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Leaders Don’t Kick the Can and Check the Box

Busy-ness is all around us. You hear complaints about how tired and frustrated people can be because of all the work they have going on.

Once upon a time, having work was a blessing, not a curse. Yet many workers in all walks and in all roles complain of just how busy they are.

Kicking the can and checking the boxes

If you lead a work team, there is a great pressure to kick the can down the road and tick a box. Box checking is our way of feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Ah Ha, the task is done!

Not so fast!

There’s no doubt we need to see progress toward a goal; projects need completing, deadlines must be met, and so on.

However, if the way you measure success has anything to do with the number of boxes checked, you might need to stop.

The more important question is whether the activity that is being checked off has a meaningful contribution towards desired performance.

ticking boxes off a list

As a leader, you need a system for tracking progress toward your desired goals.

The vision you see before you must be broken down into chunks that can be clearly communicated to the team.

Each person on the team must have clarity for the work they are supposed to be doing.

So what can a Leader do?

Keeping your focus about tracking meaningful contribution toward goal achievement can be realized by implementing a very simple method. The method/system is called “Big 5 Performance Management.”

With the Big 5 system, managers ask their direct reports to prepare a simple monthly report.

The report has only two parts. The first part is the top five individual accomplishments for the month. The other part is the top five priorities for the next month.

Accomplishments and priorities are tied to the individual responsibilities assigned.

Logically, what you entered as priorities last month should be accomplishments this month. If not, then address the matters that got in the way of achieving your stated objectives for the month.

This report is prepared within the first five days of the new month (keeping the Big 5 theme). Managers can review the reports with all the directs.

Going over the Big 5 report gives the manager and the employee the opportunity for a coaching moment.

coaching moment

Proper recognition for achievement can be shared as well as alignment on priorities. Any variances can be explored, evaluated, aligned and set in motion.

With a rigorous and faithful implementation of this Big 5 discipline, the bigger goals can be cumulatively achieved by the Leader’s group.

Simple elegance

The listing of each of the top five things is a simple bulleted list, not a long narrative. Save the lengthy discussion for the one on one coaching time.

In fact, this Big 5 Report can be accomplished in a single email from each party. (However, there is a cloud-based app for this if you are interested).

If this sounds too simple to make a difference, think again. I’ve had personal experience using Big 5 in several leadership roles from my past.

Each time it was used, my teams achieved more with less, hit higher performance marks, and achieved greater results. Why?

We did these things because the whole team literally ‘stayed on the same page.’ Forces from outside that may have otherwise robbed us of time and attention were identified early and dealt with properly.

We even found ourselves with extra time to look at creative opportunities that came up along the way, thus improving margin and total revenue.

When you feel overwhelmed by the Busy-ness of your work, think Big 5. Don’t just kick the can and check the box.

PS –

For a team to operate at its best, each member of the team must answer six key questions about the team before they feel a sense of trust and have a willingness to commit their “discretionary effort” toward goal completion.

(For more on these critical six questions, visit my Team Trust Model here.)

Leaders Must Impact the Networks Around Them

Spend any time at a particular company and you will find yourself part of an informal network. This network is above and beyond the boxes on the org chart.

Your ability to build and effectively manage the networks around you might just be the single biggest advantage you might have as a leader.

making the best of networking

Build the right networks and you will have a much easier time executing on your activity.

These networks form for many reasons

These networks spring up for many reasons; some intentional, others not so much.

You might build relationships with certain people based on the responsibilities you have. Because a particular project or work team has a unique set of objectives, you meet and deal with new people across the organization; people who can help you achieve those objectives.

Once your assignment is over, you retain those contacts in one degree or another. Sadly, many very successful relationships wither over time because the common goal has been accomplished and is no longer relevant. Rather than maintaining the working relationship, we merely “move on” to other things.

In popular terminology, we think of this relationship building as “networking”.

Networking is not so new

For many years, whole industries have relied upon networking to grow and expand businesses. Trade associations number in the thousands. Annual conventions are held to allow industry participants to gather and exchange ideas or meet new people. Networking on steroids.

networking huddle group

Professionals rely upon networking outside the company to find new job opportunities.

But knowing when and how to grow a network inside your company can be a challenge.

Neural Networks

The inner workings of a high-value network can be explained by some mind science.

Let’s take a minute to talk about neural networks. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

The principles of neural networking have formed the basis of artificial intelligence and machine learning. See the video link below to hear a basic explanation of neural networking.

