Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Only Reference That Really Matters

How’s your relationship with your current manager? If you were your manager, how would you rate your performance?

How about your previous managers? Did you leave on good terms? Did they cry when you left? Do you still keep in touch on a regular basis?

If your answers to these questions are: good, great, yes, yes, and yes, then congratulations, you’re managing your career very well and are more likely to land that next desired job. You’re the kind of “A player” candidate most managers would love to hire.
If not, then it’s not too late to begin getting your reference ducks in a row.

When it comes to reference checking, some companies and managers are lazy – they don’t ask for them and if they do, it’s just a formality and they never really call them. Some companies go through their due diligence, but they only contact the list of pre-screened best friends, family members, and Facebook friends that most candidates provide.

Companies using Topgrading, or similar hiring methods, ask candidates to provide the names of former managers, and actually have the candidate contact those managers to set up phone calls with the hiring manager.

The method is called “TORC”; or “threat of reference check”. It goes something like this:

1. You are told right upfront, as a part of the phone screen, that if you make it far enough into the interview process, you’ll be asked to set up phone calls to talk to your former managers. (TORC #1)

2. During the interview, for each job, you’ll be asked for the names of those managers. (TORC #2)

3. For each job, you’re asked to assess your manager’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. You’re then asked “when I talk to you manager – it’s Ed Smith, right? What would Ed say your greatest strengths and weaknesses were – back then?” (TORC #3)

4. You use Google, LinkedIn, or whatever to find your former managers, ask their permission, set up the calls, and the managers have a nice chat all about you. Their information is compared to what you said, and your potential new manager even gets tips on how to best manager you.

Here’s why “TORCing” works, in the eyes of a hiring manager using the Topgrading technique:

“A players” tend to have good relationships with their bosses, they leave on good terms for better opportunities (“pull” reasons), keep in touch, are aware and honest about their prior shortcomings, and would WELCOME the opportunity to have a hiring manager talk to their former managers. Managers are also open to talking about their former A player, because there’s no legal risk… they have nothing bad to say.

“C players” tend to butt heads with their managers, leave on bad terms (“push” reasons), don’t’ stay in touch, won’t admit their shortcomings, and somehow, can never seem to be able to track down those former managers. None of them! And of course if they do happen to find one, the manager follows corporate policy and defers to HR, so they won’t be sued for saying something bad.

I mean really, when it comes to references, why would a hiring manager care what your sister or tennis partner has to say about you? They want to know what you are like as an employee, someone they are going to have to manage.

Perhaps now’s the time to assess your relationship with your current manager and start taking action now to influence that potential future reference check. It’s not a bad way to manage your career, and you might end up being more satisfied and successful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leadership Decisions Under Stress

It's book week this week at Great Leadership.

Here's a guest post by Sylvia Lafair. She has an interesting combination of jobs - executive coach, author, and family therapist. Makes sense... I know that's how I feel on some days.

I'm certain you've all had the experience of looking in the mirror and recognizing you have your father's chin or grandmother's blue eyes. We also inherit our ancestors' ways of thinking and behaving. Thus, our decisions are less totally "ours" than they are a collection of threads from our family tapestry. Thanks to advances in neuroscience we know that our unconscious emotions occupy a different region of the brain than our conscious perceptions and can exert a powerful influence on our preferences and actions. The trigger is usually stress!

When a colleague tries to one-up and makes you feel stupid, suddenly you are responding to your older brother who always put you down. When the CFO demands that costs be cut suddenly he is your single mom who could never make ends meet. Reactions happen in milliseconds. As the internal anxiety gauge goes up, your ability to respond in a mature manner goes down. I am seeing more and more fear, anger, and defensiveness in offices as the current economy puts stress at a recent all time high. Awareness that an old pattern is activated offers options for deactivation. However, if it stays underground I can guarantee it will be an overreaction in the present situation.

Here is an example that happened last fall when the economic meltdown was gaining momentum. I was called in to coach the CEO of a company in a sector of the economy not directly in the line of fire, with good financials and high morale. Then, something turned this likable CEO into an uptight autocrat watching every nickel. His team was suffering. He kept me at arm’s length, saying he felt like he had been sent to the principal’s office. I must say, that kind of response is not unusual and it took patience to hang in there. One evening he called me at home. He sounded on the verge of tears which was way out of character. He had been watching some mindless sitcom on TV and an ad came on that showed a little girl named Anna playing with a dollhouse when her mother says they have to leave. Then a voice in the background talks about foreclosure. At that moment he started to feel ill. While we talked and he was finally able to connect the dots and his tense behavior began to make sense. When he was five years old his father lost his job and the family lost their home. Heaving a deep sigh he realized that his overzealous need to watch the money, to be a rescuer, was more his remembered pattern from the past than the reality of the present. Once understood he could make the necessary adjustments and soon returned to a more appropriate manner of relating and leading.

We are reinventing ourselves on a daily basis. There is no rule book on how to respond to the fear and uncertainty in today's workplace. There is the exhaustion of having to do more with less in every business and the heightened stress that ensues. There is also the sadness that correlates with layoffs. It impacts both sides of the equation. Those losing jobs are often good, competent workers who feel like "victims" of these times and those who stay often harbor the guilt of survivorship and become over invested "martyrs" to makeup for their discomfort. I believe it is extremely important to become aware of patterns and find more effective ways of responding than falling into the black hole of old, worn-out behaviors from the past.

Images from the Great Depression are all over the media and most of us know stories of how our families coped during those tough times. If we don't know, this is a good time to probe and find out. We need to talk about this and learn from it rather than do pattern repetition. Talking with colleagues and exploring how we are all getting triggered by each other is one important way of keeping our patterns under control. As long as they are visible they are workable. If they stay in the darkness of the invisible they are in control. Learning about patterns and methods for pattern transformation is the work of right now. It is the bottom line work of the business world to understand the interactive realm of relationships at the core of every office everywhere. We all really need to get a handle on the fact that it is no longer survival of the fittest; it is a time for all of us to survive and be fit!

