Playing Carnival Games at Work

August 1, 2016

Do you know leaders who solve problems daily? Of course; all leaders do this. Isn’t that the major function of leaders? When leaders solve problems, the organization performs better and employees get along better together.

Solving problems is critical to business success. Unfortunately, in many situations leaders spend all of their time solving problems and reacting to crises, so it becomes like the carnival game of “Whack-a-Mole”.

I believe the ideal day for a high caliber leader consists of making sure the entire organization is grounded with a set of values and behaviors that everyone agrees to follow.

The entire population knows their mission and has internalized the vision as to where they are going in the future.

They recognize there are a number of change cycles from where they are in order to achieve the vision, so they have developed a great strategy with tactics and measures to help them chart the path to success.

All of these things are part of the strategic process that is a prime responsibility for all leaders. Leaders should be spending the bulk of their time creating and reinforcing the strategic plan and creating the culture.

Unfortunately, there is a paradox in most organizations where the leader is served up a never-ending supply of problems to resolve. Let’s picture a leader named Alice.

She comes to work on a typical day with 2-3 problems left over from the previous night. Her calendar is jammed with meetings to report on the status of problems or work on emergency situations.

She “inherits” several new problems or crises every day. Sometimes the problems are waiting for her outside her door when she arrives in the morning. There are certain to be several new ones when she looks at her inbox.

She instinctively knows the organization could run a lot better, but there is simply no time to even work on a good strategic plan. So, poor Alice runs herself ragged and just keeps her head out of the water on most days.

She goes home exhausted, kicks the dog, and tries to clear out a few more issues online before going to bed.

I call this condition the “Executive Whack-A-Mole” syndrome, after the famous carnival game. Every time a mole comes out of one of the holes you whack it down, but there are others emerging all the time. You can never get them all down at the same time, and they keep coming up faster and faster.

This problem is not universal, but it is far too common in most organizations. There is a way out of the game, but it requires courage and vision. The way out is to invest time creating an improved culture and workflow within the organization.

Leaders need to see their prime role as creators of culture and systems, not just problem solvers. Developing an environment of higher trust is an investment that pays off many times over the cost. This shift in mindset has numerous advantages.

First, carving out time where the entire team can work on trust issues will result in less friction between people in the future. Since many of the “problems” have to do with people being unable to work together efficiently, this investment pays off in two ways.

1) Employees work better together with fewer problems, and

2) employee satisfaction improves, resulting in greater productivity.

Second, by focusing on teamwork, the leader emphasizes that all employees are capable of solving the inevitable business problems. The leader has many willing hands to lighten the load of problem solving in the future.

The employees feel good about having greater responsibility as well. They become empowered and trusted to handle many situations previously delegated upward to the leader.

Third, the tendency toward executive burnout is greatly reduced when there is time set aside to work on the culture. Getting out of the “rat race” every few weeks to think about what is happening is cathartic. People have the opportunity to vent and rebuild relationships in a “safe” atmosphere.

In some situations this is best handled with the help of an outside expert schooled in conflict resolution.

Having a facilitator is especially important if the leader is part of the problem. Working on the culture is usually expanded to include better strategic planning and vision definition. Now employees have a stronger stake in the future of the organization because they helped define it. This ownership means they will put forth more effort to make it a reality.

When working with executives, I nudge them to consider devoting 15-20% of their calendar time each quarter working to develop an improved culture of trust. That means scheduling their time and that of their team to get away from the office and do some systems and capability building looking at the bigger picture.

When I suggest this, most executives look at me as if I am from another planet. They will say something like, “You must be insane. We could not possibly carve out that much time to be away from the office. You obviously do not have a clue how busy I am.” I simply tell them to enjoy their “Whack-a-mole” game because, with their perspective, there is no way out of it.

In the time crunch on every executive, many believe it is impossible to invest as much as a full day every three or four weeks. They are too busy solving problems and crises.

However, those leaders who do carve out that much time, find the payoff is far greater than the investment. It leads to a stronger, more productive, and less problem-filled organization. It also leads to fewer health problems due to burnout.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.

Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

 


End Manager and Worker Misalignment

May 21, 2016

Between my own consulting and online teaching of MBA students all over the world, I have been fortunate to study the cultures of literally thousands of organizations: large and small, profit and not for profit, government, and NGOs.

Once I get past the window dressing of how these organizations wish to appear to the outside world, I find some hurtful things that are common. One of the most frequent problems is a kind of “we versus they” thinking between the management levels and the workers. This article examines why this symptom is so common and suggests eight ways to mitigate the problem.