The key takeaways here involve two important values. First, there is the value of the “node” or in the case of people, the person with whom you connect.

And there is the value of the connection itself. Think of the significance someone might add to your network if you are connected with them.

In simpler terms, a person might have great knowledge and experience to share, which is helpful. But it will be significantly more important to have them as a connection if their role is also of great value.

Applying the meaning of neural networks.

As you work to build and maintain your networks, think in terms of these two values.

Is the person of value to the effort? Ask yourself can I learn from them?

Is the role of important value? Can I gain from the influence this person might have at work?

Having said this, it all sounds a bit self-serving. But you too must provide value, both with you know and the role you play, in order to be a contributing member of a network.

Leaders learn how to deliver value for others first before asking for something in return. It’s similar to the old schoolyard adage about “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If you want a powerful network at work, become a powerful contributor to others.

A cautionary tale

There is one big caveat here. In addition to building strong, effective networks, you may need to rely on mentoring from those above you in the chain.

Senior leader mentoring younger employee

I’m not sure you specifically “network” with those who have seniority in the organization. You build connections for sure. But you may need some guidance and development from those above you.

While you may have plenty to offer others above you in terms of technical experience and knowledge, there may be more to learn than what you have to offer.

In that case, you need to find the right opportunity to explore the willingness of those more senior to mentor you. No need to fall on a sword about lack of something. Instead, present the idea as something of respect and admiration for their expertise.

Ask if they might be willing to become a mentor. A vast majority of senior grade employees I know love the idea of giving back by mentoring those elsewhere in the organization.

Living and Leaving a Legacy

At some point in everyone’s life, three questions haunt your thinking.

Who am I? Why am I here? And where am I going?

Perhaps you’ve visited these questions more than once, stopping at various stages; the ones we think of as defining moments. Events like getting married, having children, changing jobs, buying a new house, and moving into that house create opportunities to examine ourselves.

As the years go by, our thinking shifts slightly. I submit that the three questions change too. The trio becomes:

  • How did I do?
  • What difference did it make?
  • How will I be remembered?

All three get rolled together to become the Legacy we leave behind.

Many of my executive coaching clients are concerned about that legacy. They know the company isn’t going to name a building after them, but they wonder whether their leadership influence matters.

Just about the time you think you have answers to all the questions, life throws you a curveball.

Life’s Surprises

Recently I received an email from someone introducing themselves as my first cousin from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family.

I’ve been following my family genealogy for quite some time. I knew I had reached a dead end on the branch that was my grandmother.

legacy tree

Because of the power of the Ancestry.com database, the first cousin found me. She had begun building her family tree only a few weeks ago, yet there I was in the database.

We have already spoken by phone, exchanged many family photos, and made plans for future connections.

I had resigned myself to the notion that this portion of my history was going to go unknown. In fact, I’ve been thinking that all of my adult life.

Yet now, I have a whole new light to shine in my story. It has brought new energy and excitement to things.

It turns out this family line is a Lewis family; notably of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as some Hawkins namesakes who trace relationship to Davy Crockett (of the Alamo). I now have a complete line of heritage that includes military service in the American Revolution, War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

I realize many Americans can claim similar family history, but it made me proud all over again for the roots and legacy others left me.

It has created a renewed commitment to live my remaining years to the full.

So What?

The big so-what is that we all should take time periodically to recalibrate. We need reflection on the things that have happened. We need to reaffirm our purpose.

For the things that have already happened, you can make amends for shortcomings. For those yet to happen, make stronger plans driven by better choices.

I use a tool to define a personal purpose vision statement. Once this has been done the first time, it’s helpful to review it periodically to account for life events that may have changed your perspective. If you’d like a free copy of the Power of the Personal Purpose tool click here.

If you need someone to work through the next chapter with you, I am always available to come alongside as your coach or mentor.

Leaders – Where Are Your People?

Maslow helps us understand.

This question is not a literal one. You see your people daily. Rather it is a figurative idea.

If you manage and lead any part of a business, you likely have a team surrounding you. Regardless of them being co-workers, direct reports, peers, or superiors, they are fellow human beings.

They come to work, do their jobs, and go home to whatever personal life they have chosen.

During the “time on the clock” though, there is a state of mind that drives all of the potential within your team.

I challenge my coaching clients to become sensitive to this state of mind within their employees and peers.