ABOUT THE BOOK:
At the intersection of the personal growth and leadership genres, this important new book, DON’T BRING IT TO WORK: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success (Jossey-Bass; Publication Date: March 20, 2009; $24.95 hardcover) attempts to resolve workplace conflicts by showing how to go to their root – revealing destructive patterns that were formed in childhood by interactions with family members. Author, executive coach and family therapist Sylvia Lafair separates out the confusing emotions of the workplace and helps managers and executives mine their own family history for clues that lead to breakthroughs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D., is an expert on relationships, workplace behavior and leadership building. Lafair is President of Creative Energy Options (CEO), a consulting firm with retreat centers in Pennsylvania and New Mexico and a client list that includes Microsoft, AstraZeneca, Aveda Salons and Novartis, to name a few. Sylvia can be reached at Sylvia@ceoptions.com or by visiting her website http://www.sylvialafair.com/.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Perils of Accentuating the Positive

A while back I wrote a post called “The Fallacy of Strength-based Leadership Development, which highlighted a Center for Creative Leadership study that showed that the skills that most managers are good at are not the ones organizations say they need. I also published a guest post by Brad Smart on the same topic, “Fix Management Weaknesses First”.

I’m sure you’ve heard the premise of the strength based movement (and it really is an almost cult-like movement), pioneered by Marcus Buckingham , Donald Clifton, Tom Rath, and Gallup. The idea is we should “discover our strengths”, play to those strengths, and don’t worry so much about fixing our weaknesses I’ve read Buckingham and Rath’s books, and they are compelling.

Although I had no research – only my own experience in working with hundreds of managers and executives – I’ve never really bought into the “leverage your strengths” movement. In the leadership development work I’ve done, weaknesses matter a lot – and if not addressed, can mean the end of the road for a promising high potential leader.

After I published that post, the author of a relatively new book called The Perils of Accentuating the Positive, Bob Kaiser, dropped a comment expressing his agreement and followed up with an offer to send me his book.

I just finished the book. Sure enough, what my gut told me has been validated by the work of fifteen different authors.

Each one of these authors is a respected expert in the field of leadership development – a “who’s who” of gurus, including Robert Eichinger, William Gentry, Robert Hogan, Robert Kaplan, Morgan McCall, Randall While, and the author, Robert Kaiser.

Most of them could cite solid (and somewhat boring) research that proves that overly focusing on your strengths and not developing your weaknesses is not only a dumb development and career strategy, it’s potentially disastrous for organizations.

Here’s why in a nutshell, according to the authors:

1. The “celebrate your strengths” manta is a feel-good, lazy way of side-stepping the hard work required to develop and be successful. It’s giving leaders “permission to stagnate”.

2. Successful leaders spend their entire lives learning things they know little about and improving skills they are weak at. Can you imagine telling a college graduate to “focus on the 5 things you’re really good at and you’ll have a great career”? Or telling your child “stick with the crayons, kid, you’ll never get better at anything else”. Of course not, the learning and development has only just begun, and it should never end. Continuous learning is essential to sustainable success.

3. Yes, we all have about 5 things that we’re really good at – and it makes sense to leverage those. But the research says successful leaders also work very hard at ALL the skills needed to be a successful leaders. They are great at about 5 things, and OK at the rest – with no glaring weaknesses.

4. Overly focusing on your strengths can actually be a leader’s downfall. CCL research has shown that executive “derailers” are actually overused strengths. That is, any strength, if used too much, turns into a weakness. For example, “action oriented”, if overdone, can turn into impatience, poor decisions, and inability to collaborate.

5. Your strengths may not be the ones your job or organization requires. In fact, that’s often the case, according to CCL research.

6. Finally, the authors even point to examples of businesses that have failed by ignoring weaknesses, and others that have succeeded by re-inventing themselves.

Is there value to being aware of your strengths and using them to be successful? Well sure, of course. But that’s only a piece of the development puzzle, and if misinterpreted, could even be a career killer.

I used to be ambivalent about the whole thing… now, after reading this; I have even more serious doubts about the strengths movement. Read the book, and I’ll bet you will too.


For more, here's an article by the author in this month's Chief Learning Officer magazine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Great Leadership #24 in RiseSmart Career 100 Rankings

Career 100

I was reading Steve Roesler's blog this morning and noticed he had a post about his ranking in the RiseSmart Career 100 listing.

I then discovered that this blog is listed as #24 - and that's out of 258 blogs! Woo hoo. Thanks, RiseSmart - and thanks to all of you for reading and sharing Great Leadership.

RiseSmart has a pretty cool algorithm they use for their rankings, consisting of quantitative traffic rankings, like Google PageRank and Technorati, as well as qualitative judge and reader ratings. So it's a fair and balanced performance assessment.

Take a look, discover some new blogs, and add your own ratings.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to Succeed in 8 Words and 3 Minutes

I found this on Chris Morgan's blog, Learn2Develop, one of the best blogs out there for learning and development professionals. It's an awesome video by marketer and success analyst Richard St. John. He spent more than a decade interviewing 500 people he defines as successful -- from architect Frank Gehry to non-celebrities successful in their own lives.

He sums it all up with 8 words in 3 minutes:




I think I'll send it to my kids.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Create a Motivating Work Environment

These days, leaders are looking for way to keep their employees focused and motivated during challenging economic and business conditions. With layoffs, pay freezes, furloughs, and 401K cuts, there’s plenty of bad news going on that a leader can’t control that can drag a team down.

What does a “motivating environment” look like? When it’s 5:00pm, and most of the department is on the way out the door and your team is still working hard and having fun at the same time. A motivating environment is when people are pushing themselves harder than any boss could ever push them. It’s when people are giving it their all when no one is watching and no one may ever know. They’re giving 110% because they want to, not because they have to.

So what can a leader do to create this kind on environment? Here are 10 ideas, in order of importance:

1. Create motivating work. THE most important thing any leader can do to create a motivating environment is to make sure the work every member of the team is doing is strategic. That is, the work is important to the success of the business. When you feel like what you are doing is making a difference, it’s energizing. On the other hand, there’s no worse feeling than knowing your work just doesn’t matter. Every leader has some degree of discretion in being able to eliminate or minimize the amount of “muda” (non-value-added work) that flows into a team.
Any job can be strategic. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the two bricklayers; one of them saw his job as stacking bricks. The other saw his mission as building a magnificent cathedral. Same job – different worldview.
Making sure work is strategic is the best form of job security a leader can give a team. It’s every leader’s job to scrutinize every team member’s work like a CEO looking for jobs to cut. If the work is important, it’s less likely to be eliminated.