The fundamental cause of what I call the “two sides mentality” is a lack of true alignment. Most organizations have invested big bucks into developing a “strategy,” which includes things like Values, Vision, Mission, Purpose, Key Result Areas, Tactics, and Measures. These essential elements are usually developed by small teams of managers who cloister themselves away in a hotel or something for a few days to bang out the strategy.

Then, as the ink is drying on the pages, the discussion turns to how this brilliant plan is going to be communicated to the mass of workers in order to get “buy in” from the people “in the trenches.” Eventually there is a “roll out” of the information which inevitably is communicated BY the managers TO the workers. Notice the hackneyed expressions I used above are the actual words that are used, even today in the real world – amazing! If you listen, you will hear them.

The presentation is given to half-asleep people who are sitting in neat rows trying not to yawn. The data dump is followed by a few polite questions, and then everybody files out of the conference room and goes to lunch. The managers meet in their own dining space and congratulate themselves on clarifying the strategy and getting buy-in from the workers.

In reality, what happened is that the managers illustrated, once again, that they are clueless about how the culture is created by their actions, not their words. Their attempt to get everybody “on the same page” only served to drive the wedge between the management team and the people doing the work deeper. How is it possible for managers to miss the reality that they are doing the same thing hoping for a different result?

The fact that some organizations actually do achieve true alignment of purpose throughout the organization (my personal estimate is less than 20% do) gives me hope that not only is it possible, but with excellent leadership it is easier and faster than the conventional route. Organizations that achieve true alignment always blow away groups that have fractured perspectives.

In their book “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations,” Bob and Gregg Vanourek have a whole chapter on alignment. It is an excellent model. One key point they make is that the elements of the strategy need to be developed collaboratively. Great leaders know that for people to truly embrace a concept, they must put their fingerprints on it while it is being developed. The authors write about how the alignment is a kind of cascade rather than a lay on. The principles and information are generated organically and developed carefully by the whole team over time.

The collaborative process allows all people in the organization to feel true ownership of the plan, which becomes the foundation for alignment. It is alignment that erases the feeling of one side versus the other, because we all understand what we are trying to do and are pulling in the same direction. So how can leaders create this kind of culture? Here are eight ideas that can help any organization reduce the “we versus they” thinking and thereby obtain the full energy that is latent in the entire team.

1. Leaders need to listen more

In the urgency to survive and the reality of a flat world, it is a real challenge to make the effort and take the time to engage people at all levels about the future direction. Of primary importance, it is necessary to agree upon a set of values that the entire team not only adopts but pledges 100% to live by, even when it is difficult. It is not enough to simply state the values. For true alignment, all of the values must be demonstrated by all people all the time.

Clarifying a compelling vision of the future is equally vital. If every person in the organization feels that he or she is going to be much better off once the vision is achieved, you have a powerful force multiplier for alignment.

2. Involve everyone in identifying the direction

As ideas are put forth, look for common themes and keep working the information into a model where each person feels ownership. Once people realize they are actually part of the generation process, they will be much more inclined to embrace the final product. When one part of the strategy seems impossible, don’t discard it. Rather, examine the blockage and get creative with a way to accomplish it anyway in an ethical, values-based way.

3. Don’t say things you cannot do

So often I see a values plaque in the lobby of a company indicating “People are our most important asset,” only to find the managers in the back conference room trying to figure out details of the impending downsizing. Once a stated value reveals managerial hypocrisy, it does more harm than good to put it on the plaque. It fosters a “They say it, but they don’t mean it” mentality that enables “us versus them” and works against the alignment.

4. Don’t “Roll Out” the “Program”

I have found that having a big roll out program is often the kiss of death. Employees smell a lay-on coming a mile away, and they will go to the meeting with earplugs firmly inserted. A roll out meeting may allow managers to check the box called “communicate” but it does little to build alignment. Instead of the big fanfare, share the information at small family groups with good opportunity for dialog, and indicate this was derived by all of us. Stress that the information on the strategy is how we intend to conduct ourselves from now on. Repeat that information at every possible point and illustrate it when decisions are based on it. For example, a manager might say, “We have recommended this vendor as the supplier for our parts because their demonstrated integrity matches our own value of integrity.”

5. Be willing to admit mistakes

In changing a culture, there will be small, or sometimes big, mistakes made along the way. The world is a messy place, and it is impossible to reach perfection. But, as Vince Lombardi once said, “If we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” When managers are willing to admit they made a mistake along the way, it demonstrates to people they are sincere about the culture change. Also when managers admit their vulnerability and do not punish people for pointing out apparent inconsistencies, it builds higher trust because it reduces fear in the workplace. Lower fear means less opportunity for “we versus they” thinking.