Maslow’s Way of Saying It

Likely you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is loosely stated as there is a pyramid of human needs that progress from a very basic survival state all the way to enlightenment and self-actualization.

The stages are survival, security, belonging, importance, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow, we cannot operate at a higher level unless the lower levels are satisfied. Starting out with basic needs for food and shelter, you can not self-actualize if you are hungry and afraid.

We progress up the needs chain in the normal order of human existence.

Stephen R. Covey describes the hierarchy in more simple terms; live, love, learn, leave a legacy. Powerful.

Same Thing Happens at Work

I argue that this same principle applies to work. Each person comes to work operating somewhere within the same hierarchy of needs.

The shifts may not be too severe from day to day, but they do happen.

The person who has a big blow-up with their spouse right before leaving for work will approach the day in a different mindset than someone who left home with a warm hug and kisses.

Recently I shared this graphic across all of my social media platforms. I didn’t share any commentary, just the infographic.

Maslow applied to employee engagement

The reaction was widespread, near viral. So I thought we should explore it in more detail.

A person’s position on the hierarchy dictates their ability to engage at work. Plain and simple. As you move up or down the grid, you are either more or less likely to have the willingness to contribute any discretionary effort.

The lower you sit on the scale, the less likely is your voluntary contribution and connection at work. Conversely, the higher up the scale, the more likely you will be to engage and contribute “above and beyond.”

Question: Think about your own path at work. Are there days when you feel less engaged than others?

Change and Progress, Are They Twins?

In today’s complex business world, change is hard. Companies venturing through major culture shifts, mergers or other forms of change often struggle to make it to the end.

The idea that people hate change is a phenomenon that is taught, coached and wrestled with in many ways, shapes, and forms. Regardless of your mindset about CHANGE, there is one vital aspect you should explore.

PROGRESS is what you should be focused on. Change for the sake of change is meaningless. However, progress toward a new goal or achievement is more vital and more valuable to your organization.

Dean Lindsay, America’s premier authority on Progress, writes:

All progress is change, but not all change is progress.

Lindsay uses an illustration. If you wake up in the morning with a stomach ache, you want to change. You want it to go away.

If you tell a friend and they punch you in the nose, you got a change. But it wasn’t progress toward curing your stomach ache.

The Rhetoric

There are voices in the media demanding change. The word has been worn out. Again, change for the sake of change is not progress.

When you sense the need for change or you design an intentional change in the way your business operates, be sure you are designing progress toward a new goal.

I know companies who have launched major change initiatives (they call it that) with the intent to become more profitable, increase margin, find efficiencies, or become more competitive.

Those are great objectives.

Yet what they are really saying is we need progress forward to be better situated for growth and survival in our industry.

Too often the well-intended change that is initiated gets bogged down in all the adoption and adaptation process. As soon as the change feels hard and resistance begins to mount, plans are adjusted.

Many times the shift is pulled back or canceled in the face of resistance.

Living Through the Curve

Roxanne Chugg writes: “The fact is that most change initiatives are done “to” employees, not implemented “with” them or “by” them. Although leaders are pushing behavior change from the top and expecting it to cascade through the formal structure, an informal culture left to instinct and chance will likely dig in its heels and resist or even hijack the change.”

There is a popular model that describes the change cycle. Dr. Virginia Satir first introduced this model when explaining emotional life-change events in family therapy. However, it has been widely adopted in change management circles to help businesses plan for and implement change.

The “S” shape of this curve helps us see the complexity of making a change. When applied to a work team, each member of the team will experience their own progression through the curve, each moving at their own pace.

The key matter here is that everyone in the organization faces their own emotional curve when forced into change. Acceptance or adoption of the change is dependent upon the progress one can make moving through the curve.

If plotted together on a single graph you could see the lag points where the manager/leader may be further along the curve than his people. If the leader is not sensitive to this lag factor, then the message from the top might be skewed.

The leader could be thinking “Come on people, don’t you get this? Why aren’t we further along?”

In reality, the team may be lagging the leader’s position moving along the curve. A little bit of lag is normal. However, the leader must decide how much lag is tolerable.

Back to Progress

Given the tremendous effort and disruption a change may cause at work, leaders must be mindful of the progress being made.

Leaders need to ask: “Is the company moving ahead because of this change or are we merely spinning our wheels, burning out the staff, and creating very little value?”

Question: What change initiative has your company gone through recently? Or were you the one directing it?

