This is the third and last post in a mini-series I am doing on performance management. I want to focus this post on the micro-moments throughout the year that allow you as a leader to practice developing others through recognition and positive feedback that are an integral part of creating a high performing culture.
One of the personality assessments I use more often these days is the Hogan Assessment. The leadership report includes development scales and potential “derailers”. It also includes a Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory that provides clarity on values and drivers. One of the key drivers the Hogan measures is recognition. This is about recognition as in being “known, seen and visible” for work well done. This measure is not really about money – there is another scale called “commerce” for that. Some of us really love recognition, others don’t need it as much. Like all measures of healthy personality, we fall somewhere along a continuum or scale.
I score slightly below the middle on recognition. It can be important to my feeling good about work but it has to be real and for significant contributions. I am not a person who needs it for doing small stuff. But when I do something really great, I love hearing about it.
Leaders should not underestimate the importance of knowing where they fall and where their team falls on this scale. It matters. If it is important to you, you should own it and let others in your circle know it. Many of the executives that I have worked with have at least a middle to middle-high need for recognition. And when they don’t get it, it can zap their energy. Especially when they report to the CEO or board. There is often not a lot of recognition happening at that level. Perhaps folks at the top think that the large compensation package makes up for low/no recognition. In my experience, our humanness and the needs that come with it, are hard to shake regardless of our pay grade.
Often when I ask a client if they have ever shared their need for positive recognition with their boss, they almost universally look at me like I am crazy. It’s a shame because if it is important to you, it should matter to your boss. It is also important to know your team member’s recognition needs. Simple questions at the start of working with them will allow you to customize the recognition you provide:
If you are still reading, you may be shaking your head and saying, “heck, no one has ever asked me about this and I still keep bringing my best.” I understand. I used to feel the same way. But then I saw all the research on positive feedback and recognition and started using it in my work and seeing how motivating it can be when done well and I am reformed. It now falls into the “duh” bucket because it can have such a positive impact on someone who values it and it is pretty much free.
It does take time to reflect, make it personal and meaningful. “Good job” does not cut it. Sharing specifically why something was good work, what it meant to you (the team, the enterprise) and why the contribution matters will make it powerful. Writing it down helps you fine tune it. The return on investment is worth it.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 18 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter.
The timing for this post is intentional. You are done or almost done with your performance reviews and your goals are set. We are still in Q1 and your team has three more quarters to knock performance out of the park.
No matter if you are the CEO or a team leader, how you manage your own performance casts a long shadow over your team. Though you are not the sole owner of creating a culture of feedback, or a vibrant learning culture, you are one of the most important. Learning agility – how openly and quickly you learn from experience and apply it to your leadership and work, will impact the learning agility of your team. For me it is usually ranked number one or two for important leadership competencies. If you score high on learning agility (taken from the wonderful Center for Creative Leadership: https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/LearningAgility.pdf), you demonstrate the ability to:
In my experience, very few leaders do all of these well. But if they do most, they have a better chance of modeling and achieving a more agile learning culture. However, if you say you want feedback and ask for it but get defensive when a courageous colleague gives it to you, don’t be surprised if you struggle to create a learning culture. Nothing shuts down a feedback loop faster than getting defensive and sending the message that no matter what they say, they really don’t want feedback.
You can’t and shouldn’t be the only person who provides feedback to your team. In fact, I would make a case that peer feedback can be even more powerful because if someone is managing up well but not laterally, or down, peers know it. But, at every level, the leader sets the stage for a more agile learning culture, or not.
So back to creating the culture. There are more pieces to this but if you model learning agility for your team and colleagues, then you can move to the next step which is to normalize feedback. For me this includes actions like:
Of course, there is more you can do. I mentioned the above short list because it is doable and will go a long way to creating a “norm” that you expect and welcome feedback and that you expect your team to do the same. The vision is for everyone to keep honing their edge, learn to be effective with a diverse set of colleagues (and bosses) and continue to get better collectively. It’s pretty cool because there is absolutely no downside and much to be gained by creating a more agile learning culture.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 18 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
In early March many clients are in the middle of their annual performance review process. Though much has been written about companies making dramatic changes to their performance reviews, the annual review is still a standard organizational practice for most organizations. Apropos, I am going to do a short series on performance management practices and for this post I will start with a few fundamental questions.