2. Hire A players and get rid of C players. A players (high performers) tend to be self-motivated to begin with. When you create a team of A players, they feed off of each other. The standards are raised, the energy level increases, teamwork improves, and there’s a low tolerance for anything less than excellence. On the other hand, one or more C players (poor performers or bad attitudes) can infect a team like a cancer, breed resentment, and drag everyone down.

3. Don’t micromanage – get out of the way. A players don’t need to have a manager breathing down their necks – in fact, it drives them crazy. Show your employees that you are interested in what they are doing, but you trust them to make their own decisions and do things differently than you might do them.

4. Promote your team’s work. As a leader, it’s your job to be your employee’s PR agent. Make sure their good work gets noticed, recognized, and appreciated. Don’t worry about over promoting your team’s good work – most managers love to get good news. Just make sure the bragging is about them – not about you.

5. Loosen up the rules and bureaucracy. As long as your team is focusing on what’s really important (see #1, strategic work), and performing at a high level (see #2, A players), cut them some slack. Don’t hassle them with minutia, give them flexibility in work hours, and protect them from what we used to call “corporate rain” (stupid mandates passed down from corporate from people whose job it was to push muda on everyone else).

6. Don’t be a jerk. Sounds simple, but as leaders, we’re all human. No one sees themselves as a jerk, and no one wants to be a jerk. The key is to be open to feedback. Ask a few trusted team members to let you know if you’ve done or said something insensitive or clueless. I’m fortunate to have a few employees who will (tactfully) tell it like it is to me – and while it stings, and I feel like a fool, I completely appreciate it. It gives me a chance to make amends.

7. Get personal. Get to know your employees as people learn about their families, their career goals, and truly care about them. I know a leader who when one of his employees went above and beyond the call of duty, and put in extra hours, he would send a hand written note to the employee’s spouse along with a gift certificate for a night out. He recognized the effect the job was having on his employee’s home life, and wanted to let the spouse know what a great job he was doing and how much he appreciated her support. While that may not be appropriate for everyone, it’s an example of showing your employees you care about their personal lives, not just work. Don’t let your employees get carried away and miss out on important family events – let them know that family always comes first.

8. Set a good example. Be motivated, enthused, energized, and passionate about your own work and the work of the team.

9. Encourage camaraderie during work hours. Bring in a pizza now and then, go out to lunch, and celebrate milestones. Notice I said during work hours. While it’s OK if your employees want to go out for a drink after work, or get together on their own time, I don’t believe a leader should intrude on people’s own time in the name of teambuilding.

10. Pay people for what they are worth. Yes, compensation is important, but I’ve listed it last. While pay is not a motivator, it can be a de-motivator if people feel they are underpaid. Do everything you can as a leader to fight for well deserved merit increases, promotions, and bonuses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A No Bull- #$%! Performance Review Process

From a reader:

“A colleague of mine referred me to your website. Thanks for taking the time to share.
I’m looking for some guidance on making our performance review process better.

Thank you in advance!!"
- Human Resources Advisor

HR Advisor, you have my sympathy. You’ve just been given the assignment that just about every HR professional gets to take on at some point in their career – fix the performance review process!

Of course, before we launch into a solution, we’d want to find out what’s wrong with the current process. Having led or been a part of performance review improvement initiatives at three different companies, I think I can guess why you’ve been asked to take this on. It’s probably one of more of the following:

- You have a new HR Manager
- You have a new CEO
- Employees have complained about the current process
- Managers have complained about the current process
- HR is complaining about the process, i.e., “Managers aren’t doing them; they don’t know how to write comments, etc…”
- You did an employee survey (another version of #s3&4)
- A consultant told you it needed to be improved
- You read a book, or an article, or went to a conference and heard about what other companies say they doing and you’re not doing

If I’m sounding cynical, it’s because poor performance review processes are rarely the real cause of any legitimate business performance issue – like increasing revenue, market share, reducing costs, etc… and they don’t really contribute to employee satisfaction of productivity (other than generating a lot of complaints). The reality is most employees don’t like getting them and most managers hate doing them. I hardly meet anyone other than HR that wouldn’t rather just do away with them. And actually, a lot of HR managers and employees hate them and aren’t good at them either. Don’t believe me? Try auditing your HR department’s performance appraisals.

To make matters worse, when initiatives are launched to improve performance review processes, they often consume lots of time and resources, and when faced with the new and improved processes, the complainers end up regretting they ever complained.

Why is the solution usually so painful? Well, if you search the web, read books, go to conferences, and learn about the “right” way to do performance management, you might end up with a system that looks something like this:

- Position profiles, job descriptions, or comprehensive competency models for every job. Don’t have them? Well, time to get working on them!

- Some version of complicated goal setting, management by objectives, balanced scorecard, SMART goals, or some other way to quantity every detail of each employee’s work aligned with company objectives. You’ll have to teach everyone how to write these, and do a lot of inspecting to make sure they’re doing them

- A career and development planning process – at least 3 pages for this part

- Some kind of structured ongoing feedback and coaching – with forms and sign-offs

- A long performance appraisal form to rate and comment on every behavior, score and assess every goal and measure, and perhaps even a multi-rater component. 14 pages minimum

- Lastly, because the system is so complicated and requires so much paperwork, you’ll want to automate the process with some kind of purchased or home-grown software system

I have to admit, I’m guilty of designing systems similar to these. In theory, it all makes sense, and it’s hard to argue against any one of the components. Unfortunately, what often happens is that these things are designed by committee, and they end up looking like pork-laden legislation filled with everyone’s favorite earmarks.

I guess one good reason to do them is to protect the company from lawsuits – to justify terminations. But that only applies to a small percentage of your employees. HR might tell you we need them to administer merit reviews…. but do we really? Most managers could easily determine how much of a raise their employees should get without a stack of paperwork.