15 Ways You Sabotage Trust at Work

Managers and owners of businesses have a hard enough time promoting trust at work among employees.

Trust must be earned. We learned that in grade school. It cannot be mandated by some policy or bought with bonuses and perqs.

Google recently released a two-year study focused on what factors made some teams higher performers than others. The #1 attribute was something they called “Psychological safety”. Read their report and you will see this is a big word for TRUST.

Before you spend a lot of time trying to build and improve the trust factor at work, take a hard look at the ways you might be derailing trust.

As hard as trust may be to build, it is actually quite easy to destroy.

According to Nan Russell in Psychology Today:

“While it’s easy to point fingers or notice others’ trust-derailing behaviors, it is difficult to create personal awareness about our own. In reality, we all contribute to the trust or distrust levels where we work, often through unintentional, mindless behaviors that diminish trust.”

There are at least 15 ways I found that do nothing but undermine an employee’s or team’s trust in their leader.

The List

15 Mindless Ways to Sabotage and Derail Trust in Your Work Group

#1 – Focus on your “win” without thinking about how it’s achieved or its impact on others. If you claim victory for an accomplishment without including the participants, you will break trust.

#2 – Ignore standards, values, policies, or procedures your team is expected to follow. That’s a double standard.

#3 – Operate with 20th-century thinking in a 21st-century world; you stop learning at work. My way or the highway is a great country song, but a poor mantra for leadership.

#4 – Treat your small work issues, needs, or problems as five-alarm fires. The problem is seldom the problem. As the leader, be able to remain calm as issues arise.

#5 – Practice “cordial hypocrisy” — i.e. “pretend trust when there is none.” You can’t fake trust. You have to give it to receive it. People know the difference.

team building via trust

The Next 5 Trust Killers

#6 – Be unresponsive to requests that aren’t of personal interest or importance to you. Just because a team member brings you an issue that is not on your priority list, it may be huge on theirs. Hear them out.

#7 – Share confidential information from or about others. Being transparent as a leader can be tricky. You should be open to share information that is important to the achievement of goals but be quiet about things shared in confidence.

#8 – Give the perception of mutually beneficial relationships, but create only faux ones. Some people are easily fooled about perceived “connections” with the boss. Don’t be the source of such perceptions.

#9 – Lack follow through on what you say you’ll do. There’s a wise old saying “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” In other words, stick to what you say. Trust needs a foundation to grow. Breaking promises will crumble any foundation of trust.

#10 – See people as interchangeable parts; be unaware of others needs, interests, talents

The Last 5 Things that Crush Trust

#11 – Confuse friendship or loyalty with authentic trust. We love having true friends. But don’t confuse friendship with the right levels of trust. Yes, we usually trust our closest friends. However, high performing work teams can grow trust without making friends.

#12 – Deflect or explain away input, feedback, or criticism that you don’t like. As the leader, you must respond to things coming your way. Deflecting or minimizing unfavorable feedback can erode trust because people will see you as false.

#13 – Infrequently take on more responsibility, assist others, or share your knowledge. Hiding in the office does not build trust. Rather, it blocks it. Be open to those around you. Share and mentor when you can; hopefully frequently.

#14 – Speak up when you’re against something yet remain quiet about that which you favor. Be the champion for the purpose or the cause. Your business and team exist for a reason. As owner/manager or leader, you must be the champion of that cause.

#15 – Play on a team of one more often than not. Selfish ambition will erode trust too. As soon as it becomes evident the whole mission is about YOU, the team will turn away.

Cautionary Tale

Autocratic managers and bosses can make things happen. But they have to do it more with a whip than a whim. Also, their employee retention rates are low. Morale suffers.

Good leaders instill a “want to” within their people so that each team member’s discretionary effort is high.

A great leader is valued while they are here, but revered when they are gone.

team trust

If you want to know more about building trust at work for your team, visit my Team Trust Model.

Consciously or Unconsciously – Live Well

The following is shared by permission from a dear friend, fellow coach, and down-right classy human being, David Norris.

I hope you find this to be of value to you today. David writes:

unconscious conscious

I recently posted this quote on several social media platforms and received a number of requests to translate and explain further.

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all driven to grow. We see a future that we want to live in, and we are either able to intentionally get there, or we cannot.

A major determinant of whether you will get there or not is simply that you actually believe that you can.

We carry around a huge amount of personal baggage from our past experiences that inform our attitudes about the future. In many cases, we develop a sense of learned helplessness that causes us to believe that we will never be able to get the future we want.