What and who are you really evaluating?
You are evaluating:
Before you say, “duh”, let me explain. Almost universally when clients discuss individual performance, they focus on the person’s strengths, weaknesses and goal achievement. They often fail to articulate the context. The context is the system (small and large) and business situation in which the role currently exists. It’s very important to understand that you are not reviewing a person’s worth as a human being but the contribution they make and value they bring to a specific role. I want leaders to articulate this consistently in their performance conversations (preferably all year long) and to ensure that their team understands it. It matters because context, more than anything else, impacts performance. Strengths and weaknesses are almost always based upon the situation. In other words, the leader is saying, “given the business situation and the priorities, expectations and requirements for this specific role, here is how you are doing…”
This has become an even more important frame because as organizations change faster so do the knowledge, skill requirements and expectations of many of their positions. Leaders need to talk about this, and hopefully more often than the annual performance review.
When a client is describing a leader, who is underperforming and they are preparing to deliver the dreaded “below expectations” rating, I like them to frame the context first. If newer to the role did the individual demonstrate they had the right knowledge when they were hired? Did the position expectations change due to an important business change? If they have been with the organization for a while, what was their past performance? In which roles did they excel? What has changed in the role, the division or the organization that may have impacted the role? You get the idea.
Most importantly, when a manager is preparing for their performance conversations, I want them to consider each situation more holistically. This is just as important when the performance is excellent as when it is below expectations. But it is always more difficult when delivering a lower performance rating. My main point is to take the time to put the performance evaluation in the proper context and make sure you communicate that. People are way bigger and more amazing than their deficits and strengths. But you are evaluating their performance in a role they are being paid to accomplish. So it’s important to say, “here is where you need to learn and grow given your past experience, knowledge and where we need to take this role.” Then you can talk about what’s possible going forward given the role, the individual and the context.
Like most skills, even complex ones like strategic thinking, we now know that if you want to get better at it, you can. It’s true that some personality variables make us more likely to naturally think more strategically, but everyone, even those not predisposed to, can get better.
In my experience, if clients want to learn to think more strategically they need to:
Sounds very simple but both are difficult. Clients are inundated by massive amounts of communication. Their in-box and all of the internal communication applications and software (not to mention social media with which we all feel compelled to interact) demand more and more of their time. In the hyper collaborative environments that most work, their day is packed with meetings. It’s no wonder that when I ask clients when they have time to reflect, they look at me like I have asked them to perform neurosurgery.
Getting a handle on your schedule is probably one of the most important aspects of preparing to be a more strategic thinker. If your day is spent blocking and tackling, and for most leaders it is, then you need to find a way to free up some space for “think time”. And once you do, you can’t use it to catch up on your e-mail. It’s not about action at this point, it’s about reflection.
Getting outside your normal routine requires you to spend time reading things you might not normally read, conversing with people inside and out of your organization who have different roles and accountability (and different backgrounds than you) and attending events that involve people outside your organization or even industry. If you want to view the world more holistically, and to think strategically you do, you need to view the world beyond your own.
I love helping clients and their teams expand their ability to think strategically because I know it will improve their impact, planning, goal setting and performance. You have to be intentional and patient. It takes time. It’s worth it.
There is much written about the founder’s role after an external CEO is hired to lead the organization. As with everything I write, my perspective is from hands-on experience working with founders and the leaders to whom they will transition accountability for running their organization.