Don’t get me wrong… I think we should still have a management system for setting goals, development planning, assessment, feedback, and coaching. The key is to keep it simple and real. So here’s my advice:

A No Bull- #$%! Performance Assessment Process

- A half page for goals, quotas, performance standards, or any other way that describes an employee’s accountabilities. It should pass the “would my mother understand it?” test

- The other half page has no more than 6 qualitative competencies or critical behaviors required to be successful in the role. Managers could pick from a menu or use the same ones for every job

- A one page development plan

- Managers and employees review these two pages at the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout the year

- At the end of the year, the manager would assess each goal or standard, and provide a simple rating for each competency or behavior, along with a 1 paragraph overall performance summary. All on the same two pages. And then have an authentic, constructive, give-and-take discussion

- If you can afford a reasonably priced piece of software, or build one yourself, I’m all for automating things as long as it makes a manager’s job easier and the employee would truly benefit from it. It sure will make it easier to track and report, if that's important to you.

Readers, please weigh in with your opinions on performance review processes. Am I being too snarky? I take a lot of pride in trying to keep this blog upbeat and positive…and I’ve re-read and edited this for the last couple of days, but it keeps ending up the same (actually I’ve toned it down).

If you disagree, what advice would you give the reader instead?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

“Pods or Pits”? Office Design for Teamwork, Productivity, and Open Communication

I work in an office that has three basic working spaces: Single offices for senior managers; shared offices for junior managers; individual “pods”, or cubicles, and open space “pits”, where teams are clustered together with no walls.

An office furniture company offered to write a guest post for Great Leadership on how to use office design to foster better teamwork, productivity, and more open communication. I asked the writer, John Flanagan, from CSN Chairs, to frame the post as a debate on the pros and cons of open space office design. He did a nice job with the article below, although he admits he’s biased towards open space.

I’ve never worked in an “open pit”, so I have my own biases. Check out John’s post, as well as the Asia One article and this BNET article I’ve included to add balance to the debate. After reading all three articles, please weigh in with your comments on the debate.

The Debate:
For many, working in a pod office setup is a reminder of the monotony of their jobs, and sometimes bears a slight resemblance to a cage or a claustrophobic prison. Others like the separation of closed environments, and their ability to focus more easily without getting distracted by their surroundings. The debate is carrying over into the 21st Century, and as the workforce, as well as the nature of employment evolves, so do our offices. Whether it is a large desk that we share with others or a small, cluttered pod, an office setup can significantly contribute to the overall morale and productivity of a company. So what works and what doesn’t?

Keeping it clean
Cleanliness is extremely important in your employee performance as well as your portrayal to the rest of the company. Cleanliness is usually equated with organization which then translates into increased productivity. Your pod setting is a tempting scene for the crime of clutter, and chaos. In all likelihood, your pod is your own space and for the most part, you are the only one that will see it. For those that are even slightly careless, clutter is almost inevitable in an unregulated area such as a pod. Throwing your coat over that stack of important papers or forgetting to label that report can seriously restrict your productivity throughout the course of the day. Next thing you know, your carelessness is affecting your job performance because you keep forgetting to include the cover sheet on that ever-important TPS Report. On the other hand, open office settings forcefully encourage office space cleanliness and organization. When your boss is sitting right next to you, with no physical barrier in the way, you will want your desk to display and represent your employment as an asset to the company, not as an unruly symbol of individual negligence.

Breaking down the Partition
As I am writing this, I am sitting in an office that is one big row of desks, no physical barriers, no pods, and no apparent hierarchy whatsoever. I can see all my co-workers clearly and asking a question is something that is strongly encouraged of me. The setup is simple- desk, office chair, phone, and computer. Everyone has the same setup as the rest of the employees, and sit in the same general area regardless of rank or seniority. This type of office setup not only lends itself to greater teamwork, but it also boosts morale and productivity. On the other hand, pods do not necessarily make employees more productive; more secluded maybe but not more productive. Those that are fortunate enough to have fun at work, and genuinely enjoy their interactions, will be just as productive if not more so than those in a closed environment.

An Inclusive atmosphere is very beneficial to the overall goals of a company and generates synergy throughout the office. For the introvert and extrovert alike, open offices force teamwork, creativity, open dialogue, and feedback. For the introvert, this is more of a challenge but the end result is rewarding from a social as well as professional standpoint. Furthermore, brilliant ideas are manifested from discussion, discourse, debate, and brainstorming. An Open office setup creates the atmosphere for this kind of teamwork that is crucial for the success of any business.

Where are we heading?
In a recent article of Asia One Magazine, the traditional office is described as an “actual 'slave gallery’ where… “The individual is denuded of their individuality and put into a cubed mould to facilitate productivity. While this statement might be a slight hyperbole, clearly open office setups are more effective in the long run. Not only do these setups encourage office collaboration, but they also can create social connections that build happy relationships. As we know, a happier office is a more productive one.

The future of working America is based on spirited competition, and a new frontier of competitive markets. Now, more than ever, it is increasingly important to create an atmosphere that is conducive to spreading big ideas, while streamlining efficiency. This all starts with the general layout of a company’s office, and can make or break its future prosperity.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Join me at the 2009 Training Leadership Summit

The opportunity to learn from proven success stories and case studies, and strategize with other learning leaders, is an investment you can't afford to miss. Join me in San Diego May 3-6, 2009, for Training magazine's 2009 Training Leadership Summit.


I've always considered this conference one of the best in the industry. For 25 years, Training magazine has hosted an executive-level gathering of the industry's learning leaders to share best practices; discover solutions to universal challenges; and develop tactics that help everyone's learning and development programs. In all those years, corporate learning executives may never have faced more challenges, nor needed more cost-effective solutions, than they do right now. For 25 years, Training magazine's Training Leadership Summit has been, and is today, the place to meet with your peers to solve and succeed together.

You can download the brochure here.

Send me an email if you're planning to attend!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Guide to Cross-functional Leadership Developmental Moves

Here's an edited update of one of the very first posts I wrote for Great Leadership back when I had four readers:

In many companies, rising high potential leaders are usually extremely bright and have produced outstanding results. However, their experience is often very narrow. Many of are promoted within a single function or business, and as a result, are not prepared to be successful global general managers or business unit presidents.

