Tag Archives: performance management

Leadership is Dead and our Performance Evaluation Processes Lie

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Please read the descriptions of “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” below.

If you have people in positions of authority in your organization and they are not consistently demonstrating these behaviors, they should be getting poor performance reviews and you should be putting them on an improvement plan or moving them out.

Done laughing? Unfortunately it’s easier to just look the other way and perpetuate the myth.

You want innovation, engagement, accountability? I contend that the slow death of real leadership is the root cause of most of the problems we experience in our work environments today.

For a multitude of reasons, we have collectively lost sight of what real leadership looks like. Instead we have defaulted to a norm-based evaluation process, i.e., compared to everyone else, this leader is OK. This would not be an issue if your leaders were all true leaders. But what I see across organization after organization is that the whole lot have marginal management skills and absolutely no leadership ability. It’s essentially the same as the social promotion problem we see in public schools. If we were to adopt a criterion-referenced evaluation system and measured leadership against a standard like that described below, we’d have no one left to run the place. We have somehow slipped to the point where we all hold our noses, lie to ourselves, and no one dares explode the myth. The emperor has the finest clothes in the land!

Suppose we evaluated all people-managers against these five competencies?

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

1. Model the Way – Clarify Values, Set the Example
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision the Future, Enlist Others
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

3. Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities, Experiment and Take Risks
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

4. Enable Others to Act – Foster Collaboration, Strengthen Others
Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

5. Encourage the Heart – Recognize Contributions, Celebrate the Values and Victories
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.
These Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership above were codified by Kouzes & Posner in “The Leadership Challenge” first published in 1987 – what I consider to be the gold standard of leadership books (now in its 5th Edition). They are remarkably similar to the leadership traits that Simon Sinek describes in his latest book “Leaders Eat Last.” If you have not seen this TED video yet, please watch it.

Ask yourself this question when you do your next performance review of anyone in a leadership role; who would follow them if they left for another job? If the answer is “no one” then you better re-think how you define leadership and think twice about that “Meets/Exceeds Expectations” rating.

Show your senior leadership team the Simon Sinek video. Show them Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Ask them to reflect and self-assess. Start the discussion. Light the fuse. That is the true leadership challenge.

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Five Talent Management Lessons from a High School Music Program

The local music program in our High School is exceptionally good.  It is recognized as one of the best programs in the state of Wisconsin.  The wind symphony has traveled broadly and won regional, national and international competitions.

Every June for the last six years, as my kids made their way through the music program, I’d see another large group of extremely talented seniors graduate and leave the music program.  Every year my wife and I wondered aloud, “How will Mr. K [the music director] ever fill those shoes?  Next year’s wind symphony will never be as good as this year’s.”

And every following year at the senior honors concert in May, my wife and I say, “these kids are incredible; this might be the best wind symphony ever.”

This June after I watched my son’s last concert I had an “a-ha” moment…

Mr. K is a great band director not just because of his musical and teaching ability; he is a brilliant talent manager as well.  The more I thought about it, the clearer it became.  He MUST be exceptionally good at this in order to put a quality product out year after year.  It’s as critical to his success as his functional (musical & teaching) knowledge and skill.

I thought about it for a few days, and eventually had a conversation with Mr. K about this.  I came up with a few lessons that I believe everyone can understand:

Lesson 1: Have a sense of urgency

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”  – Gen. George C. Patton

Despite the long history of success, Mr. K knows,” All glory is fleeting.”  His continued success, his reputation, perhaps even his job depend on him keeping the pipeline full of talent.  This is not a nice-to-do, for him, this is a MUST do!

Realize that your continued success and perhaps your job depend on how well you manage talent.  All glory is fleeting.  Make talent management the priority it should be.

Lesson 2: Know your team’s current strengths

Mr. K knows what the strengths of each musical unit is and who the top talent is.  He understands what they bring to the whole, i.e., the pieces that the wind symphony would not be able to play without them.  For example, a piece with a challenging percussion part that they would not attempt unless the talent was there to execute.

Do you know who your top talent is?  I.e., who are the key players who enable you to fulfill your mission?  Try to imagine what would be different if they were not there.  How would this change your team’s ability to deliver?

Lesson 3: Know your future talent needs

Mr. K is always looking 2 and 3 years ahead considering who will play which instruments when his top talent moves on.  He knows now that he will lose an English horn player in two years and is grooming 2-3 people to fill that slot.

Are you thinking that your top talent will stay with you forever?  Imagine that they will leave in a year?  How would that impact your ability to deliver?  Who will step into their places? What are you doing about it?

Lesson 4: Know your talent pipeline

Mr. K does not wait to assess incoming freshmen when they arrive at the high school.  He works closely with the music faculty in the whole district, looking into talent at the middle school and even at the elementary schools.  He is not only tracking musical ability, but attitude – dedication, flexibility and motivation.