Self-Defeating Logic

FOCUS

This self-defeating logic is reinforced by our own inaction toward overcoming this baggage from our past. It becomes a pattern. We get used to not getting what we want. We come to believe that it’s normal and simply the way things are.

Before we can overcome these issues, we have to understand what they are. This is by no means an all-encompassing list of issues that characterize bad past experiences that can prevent you from realizing your own ability to move toward your desired future, but if you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to get to work.

  1. You have historically associated closely with, and strongly feel a part of a group of people who are not finding success in love, life or work.
  2. You have been so focused on simply getting by that you felt like you were unable to actually learn new ways to be better.
  3. You were brought up in a religious tradition or other circumstance that instilled you with strong feelings of guilt and shame but never focused on positive qualities like love, intimacy, vulnerability, and learning.
  4. All of your past relationships have caused tremendous pain and ended badly, leading you to believe that is simply an inherent quality of all relationships.
  5. You have plateaued when pursuing your goals, and you come to believe that you are simply not the kind of person who is capable of achieving the success you want, incapable of understanding why others are able to reach their goals.
  6. You have believed that you are just not trying hard enough when it comes to your goals, and later when you do try to commit stronger to achieving your goals with the same mindset and more effort, you expect things to turn out differently.
  7. You associate change primarily with things turning out badly. Therefore change is scary and something to be avoided. You may not be happy with the way things have been, but they could likely be much worse.

What these dilemmas all have in common is that they use the past as a basis for constructing the future.

They cause us to forget our own talents and abilities, to undermine our own skillfulness and resourcefulness. They squash our ambitions by prioritizing fear over risk and reward.

Universal Experiences

The experiences described above are universal. Every successful person has faced some variation or combination of these scenarios, and yet they have managed to get wherever it is that they were aiming at.

How does that happen? Is it that others simply have greater abilities or possess more potential? No. It is that they have not allowed the past to become a myopic lens for viewing the future. They have distilled experience into wisdom. They have recognized that failure and difficulty are necessary opportunities for stretching our abilities to enable growth.

The essential thing that you must do is to take the lessons you have learned from the past and put those lessons into practice by actually doing something. You will not overcome any one of these by letting the clock run out. There is no way forward in doing nothing.

Try Something Different

If what you have tried in the past has not worked, try something different. We are often drawn to work harder because we are choosing the more familiar path. That path is our default setting. It is often our first idea and the one we feel most comfortable setting forward with.

But growing is not about feeling comfortable, it is about moving forward through the thick grass toward foggy vistas and breaking through all of that to discover new territory.

The future does not live in the past unless you stay stuck where you are. The future is where you are going, not where you have been.

Wake up! Take control and consciously create your own fate. Live by design. Live today well!

Live today well!
David Norris

Making Behavior Change Stick

Have you ever tried breaking an old habit to replace it with some new behavior?

Of course you have. Whether it’s a diet, exercising more, reading more, less device time, or other lifestyle changes, adopting a new behavior can be tough.

Working on changes in your leadership style can be hard.

Just like any life changing decisions, your effort to become a better leader requires change on your part.

Without exception, my coaching clients decide on a path to making behavior changes. Regardless of the issue or the topic that first brings us together, once I start coaching with someone, we find ourselves landing on the need for a behavioral change.

The change can transform executive presence, influence, and effectiveness. It might involve communication or delegation. Maybe the change is about interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

One way or another, the change someone desires always requires a behavior change.

Why Change Can Be Hard

If you’ve tried any of the changes I’ve mentioned above, you know change can be hard. Why is that?

First, there is our comfort zone. Habits and behaviors get comfortable for us. We do things mindlessly ignoring other things or people.

Breaking away from that comfort zone is felt physically and emotionally. We sense the change and prefer to revert to a more customary approach or reaction.

Then there is fear. Most of us fear change. It’s the great unknown. We ask ourselves what if this doesn’t work?

Lastly, it takes effort. If we’re going to break some chains, it requires effort. Sometimes we’re just too busy or tired to make the change.

Here’s How to Make Behavior Change Stick

I found there are 4 things that can help facilitate a change of behavior that sticks. My friend and colleague, Cheryl S. Bryan has also written about these in her blog.

Purpose – Lock in on your purpose and the reason for the expected change of behavior. Let the reason you choose to change become a beacon for the effort. Don’t lose sight of your purpose.

