Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don’t Tolerate Dysfunctional Teams

Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:

Two key indicators of a healthy team are that they are productive (getting tasks done to standards, on budget and on time) and effective (working together with a minimum of drama.)

A 2013 University of Phoenix survey revealed that nearly 7 in 10 American workers have served on dysfunctional teams. Though 95% reported that teams serve an important function in organizations, less than 24% of respondents prefer to work on teams.

Further details reveal common issues in teams:

·         40% have witnessed a verbal confrontation

·         15% have seen confrontations turn physical

·         40% reported a team member blaming another member for problems

·         32% observed a team member start a rumor about another member

Sadly, left to ourselves, we humans don't always behave well with others. We often give into the temptation to leverage information and power to benefit ourselves, which creates an “I win, you lose” culture.

Self-Serving Team Members
Where do we learn to be selfish? Although it can be innate “wired” behavior, it is often likely that it is “acquired” behavior, learned through watching the dynamics in the family, school, sports, or the community.  We observe and practice behaviors that are modeled or tolerated by leaders and peers.

I believe many of us have been blessed to have served on a productive and effective team at least once in our lives. However, the research suggests that too often, teams are not productive AND effective.  This is not only frustrating for team members but can cost real money.  A 2009 study of New Zealand businesses found that one unproductive team can cost a company $140,000 a year.

Most of the senior leadership teams I work with are teams in name only. They do not have a common purpose or shared values and goals. They’re not partnered with a requirement that they work together. Instead, they are simply a group of people who meet regularly to fight each other for resources (funds, people, etc.) every day.

I engage to help these “groups” create a shared servant purpose and identify their values, strategies, and goals. We create agreements to help each member align their behaviors with those stated values. We develop clear expectations. Without these in place, team members can quickly resort to actions that serve their own interests, which severely affects the team’s overall productivity and effectiveness.

It doesn’t take much to identify a dysfunctional team. Don’t tolerate it. Step in and intentionally guide the team to clarify why they exist, and what they can expect from one another as they work together to fulfill their purpose.  You are likely to start seeing your teams thrive.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What's the Secret to Becoming a Great Leader?

Guest post from Kene Erike:

That is not a question reserved for the gated playgrounds of MBA students or empty suits struggling to justify big paychecks. The concept of "Leadership" is a fixture in our daily lives that dictates the experiences we share with others.

Let's start by defining terms....

Leadership: The ability to encourage others to accept an idea. 

That's what leadership is, in plain terms. I'm all about challenging orthodoxy, so you won't find any platitudes and buzzwords here.

You may not realize it, but the impact of leadership is evident in every corner of your life, no matter what your background. It's how you spend free time with friends and family; How you convince your boss to give you a raise; the reason why you watch certain televisions shows and flip away from others; it’s all there, peeking from beneath the covers of your daily existence.

So, what's the secret to becoming an effective leader, a (wo)man who enjoys support and fulfillment in one's social and professional life?

The secret to great leadership is Empathy.

A willingness and ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. A sensitivity to the needs of others and the skill to address them.

Like a great point guard, good leaders have mastered the game within the game and know how to position each player so they can shine. They take care of their people and make sure everybody gets fed.

Successful leadership assumes many forms. Great businesses have already mastered this, weaving carefully-crafted messages that draw in target audiences. They go beyond identifying market needs and demographics, establishing rallying points around issues that touch the lives of millions.

Take Planet Fitness, for example. 

On its face, Planet Fitness offers a simple proposition: Gym membership for a low monthly fee.

But let's look a little deeper.

We're all moved by basic motivations, emotions like the desire for acceptance and a desire to raise a family. Those motivations dictate our life choices and purchase decisions.

Women don't buy a particular dress because it's made by a noted designer. They purchase that dress because they want to be the envy of every other woman in the room when they go to their high school reunion.

Take a little time to consider the desires, interests, and fears of the people you want to lead and you'll start making headway.

That's where we find the genius in Planet Fitness' leadership model.

To many Americans, gym membership is just a means for assuaging guilt. Signing up allows a person to feel like they're doing something right, striving for an ideal and dedicating themselves to good health practices. Whether they actually break a sweat when they step in to the facility is of secondary importance.

