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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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New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders

New Year

Here’s a quick list of ideas for leaders.  The list includes a few of the standards, but aims to inspire some new ideas for each of us:

  1. Listen More – Find yourself speaking more than you listen?  Commit to listening a greater percentage of the time.
  2. Succession Planning – Too many leaders let real succession planning wait too long, if they do it at all.  Why not start the New Year right with specific steps to ensure strong succession planning throughout the organization?
  3. Serve More – This year, why not commit to asking yourself regularly, “how will this decision / action / message serve the organization better?”
  4. Development Planning – Does everyone reporting to you have a strong, specific and measurable professional development plan?  If you’re not growing the organization, who is?  Perhaps this is the year to really tackle the matter.
  5. Multi-Channel Communication – Often, as leaders, we forget that people benefit from different methods of communication.  Perhaps this year is a good time to ensure your messages are spoken, written and broadcast.
  6. Open Door Policy – Were you “too busy” to maintain that open door policy last year?  Try opening it again.  If not all day every day, perhaps hold open door office hours and stick to them this year.
  7. Responsiveness – Is your inbox volume out of control?  Haven’t cleared that voicemail in a long time?  Try setting aside an hour a week or a daily block to review and respond to your messages regularly.
  8. Strengthen Relationships – How well do you really know your coworkers, or staff?  We want to help those we care for and support.  This year, maybe we need to make more time to understand colleagues and building relationships.
  9. Emphasize Credit – (and Minimize blame).  It’s too easy to give blame out as “accountability”.  This year, maybe we need to ensure for each accountability message, we provide at least 10 praise / credit messages.
  10. Physical Fitness (This one always need to be included) Whether it’s weight loss, increased exercise or dropping a bad habit, this standard is important for leaders to maintain stress levels.  You may also find increased productivity.

What is your leadership resolution?


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The Damage of “Do as I say, not as I do”

There’s hardly anything worse for company morale than leaders who practice the “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy. You can typically see the loss of enthusiasm and goodwill among the staff instantly. It’s like watching the air go out of a balloon – and cynicism and disappointment usually take its place.

  • There’s the boss who tells everyone to be on time for meetings and yet always arrives late, or asks employees to stay late, and then leaves promptly at 4:45pm to go golfing.
  • There’s the supervisor who criticizes everyone for spending time on the Internet, but is discovered searching eBay for a new camera online in the middle of the afternoon; or
  • The CFO who recommends layoffs to end “unnecessary spending,” but then buys brand-new luxury office furniture for her office.

Do you know any of these people? Hopefully it’s not you……………………

No matter what the situation it’s a double standard.  Employees witnessing a leader say one thing, and then doing another.   For an employee it feels like and can be very destructive.

If this ever happened to you, you can probably remember the sense of disappointment and letdown. If you’re in a leadership position, then you know that you have a responsibility to your team. They look to you for guidance and strength; that’s part of what being a leader is. And a big part of your responsibility is to lead them with your own actions. So, why is it so important to lead by example; and what happens when you don’t?

Well there is an old saying about the difference between a manager and a leader: “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” (It’s best to be both a manager and a leader – they’re just different processes.) As a leader, part of your job is to inspire the people around you to push themselves to do better and in turn, the company to success. To do this, you must show them the way by doing it yourself.

Stop and think about the inspiring people who have changed the world with their examples.

When you lead by example, you create a picture of what’s possible. People can look at you and say, “Well, if he/she can do it, I can do it.” When you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you. One example is Jack Welch of General Electric. Welch knew that to push GE to new heights, he had to turn everything upside down. So that’s just what he did. He developed the whole idea of a “boundaryless organization.” This means that everyone is free to brainstorm and think of ideas – instead of waiting for someone “higher up” in the bureaucracy to think of them first. He wanted his team turned loose, and he promised to listen to ideas from anyone in the company. And he did. Everyone from the lowest line workers to senior managers got his attention – if they had something to say or a new idea that might make the company better. It wasn’t just talk, and it didn’t take his team long to figure that out. Welch stayed true to his passions and what he knew was right. As a result, GE became an incredibly successful company under his management. His team was always willing to follow his lead, because the people within it knew that he always kept his word. What does this mean for you? If you give yourself to your team and show them the way, then, most likely, they’ll follow you anywhere.