6. Build and value trust

Trust becomes the glue that holds the whole organization together in good times and in difficult times. The culture of any organization is a reflection of the behaviors of the senior leaders more than any other single factor. If the culture is split so the workers do not trust management, then every initiative, strategy, and outcome will be compromised. Leaders need to understand and step up to this incredible challenge. True alignment requires the attention and effort of everyone on the team, but the leaders set the tone and model the way.

7. Don’t get derailed by short term thinking

The daily and monthly pressures of any business will test the resolve of the team. In his program “Life is a Journey,” Brian Tracy points out that “obstacles are not put there to obstruct but to instruct.” The whole team needs to learn from the challenges and focus on the long term vision to navigate the speed bumps with grace. The very reason for having a strategy in the first place is to focus energy on the big picture when the vicissitudes of the real world try to blow us off course.

8. Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones

The atmosphere can be moved from surviving an oppressive string of burdensome crosses to bear to one of hitting the tops of the waves as we water ski to victory. The trick is to recognize and appreciate all of the good things that are going on. Teach people that the reinforcement should come from all levels, not just the managers. Once the workers start practicing reinforcement of others, magic things begin to happen.

There are numerous other ideas and helpful tips that can add to the success of the team. The main point of this article is that it is possible to create real alignment where everyone in the organization is truly excited about what is being accomplished, and that culture eliminates the “we versus they” mentality between workers and managers. I wish more organizations could experience the fantastic boost to performance and the true joy of working in such an environment. It all rests on the quality of leaders to create that kind of culture.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Trust and Focus

July 25, 2015

VisionI claim to be able to accurately determine the level of trust in a group by just observing the interactions of people in the group for about 10-30 seconds. It is not hard at all. You just have to pay attention to what people are saying.

If you observe a team, and people are talking about the vision they are trying to accomplish or the new product they are launching, then you are likely observing a high trust group. That is because their focus is outward on what they are trying to accomplish.

Instead, if you observe people at work and they are talking about each other, usually in negative or defensive terms, chances are good that team is a low trust group.

If people are myopic and focus their energy inward defensively rather than outward with a positive attitude, it shows a lack of interpersonal trust.

Let’s take the exact same condition going on within a manufacturing unit and evesdrop on a short break room conversation:

Low Trust Group – No wonder we are falling behind, Fred and Margaret are more interested in their love affair than in doing their part of the work. We will never get there if they don’t pull their load, but management is so clueless they don’t see the problem.

High Trust Group – I think we are going to make the aggressive target for customer service this month. This will make three months in a row we have met their needs. Even though Fred and Margaret get starry-eyed sometimes, they are making a good contribution to production.

You don’t need to be a PhD to accurately identify the level of trust in a group. Simply pay attention to the words being used on a daily basis. It is a dead giveaway that can be applied very quickly. You will find it to be remarkably accurate.

Exercise for you: Try keeping track for a day by making hash marks on a 3X5 inch card. When you hear constructive comments about satisfying customers or pursuing the vision, put a mark on the right side of the card.

If you hear griping conversations about the other team members slacking off, or managers messing up, put the mark on the left side. At the end of the day, simply count up the marks, and you will have a good approximation of the trust level in that area.

It is not just the words but also the body language that shows the attitudes of people toward their fellow workers. It is very easy to detect supportive and positive feelings and even easier to see hatred or lack of care.

People working together day to day project their level of interpersonal comfort and trust, but most people ignore the signal. Now that you know the secret, pay attention to what people are saying and you will have better insights.


 

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Write Them Down

May 16, 2015

Writing businessmanAs I visit companies of all types and sizes, I am intrigued with the number of organizations that have not committed their strategy into written form. I ask if they have values, and often they start talking about honesty, integrity, customer focus, or employee satisfaction. I get some vague statements about ethics thrown in for good measure.

Then I ask where the values are written. Sometimes the leader can pull a dusty old paper out of a drawer where the items vaguely resemble what I was just told.

More often I am told the values are posted in the conference room and the break room. I go and look, and there is indeed a slightly-torn or smudged paper on the bulletin board.

If I ask the employees about them, they tell me “Oh yes, we have the values posted, but “they” do not follow them.” If the values are posted but not followed, they do more harm than good, because they serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy.

There are several organizations where the words are in the minds of the executives but not even written on paper, let alone implanted in the hearts of the employees where they can do some good.

The three simple rules with values are 1) write them down, 2) talk about them every possible chance, and 3) follow them. If you are missing any of these three steps, then you are forfeiting most of the power of having values in the first place.

The exact same discussion applies to the vision of an organization. If the vision is not committed to writing and included in discussions with employees, it loses its power to direct the daily activities of the population to move toward the future with confidence.