Providing opportunities for new job changes across functions, businesses, or geographies is a way to accelerate the cross-functional capability in our future senior leaders. These new challenges also develop critical leadership competencies, such as leading change, influence, strategic thinking, and adaptability.

While job changes can be a powerful catalyst for development, they can also lead to the derailment of a promising high potential leader.

There are inherent risks and pitfalls that can be avoided or need to be managed. This guide was developed as a way to ensure successful cross-functional leadership developmental job changes and be a vaccination against possible derailment.

It is designed to support HR Directors/Managers as they assist their highest potential leaders prepare and navigate through these challenging job changes. Included are actual quotes from leaders.

1. Development assignments are not a free ride. These are not educational sabbaticals. The standards and expectations for the new assignment should not be lowered to accommodate a lack of experience. While there will be a huge learning curve – and significant challenges – greater success and learning will come when the leader enters the assignment with a winning mindset, vs. a “good enough to get by” mindset. Many leaders said that the most powerful developmental experiences they ever had were challenging jobs where they were held accountable for measurable results. “Total immersion is much better than just putting your toe in the water. You need to have some longer range responsibility with measurable accountability – otherwise all you have to do is show up at the meetings.” “You have to held accountable to the same standards of those already in your new area.” “Hey, there’s no lifelines – if I’m a total screw-up, I don’t deserve it!”

Advice: Work with the leader’s sponsor to ensure the new job has measurable goals and accountability. Make sure the leader understands that a developmental move does not lower the standards – while making sure all of the support systems are in place to ensure their success.

2. Hell no, we won’t go!
Ideally, it would be great if the leader has a genuine passion and interest for the new work. Being dragged into a new assignment kicking and screaming – or with ambivalence – will make an already challenging learning curve even more difficult to overcome. Sometimes a leader may not understand or accept that a job change is what’s needed – in fact, what’s required - in order to prepare them for a much higher level of responsibility. The career path to running a business should look more like a “Z” (series of different jobs) than a “T” (narrow, vertical promotions). The move may be outside their comfort zone, perhaps lateral - or worse - be perceived as a step down due to loss of perks and status. They may be getting conflicting advice from other well-meaning sponsors, peers, or significant others.

Advice: Listen to the leader’s concerns. Probe to find out what the real issues are. Work with the leader and the sponsor to address as many of these concerns as possible. Is there any room to modify the assignment or the conditions? If a concern can not be addressed, you may just have to help the reluctant leader understand how the new assignment is critical to the organization’s long range success and will help them achieve their longer range career goals. One senior leader said, “Some of my best jobs – where I learned the most – were one’s that I initially did not want to take. Some were painful – but I would not have gotten to where I am today if I didn’t take the risk” Forcing a high potential to take job against their will is risky – real high potentials have too many choices and may leave if they don’t think the move is in their best interests.

3. Going from knowing the most to learning the most
Going from a job where success has come from being the expert to an assignment that is new and different can be a humbling experience. Many leaders have said that this is where they learned some of their most valuable lessons of leadership. “I always led from a position of knowledge. I was the expert and had all the answers. This last assignment forced me to develop a new leadership style. I had to really listen to others – to use my ears more than my mouth. I developed a genuine appreciation for the talents of those around me. I discovered that this is what’s really required of a General Manager – you can’t know it all.”

Advice: Help the leader understand that the single most critical competency identified for success in new jobs is learning agility. Help them develop this competency prior to the new job through targeted assignments, coaching, books, or articles. Help them learn to ask questions and listen. Help them write a development plan that targets the most critical areas to learn and how to best address their learning needs. Work with the incumbent or sponsor to proactively build a plan to address anticipated learning needs ahead of time.

4. Never losing sight of strengths
The challenge of learning new things every day can be exhausting and make it difficult to stay confident, motivated, and energized. “Every single element of your like is different! (New geography and function) I couldn’t even remember where the switch was to turn the lights on!” It’s important to make sure the leader placed in a development assignment knows that they do bring some unique value to the organization. People will want to know what the new leader brings to the table – they don’t want to hear “I’m here to learn” – especially in a turn-a-round assignment. “Let people know what you need to learn and what you bring to the table that will help solve their problems. They’ll appreciate that and want to help you.” “My sponsor was very good about letting people know why I was there and how I could help – it was a win-win – this really helped pave the way for me”.

A caution regarding familiar strengths – it will be very tempting for the leader to want to gravitate to the things that they are already good at and avoid the things that are new. It’s important to help them figure out what the real priorities are, and pay attention to the things that really matter.

Advice: Help the leader make a list of strengths that they bring to the job. Share these with their new sponsor, and encourage that they be shared with other key stakeholders.

5. Sponsorship
The “receiving” manager plays a critical role in the success of a development job change. “Learning from others” is one of the most effective ways successful leaders develop leadership capability. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some really outstanding (and very different) leaders when I’ve changed jobs. In fact, I probably learned more from these new relationships than I did from the actual work”. “There’s three things you need to have for a reasonable chance for success: the right person, the right environment/situation, and the right support system.” A senior leader (sponsor) said: “Management support will remove the barriers. It’s my job to be really clear as to what’s expected, including specific deliverables and development goals, and to provide feedback and coaching.” “-------- was really instrumental. The very first day we say down and developed a 90 day plan – including who and where to visit, what to accomplish, what to learn and checkpoints.”

A high potential leader in the midst of a job change should be encouraged, and assisted if needed, to cultivate multiple sponsorships. One leader referred to his sponsors as his “Board of Directors”.

Advice: Consider who the leader will be working with to be as important to the learning as the change in function, business, or geography. Treat it as another multiplier in a developmental move. Help the receiving sponsor understand their role in the new leader’s success – including developing clear expectations and deliverables, being involved in the development plan, developing a 90 day transition plan, providing coaching and feedback, and removing barriers. Check in periodically with the executive to assess their sponsor relationships and assist if needed.

7. A “safety net”
One way to help ensure a leader’s success in a new assignment is to make sure there is a “seasoned professional” available as a resource. Typically this is someone who might work for the new leader with deep expertise and experience but perhaps limited executive potential. This highly valuable person can not only help train the new leader, but help prevent a green high potential new leader from damaging the business.