But, what happens when you don’t walk the talk?  I’ll give you my insight in my next blog.


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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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After Corporate Changes; are you still a fit?

Whenever some kind of organizational change happens, both employers and employees can experience an unexpected “crisis of confidence.” Whether the change is a merger, upgraded software system, marketplace positioning, new CEO—here’s what emerges:

• Suddenly and mysteriously, people don’t feel quite as talented and capable as before.

• At the same time, the organization is wondering where its talented people went.

The real fact: no one suddenly got stupid!

Second fact: Something else will now need to change.

You or Them?

When you were hired it was a good fit because of how business was conducted. Now it doesn’t seem that way. Here are some considerations when companies and employees find themselves in a talent mismatch as a result of changes:

1. Companies: Take time to re-assess the breadth of talent that exists in your employee base. You may not have been using the range of talents that individuals possess because you (naturally) hired them against a given set of criteria.

Real-life example: In the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to assess three executives who were on the, “We’ve changed, their role isn’t needed anymore, I guess they have to go even though they’ve been really effective” list. In two of the three cases a broader assessment showed that they were gifted in areas that hadn’t been tapped into before. Those two remain with their organizations in new roles and are contributing meaningfully and productively.

2. Individuals. Maybe it isn’t such a good fit. The faster you figure out the reality of the situation the faster you can make a decision to stay or look elsewhere.

Important Tip: The longer you hang out in a mismatch the more you will question your adequacy. So, knock it off! You are talented and you’ve been performing in a talented way. The situation changed, not you. Get yourself into another winning situation before you conclude that the problem is you.


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Is Performance Management Losing Focus?

Performance management is becoming a lost art, omitted from academic classes and dropped from certification programs.  Most MBA courses spend more time on finance courses than on compensation (if at all).  While admittedly many managers have had inadequate training in basic supervision, some simply choose to ignore good leadership practices.  Let’s face it.  It’s hard to manage people the right way.   It takes a lot of time and it can be uncomfortable, especially for those that shy away from conflict.

Weak and ineffectual managers don’t actually manage their employees, in the sense of performance direction, leadership, setting good examples and decision-making. Instead, they want to be liked. They want to avoid conflict and so they use pay increases and other reward systems to keep employees doing what they need to do and support of their efforts.  It’s really kind of a bribe.

So what is “managing” to these people? It’s not about making hard decisions. Too often it’s trying to get the most for their employees, deserved or otherwise, whether the organization gains in the process or not. The manager is focused on their own interests, and is using someone else’s money to fund their behavior.

Why it doesn’t work

Relying on pay or other rewards as a replacement for good management has a short effective life cycle.

  • Employees see arbitrary same-same pay treatment as de-motivating to high performers.  Why bother extending yourself if you’re going to receive the same reward as the guy doing crossword puzzles?
  • Employees resent favoritism and those who benefit for non-performance reasons will always become known. There goes your morale.
  • No amount of money replaces the value of honest performance direction and feedback. Those with an interest in learning and growing appreciate the help.
  • Ineffective managers eventually lose the respect of their employees, who know what’s going on. Remember that employees leave managers, not companies.

For managers who need a crutch to help motivate and retain their employees, to help them do their jobs, the above cautions likely won’t make a difference. Their goal is not to manage, but to get-by, to be liked by their employees and to avoid disruptions to their routine. This is not leadership, but administration.

But for those managers who wish to make a difference, who understand that managing employees is a challenging and rewarding role, abrogating responsibility through pay and rewards is not an option.  They recognize it as the opposite of management, a damaging practice that will not enhance anyone’s long term career prospects.