Plan – Make a plan for the change. Plot a course for the beginning, middle, and end. Set your path for change. Decide on details. Get stakeholder feedback along the way. Measure yourself. Learn from setbacks.

servant leader

Patience – Be patient. You will experience missteps. Give yourself some grace as you attempt the change. It won’t all be perfect. If you slip up (and you will), pause, reassess and keep moving.

Practice – The only way a new behavior gets established is to practice it over and over again until it becomes more natural.

Go For It!

If you can follow these 4 P’s for making behavior change stick, you will achieve far greater success.

Use these when mentoring and coaching your team. Encourage others to embrace the change they need by observing these key principles.

If you would like to know more about making change stick, click on the links below. I’ll be happy to arrange a call.

Kill the Bell Curve

Managers often believe their workforce distribution is some kind of bell curve. Research says NO.

There is a long-standing belief in business that people performance follows the Bell Curve. This belief has been embedded in many business practices: performance appraisals, compensation models, and even how we get graded in school. (Remember “grading by the curve?”)

So if you still manage by the old bell curve distribution myth, you might want to consider these facts.

First the Myth

Research shows that this statistical model, while easy to understand, does not accurately reflect the way people perform. As a result, HR departments and business leaders inadvertently create agonizing problems with employee performance and happiness.

A bell curve distribution describes a population as having highs and lows with a large percentage in the middle.

The Bell Curve represents what statisticians call a “normal distribution.” A normal distribution is a sample with an arithmetic average and an equal distribution above and below average like the curve below.

This model assumes we have an equivalent number of people above and below average, and that there will be a very small number of people two standard deviations above and below the average (mean).

The model essentially says that “we will have a small number of very high performers and an equivalent number of very low performers” with the bulk of our people clustered near the average.

In the area of performance management, this curve results in what we call “rank and yank.” We force the company to distribute raises and performance ratings by this curve (which essentially assumes that real performance is distributed this way).

To avoid “grade inflation” companies force managers to have a certain percentage at the top, a certain percentage at the bottom, and a large swath in the middle.

I don’t know where it started, but this has been ingrained in the mindset of managers for decades. And it’s blatantly flawed logic.

But Does Reality Work This Way?

The answer is NO.

Research conducted in 2011 and 2012 by Ernest O’Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis (633,263 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes in a total of 198 samples). found that performance in 94 percent of these groups did not follow a normal distribution. Rather these groups fall into what is called a “Power Law” distribution.

A “Power Law” distribution is also known as a “long tail.” It indicates that people are not “normally distributed.”

In this statistical model, there are a small number of people who are “hyper high performers,” a broad swath of people who are “good performers” and a smaller number of people who are “low performers.”

It essentially accounts for a much wider variation in performance among the sample.

In fact, the implication is that comparing to “average” isn’t very useful at all, because the small number of people who are “hyper-performers” account for a very high percentage of the total business value.

(Bill Gates used to say that there were a handful of people at Microsoft who “made” the company and if they left there would be no Microsoft.)

How the Bell Curve Hurts Performance

Right now there is an epidemic of interest in revamping employee performance management processes, and it’s overdue. 

Here are five reasons this old myth does not work.

No one wants to be scored on a 5 point scale.

First, much research shows that reducing a year of work to a single number is degrading. It creates a defensive reaction and doesn’t encourage people to improve. Ideally, performance evaluation should be “continuous” and focus on “always being able to improve.” That’s why I recommend the Big 5 Performance model.

In fact, David Rock’s research shows that when we receive a “rating” or “appraisal” our brain shifts into “fear or flight” mode and shifts to our limbic brain.

Ultra-high performers are incented to leave and collaboration may be limited.

The bell curve model limits the quantity of people at the top and also reduces incentives to the highest rating. Given the arbitrary five-scale rating and the fact that most people are 2,3,4 rated, most of the money goes to the middle.

If you’re performing well but you only get a “2” or a “3” you’ll probably feel under-appreciated. Your compensation increase may not be very high (most of the money is held for the middle of the curve) and you’ll probably conclude that the highest ratings are reserved for those who are politically well connected.

Since the number of “1’s” is limited, you’re also likely to say “well I probably won’t get there from here so I’ll work someplace where I can really get ahead.”

Mid level performers are not highly motivated to improve.

In the bell curve there are a large number of people rated 2, 3, and 4. These people are either (A) frustrated high performers who want to improve, or (B) mid-level performers who are happy to stay where they are.