8. Feedback
New jobs bring many opportunities to receive new and different feedback. Feedback can be one of the most powerful catalysts for leadership development – and a way to minimize the chances of derailment in a new job. Feedback is even more important during geographic moves, where a leader can become isolated from their established network and far removed from the watchful eyes of corporate headquarters.

Advice: Make sure feedback is provided from the selection process. Let the leader know how those involved in the selection decision perceive their strengths and weaknesses. While we tend to be most comfortable in sharing feedback around functional gaps, the leader often never hears about the “real” issues. Issues like arrogance, lack of composure, defensiveness, insensitivity, and political missteps are often discussed behind closed doors but rarely shared in a constructive way. These are the kind of issues that will follow a leader around until they eventually derail unless addressed.

9. How long is enough?
Long enough to learn and make a significant contribution is what most leaders would say. Generally, if the assignment is too short (less than 2 years) there is not enough time to have an impact. If too long, learning diminishes and the leader can feel plateaued or abandoned. Early career job assignment may not need to be as long; complicated assignments with more significant scope and responsibilities may need more time.

Advice: 18 months -3 years seems to be a general rule of thumb.

10. Preparing for the move - immersion in the details
Preparation for a move can begin as soon as the move is identified. Although some leaders can dive into a new assignment with little preparation (“Prepare? I Don’t! But than again, when I take a vacation, I just drive south – with no reservations, maps, or itinerary.” etc.), most will point to the importance of getting immersed in the details prior to starting. This immersion continues as a part of the leader’s 90 day transition plan.

Advice: Help the leader gather as much business information as possible. Share information and insights about the culture, work environment, politics, and people. Getting to know the people is as important as getting to know the business. “It’s the people stuff that really makes a difference!”

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The March Leadership Development Carnival

Welcome to the March 2009 Leadership Development Carnival, St. Patrick's Day edition!

This month's carnival is an Irish feast of leadership and management advice, brought to you by some of the best leadership and HR bloggers around.

Enjoy the festivities!

Four Leaf Clovers:


Wally Bock says that Erin White interviewed Dartmouth professor Sydney Finkelstein in the Wall Street Journal about his research on decision making. He thought the questions were good and the answers lacked depth. He points you to resources on better decision making. Why good managers make bad decisions posted at Three Star Leadership Blog.

How to design high quality learning - put yourself in the shoes of your audience...... Morgs presents Put yourself in their shoes posted at Learn2Develop - Thoughts from the World of Learning and Development.

Chris Young presents Should Companies Retain Skilled Employees and Managers? posted at Maximize Possibility Blog.

Sean Conrad presents Why Automate Succession Planning When You Do it Like the Mob? posted at Fistful of Talent.

Whether you’re studying an instrument, exercising or tackling a business issue head-on, be sure to understand that there are real choices in how we go about accomplishing whatever it is we are doing. Leaders must make these choices each and every day. Nina Simosko presents Pick Your Preferences posted at NinaSimosko.com.

The way managers communicate is changing. It's time to take the concept of transparency seriously. Sharlyn Lauby presents Truth and Transparency posted at hr bartender.

The depiction of people as either foxes or hedgehogs was originally intended to describe their distinct methods for interpreting the meaning and direction of events in the world. The terms have become common in the business world, recently; but here they have taken on different meanings. . . Jim Stroup presents Tunnel visionary posted at Managing Leadership.

A Pot 'o Gold:



Mark Stelzner presents Octomom's Got Nothing On HR posted at Inflexion Point.

In times of recession, companies must do more with less. Providing executive coaches to high-potential performers is one way to get the most from untapped talent. John Agno presents Tips for Picking the Right Coach posted at Coaching Tip: The Leadership Blog.

Mike King presents Leadership: Accepting Mistakes posted at Learn This.

The culture isn't "out there" - it's in you. Eric Klein presents How to End Organizational Chicken Games Dharma Consulting posted at Dharma Consulting.

Former talent heads from Lehman Brothers discuss interconnectivity and the unseen networks within organizations. Erik Samdahl presents Building a Solid Foundation from the Intangible - i4cp posted at Productivity Blog.

Lucky Leprechauns:



Does a person’s career potential vary depending on circumstances or rather is it the perception of potential that varies? If it is the circumstances, what can we do about it? Marcie Van Houten presents Circumstantial Potential posted at TalentedApps.

Diversity in the workplace has been a big topic of conversation ever since the early 1990s when research supported the demographics that, by the year 2000, 85% of the entering workforce would be female, African-American, Asian-American, Latino, or new immigrants. The fact that white males would be a minority entering the workplace was a wake up call for corporate America. How have we done since then? Jim DeSantis presents Is Diversity In The Workplace Really Working? posted at On Line Tribune Workplace.

Wally Bock presents The Boss Trap posted at Momentor.

There are several elements or virtues required of good leaders. The one I shall address now is one seemingly in very short supply these days. It’s called integrity... Ty Skinner presents The Integrity of Leadership posted at Blog on Leadership.

Setting and achieving goals is a function of focus. You see, even the personal development guru’s are saying you should have goals in every area of your life: financial, spiritual, mental, emotional, relational and physical and I think they’re wrong. I think it’s a crock. Why? Listen to my 9 minute and 21 second audio to find out. Stephen Martile presents How to Stay Focused When Setting and Achieving Goals posted at FreedomEducation.ca by Stephen Martile.

A Mug of Green Beer:


Who are considered the best and worst Presidents of all time? Some of the results might be a surprise, and some no surprise. The Times Online asked 8 of its international and political commentators to take on this task. Michael Haltman presents Who Are The Best and Worst Presidents Of All Time? posted at The Political and Financial Markets Commentator.

In these uncertain times it’s essential to have a systematic approach to how you run your business. This includes how you market your business. Those who have systems in place are likely to stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, they are positioning themselves for the upturn of the economy. Rather than sitting around talking about how bad things are, why not use the time to research, develop, plan and market. Kathleen Gage presents Are you immobilized or energized during these uncertain times? posted at Street Smarts Marketing & Promotions.

