Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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One of the hardest things for leaders (and all people, for that matter) to deal with is criticism. We all want to be right, do right and have others consistently agree with and admire us. But every leader who has been around for even a short while knows that criticism is part and parcel of the experience. There is simply no way of avoiding it.

Consider all of history’s greatest leaders. Regardless of their era and role, every person that we would associate with positively changing the course of history was censured during his or her lifetime, often in scathing, relentless terms. It makes no difference whether they were people of great character or not. Nor did it matter if they were on the winning side of the argument or struggle. If they stood for a cause, led a nation or advanced a noteworthy agenda, then they were at times discouraged, condemned and perhaps even physically impeded from achieving their goals and aspirations.

If fact, why would anyone want to assume a leadership position when the potential for constant critique and pushback looms large? Why would anyone want to risk affecting their relationships with friends, colleagues, co-workers and other associates in order to assume a leadership post?

The answer, of course, is that leaders want to make a difference. They recognize that change is not easy for people and that any efforts that demand of others will invariably draw criticism. But they push forward anyway as they deem appropriate, knowing that criticism is simply society’s way of saying that what you’re doing matters and deserves attention.

Of course, there are many things that leaders could and should do to gain support and buy-in, such as building equity, developing a values system, and communicating (and listening) well. Still, there is no leader worth his or her weight in salt that can expect to adequately fulfill their responsibilities without experiencing meaningful criticism and backlash at times.  Change initiatives are in many ways similar. They can be painful at present, affecting staffing levels, roles, reporting, workloads, work processes or similar things. But often these changes are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the organization.  Sure, leaders need to account for what they do, how they do it, and the impact that it may have on their constituents. But they must also possess the courage and drive to advance change that they believe is proper and necessary. The backlash that they will invariably receive is not necessarily the result of anything bad that they did. Quite the contrary — it may, in fact, be the best indicator that they are on the right path and are doing what is necessary to genuinely fulfill their leadership duties.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

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What does poor communication cost businesses?

Between reduced productivity, lost talent and other direct and indirect losses, a recent Unify survey indicates lackluster communication can cost businesses up to $5,000 per employee each year. Communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require thought and care.

A cornerstone of business communication is the feedback system, whether formal – by way of performance reviews, or informal – addressing an employee’s performance (good or bad) and outlining potential course corrections.

Feedback, especially among a leadership team, is critical to a business leader’s growth and decision-making. Frequently, however, the idea of feedback – what it really means – gets misconstrued. Sometimes those in leadership positions think they are providing proper feedback when they simply reprimand an employee as a result of a mistake or error.  And while it is important to address mistakes and errors, as C-Level leaders, feedback is often inefficient because there’s no plan in place for these types of communications. “Gotcha” leadership is no leadership at all.

Some of the common feedback mistakes include examples like an executive giving his/her opinion instead of stating facts, another making sarcastic and/or disparaging remarks about an employee’s error, and still another would be to berate an employee in such a way that it changes the very subject of the conversation – the employee’s performance, and shifted it to “what the heck did I do to deserve this?” then subsequently having a discussion that yields no positive outcome regarding individual growth.

In order to correct (or sustain) performance, we need to engage employees and improve the business enterprise, proper feedback needs to be helpful (first and foremost), as well as relevant and timely.

To be clear: feedback is information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve. If a leader isn’t trying to help someone grow/improve, he or she isn’t providing feedback. Criticism, more than likely, but not feedback. A true leader finds ways to sincerely help subordinates, not use veiled criticism or overt tongue-lashings. Face it; it doesn’t take much skill to be a jerk.

In addition to being helpful to an individual employee, feedback in business should be helpful to the enterprise as a whole. Leaders must think beyond performance reviews and reactive feedback necessitated by a mistake or problem. Take a proactive approach to feedback by identifying and focusing on the desirable behaviors and making corrections as needed, but in a thoughtful manner. Feedback is most effective when leaders take the time and attention to outline a proactive communication plan, instead of relying on performance reviews during which the manager will feel obligated to restate old one-liners and stock company blurbs. Or worse, a software solution that fills in the wording automatically.

