Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Corporate Vision – Does your team need one?

The only things more painful to read than most corporate mission statements are corporate vision statements.  Many vision statements are written by committee.  They start out direct, clear and compelling but as everyone involved has their turn at contributing their input those visions lose their luster.  The direct parts of the vision get watered down as not to offend, exclude or intimidate people.  Also, things are added to the vision because people want to ensure that their pet function or goal is included in the vision statement and this lengthens the document and makes it more confusing.

Eventually some vision statements come to look more like a bill that has moved through Congress, where everyone involved has tacked on their personal amendment, than they do a compelling articulation of what the organization will be in the future.

Before you go skipping forward with the defense that you do not write vision statements at the corporate level, you must realize you are responsible for setting direction for your team.  You as a leader must create a vision statement for your team when your team is large enough to warrant having one.  Any team that is responsible for a discrete organizational function should have a vision.  It doesn’t matter if that team is as small as five people or as large as five thousand.  You can write a powerful vision statement as long as all members of that team are focused on delivering the same goals in the same functional area.

Whatever your situation or your title happens to be, the simple fact remains – you need to articulate a vision for the future state of your organization or team.  We usually leave this up to the C-suite but writing a vision statement at any level is a powerful exercise.  Your people want to be excited to come to work.  They want to be part of something bigger than they are.  If you can paint a compelling future picture for them, they will be more excited to follow you to that destination.  If you do not paint that picture, they are likely following you out of laziness or just morbid curiosity to see what is going to happen.  The earlier in your career you learn how to create vision statements the more successful you will be at writing them as your responsibilities expand.

Writing a vision statement requires a great deal of thought and an ability to step outside of your daily grind and into a time beyond the foreseeable future.  When you write it you need to make it concise and it must clearly explain how your organization creates value.  This value creation component is easier to articulate than you might think.  Ask yourself “what will the business outcomes and results be if I achieve this component of my vision?”  Your vision should include several key phrases and you should be able to link each phrase to a desired business outcome.

To create your vision, look five years into the future and ask yourself what your organization should look like.  Using a five-year planning window will generally help you balance between being achievable but not too ambiguous.  This is because it is a short enough time frame for you and your team to have a measurable impact and feel like you have made progress, but it is far enough in the future that you can be aspirational in how you describe that vision without protests of “we’ll never achieve that goal in that short an amount of time!”  Conversely, visions set beyond five years into the future can lead your team to feel like the world will change so much over that period that the vision will be neither achievable nor relevant.

Below are some thought starters to assist you with tackling this big question. Do your best to answer as many of them as you can even if at first glance the question does not apply.

– How big will your organization be?  How will you define its scope?
– What new skills will your team members have?
– What new capabilities will you build over this time period?
– How will the way you work with other groups change?
– What should your customers, both internal and external, expect from you?
– What will set your team apart and distinguish it when it is compared to other teams?
– What is your future vision for your team?
– Will they be excited by it?
– What aspects of it will they find inspiring?

Once you have drafted a preliminary set of answers to these questions look at all the answers as pieces of a bigger puzzle.  Create the most powerful elements into the simplest statement you can.  Write down the statement that captures what your team is all about.  That is your first rough draft of a vision.  As you evaluate the resulting vision ask yourself:

– Is my vision clear on how my organization creates value?
– Is the vision ambitious but realistically possible?
– Is the vision worth pursuing and does it win people’s commitment?
– Does the vision explain how we differentiate ourselves from competitors?
– Is the vision concise and does it consist of only a few critical words?

How does the first draft of your vision stack up against these questions?  If you are not happy with your vision relative to these questions, continue to revise it until you are.

 


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Developing Others is Your Job

Nobody has told you that you need to spend time and effort developing others in your organization. It’s not part of your job description. You have too many other things to pay attention to, and besides, isn’t developing leaders the job of human resources?

If you are an organizational leader and this is how you think about developing others, you might want to rethink your position. Put simply, it’s your job. It should be one of the most important things you do, and for the best leaders (meaning those leaders who understand the importance of people to their organization), it is a pleasure to assist and watch others grow and develop.

There are lots of reasons to spend time developing leaders in your organization. Some of the most important reasons include:

Tapping potential: There is leadership potential in all of your employees that is lying fallow, just waiting to be set free by you. As you think about the upcoming Olympics, consider how many of those athletes had a coach or mentor who tapped into their unused potential to guide them to becoming world-class. The ability to become the best at their sport was there all along; it just needed someone to help it along. Look for those who are eager to be more, willing to work hard to become world-class leaders, and guide them to reach (or exceed) the potential within.