These two things are most important to write down, but I believe the entire strategy should be committed to written form. That would include the following things at a minimum: vision, mission, values, behaviors, strategies, tactics, and measures.

Many organizations make a production out of generating the strategy that the resulting tome is way too heavy for the employees to lift, let alone read and understand.

I usually reduce the entire strategic framework to a single sheet of paper. On the front side we have the vision, mission, values and behaviors.

On the reverse side there is neat array of the top 4-6 strategies (too many strategies defeats the purpose of focusing effort) along with a few major tactics for each strategy and precisely what measure we intend to use to track our progress for each tactic. I like to laminate the document as a way to indicate legitimacy.

Usually the entire process of developing the single sheet framework takes from 8-16 hours of interface time with a management team. That is enough time to engage everyone in the process and far less that the burdensome six to 18 month process that creates open hatred for the process among the staff.

If you drive an efficient and high energy process to create the strategy for your organization and commit the resulting framework to paper then you have a much higher chance of being a successful organization.


Focus on Trust Level

March 28, 2015

VisionI claim to be able to accurately determine the level of trust in a group by just observing the interactions of people in the group for about 10-30 seconds. It is not hard at all. You just have to pay attention to what people are saying.

If you observe a team, and people are talking about the vision they are trying to accomplish or the new product they are launching, then you are likely observing a high trust group. That is because their focus is outward on what they are trying to accomplish.

Instead, if you observe people at work and they are talking about each other, usually in negative or defensive terms, chances are good that team is a low trust group. If people are myopic and focus their energy inward defensively rather than outward with a positive attitude, it shows a lack of interpersonal trust.

Let’s take the exact same condition going on within a manufacturing unit and evesdrop on a short break room conversation:

Low Trust Group – No wonder we are falling behind, Fred and Margaret are more interested in their love affair than in doing their part of the work. We will never get there if they don’t pull their load, but management is so clueless they don’t see the problem.

High Trust Group – I think we are going to make the aggressive target for customer service this month. This will make three months in a row we have met their needs. Even though Fred and Margaret get starry-eyed sometimes, they are making a good contribution to production.

You don’t need to be a PhD to accurately identify the level of trust in a group. Simply pay attention to the words being used on a daily basis. It is a dead giveaway that can be applied very quickly. You will find it to be remarkably accurate.

Try keeping track for a day by making hash marks on a 3X5 inch card. When you hear constructive comments about satisfying customers or pursuing the vision, put a mark on the right side of the card.

If you hear griping conversations about the other team members slacking off, or managers messing up, put the mark on the left side.

At the end of the day, simply count up the marks, and you will have a good approximation of the trust level in that area.

It is not just the words but also the body language that shows the attitudes of people toward their fellow workers. It is very easy to detect supportive and positive feelings and even easier to see hatred or lack of care.

People working together day to day project their level of interpersonal comfort and trust, but most people ignore the signal. Now that you know the secret, pay attention to what people are saying and you will have better insights.


Improving the Vision of Leaders

March 22, 2014

SpyglassIt is universal; every leader would like to obtain higher trust within his or her organization.

It stands to reason, because trust has been shown to link directly to the profitability and market value of an organization (see Trust Across America: Trust Around the World Trust Reports ).

Reason: when trust is high, people are working together with high productivity toward the vision of the organization. Low trust groups waste time and resources in unproductive bickering and dysfunctional blind alleys.

I see a conundrum where top leaders are often unable to see the connection between their own behaviors and the level of trust within their organization.

They feel somehow trapped by a system that demands herculean quarterly financial results while having to navigate through oppressive regulations, trying to motivate selfish employees, and keeping up with a daily avalanche of information. It seems impossible to achieve the expected results every quarter when dealing with the realities of leading an organization.

The thought of trying to build a culture of high trust while constantly feeling like a gladiator in the lion’s den strains credibility. Top leaders try to survive, and that often means taking some actions that appear to compromise the trust.

This paper deals with a way out of the dilemma and offers a vision that the key to solving the puzzle is already in the hands of the senior leader.

Leaders often cannot see how their actions are preventing the very thing that will create a much more successful and pleasant existence for them. They are effectively blind to the possibility that if they would change their own behaviors relative to the culture in their organization, things would rapidly move to higher performance with lower pressure.

Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

In this case, the vision is the ability to see the connection between a leader’s behaviors and the results he or she is getting. So how can a leader begin to see more clearly? Here are eight ideas that can improve the vision.

1. Become a Level 5 Leader – as described by Jim Collins in Good to Great (2001). Get some coaching on humility and begin using the “window/mirror” analogy.

