional), time for reflection and individual development planning.

7. Great logistics
It’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen great programs unravel due to inadequate meeting rooms, horrible food, ice cold or sauna-like room temperatures, technology failures, guest speakers not showing up, and all sorts of other little things that were just overlooked. My approach is to plan it like a wedding – think through every little thing that could go wrong, and have back-up plans for every kind of emergency.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Getting Beyond Survive To Thrive At Work

Guest post by Eileen Habelow:

According to Randstad’s 2009 World of Work survey, an alarming number of workers surveyed (83%) feel fortunate to have a job. Why do I say alarming?

While this sentiment might simply be an expression of gratitude for some, I believe it is just as likely that this response reflects a distinct undertone of survival mentality – just grateful, just thankful, just fortunate.

So, what is the impact of survival mentality? Survival mentality tends to put people into a defensive mode – a reactive and protective stance. When employees are in survival mode, they are constantly looking over their shoulders or in the proverbial rearview mirror for the other shoe to drop. The impact is lower productivity and less focus on the job.

Adding to the premise of a survival mentality is fear. The same survey also revealed that 52 percent fear for their economic well-being! This response alone provides a clear picture of the roller coaster of emotions that employees bring into the workplace. Couple fear with a steady diet of predominately negative news – job losses, dwindling consumer confidence, institutions in financial turmoil, recession – and the recipe is the same: lower productivity and less focus on the job at hand.

So, how do we help employees get from survive to thrive with the swirling of negativity all around? What can we do to encourage the language of an environment that thrives? How can we facilitate or create a workforce that has a forward-looking, windshield outlook instead of a rearview mirror viewpoint? The answer is communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

Tell them all that you can tell them. Paranoia is a killer! During a tough time at work, silence is NOT golden and no news is NOT good news! When employers leave ‘dead air’ in the workplace instead of open communication lines, paranoia will set in; and with paranoia comes the survival mentality I previously mentioned. There is always something that can be communicated to the workforce even if it is ‘no decisions have been made, but we are working on it’. While there will always be information and news that cannot be shared, make sure to share what you can. This communication helps to keep employees from wondering what just happened and what might happen next. Over communicate during a tough time and be as transparent as possible to keep your employees informed.

Pay close attention to your top performer. Often times, we assume that our best employees already know that they are the best and that they must know how important they are to the company. Wrong. How many times has your company been surprised by the exit of a key performer after it was too late to convince him or her to stay? Even the most confident performers can have doubtful moments during a tough economic time. Sales, results, growth and profit can all be down for even the best formers so it’s critical for your most important employees to know (for sure) that they are valued and why they are valued. This can be as simple as a personal conversation that discusses the employee’s value and seeks to discover what is most important to them at the moment. Bottom line: make sure the employees you value most know that they are valued.

Be clear about why some are gone and why some are still here. Honesty is the best policy. You may think that you are saving face for those who have been let go, but while you may soften the blow (very temporarily, by the way) of those who exit, you could be doing damage to the perceptions of those who are left. If every layoff brings a company line of ‘it was just a business necessity’, those who survive the layoff may NOT know why they are still around. You know what comes next…they are ‘just grateful’ to have a job. Consider instead communicating specifics around why decisions were made and what impact those decisions will have on those who remain. Of course you can customize the reasons for your situation, but the key is telling employees why they are still here and why they are valuable to the company. That alone can encourage employees to look forward for the next goal without feeling a sense of guilt or speculating as to why some are gone.

Avoid credibility killers. When talking with employees, you are representing the company as a leader. Avoid using phrases like ‘the company’ or ‘upper management’ – they are surefire credibility killers. Another quick credibility killer is ‘the boss and I really think you need to get your game together’. Every time you bring someone else into the room for a tough conversation (literally or figuratively), it may make the conversation easier for you, and you may even think it softens the blow, but consider how you instantly demote yourself when you relegate the decision to someone higher up. You may even inadvertently communicate that you are not the leader your position suggests you should be.

Focus on the goals and be clear about the role. Find a common destination or a shared goal that is guaranteed to get employees looking forward, through the windshield. Then get all employees moving in the same direction toward the goal by establishing clear roles and expectations for each employee. Again, this focus will get your employees looking forward and help each employee be clear about what they bring to the table.

Dr. Eileen Habelow is the Senior Vice President of Organizational Development at Randstad US. Eileen’s formal education has been focused on instructional design and educational psychology. Her professional experience has ranged from learning and development, sales and operations, and organizational effectiveness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

10 Ways to Get the Most from a 360 Degree Leadership Assessment

A 360 degree leadership assessment is one of the most effective ways to get feedback from your employees, peers, and managers against a set of pre-defined leadership competencies.