If feedback isn’t relevant and engaging, leaders are wasting their time. Non-specific feedback, at best, leaves the employee wondering how he or she can improve or avoid making the same error(s) in the future; at worst, non-specific feedback leaves the employee totally confused and unmotivated to improve performance. Vague communication at performance reviews leads to misunderstanding and often future meetings to better clarify the feedback given.

Relevant, engaging feedback is personal and tailored to ensure the employee can actually comprehend the message. Before a leader begins the dialog, he or she needs to begin with the end in mind. Determine if the goal is to simply win an argument, or if the goal is to act as a change agent for an employee (trying to change behavior). Hopefully, the desired outcome is to improve the employee’s performance, and the leader can dedicate a little time and heartfelt effort to preparing for the communication, to decrease the likelihood that the topic of the feedback will be subject matter next time around.

Leaders should also give feedback in a way and at a time that can be best received by the employee. Let’s say a marketing executive makes a boneheaded snafu in a press release by mistakenly using 2013 sales data instead of intended data from 2014 – the latter of which provides a year-to-year profit bump of 20 percent. If the CEO would rather string the EVP of Marketing up outside the window than speak in a helpful and relevant manner, then perhaps the CEO should wait a bit before talking with the marketing chief. That’s not to say that a reprimand be avoided, but only that feedback should be practical to the event, behavior or action that necessitated the discussion and provided at a time when its relevance can be best understood.

Certainly, threat of a severe reprimand may help prevent such an error from occurring in the future, but does it improve the EVP of Marketing? Does it benefit the whole enterprise, or merely lend credence to the longstanding belief that the head honcho tolerates no mistakes and, thus, can be impossible to work for? Timely, responsive feedback fosters awareness and understanding, creating an environment focused on personal and professional growth; growth that positively impacts the entire enterprise. The sooner employees recognize that and truly believe that is the environment in which they work, the better the organization will be.

Leadership success is established and developed through helpful, relevant and timely feedback. Feedback fosters trust, and trust is the currency of leadership. The more employees believe in their leaders, the more comfortable they will be providing feedback and helpful insight to their managers. Proper feedback – provided, accepted and acted upon – creates a system of learning after every mistake, making them, therefore, easier to swallow. Employees crave feedback that improves them professionally, and perhaps personally as well. Without it, leaders may only get what they pay for and not an ounce of effort more.  And perhaps as damaging – the organization may have a very difficult time retaining talent.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And in this case, an ounce of prevention may be worth $5,000 per employee per year.


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Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.

If I could teach only one value to live by, it would be this: Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose, so never allow yourself to ever do anything that would damage your integrity.

We live in a world where integrity isn’t talked about nearly enough. We live in a world where “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many. Sales people over promise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quota for the month. Applicants exaggerate in job interviews because they desperately need a job. CEOs overstate their projected earnings because they don’t want the board of directors to replace them.

Investors understate a company’s value in order to negotiate a lower valuation in a deal. Customer service representatives cover up a mistake they made because they are afraid the client will leave them. The list could go on and on, and in each case the person committing the act of dishonesty told themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity.

It may seem like people can gain power quickly and easily if they are willing to cut corners and act without the constraints of morality. Dishonesty may provide instant gratification in the moment but it will never last. I can think of several examples of people without integrity who are successful and who win without ever getting caught, which creates a false perception of the path to success that one should follow. After all, each person in the examples above could have gained the result they wanted in the moment, but unfortunately, that momentary result comes at an incredibly high price with far reaching consequences.  That person has lost their ability to be trusted as a person of integrity, which is the most valuable quality anyone can have in their life. Profit in dollars or power is temporary, but profit in a network of people who trust you as a person of integrity is forever.

Every one person who trusts you will spread the word of that trust to at least a few of their associates, and word of your character will spread like wildfire. The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured.  For entrepreneurs it means investors that are willing to trust them with their money. For employees it means a manager or a boss that is willing to trust them with additional responsibility and growth opportunities. For companies it means customers that trust giving them more and more business. For you it means having an army of people that are willing to go the extra mile to help you because they know that recommending you to others will never bring damage to their own reputation of integrity. Yes, the value of the trust others have in-you goes beyond anything that can be measured because it brings along with it limitless opportunities and endless possibilities.