This is where a leader looks out the window at others in the organization when things are going well, but looks in the mirror at himself when there are problems.

Less trust-building leaders do exactly the reverse. They congratulate themselves when things go well but blame employees or other managers when things go poorly.

2. Reinforce Candor – Create a kind of culture where people feel rewarded when they bring up doubts about the wisdom of a certain action or decision.

When people feel encouraged to voice a concern, it gives the CEO a new set of eyes to see clearly how his actions may be compromising trust.

That skill is vital to allow a kind of self-correcting culture that is always moving in the direction of higher trust.

3. Become a mentor – Seek out several informal leaders in the organization and begin to mentor them. The process of building trust with strong subordinates will allow more flow of critical information about whether the leader is sending mixed or incorrect signals.

4. Do more “management by walking around” – This may seem awkward at first because the CEO may prefer the security and isolation of the ivory tower. That is one hallmark of the problem.

Too many meetings and private lunches give rise to insulation that renders the top executive insensitive to organizational heat.

5. Conduct a 360 Degree Leadership Evaluation – A periodic measure of high level leadership skills is one way to prevent a top leader from kidding herself. There are numerous instruments to accomplish this.

Doing an assessment is important, but taking the data seriously and creating a plan from the information is crucial.

6. Get a good coach – Every leader needs a coach to help prevent myopic thinking. Seek out a trusted advisor for a long term relationship that is candid and challenging. Coaching sessions can be efficient by doing them after hours on the phone or by using online technology.

7. Develop a leadership study group – A leader can grow personally in parallel with others by investing some time studying the inspirational writings and video work of top leadership authors or benchmarking leaders from other organizations.

There are literally thousands of resources already available that can both inspire and challenge any group. These investments are very low cost, and all that is required is to read the books and carve out some discussion time with direct reports in a group setting.

Many leaders prefer the “lunch and learn” sessions. Some leaders work with a skilled facilitator to keep things on track; other leaders prefer to proceed on their own without outside assistance.

If face time is impractical due to travel, that does not prevent an online discussion on leadership concepts from literature.

8. Subscribe to some Leadership LinkedIn Groups – There are dozens of excellent leadership groups on LinkedIn.

These groups have tens of thousands of leaders who can benchmark each other and help resolve typical problems.

There are also numerous local and national organizations on leadership development that can provide provocative ideas for growth.

These are just a few ideas that can broaden the view of a top executive. Becoming less blind has the wonderful effect of helping a leader become more effective over time.

I believe it is incumbent on all leaders to have a personal development plan and to give it a high priority in terms of effort and budget. Seeking to constantly grow as a leader is truly important, and growing other leaders should be the highest calling for any leader.

Once a leader has become sensitive to how his or her behaviors are impacting trust within the entire organization, then conditions start to improve rapidly.

People are not playing games with each other, and productivity goes up dramatically. Everyone feels better about the work and the culture, so people feel empowered to go the extra mile.

Performance goals start being met and exceeded as the whole organization becomes aligned with a new vision.

Trust starts with the behaviors of the leader.

When Ken Blanchard was asked what gives rise to incredible levels of improved organizational performance, he said,

“It’s always the leader, it’s always the leader, it’s always the leader” Ken Blanchard “It’s Always The Leader”


Dreams Versus Goals

January 11, 2014

Sailboat rounding breakwater with spinnaker sail and mainA long term goal is a vision of the future that pulls you toward an objective. You can sail in a ship without a rudder, but you will have little chance of getting to an interesting place.

You will just sail around aimlessly wherever the wind blows, like many people do with their lives.

But, given a goal (also called vision) of your destination, you now have a rudder and can steer the moments of your life to keep you moving toward the goal. You have a much greater chance of reaching it.

Oh sure, there are going to be stormy days and nights. There will be times where there is no wind at all to propel your boat, but since you have the goal, no matter what comes up, you are always heading in the right direction.

Maybe you are not going as fast as you like, but at least it’s in the right direction. That is why goals are so important in our lives.

Brian Tracy once wrote,

“People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.”

It is because the goal becomes like the pull of a magnet on a piece of steel. Once you get the proximity roughly right, then the end result is a foregone conclusion.

You instinctively accentuate those things that are aligned with your goal and de-emphasize those things that are not compatible with it. Problems are obstacles in the pathway, but they do not stop you, they teach you.

Having a goal actually shapes behavior as described very well by Jim Rohn when he said, “If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.” Goals help align the atoms and molecules in our body to enhance our chances of accomplishing great things in our lives.

With all of these advantages of goals, it is still a fact that most people do not have specific, written goals for their lives.

They have dreams to do things, like a bucket list, but they miss the true power of goals.