For those employees that are making the attempt to improve the organization go beyond saying thanks: actually demonstrate your appreciation. Do what you can to help them achieve. John Hunter presents Helping Employees Improve posted at Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

Read essays, articles, or books on creativity and you will more than once you will read that you can heighten your creativity and create new ideas by reading magazines that you wouldn’t typically read. The suggestion is to go to your local newsstand and pick up magazines you wouldn’t ever read and read them for ideas, connections and trends. Will Edwards presents How to Heighten Your Creativity posted at Making a Difference.

John Phillips presents The Best: Don Meyer or Jim Calhoun? posted at The Word.

This blog is the pursuit of people focussed management philosophy, and the latest post discusses why process is still essential.
Myster Lar presents Why happiness still needs process posted at ManageASmile.com.

That's it for this month's edition. The next edition of the Leadership Development Carnival will be hosted right here on April 5th. Please use the Carnival submission form on the sidebar if you'd like to submit a post.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The View from the Board Room About the Economy

Here's a guest post submitted by Blythe McGarvie, CEO and Global entrepreneur. Her latest book is called SHAKING THE GLOBE: Courageous Decision-Making in a Changing World.


Blythe encourages U.S leaders to reconsider their global perspectives in order to compete in the global marketplace. Given the recent economic cycle meltdown, business decision-makers require both a broader perspective and the courage to act on it. Innovation is required to take advantage of changing demographics and a new reliance on entrepreneurial activity throughout the world. Protectionism is the death knell of global GDP growth and prosperity, and a sure way to perpetuate the country’s economic downturn.

McGarvie’s study reveals:
- 95% of consumers reside outside of the United States
- Developing emerging nations now account for 49% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
- Companies with more women board members outperform those with fewer female representatives
- Requirements for Going Global incorporates the mental capacity to synthesize what is happening; physical stamina to travel and be where it is happening with personal strength to handle tough situations when they occur.

The view from the board room about the economy

The current economic meltdown simultaneously affecting all countries and industries provides evidence of the interconnected world. Decision-makers require a broad perspective to succeed in today’s economic environment. A new generation of entrepreneurs is shaking the globe by taking advantage of changing demographics and new business opportunities. Innovation is key to private and public sector leaders throughout the world if they are to improve economic performance or maintain standards of living. When economic growth depends on a global economy, protectionism is the death knell of global GDP growth and prosperity.

As I serve on several highly visible boards of directors, I offer four themes from the board room:

1. Optimistic: The new administration in Washington will lead to new ideas and a fresh start on tackling the country’s economic problems and opportunities to set the stage for recovery. We are now in the "New Era of Responsibility". CEOs are generally optimistic. Although many surveys suggest that trust in CEOs is shaken, not all CEOs are Bernie Madoff. Most CEOs that I know are talented, know how to innovate and will help lead their teams to future prosperity. But, it is not just the CEO but each one of us must be responsive to our customers’ needs.

2. Interconnected: An earthquake in one part of the globe shakes another part of the globe. There are three responses to the financial volatility we experience in the stock markets and by reading the headlines. We can be like a cat that sits on a hot burner and learns not to sit on it again. Of course he won’t sit on a cold burner either. This response is avoidance. A second possible response is opportunistic. Search for facts and look at the implications. For example, as bailout funds in the trillions are being taken from taxpayers and being controlled by the U.S. Government, learn where the funding opportunities are and find a way to participate. We will not be able to determine if the government changes its strategy and funding, but at least companies might have better financial results in the short-term. Besides doing nothing or being opportunistic, the third response is to shape the company’s strategy to both reduce costs and to invest for the future. Looking at a broader horizon for ideas outside of the domestic market will reveal plenty of possibilities.

3. Timing matters: As of this month, the Conference Board reported the lowest level of CEO Confidence since the second quarter of 1976. (Today we are at 25 of 100. Anything over 50 is positive.) We were celebrating this country’s bicentennial that year! We also believed that the Japanese management process and methodology would take over the world. This was the era of Japan, Inc. and Edwards Deming. The economy will take several years to de-leverage. In addition, it will take several years for people to forget about the shocks and volatility. As a result, taking symbolic gestures for public relations purposes will soon end and reasonableness will return. Timing of actions depends on what is most important for the customer and employees and what is necessary to keep or grow market share.

4. Hidden implications: What happens in one industry, such as the housing market, effects many people and has –not a rippling effect– but a tsunami impact. In my recent book, I cited Iceland and wrote "The real lesson of Iceland’s predicament is that Iceland is not alone in borrowing recklessly from global investors….With unknown supply and demand figures reverberating in markets far and near from the original transactions volatility soars and economies shake." I did not predict the hidden implications that the severe cash crunch would lead to bankruptcy of Iceland and a precipice drop of currency value of nearly 50% in one week. However, the debt to economic output indicated to me how vulnerable the country was to a staggering economic collapse. Major international financial intermediaries with foreign assets worth nearly ten times the country’s GDP was an unsustainable situation. We now try to think about first and second derivatives from a decision and commensurate action in order to minimize hidden implications.

As we respond to this shaking globe, we can make a difference by doing several things differently in the weeks and months ahead:

Seek help from other global citizens. There are many programs available for practitioners, activists, journalists, and scholars.

Seek knowledge. The Peterson Institute for International Economics is an example of one of many private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institutions. It is devoted to the study of international economic policy. It is one of the very few economics think tanks that are widely regarded as "nonpartisan" by the press and "neutral" by Congress, and the quality media cites it more than any other such institution.

Seek competence from our political leaders. Monitor the changing economic indicators and vote for policies that will tear down the walls of protectionism. The economic cycle in which we find ourselves will turnaround, at various rates throughout the world. It depends on each of us embracing the opportunities of the free market and restoring the confidence in trade and reinvestments in our businesses.

Blythe McGarvie serves on the board of directors of 4 highly visible large public companies and speaks to a variety of groups to shape the decisions of policy makers.
McGarvie was appointed Senior Fellow for Northwestern’ University’s Kellogg Innovation Network. She was a pioneering CFO, and in 1995, was one of only ten female CFOs in the Fortune 500. Prior to LIF Group, from 1999 to 2002, Ms. McGarvie was Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of BIC Group and launched her international business career with Sara Lee as their Chief Administrative Officer-Pacific Rim.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fortune's 2009 World's Most Admired Companies: Best and Worst for People Management

Fortune Magazine recently released it's annual World's Most Admired Companies list.