Contrast that with the person who cannot be trusted as a person of integrity.  Warren Buffet, said it well: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”  A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may not be today, and it may not be for many years, but you can rest assured that at some point there will always be a reckoning.

A word of advice to those who are striving for a reputation of integrity: Avoid those who are not trustworthy. Do not do business with them. Do not associate with them. Do not make excuses for them.  Do not allow yourself to get enticed into believing that “while they may be dishonest with others, they would never be dishonest with me.” If someone is dishonest in any aspect of his life you can be guaranteed that he will be dishonest in many aspects of his life. You cannot dismiss even those little acts of dishonesty, such as the person who takes two newspapers from the stand when they paid for only one. After all, if a person cannot be trusted in the simplest matters of honesty then how can they possibly be trusted to uphold lengthy and complex business contracts?

It is important to realize that others pay attention to those you have chosen to associate with, and they will inevitably judge your character by the character of your friends. Inevitably we become more and more like the people we surround ourselves with day to day. If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll surely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity.

Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Remember, success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.


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Taking Responsibility

It’s inevitable, all leaders make bad decisions sometimes.  It doesn’t matter how much information you gather and what your advisers may suggest you do, you call the shot and its a bad one.  My biggest issue is not the bad decision, it’s the leader that doesn’t own up to his/her mistake.  They somehow try to justify or worse substantiate their bad decision.  When they do, they lose the respect of the masses. There is an old saying “Two wrongs don’t make a Right”.

Employees value a leader who can stick to his guns, yes. But self-justification and blind faith in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary can quickly push those leaders over the line into arrogance. As much as leaders worry about appearing strong and resolute, it is much more likely that they will err in the direction of looking delusional in their consistency. If you’ve crossed this line then you are at serious risk of losing all credibility and there is only one way to get it back: Admit you were wrong.

While admitting our mistakes may sound simple, our psychological wiring works against us. According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, the cognitive dissonance theory states that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes abnormal behavior.  In other words, our minds actively seek out confirming evidence to support our decisions and self-image. For most people, this confirmation bias is so strong that we often end up convincing ourselves of things that sound outrageous to more objective observers. What this means from a practical standpoint is that since you were the one who made the decision, your employees never reach your level of commitment. Therefore if the decision was wrong, your employees will almost always see the folly of your ways before you will. If the gap between when they see it and when you see it is too long, you will lose their faith and confidence.

Since confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are hard-wired into our minds, there isn’t much you can do about it except be aware that it exists. If you are aware of it, you can at least guard against it, invite alternative ideas and open yourself to accepting change when your current direction isn’t working. Have you been blinded by your resolve? Is it time to change? If you’re ready to admit you’ve made a mistake, then do it without excuses. It is so rare for leaders to accept responsibility without pointing to extenuating circumstances that when they do, it is greeted with amazement and praise. While consistency is an important leadership trait, the ability to admit mistakes and accept full responsibility far outweighs the appearance of resolve.

Unfortunately, deflecting attention away from our mistakes is so ingrained into our culture — both American culture and corporate culture — that getting people to fess up to their mistakes is no easy task. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, who explore cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in-depth in their book Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me, explain that because American culture rewards results without recognizing effort, we have been conditioned to view mistakes as purely negative. A mistake equals a failure to produce results and therefore mistakes cannot be tolerated. By ignoring the trial and error process required to achieve success, we encourage people to stay on the wrong course long after that course has shown itself to be flawed. As a leader, changing your culture to one that accepts mistakes will not only make it easier for people to admit their errors and change course when necessary, but it will foster a more open atmosphere of candor and feedback.

Whether from fear or from the confirmation bias, most managers are terrified that admitting their mistakes will show they are weak or stupid; because of this fear they will choose resolve even in the face of obvious failure. Ironically, this type of blind devotion to flawed strategies will make them look far worse than simply accepting responsibility, speaking with candor and showing the strength to change. The risk of looking foolish is miniscule compared to the goodwill earned from standing up and doing the right thing. Nobody likes a quitter, but at some point leaders need to know when to throw in the towel and stop throwing good money after bad.