Here are the two things I know for sure:
When founders stay more involved than they should, their team and others will have a hard time not deferring to them. This creates a lot of inefficiency. The team knows they have a new CEO, but with the founder still involved, they may not know who is in charge. They often feel like they have two bosses and don’t want to be disrespectful to either. Most founders don’t completely understand their impact. They are often so revered for what they have accomplished that it can be very hard for their employees to let them go, especially if they see them in the business. Even when the executive team knows that the founder is no longer effective, if they are beloved, and they often are, the transition can be even more difficult.
The new CEO comes in ready to hit the ground running. They know they have 6-12 months to really set the course for the business. The first 100 days are particularly important. Unfortunately, this is usually the time that the founder is having trouble transitioning out of their role, even if they want to hand over the business.
Nobody, especially the founder, is trying to sabotage the business. But that is exactly what happens when the founder stays in the business trying to co-lead with the new CEO. It is a very emotional process to hand over an amazing business you created, nurtured and loved…willed into its very existence. It can be even more difficult to let go of some of the relationships with people who have been in the trenches with you from the start.
So, what to do?
I recommend that before the new CEO starts, the founder gets help in defining his or her new role. Reflecting with them on how they can be of best and highest service and how they will be involved are important to explore before they have to hand over the business. Founders can introduce the new CEO to their most important clients and relationships. They can have great insights into the business development opportunities. If they are experts in their fields and they usually are, they can serve as influential advisors on proposals or design and approach. It will also be important for the new CEO and founder to communicate their new roles, the boundaries for each and cascade this to the whole organization (founders have connections at every level).
Sometimes founders should exit. The way most are wired, they love to create and start and that is where they will be most happy and effective. This decision should be based on what will be best for the business.
The founders I have worked with are passionate about the business they created, want it to succeed and care about the people. Giving up things we love is a courageous act. Knowing that it is the right thing to do doesn’t always make it easier. Underestimating the emotional aspects of this type of transfer of leadership will cause unnecessary confusion and angst. This process requires preparation, respect and care. Founders can often contribute. Defining how is extremely important.
A client I highly regard and have known for many years recently decided to leave her executive role at her organization. I was surprised. She was very committed to her company and really loved her boss. But she assessed the situation and decided that what she wanted and needed was no longer aligned with her organization. She took a new role for a really cool company. She will do well. Though this client’s situation is very different from mine, it brought back memories for me of when the CEO to whom I reported resigned. After meeting with the new CEO, I realized I had a difficult decision to make. Soon after, I left my job. I received two job offers at the time, but after talking with my co-pilot (my supportive and wise husband), I realized it was time to start my own practice. To say I haven’t looked back would be inaccurate. I have, many times. But overall it has been a great decision and a good fit for me. I always felt that everything was my responsibility, and with my small business, it truly is.
When we accept a role at a corporation, no matter who we are, we will need to adapt. The more aligned the organization’s mission, culture and values are with who we are and our way of working, the less adaptation that we will need to make. When we need to adapt in ways that are not aligned with how we want to lead or the values we hold, that requires a different level of adaptation. Both scenarios represent sacrifices because we are giving up something we at least like or hold dear in order to remain in our organization. When these sacrifices start to diminish our energy or the joy we feel when we head to work, it’s time to assess if the sacrifices are worth it.
Here are some examples of “sacrifices” that can be good for us:
Here are examples of sacrifices about which you should be skeptical:
Of course, there are many more examples I could give. When I am working with an executive who is unhappy in their role and I ask if the sacrifices are worth it, they often point to their very large compensation package, their kid’s tuition, etc., as if it's a prison sentence. But in reality, it is a choice. And if it goes on for too long, it can impact the things you hold most dear (and may take for granted): your family, your health and your happiness. Is a job really worth sacrificing any of those?
I admit up front that my argument in this post may seem somewhat circuitous. So if you don’t want to read on, here is my conclusion from articles I sight herein: the best companies attract the best (e.g., most skilled, highly educated, and nicest) workers. Civil, polite and nice people are more likely to make more effective leaders. If skilled people are such a business advantage (and the best companies know they are), and if you can’t immediately attract the best and the brightest leaders, invest in and develop the talent you have – help them get better.
