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Business Coach Entrepreneurship Leadership Management Mindset

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?

Leadership

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

Common Sense Entrepreneurship Leadership Management Mindset

6 Steps to Build Better Teams

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.

Business Coach Common Sense Entrepreneurship Leadership Management Mindset Performance

Are You a FAST Leader?

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

Let’s unpack this powerful meaning.

F is for FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

First, check to make sure that the goal(s) are clear, that they are aligned with the overall objective, and that they are going to deliver the right results.

A is for ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

S is for SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest of ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach a desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

In the military we used the KISS principle, which most of you know: “Keep It Simple Stupid.”

Review the approach. Ask yourself if the solution is the simplest available. Is it easy to understand, and is it believable? Teams become inspired when they have plans they believe in. When we over complicate things, it leads to doubt, hesitation and often failure.

T is for TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Does It Work?

Gordon tells the story of deciding at age 52 to start running marathons. He wasn’t in very good shape. Friends told him he was foolish. They asked how he expected to get that done.

He applied FAST. The focus was running a marathon. The simple part for getting there was to run 15 minutes every day for the first week. Then run 20 the next week, 25 the week after, and so on.

Did it work? Well, I’d say yes. He’s now run 10 marathons.

FAST can be applied to your own leadership toolkit. Regardless of the size of your organization or the scope of your budget, FAST can energize and propel your way to success on a consistent and reliable way.

Question: In what ways can you adjust your leadership to follow the FAST method for success?

Get Gordon Tredgold’s book here:

FAST: 4 Principles Every Business Needs to Achieve Success and Drive Results

Business Coach Common Sense Leadership Management Performance

Feel Like an Entrepreneur?

Two business owners were talking. One was having a pretty good run with his new, and growing business. The other had suffered a series of bad turns and hard luck.

Entrepreneurship

The one with the better business asked, “So now do you feel like an entrepreneur?” 

The other answered “Heck no. I feel like a pile of manure.”

Running your own business is not for the faint of heart 

It takes a whole lot more than a smart new idea to make a business tick. If yours is a wild and disruptive idea (think Uber and AirBnB) you may truly have some potential, but you will quickly find that the details of finding money to make money and managing everything can really be a bigger challenge than you ever expected.

Several times a year I speak to audiences on college campuses. After my talks, I get the usual line of attendees who want to ask questions, make comments, and otherwise share things. 

It never fails that I get a student or two who is convinced they will conquer the business world as we know it with their new idea. I ask them to explain. So far I have never heard anything earth shattering. 

I am not  sure if that is because we don’t teach enough creative thinking or whether we are truly failing to impart the full truth about what it takes to make a business go.

Sidebar: As I write this, it occurs to me that many of the more famous entrepreneurs of our modern era never went to college or never finished (think Gates and Zuckerberg). I digress.

Getting the Entrepreneurial Bug

There are those among us who are natural entrepreneurs. Others get the idea after spending too many years working for others. For me I caught the bug early in life. I watched my single Mom quite a stable, secure job to live her dream. 

Mom was a gifted interior designer. She did that work for other companies before setting out on her own. Slowly but steadily she built a well-respected and thriving business. Solopreneur she was long before that was  a thing. 

I wrote about the 10 things she taught me. See that article here.

I’ve had the opportunity to start three businesses and three non-profits. Each one was a labor of love. Believe me when I say I didn’t do it alone.

Somewhere along the way mentors had taught me one key principle. Ideas are great, but before you commit big resources (and energy) test it with several faithful advisors.

If you can get them interested, then you might have something. Otherwise, it’s just a dream.

To All the Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Here are my simple rules of entrepreneurship.

  1. DO – live your dreams, but be smart about it. Test your ideas with a few trusted advisers. Be open to their honest feedback. Tweak your plan if it looks like you must.
  2. BUT – don’t get totally discouraged. Dogged determination does create some very exciting possibilities. (I still don’t understand how Jeff Bezos survived the first 10 years of Amazon).
  3. EGO – Your ego is good when used the right way. Watch who you alienate as you grow your idea. You will need friends sooner than you think. NEVER take yourself too seriously.
  4. FUN – have fun doing what you decide to do.
Business Coach Common Sense Entrepreneurship Leadership Management Performance

Being an Authentic Leader Does Not Always Come Naturally

One of the highest valued attributes of great leaders is their authenticity. Being authentic does not always come naturally. The good news is, you can develop a more authentic leadership style.

On one hand, being authentic requires having a sense of “true north.”

True North

Ask a room full of people to close their eyes and point North. When everyone opens their eyes, fingers are pointing all over the place. (Try this some time; it’s a great ice breaker).

The message is that “north”, can conjure various meanings depending on one’s perception. Yet, true north is available for specific identification and location using the right equipment. It doesn’t change.

Your leadership should have this same kind certainty about it. You have to decide on your definition of true north, then stick to it.

When issues swirl around you and your team, you should have a reputation for responding to certain things in certain ways. If your people know this about you, then there will be a confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Accepting Feedback

Being truly open to feedback helps build the sense of leadership authenticity. By accepting input from others, you demonstrate a desire to learn and grow.

We all have tendencies to fall into a kind of rut. We find a rhythm to our life and we put things on cruise control. However, if that path takes you away from the authenticity you seek, you need a nudge to get back on the better path.

Here’s what to do. Say to those around you “Here’s my vision and my plan for how I intend to operate. If you see me doing something to the contrary, I invite you to say so.”

The other benefit of soliciting feedback is that you come across as genuinely engaged with the people you count on. Rather than constantly demanding something from them in terms of performance and accomplishment, you give them a chance to “shoot back”.

A healthy exchange of ideas can add great value to your relationships at work and everywhere else. You’ll become a more authentic leader.

One Caution

One word of caution though. Don’t “over-share”. Your people don’t need your burdens, but they will appreciate knowing you too have life outside the office.

As an example, you can casually say something about your daughter’s birthday party coming up, but you don’t need to share all the details and drama that might be going with the event.

Take Inventory

If you aren’t sure how authentic you might be, ask. Get some feedback.

Huddle with a circle of trusted advisors and ask them to provide you with a description of how they grade your authenticity. You might also ask them about ways they could see you improving.

If all of this is still a puzzle to you, I’d be happy to book a short call to help you learn more. Click the link below to schedule a call.

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