That represents a huge opportunity for many people to enhance the quality of their lives by simply doing some planning.

Here are 10 things that can move you from hazy and wishful dreams to productive and powerful goals.

1. Make your goals tangible

Vague goals or mental wish lists are a dime a dozen. We all have good intentions and dreams, but to really engage the power of goals, you simply must write them down. The act of committing goals to paper or keyboard means that you can no longer push them aside later on when the going gets tough.

Write your goals! Write your goals! Write your goals!

2. Goals should represent reach

Easy goals are not powerful because we can accomplish them without effort. Pie-in-the-sky goals are also not very powerful because we see them as impossible. To be effective, goals must be difficult to accomplish, but possible to achieve with great effort.

3. It is better to err on the side of too great a goal than too small

Since goals pull us in the direction we want to go, having an aggressive goal is much more valuable than an easy goal. As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” He actually did pretty well in his time, if you recall.

4. Tell other people your goals

Sharing your goals with people you respect and love has a way of legitimizing them in your mind. It also helps garner friend’s support and creativity as you work toward your goals.

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours” (Bob Dylan said that).

5. Refine the goals to just a vital few

Avoid having a long shopping list of goals. One or two good goals are enough. Reason: Goals help us focus critical energy on what must be done. If we have 15 goals for the next increment of time, we will get confused and discouraged.

“One solid goal is more powerful that 10 dreams.” (I said that.)

6. Repeat the key goals every morning and evening

Letting your goals sit idle on the shelf like a hoary old book renders them quaint, but useless. You must engage your subconscious mind continually to consider all the things you can do to pursue your goals. The best way to do that is to make a conscious affirmation in the morning and evening.

Some people say, “I don’t need to do that, I will not forget my goal.” They do not understand the power of affirmation. As you restate your goals daily, you call up the power of the universe to help you align your thoughts and actions to be consistent with your goals. This amazing power allows a magnet-like attraction that draws you toward the things you seek.

7. Form a group of people who understand and agree with your goals

Unless your goal is to be a hermit, you are better off with a Mastermind Group helping you. The concept of a Mastermind Group was generated by the work of Napoleon Hill as he prepared his philosophy called “The Science of Personal Achievement.”

Napoleon later summarized his findings in the book, Think and Grow Rich. Come to think of it, growing rich is usually a pretty good idea.

8. Celebrate the small steps along the way

Achieving a challenging goal is often a lot of work. For example, if your goal is to obtain a PhD degree, you will have to endure countless hours of study, writing, and even taking exams to verify your knowledge. For most people, the work involved in achieving a worthy goal is often tedious and unpleasant, but winners gladly engage in the effort because the smell of success is so alluring.

It is wise to celebrate the baby steps on the way toward your goal because it helps remind you why you are subjecting yourself to all the work in the first place.

9. Enjoy the ride

The ride is really the prize. Most people think the achievement is the big deal, and they are often deflated to find out that the most exhilarating part was during the struggle. They look at the house they just built for the past 15 years struggling all the way to juggle the bills and buy the materials, and they have a tendency to say, “There must be more to it than this.” Well, yes and no. The real fun was in the struggle, and the accomplishment was just the icing on the cake, but you do get to live in a nice house now.

10. Look back with pride

Every once in a while look over your shoulder to see how far you have come. The progress is often slow enough that we do not even recognize it: like watching a child grow up. We need to remind ourselves of what is really happening.

The best way I have found to do this is to list my accomplishments each year. I typically do that on New Year’s Eve. I am often blown away with the things that were accomplished that I never would have thought possible, yet the vast majority of them were enabled by my following the steps above.

Could I have done better? Of course! Did I do better than I thought possible? You betcha! Am I energized to do better next year? Just throw down the puck, and watch me go.


Do Leaders Motivate or Demotivate?

December 28, 2013

Business problemsI have written about the connection between leadership and motivation in the past, but I have not coupled that with the connection between leadership and demotivation.

By the way, just because my spell checker keeps underlining the word “demotivate” does not mean it’s an illegal word. It is not in many dictionaries, like Websters, but it does exist in some of them, like The Cambridge Dictionary.

There is even an organization ( Despair Inc. ) that sells demotivating posters and other strange products. I love their motto, “Motivational products don’t work, but our demotivational products don’t work even better.”

There is also a fun website completely devoted to demotivation.

In this article, I reveal some truths and myths about how leaders motivate and demotivate.

My thesis on motivation is that leaders really cannot motivate individuals. When leaders use the word “motivate” as a verb, as in “We need to motivate the team,” it is incorrect usage.