Recent research is uncovering that much of the income inequality that is happening in our current economy is due to “a gap in wages between companies, not within them.” And, “more productive, higher paying companies are hiring better workers.” (Corporate Inequality is the Defining Fact of Business Today, HBR, May 2015).
In the article Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford’s business school, comments, “Back in the 1980s, college graduates and low-skilled people would be in every firm. Today, much like our neighborhoods, companies seem to be more segregated by education and skill.” Dr. Bloom goes on to say that this seems to be happening for soft skills as well, “Nice, fun, polite people are sorting into some firms,” and jerks (I can’t use the word he uses) are “sorting into others.”
From a macro-economic, and “health of our society” standpoint, this research is very worrisome. The data confirms yet another advantage of a more privileged background: better and higher paying jobs in the best companies. Thankfully, other research on the impact of what I consider to be “healthier”, more skillful leadership traits and the neuroplasticity of our brain confirms that we can change and learn new behaviors throughout our lives. Regardless of where we start, the family we come from, or where we went to school, we can get better. We can even learn to be nicer.
Studies by Christine Porath, Alexandra Gerbasi and Sebatian Schorch at the Grenoble École de Management, have shown that, “behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.” At a biotechnology company, a study confirmed “those seen as civil were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.” (“No Time to Be Nice at Work”, New York Times, June 19, 2015).
Morgan W. McCall Jr., and Michael Lombardo and others found from their research while at the Center for Creative Leadership, that the “no. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.” (“Is Your Boss Mean?” The New York Times, June 21, 2015)
So if successful companies hire more skillful and nicer employees, they must see a return on their investment. Higher skilled employees, and this includes healthier, more polite and caring leaders clearly have a big impact on the success of your enterprise. If you can’t immediately attract or afford to hire the “best” leaders and employees, develop the ones you have. And this will most likely need to include teaching them some kind of mindfulness, “self-care practices” (mean people are often mean to themselves as well as others), empathy and kindness.
And if you are a leader who loses control, gets angry or mistreats others, and are not always driving your own emotional bus, get help. You will probably make more money.
For over seven years I worked with some private equity (PE) owned organizations. To say it was an education is an understatement. Like most of the best learning-on-the-job, I made some mistakes, especially early on. However, I am grateful for the experience it gave me. In retrospect, it feels like I received another Master’s degree because the way they think and look at businesses was often different than my earlier learning.
Most people understand that PE invests in companies because they believe that they can create more value than the current operations and business structure are able to achieve. The company I worked with didn’t buy distressed companies. For the most part, they bought good companies where they believed there was unrealized value to be found through some combination of growth, operational excellence initiatives and other efficiencies. They invested in companies and often in the leadership and people strategies and systems – which is how they found me.
Here is what they taught me:
For the record I am aware that some people think of PE as unethical or evil. I knew that when I signed on. As I had no experience I wanted to make my own call. Did they do some things that I thought were short-sighted? Yes, I believe they did. But that is really wired into their goals. With a 3-5-year window for some kind of event (e.g., sale, spin, etc.), they aren’t in it for the long hall. Sometimes they chose people to lead their acquisitions that I think were better suited for other roles (and that is putting it very nicely). In the end, why I continued to do the work is that they did some things exceptionally well. Under their ownership, performance improved. Leaders and teams were challenged to learn new skills and grow (sometimes for the first time) and they sharpened their financial and operational chops. People got a chance to get better. I believe I helped with that and for everything I learned, I hope I was able to contribute something back.
The most important thing they taught me was that every business model and structure has strengths and weaknesses. I have come to think of businesses as “evil” when they allow an abusive or uncaring manager to stay in place, when they allow unethical behavior or mismanagement that has the potential to drive the business into the ground. Having worked in over 12 industries for the last 17 years, with both private and public companies, I can say with confidence that these types of leaders can be found in every type of business. In the end, what separates most good businesses from bad is whether or not they are led by smart, ethical people who care about their employees and demonstrate that through their actions and words. Thankfully, I find these leaders everywhere.