Performance: The best leaders know that their organizations can become so much more than they are currently; they see the future and they know that when everyone leads, organizational performance increases and innovation, creativity and output improve. Developing leaders makes possibility become reality, and studies have shown that investments in developing leaders can help the bottom line.

Talent attraction: It’s so much easier to recruit and hire when people actually want to work for your organization. Developing leaders attracts talent, period. When you become known as a leader who is willing to spend the time developing other leaders, high potential employees will beat a path to your door, because they want what you have to offer.

Culture of leadership: Imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like for your organization to have a culture of leadership: employees at all levels taking responsibility, accountable to the vision and mission, collaborating and leading to the future. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? It’s not an impossible dream. I’ve been privileged to know a few organizations with a culture of leadership, and in every instance there is a leader at the top who places emphasis on developing leaders.

Sustainability: I don’t mean to be too ominous, but if you get hit by a bus tomorrow – or, more likely, left the organization — who will step into your place? I can’t think of a better reason to develop leaders in your organization. You have an obligation to make sure that others are ready to take your spot.

Legacy: What better legacy to leave behind when you move on than the memory of yourself as a person who grew and stretched others? The managers I’ve worked with who believed in me enough to mentor, coach and stretch me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of are the ones I remember fondly, use as examples, and write about. They left a positive emotional legacy for those whom they invested time and effort in helping become the best leaders they could.

Regardless of whether it’s part of your job description, developing others is something you need to spend time and effort doing. So coach and mentor them, give them stretch assignments and allow them to take risks and sometimes fail. Your leadership and your organization can reach great heights when you put the effort and time into developing leaders.

 


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Criticism without Solutions Simply Doesn’t Work

As leaders, we are often in a position where our opinions and criticism carry great weight and those perspectives can positively and negatively affect the lives of those around us. Unfortunately we’re not always careful with our criticism nor are we mindful of the corresponding responsibilities that go along with our words.
In an age where we can all be critics, whether it’s in blog post comments, on our own websites, on twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else we can share our ideas and opinions, the importance of understanding our responsibility as a critic is great. Yet we often ignore this responsibility and blast away at the object of our derision with little thought for the implications of our actions. Well allow me to offer a challenge for all of us to aspire to be something more than a simple critic

As a leader, it’s easy for you to rain down criticism upon the work of others. You don’t do the work – you simply set the direction for the work to be done, define the performance standards, and judge the quality of the work after it is completed. Like it or not, you’re a professional critic.
What you must understand is your criticism carries weight. It impacts the performance reviews of your people. It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted. It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not. You get the picture – your words change lives.

I invite you to go a step beyond simple criticism. Help build something beyond your words. Instead of simply designating something as inadequate, offer constructive thoughts on how to improve it. Give people the coaching, feedback, and resources to improve their product, service, performance. Identify opportunities to connect ideas and people so they can build something greater. Be part of the solution rather than simply pointing out the problem.

Better yet, change your mindset from one of critic to one of architect. Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas. Roll up your sleeves, make your own contributions to that idea, and be open to your work being judged by others. It’s risky. Our insecurities hold us back and relegate us to the safe world of the critic rather than allowing us to take the chance of creating “oh my! Something let’s say Average”.

If you’re not up for being an architect, at least be willing to put yourself out there to support and defend new ideas. Don’t simply follow the crowd and their opinion of something. Form your own independent thoughts and stand behind those beliefs. Don’t bow to the criticism of other critics who might criticize you (wow… stop and think that one through). It’s hard enough to create something new for those poor souls who subject themselves to the criticism of the world. I’m sure they would welcome your support, encouragement, and suggestions.   Another issue with being critical of the efforts of others without being having input on a solution is that you risk becoming irrelevant to the people you lead. It is very important to take a step back and think about what you are doing and how things might be improved before opening your mouth in judgment.

For an example, consider the following: a few years ago, an executive in a company I work for visited a customer site where things had gone very poorly during a recent project. This person scheduled an urgent conference call in which he spent 15 minutes lambasting the entire field team based on what he heard from one customer, then ended the call. No suggestions for improvement, no consideration of all of the customers who were extremely satisfied with the work – nothing about correcting the situation at all. I can certainly believe he was very upset at the time and demonstrated poor judgment in doing what he did, but there was no apology and no real change of behavior in subsequent calls.  The unintended consequence of such behavior is that many of the staff formed their own judgment – that the opinion of that person was not useful in the mission of having excellent customer relationships, so why waste time paying attention to them?