Do you know where your talent comes from?  Where will it come from?  Are you talking to other managers in your own organization about growth opportunities for your people?  Are you partnered with human resources?  I’ll bet the better managers in your organization have an eye on your talent.  I’ll bet outside recruiters in the area do too.  It’s time to get in the game.

Lesson 5: Nurture your talent

Mr. K sets the bar high. He’s very demanding.  It takes an adjustment that some kids can’t make.  But he is also completely dedicated to their success and demonstrates every day that he cares deeply about his students.

Do you know what makes someone on your team succeed and others fall short?  Do you set high expectations, and enable your team to achieve them?  Do you show your team that you genuinely care about their success?

Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric used to say that he allocated a third of his time to developing talent.  To many, that seems like an unrealistically high percentage of his time, but that’s what people who are serious about talent management really do.   They pass the calendar audit – they actually spend the time on the things that they say are important to them.

The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.

Summary

Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

Leading vs. Managing – The pendulum swings

For many years we’ve been hearing from the HBR crowd that organizations have been overmanaged and underled. I was totally bought into this, and still support Emotional Intelligence and similar practices for leaders.  But recently it has occurred to me that we might really be overled and undermanaged.

When an individual contributor moves into a management role, they take on new responsibilities in addition to their technical expertise.  They now must hire, give feedback and coach, conduct performance reviews, delegate, make decisions for the group, etc.  These are basic skills/responsibilities required of every manager.  My observation is that most managers are failing at these fundamental tasks.

Senior leadership requires monthly/quarterly financial updates, and the entire organization dutifully complies – we would expect nothing less.   If “our people are our greatest resource” as so many claim, why do organizations live with one poorly done performance review per year?   Why don’t we expect monthly, or at least quarterly, people reviews?  Why do we allow the hiring/interview process to be so poorly managed?  Why don’t we do more post-mortems on decisions and delegations.

Furthermore, to what degree does HR, as a profession, enable this?  The HR community (of which I am a part) is always talking about “having a seat at the table” with the c-suite, to be part of the strategy-making process.   I realize that most HR departments are stretched to the breaking point these days, but how about we get the focus back on the fundamentals and get managers managing again.  How about we insist that we abandon the annual performance review process and move to a meaningful quarterly process and tie manager compensation to it being done well.  What might that be worth to an organization?

It’s time we swing the pendulum back the other way and get back to fundamentals – We need really good managers now.  Once they’ve proven their ability to manage well, we can think about their ability to inspire or whatever…

An Example of a Typical HPT Challenge

ABC Co. provides commercial loans and leases to a specialized industry segment.  Their market strategy is for the sales force to be regarded by customers as “trusted advisor” a collaborative partner, who adds value (to justify their above-market rates). Their business metrics are reported to headquarters (and ultimately shareholders) quarterly

Consequently their compensation plan drives the sales force to try aggressively to close business in a quarter-to-quarter cycle, rather than on the customers’ timetable.

Progressively tougher targets and low base salary drive a high turnover rate in sales.  Their hiring system recruits aggressive closer types, who typically lack the either the necessary financial acumen or industry knowledge, which are both critical success factors for every sales rep.  New sales reps call on customers they hardly know and try to close business.

Training is provided to develop industry expertise. But, only a few sales reps bother to stay up-to-date on the rapidly changing developments in their customers’ industry after the training is over.

Training is provided to develop financial acumen.  But, only a few sales reps bother to invest the time to learn the customers’ real financial state, and their broader needs beyond the immediate deal opportunity.

ABC’s organization is structured into four business units by product type, with some potential overlap.  Each unit has its own sales force.  Consequently, it is not uncommon for 2-3 different sales reps from ABC to call on the same customer.  Due to poor communications, they often present conflicting information.

Existing business metrics and compensation plans dis-incent the sales reps from sharing customer information and cooperating on proposals/price to win business.

Many sales managers lack proficiency with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software application, so they do not use it to generate reports, or to manage weekly/monthly sales meetings.

Their sales reps know that no one is looking at their data in the CRM tool, so they don’t bother to keep it updated, or in some cases, fudge the entries.

The quality of data in the early and mid stages of the sales funnel/pipeline is so poor that sales forecasts of longer than 30 days are unreliable.  Senior leaders deal quarterly with surprises.

Marketing wants to use data from the CRM to create programs for the field (that the sales force is clamoring for!), but the data is so poor that no worthwhile analysis can be done.

Sound familiar?

Training, by itself, no matter how good, has literally no chance of improving the performance of ABC’s sales force.  In fact, it could conceivably be counterproductive.  Ditto for a lean six sigma project.

Only a holistic performance improvement approach, such as HPT, has any chance of improving the business results.  An approach that considers all the contributing factors at every level in the organization, and implements effective interventions is necessary.

Level 1 (Organization) – The strategy, goals, organizational structure and measures at the organization level

Level 2 ((Process) – The design, implementation and management of internal processes.

Level 3 (Job/Performer) – The behavior of individuals and groups.