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Managing And Developing Leaders

Happy New Year!  Start your new year with a plan to develop your management team to succeed!

Many HR leaders report that developing leadership talent is hard for them, and this goes back to coaching and development.

Google does this well. Using data from hundreds of surveys, feedback responses, performance reviews, etc. they were able to figure out what qualities make a great leader. You can do this for your organization too.

Going through all of this data and finding patterns among responses of what employees think make an excellent manager, you can use that data to develop your talent.

360-degree feedback is an excellent way to discover people’s strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan to improve.

What Google also does, which you can do too, is create a mentorship program, where the best managers help the lower performing or new managers. Once you’re able to discover what qualities make a good manager, and who has those qualities, create an environment for knowledge sharing.  Good Luck in 2015.


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Move beyond your current circumstances

As an entrepreneur life can sometimes be a roller coaster with lots of uncertainty and chaos. When you’re struggling it can be tough to see a clear path to success, but it’s crucial to let your vision guide you and NOT your current circumstances. You must embrace those challenges, because that’s where your hunger for a better life is developed.  No one wants to be broke and certainly no one wants to struggle, but according to Peter Voogd the author of the best-selling book “6 Months to 6 Figures”, asking the right questions, and taking the right action while in the struggle is what can change everything. At Peter’s toughest spot he was dead broke, yet six months later he earned a six figure income.  Many successful people who I speak with today experienced similar desperate situations before they were able rise to success.

What it took to make the change is available to everyone. What he realized to make the changes necessary to succeed:

Absolute clarity. 

It’s easy to make decisions once you determine what your real values are.

Reflecting back on the lowest points of my life, I have realized I didn’t take responsibility for anything. I was playing the victim role. I was blaming the economy, my company, lack of resources and my location. I soon realized my focus was jaded and what I needed to change was myself. The moment I got clear on that, my life shifted from complexity to simplicity.

Clarity is the ultimate power, and if you want results you’ve never had you need to get 100 percent clear on what you want. Only when you take full responsibility for your current reality can you change it. Minimalism is a great way to run your business, and a great way to run your life. Get rid of the messes and noise in your head and figure out who you are, what you want and what you must give up to get there.

Your Confidence Account.

Insecurities will destroy you, while real confidence will take you to a level very few attain.

An interesting thing happens when you start to gain clarity. Your confidence follows. If you don’t have confidence, you will always find a way to lose. Everything you accomplish is based on the confidence you have in yourself and your ability to “make it happen.” The bigger the goals, the bigger the challenges.

You must realize the moment you go after your biggest goals, obstacles will show up. They are there to test your character and faith, and to see if you are serious about your goals. The person with the most confidence always wins. When I got clear on the actions needed to start thriving, I felt my motivation and energy elevate. These days, the only security you have is the confidence in yourself and your ability to make things happen.

Shifting your circle of influence.

There comes a point in your life when you realize who really matters, who never did and who always will.

Once you get clear on who you are and what you want, you must re-evaluate your Circle of Influence. Who you associate with is who you become. The term “role model” is not used enough in our society. It’s extremely important to have role models. A role model will raise your standards. A role model will not let you get complacent. Finding a role model or mentor will spark your mind because they are playing the game at a higher level than you are.

  • If you hang around five confident people, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five intelligent people, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five millionaires, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five idiots, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five broke people, you will be the sixth.

It’s inevitable.

Such a simple concept, but what a difference it can make on your performance and business. There’s no faster way to advance into the top 5 percent of your industry than this. Yet, most people don’t do it. I challenge you to find those people, because you’ll become a lot like the people you spend the most time with. Their belief systems, their ways of being and their attitudes are contagious. Once you elevate your peer group, your standards will follow.

Crafting your ideal result rituals.

The amount of stress you have in your life is in direct correlation to the lack of rituals you have in place!