Leadership is about being out in front and taking others to new places. You can’t lead if you simply follow the conventional wisdom because it’s safe. So the next time you consider dropping a criticism bomb on the work of another, I invite you to consider the feelings of that individual, the effort they put into creating that work, the risk they’re taking in subjecting it to judgment, and the hopes and dreams they have tied up in the idea. After you’ve considered those things, then render your criticism appropriately and try to go beyond just the judgment.


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While people drive the culture, the culture drives the brand…or is it that brand drives the culture? The truth is they are too intimately tied together to discern which comes first. Great companies leverage their culture to promote their brand. Companies such as Zappo’s, Dream Works and Google take pride in their culture and use it to promote who they are as an organization. Every interaction with an employee, a client, or a stakeholder is an opportunity to brand the organization. These very interactions are the ones that over time define and reinforce the organization and the culture that permeates it.

Culture has a tangible impact on employee engagement. Employee engagement is a measure of an employee’s commitment to his or her job, team, manager and organization, which results in increased discretionary effort or willingness to go “above and beyond” normal job responsibilities. This level of commitment is critical in the success of early stage companies and also results in the employee’s intent to stay with the organization. The primary factor that seems to separate an engaged employee from just a satisfied employee is that the engaged worker consciously puts forth additional effort in a manner that promotes the organization’s best interests. Not only does engagement have the potential to significantly affect employee retention, productivity and loyalty, it is also a key link to customer satisfaction, company reputation and overall stakeholder value. Employee engagement drives workforce productivity.  Multiple studies demonstrate how a strong and thriving culture with high employee engagement leads to greater employee productivity. Innovation and creativity are often key to the growth of early stage companies. In a great culture where new ideas are respected, and mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning, employees can actually enjoy their work and be energized by the environment around them. They are naturally more productive because they are eager to be part of a company where they feel valued and their contribution matters. It is a simple concept, but happy employees make for happy, successful companies.

Company culture is unique and provides arguably the most sustainable competitive advantage an organization can have in the marketplace for distinguishing itself against the competition.  Competitors may attempt to poach employees, steal customers and duplicate the product or service an organization has worked hard to develop. Culture, like the brand, becomes the fabric of an organization. The stronger the culture and the brand, the more difficult it is for competitors to pose a threat to the organization.


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Does Your Company Draw Top Talent?

I had a meeting the other day with a prospect and we were discussing why some organizations always have people applying for jobs wanting to work for them while others have a difficult time filling similar positions. I believe it’s all about a company’s reputation. Everyone wants top talent, yet few are willing to do the work that is required to be deserving of these people. That’s great news for those who are serious about becoming the type of workplace where everyone wants to work.

It’s hard to change perception, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how:

Be open to change. I’m tired of hearing business owners and leaders say that the reason things are done a certain way is because they’ve always been done that way. This kind of thinking won’t help you become the type of workplace that attracts people who are innovative. In fact, the opposite is true. People who are stuck in their old ways will remain thereby leaving you with a workforce that will never go above and beyond the status quo.

Rid yourself of toxic employees. Nothing brings a workforce down quicker than toxic employees. All it takes is one or two lousy managers to taint the workplace. I’m not going to tell you how to identify these people, as you already know who they are. Take action. Eliminate those who are making your workplace a stinky place to work.

Energize your workplace. Companies have been running mean and lean for so long that it’s now become the norm. Employees are dragging their butts to work every day and slogging along. Candidates who are interviewing with your company will sense the negative energy the moment they step foot in your door. Start investing again in your business. Begin by restoring pay cuts and by making some visible investments that will let your employees know your company is back on the move again.

Tell your story. You may be a great company to work for, but what good will that do if no one else knows about this? Revisit your mission statement and include a section on your company’s philosophy toward your people. Start a company blog, redesign the career section of your website, ask employees to tweet, hire a PR firm. Just do something!  Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Change up your strategy, trade some players and create the type of organization where only exceptional people need apply.


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Are you responsible for employees resigning?

Could you be pushing your best employees out the door without realizing it? If staff retention is an issue for your company, then you’ll need to think about what could be causing your top talent to look for other opportunities.