Having debriefed these for hundreds of managers, and taken a number of different 360s myself, I’ve discovered some best practices that have worked for me and others.

Here are 10 tips for getting the most value from a 360 degree leadership assessment:

1. Mentally prepare yourself.You have to go into these things with the right frame of mind. Don’t get all worked up dreading the results and hoping no one says anything bad about you. Instead, go into it with the objective of unlocking the secrets of what you need to do to become a better leader.

2. Don’t try to figure it out yourself.This is critical. Any responsible program or organization wouldn’t implement a 360 degree feedback process without offering assistance with making sense of the data. Even though I may know the instrument inside and out, I still will sit down with a coach, a colleague, or my manager to review it with me. When you’re too close to the data it’s way too easy to miss something. It’s human nature – we sometimes see what we want to see, are too hard on ourselves, or make assumptions that others would not make. If anything, having someone to talk through it with just provides emotional support.

3. Don’t play detective.Don’t waste time trying to figure out who made a comment or who rated you high or low. Unless it’s your manager’s rating, the reports are designed to protect the raters. Too managers make assumptions – and I’ve done it myself – and have been wrong. Just take each comment and rating for what it is – data – and focus your energy on what you’re going to do about it.

4. Holistically of systematically?There’s two ways to sort through all of the ratings and comments. Some managers take a more holistic approach – they take it all in, let it marinate, and come up with themes, patterns, connections, and trends. It’s like an art to them. Other managers prefer to take a more analytical, systematic approach. They focus on the statistically significant differences (and I can barely explain what that even means) and their own complex algorithms in order to make sense of it all. There is no right way – they both work. Use whatever method works for you, and don’t let someone force you to use a method that doesn’t fit your style.
Also – while comments are important – don’t get too hung up on a single comment, especially if the ratings and rest of the report don’t support the comment. It’s this tendency to overreact to a single comment that has caused some 360 providers not to use them. Personally, I find value in them, when taken for what they are – a single data point.

5. Pay attention to and celebrate your strengths!No, really, this is not just a cliché. I’ve had managers completely dismiss what I thought were some awesome strengths. That’s another reason why it’s better to have someone go through the results with you. Unfortunately, leaders don’t always get to hear about what they are doing right. These strengths can also play a part in figuring out how to overcome or work around weaknesses.

6. Look for blind spots and differences.Blind spots are areas where you’ve rated yourself higher than others have. This could either be due to lack of self-awareness, or a marketing problem. Either way, they may need to be addressed. Differences in ratings between rater groups may mean you’re showing up differently depending on the situation. Perhaps your manager sees you as a great listener and your employees don’t. In this example, it’s not an issue of not knowing how to listen – you’re just choosing who you listen too. It could be more of a respect issue.

7. Absolute vs. relative scores?If a “4” on a seven point scale is defined as “good”, and your lowest score is a 5.5, does that mean you don’t have any development needs? No, not unless every single one of your scores is a perfect 7. Anything less means there’s room for improvement. Some organizations or groups of employees tend to rate their manager’s higher. Focus on your own relative strengths and weaknesses, not what the rating scale says.

8. Find 2-3 things to improve.When all is said and done, the objective is to find 2-3 leadership behaviors:
A. Where you have opportunity to get better
B. That are important to improve, i.e., they will make a difference in your success
C. You are motivated to improve.
Why 2-3? Actually, there’s no science behind that number. If something is really going to be hard for you to improve, than one is enough. Other times, you can improve more than 2-3 things if they are related or easy to learn. But for simplicity, people seem to buy-in to 2-3.

9. Make a plan and take action.360s are great input to an individual development plan. However, don’t just keep the plan to yourself – share it with others. These two steps – having a written plan and sharing it with others – have proved through research to be the single biggest differentiators of those who have taken a 360 and improved and those that have not improved. Follow-up and thank those that have provided you feedback and let them know what you’re going to work on to improve your ability as a leader.

10. Follow-up.If possible, take another assessment 12-18 months later. That’s about how long it’s going to take for people to notice any improvement in behavior. You don’t have to take the entire assessment again – just the questions relevant to the areas you are trying to improve.

Asking for feedback takes a lot of courage, and it’s a big investment of a lot of people’s time. Follow these tips and you’ll get the most ROI for the effort.