If you fall into category (B) you’re probably pretty happy keeping the status quo – you know the number of “1’s” is very limited so you won’t even strive to get there. In a sense the model rewards mediocrity.

Compensation is inefficiently distributed.

People often believe the bell curve is “fair.” There is an equal number of people above and below the average. And fairness is very important. But fairness does not mean “equality” or “equivalent rewards for all.”

High performing companies have very wide variations in compensation, reflecting the fact that some people really do drive far more value than others.

In a true meritocracy, this is a good thing, as long as everyone has an opportunity to improve, information is transparent, and management is open and provides feedback.

Incentives to develop and grow are reduced.

In a bell curve model, you tend to reward and create lots of people in the “middle.” People can “hang out” in the broad 80% segment and rather than strive to become one of the high-performers, many just “do a good job.”

This is fine of course, but I do believe that everyone wants to be great at something – so why wouldn’t we create a system where every single person has the opportunity to become a star?

Time to Change the Performance Practices

As I go out and talk with HR leaders about this process I’m finding that almost every major company wants to revamp their current approach. They want to make it simpler, focused on feedback, and more developmental.

But in addition to considering these practices, make sure you consider your performance philosophy. Does your management really believe in the bell curve?

Or do you fundamentally believe there are hyper-performers to be developed and rewarded? If you simplify the process but keep the same distribution of rewards and ratings you may not see the results you want.

Look at how sports teams drive results: they hire and build super-stars every single day. And the pay them richly. If you can build that kind of performance management process in your team, you’ll see amazing results.

Here is another link to an article by the original researchers.

Author’s Note: excerpts contained herein are contributed by Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin, Deloitte

6 Steps to Build Better Teams

elevating team performance

Do you think your work team is just average? Have you ever thought about ways to make it better?

What if you had a highly effective and productive team?

Being a leader at work, at home, or in your community suggests just that. Your team has to be hitting the right marks to make you feel like your leadership is going somewhere.

When I start working with my executive coaching clients, we usually start out with very personal thoughts and ideas. They usually are looking for ways to improve something (or several somethings) about their ability to lead.

Yet upon reflection, the issues they frame as personal matters inevitably manifest as team-level issues. On one hand they are saying “If I did more of ‘X’ I believe I would become a better leader.” What is really happening is them saying “My team would operate at a higher level if I could help them with (blank)….”

It makes good sense that leaders should seek ways to influence their followers.

If you think you’re leading and no one is following, you’re just walking around.

John Maxwell

The Study

In a recent study published by Google, they revealed the findings from a two-year deep dive into the makings of their highest performing teams. The effort was named Project Aristotle.

While they uncovered several key aspects that contributed to making a great team, there was one that stood out. In the study, they discovered the number one attribute present in all the best teams was something called “psychological safety.”

Read the whole section on this idea and you learn they are talking about trust.

Team Trust

So you get it. Trust is the right stuff to make a great team. How does a leader build trust?

I’ve uncovered six key questions employees ask themselves about the teams they are on.

Each questions builds on the previous one(s). If leaders fail to provide clear and meaningful answers to these questions, employees either are not clear about the mission or not committed to the cause.

Fail on too many questions and the team is downright dysfunctional. Get them right though, our team will be unstoppable.

Here We Go

These are the six questions to know and understand.

Team Trust
Team Trust

People – Do I even want to be here? Each team member asks this fundamental question. Each member of the team must satisfy this basic question before any other work can be achieved.

Purpose – Do I understand why we exist as a team? Is there clarity around our mission? Each member of the team must satisfy this next question to gain clarity before commitment.

Plan – How is this going to be done? I understand the purpose but tell me more about how we’re going to do this. What is the plan that will be followed to get things done?

Process – What drives the way we will do things? This is the practice step or execution. What works and what does not? If we discover something is not working, how will we change that? There should not be any artificial roadblocks in the way of team success.

Performance – How will we measure success? Will it be a fair assessment? Fair and equitable standards and tools for performance evaluation and measurement are required. Old, stale ways of waiting for annual reviews must be eliminated. Today’s workforce demands better feedback and coaching from their leaders.

Payoff – What is the payoff for accomplishing everything we set out to do? Are the rewards worth the effort? Rewards are not limited to monetary compensation. Think about recognition, pride, self-esteem, and other measures of achievement.

To learn more, visit the page I have dedicated to the team Trust Model.