It's like people who buy Priuses just so they can say they're environmentally-conscious; whether they're actually advancing the cause is of little consequence.

Planet Fitness knows their market and has a perfect pitch for their customers: Come here, check off the "workout" box, and go home. 

They maintain a relaxed atmosphere, even hosting regular pizza and bagel days, where members can indulge in the very foods that pack on pounds in a hurry.

(Pizza and treadmills? An unholy alliance, if we've ever heard one, but Planet Fitness is riding it to the bank.)

Cultivating the right membership base is a priority for Planet Fitness as well. They actively-alienate members who exhibit too much workout intensity, outfitting their gyms with "Lunk Alarms" that sound when a lifter makes too much noise and revoking memberships of anyone who appears even the least bit intimidating.

Planet Fitness is the bane of serious workout warriors everywhere, but you can't knock their results.

Leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all exercise, with one right answer to the question. There are multiple styles that can get the job done. Brandishing an iron fist never falls out of flavor and history is replete with autocrats who effected change through fear and intimidation; they held a firm grasp of human nature.

Not to say that their effectiveness is attributable to emotional intelligence. Historical figures were savvy politicians who know certain levers light a fire under all of us. They did an end-run around empathy, but got the job done just the same.

As long as you hone in on the base motivations lurking below the surface, you're walking down the right path. What's the driving force behind a decision and what do you have to offer them?

Again, you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

You can reverse engineer the process by starting with the end in mind. Consider what the people around you would want, what they need to get them moving in your direction. And then, deliver it.

Instead of whining that friends aren't listening to you or leering at the new guy in your office who has caught the eye of management, look inward. Is there more you can do to encourage others to align with your way of thinking? A commitment to self-development is a best practice in everything you do and a reputation for effective leadership pays big dividends.

A few here-and-now examples you can put in to practice:

--Want your emails answered? Send short emails with descriptive headers instead of tomes that go nowhere.

--Tired of how you spend your Saturday nights with friends? Take the lead and give everyone two specific options to choose from, which will guide the group towards choices you're comfortable with.
You'll get a less-frustrating experience than asking, "What does everybody want to do tonight?"

The overarching idea is that great leaders solve problems without planting new roadblocks for constituents to leap over. Effective leaders make it easy for people to do what they want them to do.

The world doesn't revolve around you.

Drill this in to your head and you'll be able to adapt to any environment you're thrown in to. Effective leadership is all about speaking to your fellow man in his language. Master that skill and the rest falls in to place.

Kene Erike is an entrepreneur and author specializing in human behavior. His book,"No" Doesn't Always Mean No, is a guide to developing stronger relationships, making more money, and becoming leaders people actually want to follow. Click here to learn more about leadership and connecting with people. You'll receive a free guide on reading body language as well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to Prevent Redundant Performance Improvement Conversations

Guest Post from Karin Hurt:

Performance improvement conversations aren’t enjoyable -- for you or for them. To make sure you don’t have to have the same uncomfortable conversation twice, take a hard look at your approach.

The most effective performance improvement conversations are built using four components: Clarity, Conflicts, Confidence, and Conviction. Ask yourself, as you read each of the questions below, are you equipping your employees to answer in the affirmative? Are you setting them up to actually do what you need them to do?

Clarity: "I know exactly what to do."
You think you’ve communicated what needs to change. But, have you really? Almost every time I work with managers to improve their coaching, there’s a disconnect between what they think they’ve communicated and what’s actually been understood. What they’ve often missed is isolating the very specific behaviors that must change for the employee to be successful. What exactly do you want your employee to do? How will they (and you) know your expectations are being met? "A positive attitude," "More customer focus" and "Being more strategic" aren’t specific enough. Isolate and breakdown the behaviors you need to see shifted before success can be declared.

Conflicts: "I have your support to solve my underlying problems."
Yes, your primary objective in this conversation is to inspire behavioral change. Do you know the best way to do that? Discover why the undesirable behaviors are occurring. Listen. Closely. It's easy to discount the "reasons" why they can't improve: competing priorities; overload; mixed messages; customer angst. Go after the insight you need about what’s getting in the way of optimal performance. Chances are good that underlying issue is also undermining your high-performers and frustrating your customers.