What leaders do is create the culture in which people react with high motivation. A prime example is when leaders create an inspiring vision, shared values, and an environment of high trust, where people feel valued.

Motivation comes from within an individual, and a person working in a culture of trust is more likely to feel motivated.

Once motivation is generated within someone, that person owns it. The sad truth is that the precious commodity can be snatched away from that individual as quickly as a seagull can snatch a discarded scrap of bread at a beach picnic.

I believe that leaders can easily eliminate the motivation within a person. Many leaders are masters at it, demonstrating their skill numerous times a day.

Taking away the motivation of an individual is easier than doing the Chicken Dance.

Here is my top 10 list of things that leaders do to demotivate people at work. See if you agree, and let me know if you have pet peeves of your own to add to the list.

1. Trivialize what an individual is doing or make fun of the employee

2. Claim credit for the good work of an employee

3. Give an assignment, then micromanage the employee

4. Ignore the employee when he or she does some spectacular work

5. Punish the employee who brings up a concern

6. Play favorites or appoint a relative to a position of power over others

7. Insult the employee by drawing attention to what he or she cannot do

8. Engage in sexual or other forms of harassment with the employee

9. Set impossible goals and berate the employees for missing them

10. Demand honesty from the employees but demonstrate low integrity him or herself

In reality, there are thousands of ways a leader or manager can demotivate an individual who has already been inspired to become motivated.

Elite leaders realize that the way to encourage top performance is to set up conditions such that individuals motivate themselves, and then stand out of the way and let them turn the motivation into positive action for the organization.

My advice for leaders is to create enduring trust, which is the environment for high motivation, and then when motivation occurs, don’t kill it.


7 Tips for Better Strategies

July 6, 2013

marketing strategyIn my leadership development work, I am often called upon to help organizations with their strategic plans. The process is well known, and numerous facilitators are qualified to help organizations work through the process. This article outlines some of the mistakes I see organizations make and shares a typical “Strategic Framework” that I find very useful.

The typical mistake made by well-intended managers is to overdo the strategic process until it becomes an albatross rather than a means to focus effort. Here are seven signs that a strategic process is too complex.

1. Too many strategies

The idea of a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few tasks and put less emphasis on the trivial many. If the end product of a strategic plan is 23 different strategic thrusts, it is way too complex to be useful, even for a large organization. I urge teams to try to identify three to five strategic thrusts at any given time. The idea of having a “handful” of strategies is appealing because the total effort does not look or sound overwhelming. Sometimes groups will have six strategies, but more than that is going to get some pushback from me.

2. Too many meetings

A typical mistake is to set up sub teams and have a series of standing meetings to deliberate on the elements of the strategy. This process sounds logical, but it easily becomes a huge activity trap. I witnessed a college set up numerous strategy teams. They slaved in long meetings for over 18 months. When the strategy tome was issued, it resembled the IRS Tax code. There were so many details and overdone objectives that the entire effort basically sank under its own weight. When I work with groups, I try to get the entire strategy completed in one or two sessions (usually several hours each) and the documentation fits on the front and back side of a single sheet of paper. The trick to getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time is preparation. For example, I have the group vote offline ahead of time on candidate values from a list of about 50 possible ones. There is always the ability to go back and redo the strategy at a later date if things need to be added. The mistake many groups make is trying to get the thing perfect at the outset.

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Be careful to not make the strategic process into a series of social events or public debates. The job of creating a strategy can be streamlined without sacrificing buy in. One way to check if you are overdoing the number of meetings is to watch people’s eyes when you announce a strategic planning activity. If their eyes roll back, that is a good indication you are making the process too complex.

3. Wordsmithing

For some inexplicable reason, people see a compelling need to have the wording of things like mission statements be perfect and embraced fully by everyone. I think mutual buy in is laudable, but if you drag out the discussion of every word of every sentence until all parties are thrilled, the ship will sail without you. I have witnessed long passionate arguments by managers about whether to use “and” or “and/or” in a mission statement. Once the thing was finally cast in concrete, there was so much acrimony that the parties simply put the product away and forgot about the whole exercise.

Use the Pareto Principle when working on the wording. If we can agree on 80% of the concept, then we can have someone generate a straw man document offline and not tie up the entire group.

4. Confusing Tactics with Strategies

For every key strategy, there will be some tactics that allow achievement of the objective. Strategies are broad areas of focused effort that help an organization move toward its vision. Tactics are operational activities that collectively allow the strategy to be achieved. Strategies are the “what,” and Tactics are the “how.” Often groups put the “things to do” as the strategies rather than call them tactics. A trained facilitator knows how to avoid this pitfall.