I just completed a project with a new client. We met when I did another project for his organization last year. Thankfully this is how I get most of my work. This project was complex, high stakes, involved a very important client of theirs, and working with some of their senior leaders. For me the project was interesting and it gave me an opportunity to learn more about their business, people and industry. Usually it doesn’t get any better than that. Except in this instance, it does because I also got to work with a leader who brought out the best in me and inspired me to work above and beyond what I needed to do. He motivated a ton of discretionary effort.
Discretionary effort is a largely untapped goldmine of the best, most inspired and innovative contribution that your employees, under the right circumstances and leadership, provide to your business for free. You pay them to do their job. You can’t really pay them for their discretionary effort because it is priceless. Leaders who can evoke this through their behavior, words and actions, are able to tap into what I believe is the holy grail of leadership.
So, what did this client do? For starters, he:
Halfway through the project I told my husband about how I felt and how motivating it was to work with this client (of course keeping client name, etc. anonymous). Hubby looked at me and said, “Wow, and now there is no way you are going to disappoint this guy.” Bingo! That’s the secret sauce! I would be mortified if this guy didn’t love me and the work I was delivering.
You get the picture. This is a guy most smart people would charge up a steep hill for regardless of how difficult it is.
Are there drawbacks with this inspirational leadership? Yes, there are. Some people aren’t worthy of it and they take advantage of it and instead of getting their discretionary effort they use it as an excuse to do less. Some folks aren’t wired for it – they don’t need much recognition. But I don’t see either of these scenarios as often, especially with top talent, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Because most of us show up wanting to do our best work. The way we lead can light a fire that brings out the best contribution or it can turn people off: full on commitment or half-hearted compliance. In the long run, which do you think it better for your business?
Oh, and there is one more drawback if you are a consultant, you feel pretty bummed when the project ends.
Being an effective leader requires at least a fair amount of self-awareness. Self-awareness is being conscious of and able to articulate your own individual needs, motivations, and feelings. It also means that you are aware that how you experience the world is different from others.
Many leaders think they are self-aware but fewer actually are. Why is this? It’s complicated. From my experience working with hundreds of leaders with diverse backgrounds and expertise, few leaders receive honest feedback from their boss and team. And the higher up you are the less likely people are to tell you the truth about how they experience your leadership. Too much is at stake (including their job) so there is a strong bias to not share feedback. The c-level receives the least feedback. A cornerstone of building self-awareness is access to powerful feedback from those who know you well. This is why a majority of leaders benefit from a formal feedback process (e.g., qualitative interviews, validated personality profiles and multi-rater feedback).
Your success as a leader is measured by the success of myriad others. The higher up you are in the organization, the more people you have reporting to you, and the more this matters. As a leader when you speak and act, it impacts a lot of people. If what you say and do is congruent, everyone sees this and it nurtures trust and climate in a positive way. If what you say and do is incongruent, it diminishes trust and your team’s motivation. The more self-aware you are as a leader, the more likely your words and actions are aligned.
An example of how a lack of self-awareness presents is a leader I will call Sara. Sara tells everyone, “I never micromanage my team.” Sara “fully delegates” an important project to her team. When the project is almost done, she starts asking lots of questions and casts doubt on decisions her team has already made. The project gets derailed as the team realizes they have to go back to square one. Sara’s words don’t match her actions and that is usually the telltale sign of a lack of self-awareness. You can imagine the negative impact Sara’s behavior has on trust, engagement and productivity. It is monumentally ineffective.
Is building greater self-awareness worth it? Absolutely. Here’s why: an investment in your leadership effectiveness by building greater self-awareness impacts the effectiveness and achievement of your team. No matter where you start, you can learn to become more self-aware. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time and intention. I am convinced that it makes for a more skillful leader and creates a happier, less stressful life.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.
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