Subcategories include innovation, people management, innovation, use of assets, social responsibility, management quality, financial soundness, long-term investment, product quality, and global competitiveness.

Apple is number one overall. They are also number one in their industry for people management. Hmm..., could there be a connection?

Here's
how they made their selections.

Here's the most and least admired for People Management:

10 Most admired:

1 Goldman Sachs Group

2 Marriott International

3 Walt Disney

4 Altria Group

5 Google

6 Graybar Electric

7 Union Pacific

8 Nestlé

9 General Electric

10 Medco Health Solutions

and The 10 Least admired:

1 Circuit City Stores

2 National City

3 Sears Holdings

4 Delphi

5 McClatchy

6 US Airways Group

7 Nortel Networks

8 Tribune

9 Dillard's

10 BearingPoint

Comments? Surprises? Does anyone work for any of these companies, and do you agree or disagree with the rankings? And should HR be held accountable for the rankings?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Madness Takes Over the Carnival of HR!


March madness has taken over the latest Carnival of HR.....and I need your help!

Kris Dunn, from The HR Capitalist, is hosting the latest edition of the Carnival. Kris is also owner and CEO of Fistful of Talent (FOT). Each quarter, FOT has been evaluating talent management blogs and publishing a talent management blog power rating. I've been honored to have had Great Leadership place in the top 10 of the rankings (see brag badge on sidebar).

This time, Kris and FOT will be using a NCAA basketball tournament bracket format. Blogs will be paired off with a round of 32 match-ups, and then move to the rounds of 16, 8, 4 and then of course, the final match up. Winners move on, survive and advance. 5 rounds in all, 2 days to vote on all the match-ups in each round (10 total business days in the tournament).

Pretty cool, and a fun way to read a lot of awesome relevant talent management blogs. For me, I sort of feel like a contestant on American Idol.

So please head on over, read the rules, and play the game for the next 10 days. Pass this post along to friends, family, and co-workers and invite them to play. Unlike Idol, there's no charge to vote.

And don't forget to vote for Great Leadership!

Thanks.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to Have an Effective 1 on 1


Managers, do you have regular 1 on 1s with your employees? For all of you March madness fanatics, no, I'm not talking about pick-up basketball. You know, those regular meetings with each and every one of your employees, where you sit down together and talk?

I’m amazed at the number of managers who don’t. Some of them don’t know any better – often the new ones. Perhaps they had poor role models, and they don’t understand the value of them. Or they don’t know how to. If you’re reading this, then you may be one of these. Good for you, you’re in the right place!

But I’m pretty sure there are a lot of managers that don’t have them because they just don’t enjoy talking to their employees. These are the kind of managers that see dealing with employees as distractions to getting their real work done. They avoid them or dread them because they might have to actually solve problems, make decisions, listen to complaints, or deal with messy emotions. They’re rather shut the door, pull the blinds, and send emails all day.

I wish these kinds of managers would just find jobs where they can apply their talents but not have direct reports. I’ll bet they are good at what they do… but they’re sure not suited for leadership.

After all, 1 on 1s and meetings are where leaders lead. That’s your opportunity to inspire, influence, motivate, coach, listen, solve problems, make decisions, and create an environment where employees feel energized. You can’t do this with email – it has to be f2f, eyeball to eyeball. Or, if managing remotely, at least over the phone.

So the most important tip to having effective 1 on 1s is: understand why they are important, that they are the manifestation of leadership, and treat them as the most important part of your day.

Once you’ve done this, the rest will come naturally. Here are a few suggestions to get you started, or enhance your 1 on 1s if you’re already having them and want to improve:

1. Schedule them out for 6-12 months, either weekly or bi-weekly, for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t. Make it your employee’s responsibility to schedule them, but set the expectation and hold them accountable. It’s not an option.

2. Don’t cancel them. Yes, things come up – so reschedule if needed. If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message that they aren’t important.

3. Shut your door, don’t answer your phone, turn your cell phone off, and give 100% attention. If you don’t have an office, then use a conference room or other distraction free area.

4. Always let your employees go first. Clear their agenda first – it’s their time. Then cover any items on your list.

5. Make sure you don’t just discuss performance goals, metrics, quotas, or project updates. Save time to also talk about their development, job satisfaction, and yes, even a little time to get to know your employees as people.

6. At least once a year, set aside an entire meeting to have a career and development discussion. Review individual development plans on a quarterly basis.

7. You don’t need to follow the same rigid structure for every one of your employees. Tailor meetings to the needs and style of each employee. Some may prefer informal with no agenda - others may prefer agendas and formality. It doesn’t matter what you prefer- 1 on 1 are all about them, not you.

8. Like many of you, I’ve learned a lot about effective and ineffective leaders from my own managers. One manager gave me this piece of wise advice I’ll never forget: “How do you measure the effectiveness of your 1 on 1s? Take a look at your employees when the meeting is over. Are they leaving energized, enthusiastic, and motivated? Are they smiling? Or are their shoulders sagging, eyes glazed, and dragging themselves out of your office? That’s your scorecard as a leader.”

9. Kind of a follow-up to #8; don’t make your 1 on 1s feel like a complete physical exam (with prostrate check) to your employees. They shouldn’t be interrogations under a bright light.

10. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use 1 on1s to unload your list. There’s nothing like leaving a meeting with a two pages of action items and wondering how you’re going to fit all the extra work into your week.

11. Be a barrier remover, not a gatekeeper. When an employee comes up with an idea, don’t shoot it full of holes (another fine “coachable moment”, right?), add so many of your own ideas to the idea that it’s no longer your employee’s, it yours; or add extra steps so that it takes longer to implement. Think about that last one… I just learned this recently, and it’s challenging. Instead of adding steps to your employee’s ideas, challenge yourself as a leader to remove steps, or barriers, so that the employee can implement the idea even faster.

12. Save some time to just talk. It’s OK to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc....

13. Ask for feedback, opinions, input to important decisions, and advice.

14. Always try to end on a positive note – let your employee know how well they are doing (if it’s genuine); and how much you appreciate their efforts.

How about you? Do you have any favorite dos or don’t for 1 on 1s?