5. Not including Team Behaviors

Many facilitators leave out this critical step. Teams need to have a set of expectations for the behaviors of team members. Reason: without specific expectations it is difficult to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the tasks. Strategies become a wish list of good intentions rather than high energy areas where we are truly going for the gold.

6. Inappropriate Measures

For every strategy there needs to be at least one measure, preferably more than one. There are two common problems with measures: 1) they can be activity traps where getting the data is way too burdensome, and 2) If set up incorrectly, measures can drive the wrong behaviors. Make sure the measures you establish are encouraging people to do things that truly do lead to fulfillment of the strategy.
For example, one group had a strategy to increase revenue. The measure they selected was number of sales calls. The sales force was only too happy to increase the number of sales calls in order to earn more bonus money; unfortunately, the added activity meant they were less effective at closing sales, so total revenue actually went down. The measure looked good, but the goal was not realized.

7. Failure to communicate the strategy

It is a crime that many groups pour energy into creating a nice strategic plan that then sits in the desks of the managers for years and is not operational in the everyday world of work. The documentation of a strategy is pointless unless it becomes active in the hearts and minds of every single person in the organization.
Leaders need to continually discuss the strategic elements and explain to people why their actions are consistent with the plan. For example, a leader might say, “We are putting on a third shift next month because our vision for growth cannot be achieved without a fully loaded factory, which is the number one strategy in our plan.”

I have developed a simple format for a strategic plan that works for most groups. It is appropriate for profit or non-profit organizations of all sizes. The document can be constructed in a day or two with the right preparation effort, and it really helps focus the activities of a group after the strategy is completed. I usually show the elements as two sides of a single sheet of paper, and I laminate it like a large card so it can be passed around without getting mangled. I personally prefer the single sheet of paper over the posters in the conference room. I believe it has more power.

Click this link to view the two-page Generic Strategy Document.

There are many different formats for strategic plans; the one above is my favorite because it conveys a lot of information in a small footprint. Whatever format you select, make sure it is user friendly to the people who need to internalize the strategy. The most important objective for strategic work is to focus energy, so avoid the mega process that seems to go on forever, and make your plans crisp and beneficial.


Maybe it’s Time for a New Foundation

March 16, 2013

FoundationWould you build a 30-room mansion on a foundation made for a small Colonial? Sometimes as organizations grow, they may no longer fit on the foundation that was perfect when they were a start up. An organization outgrowing its foundation is a frequent problem, and great leaders instinctively adjust the foundation for the size of the current business, ensuring a stable condition.

In my analogy, the foundation is the strategic plan for the organization. Every business needs an operating framework that includes the following things at a minimum: Values, Vision, Mission, Behaviors, SWOT, Goals, Strategies, Tactics, and Measures. Without these guiding premises for the business, it would be as useless and grotesque as a luxury cruise ship with no power or operational engine.

When organizations start out, they are often small groups of people who operate like a family. The procedures can be informal and communication is just raising one’s voice to be heard in the next cubicle. Customer focus is pretty easy, because everyone in the office can hear the phone conversation the service person is having with a customer in need. In this small business mentality, the foundation items mentioned above are easy to describe, but that does not mean they should be ignored. Some level of documentation of things like values and vision will help the young organization to survive the treacherous infant years and grow into adolescence.

In the subsequent paragraphs, I will use sales revenue as a surrogate for the size of an organization. That variable is one typical measure that is often used. Realize that there are many other factors that can require a change to an organization’s foundation. For example, a not for profit group may take on a new major activity. Another example is a volunteer organization deciding to change their model for meetings. Any fundamental change in conditions can create the need to re-examine the foundation documents.

When an organization reaches roughly $50M annual revenue, the old foundation no longer fits, because there is usually a new physical space, and communication has become much more complex as the size and staff of the entity grows. It is time to revisit and revise the strategic framework for the journey toward a larger organization. Trying to hang on to the operating rules that applied on starting up will be a formula that severely limits future growth.

Another significant shift occurs somewhere between $100M and $200M annual revenue. By that time, the organization is a fully operating business entity with all the advantages of size, but with all the complexities and bureaucratic pitfalls that beset a large organization. Once again, it is imperative when organizations go through this metamorphosis that the foundation be resized to work correctly. The operating realities of a large organization are vastly different from a mid-sized company, and the strategic framework must reflect these realities or the organization will suffer.

It is a best practice to review and modify an organization’s strategy about once a year to verify it is still configured correctly for the current business situation. Normally these reviews can be done quickly with emphasis only on what has changed since the last review. As the organization reaches certain milestones of size, however, it is time to take a deeper look and make a zero-based activity of the strategic review. This will allow the strategic plan foundation to match the current business reality.