There are numerous ways that managers can drive great employees away without even realizing it. I’ve told leaders this many time “people don’t walk out on companies; they walk out on managers”.  Here are three actions that always impact employee retention :

1. Focusing on the bad rather than the good

Employees might make mistakes, but blaming them for mistakes instead of providing constructive feedback and advice is an even bigger mistake on a manager’s part. Star employees are those who aren’t afraid to take risks. Recognize that taking successful risks can create massive beneficial change for your company. There will be times when plans and projects fall through; accept those mistakes as learning opportunities and move on. Your top talent will walk away if you focus more on their weaknesses than on their accomplishments.

2. Thinking money is the only motivator

A big mistake employers make is thinking their employees are there just for the paycheck they receive at the end of the month. In the short run, money is a definite factor for retaining employees, but it can only remain a motivating factor for so long. If your staff does not find their work fulfilling and get the job satisfaction they desire each day, they’ll soon get bored.

This is especially true for your best, most talented employees. If your star employees can acquire a new position somewhere else that will give them greater responsibility, strong mentorship, increased recognition and new opportunities to learn and innovate, they may jump at the opportunity — even if the pay is not as high.

3. Do as I say, not as I do

You’ve secured the title of manager, but if you think sitting back in your chair and delegating work is going to get the work done, you’re not in touch with reality. When the going gets tough and a key project is due, rolling up your sleeves and working alongside your team shows your commitment and gains you respect. Star employees are looking for strong leaders and role models and are less likely to leave bosses and managers who are accessible, approachable and respectful.

If you don’t think as a manager you need to be respectful of your employees, you’ll find it very challenging to keep great employees and will always end up with mediocre performers.

Throughout my career, I have seen this time and time again.  Managers that set a good example, listen to their employees and genuinely make employee’s feel they care about them, will benefit from great employees staying with them through thick and thin.

If you distrust your employees, discourage innovation and creativity, ignore their advice and communicate poorly, they’ll start hunting for other positions.  As the economy slowly improves finding and keeping great talent will become even more challenging.


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Collaboration vs. Teamwork…What’s the difference?

Leaders want to get people to collaborate and think as one company. But managers in different functions or different business units seem surprisingly reluctant to work together. Why does collaboration fail? There are lots of reasons. Collaboration can be time-consuming. It creates risks for the participants. Competing objectives can be hard to resolve. But in my mind the biggest problem is that people confuse collaboration with teamwork.

To understand the difference, think about what a team is. Teams are created when managers need to work closely together to achieve a joint outcome. Their actions are interdependent, but they are fully committed to a single result. They need to reach joint decisions about many aspects of their work, and they will be cautious about taking unilateral action without checking with each other to make sure there are no negative side effects.

As long as the team has someone with the authority to resolve disputes, ensure coordinated action and remove disruptive or incompetent members, teams work well. Team members may dislike each other. They may disagree about important issues. They may argue disruptively. But with a good leader they can still perform.

Collaborators face a different challenge. They will have some shared goals, but they often also have competing goals. Also, the shared goal is usually only a small part of their responsibilities. Unlike a team, collaborators cannot rely on a leader to resolve differences. Unlike a customer-supplier relationship, collaborators cannot walk away from each other, when they disagree.

So a collaborative relationship is necessary when  you cannot use a team or a customer-supplier relationship. It is a form of customer-supplier relationship in which the participants have all the difficulties of contracting with each other without the power to walk away if the other party is being unreasonable or insensitive.

So be careful about relying too much on collaborative relationships except when a company objective is important enough to warrant some collaborative action but not so important as to warrant a dedicated team. For example, you might want to rely on collaboration if you need to get geographic business units to work with a central product development team or where business units share a sales force or a brand.

In these circumstances, success depends on whether:

  • The participants have committed to work together — collaboration requires emotional engagement;
  • The participants have high respect for each other’s competence on the topic of the collaboration or a natural first-among-equals exists amongst the participants, because of technical knowledge or experience;
  • The participants have the skills and permission to creatively bargain with each other over costs and benefits.

Before setting up a collaborative relationship, assess whether it is really necessary and whether the conditions for success can be created. And don’t think of it as a permanent solution. You should be looking to transition to an easier form of interaction, such as a team or a customer-supplier relationship. In these forms there are clear mechanisms for resolving disagreements.