Confidence: "I have no doubt that I do this."
I’ll be straight with you. If your employees leave these conversations with the feeling that you don’t think they can make positive change, they won’t. Your doubt will undermine them. Ask yourself, are you giving them the benefit of the doubt? Do you believe they’re able to do what you’re asking them to do? If not, cross your t's and dot your i's on your performance documentation. But, if you are coming from a place of belief, show them why. Talk about how they’ve been successful in the past. Teach them that you have confidence in their ability to break down the goal into bite size behaviors they can celebrate.

Conviction: "I'm committed to doing it."
If engagement is the issue, begin your conversation by asking questions. Why do they choose to work here? At the end of the day, what makes them feel accomplished? Link what you’re asking them to do with what matters most to them -- not just professionally, but personally.

You may not roll out a successful performance improvement conversation on your first try. Keep at it. It’s a skill you can refine, and it’s a skill that will serve you well. No one wants to work for a boss who sets them up to fail, even it’s unintentional.

About the Author
Karin Hurt is a keynote speaker, top leadership consultant, and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and Human Resources. The author of WinningWell and Overcoming an ImperfectBoss, Hurt has been named to Inc.'s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, and a Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Birthing a Baby Unicorn: The Anatomy of a Successful Startup Launch

Guest post by Carol Broadbent and Tom Hogan:

Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they have a theory on how to launch a startup. Most of them revolve around the role of marketing. Those who doubt the value or efficacy of marketing cite the success of such startups as Slack, Atlassian and WhatsApp, which launched with limited investment in marketing. But the other 95 need marketing to grow their enterprise—click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.

Having launched 45 startups, we’re often asked what are the “best practices” in launching a company.  So much depends on the market the startup is in as well as the company’s focus (B2B vs. B2C), but there are still some guidelines that apply across the spectrum:

1.  Launch with a cross-functional team. According to a feature in the latest Harvard Business Review, 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because at the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team.

2.   CEOs need to be on the team, but as players, not coaches.  If you want your launch to happen fast and well, put your CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. Otherwise you’ll spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions than getting things done. But make it clear to the CEO and everyone else:  the CEO is a member of the team, not the leader. That role is reserved for marketing—specifically, an individual designated as “The Launchmeister”, to whom everyone, including the CEO, reports. The CEO’s job is to reinforce the goals, deadlines and accountability of the launch.  When tough decisions need to be made, it’s the team’s job to make them and the CEO’s job to support and implement them.   

3.   Banish pixel polishing.  Part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous/infamous attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details; and while this pursuit of perfection may be admirable in established companies, it can be fatal to a startup. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “Done is good.”

4.  Beware nomadic board members. In a successful launch, board members should be heeded but not seen.  Getting their input offline is both good business and good politics; but when we see board members “dropping in” to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag, a signal that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.

5.  Bring PR to the table early.  There are two types of PR firms:  “upstream” strategic firms that have a seat at the big table in developing positioning and messaging, and “downstream” implementation firms. Startups should hire only upstream firms, then use their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Encourage your team to challenge assumptions, build and test their message, and advocate their point of view at the table.

6.  Build content early and often.  Once positioning and messaging are established, get to work on the content. Launches are often delayed—once, even twice—due to product issues or customer feedback; but they should never be delayed because of lack of supporting content. You can never have enough content, so start developing—and reviewing—it the moment your positioning is finalized. Since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.

7.  Website UX trumps brand.  If the founder starts going into the weeds – opining about favorite brand colors and fonts – get back on track quickly. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.

8.  Anticipate—and prepare for—the trough.  Before you launch, be sure to have a post-launch PR plan, as well as two months of demand gen programs defined, funded, and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all the visibility, brand awareness, and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, use smart planning to avoid the post-launch trough.

According to a CBInsights article from May 2015, your startup has a 1.2 percent chance of becoming a unicorn (a private company valued at $1 billion or more). Even so, there are a record number of unicorns roaming the Valley today. Success in unicorn-land has a lot to do with vision, team and timing, but it also depends upon strong marketing and a great launch.

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for start-ups, in 2008.  They are also co-authors of THE ULTIMATE START-UP GUIDE:  Marketing Lessons, War Stories, And Hard-WonAdvice From Leading Venture Capitalists And Angel Investors.  For more information please visit or @CrowdedOcean.