Without the right rituals and habits, your long-term growth will be stunted. Once I learned where my results were coming from, I created “result rituals” that moved my business forward. Intentional action is the only thing that will get you out of the struggle. I had been working 60 to 70 hours a week, but nothing seemed to change until I started asking myself what are the 20 percent of activities that I needed to focus on that created 80 percent of my results. Then I organized my schedule around those priorities.

The greatest wisdom of all time is in astutely choosing what not to do with your time. Say “no” more than you say ”yes”. Don’t be a slave to your phone. Design everything around the lifestyle you want, not for the convenience of other people.

There has never been a better time in the history of our economy to create your ideal life. Whether you’re in the midst of struggle or thriving, I encourage you to continue challenging yourself. When you make a definite decision on what kind of person you will be, on an everyday basis, you start to gain control of your financial destiny. If you continue to choose growth in the moment, and show up better than you were yesterday, you will astound yourself at what you can accomplish. You’re a lot closer to your success than you think.

 

 


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As companies grow, they may outgrow some key employees

So you have an employee or a few employees who have been with you for a long time. He or she has proven to be a great performer over the years. You’ve probably built significant rapport and loyalty with this person or person’s. Unfortunately employees don’t always grow with entrepreneurial companies.  This is one of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur or new executive.

As companies grow, they tend to outgrow some of their employees. That’s not surprising: it’s hard for fast-growing organizations to provide enough time and development for employees to keep up with ever evolving needs of the organization.

I’ve seen many examples of owners, entrepreneur’s, CEOs starting small businesses or division with 3 to 5 people. One or two people outshines everyone with their commitment, knowledge and execution.  The owner begins trusting an individual because they know the person can be relied upon to get things done.  And typically their strengths are very different from the owner’s core strengths, so the value to the owner is tremendous in growing the business.

As the business begins to grow, however, a different reality sets in.  Expanding into a company with 20, then 30, and then 40 employees may require a different skill set.  The company may need a different type of leader.  The employee who’s great with your 20, 30, or 40-employee Company will not necessarily be the person to run and operate a business with 300 employees.

Often, I think we can recognize this in our gut, but because of the loyalty we’ve built up, we have a hard time determining and actually deciding to take action.  We let the issue fester, then it only gets worse.

The best way to deal with this situation is by addressing it head-on.

As soon as you notice the issue, or have a gut feeling that you might have one, address it with the employee.  Talk with them about how roles change rapidly in a growing company and ask them how they are feeling about how they are keeping up.

You may find the conversation alone heads off the issue.  Perhaps the person simply hasn’t realized that what is required of them has changed.  This will call it out to them.

Perhaps they are truly struggling and don’t know how to deal with the issue themselves.  This will open up the dialogue necessary to help them get past it.

Perhaps they believe they can make the jump.  This will give you the opportunity to discuss expectations and put them squarely on the table.

In most cases, employees who are struggling with this issue are more uncomfortable than you are.  Putting the possibility on the table (in the right way) communicates your respect for them as a person and gives them the opportunity to dispel the myth or be part of the solution.

Discuss alternatives.

After your initial conversation, your hunch should be either quickly dispelled or rapidly confirmed.  Once it is confirmed, it’s time to discuss alternatives.  If the individual recognizes the issue, discuss alternatives.

Perhaps the role has grown large enough that it should be split into two.  Perhaps there is a new role that is more aligned with their skill-set.

Because you have addressed the issue proactively, you do not have a performance issue.  Instead, you have an organizational optimization issue.  Work together to overcome it.

Part ways, respectfully.

Unfortunately, in many cases an employee is unable to recognize that the company has grown beyond their capabilities in a certain role.  Still others recognize it but are unwilling to embrace change.  They want to hold on to the role that they feel is rightfully theirs.

In both of these situations, it is important that you part ways, respectfully.

I have found over and over again that dragging this process out is painful and detrimental to both the individual and the employee.  It is most often a relief to both your organization and the employee if you take swift action.  When you do, remember, this was your go-to employee.  Take care of them.  Offer them a nice package and celebrate their success as they move on to their next challenge.