Archives for February 2011

Fuzzy Objectives = Fuzzy Results

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Most organizations speak clearly and eloquently about their most valuable asset – their people. They have a genuine desire to create a culture that retains the brightest and best employees, and can articulate how their employee development initiatives either ensure the organization flourishes, or relegate it to floundering.

What predicts flourishing or floundering? It’s the use of fuzzy thinking regarding your goals, objectives and the employee development initiatives that support them.

I recently heard a senior leadership team say “we want our employees to produce valuable work.” I asked how the executives defined valuable? For the next thirty minutes the conversation that took several twists and turns but ended with the CFO claiming that valuable is defined as having high degrees of quality and accuracy, and the CMO claiming that valuable meant building quality and meaningful relationships with potential and current customers.

Most executives miss the point regarding what a learning objective really is. An objective is something that is behaviorally specific – not general, broad, or fuzzy. An objective is measurable and describes something tangible an employee does. Robert Mager in his book Preparing Instructional Objectives gives the example of being able to tie a knot. It’s measurable and behaviorally specific because you can see knot-tying behavior and therefore can determine whether it meets your expectations.

Objectives describe the behaviors and or performance you want to see and involves having leaders think seriously and deeply about what it is they want to have employees do. If the end result of any employee development work is go beyond the talk-aboutto the do-about then the following three recommendations can serve you well:

1. Differentiate between willingness and ability. Some employees have the ability to do a task but aren’t willing. Some have the willingness and no ability. Whenever you find employees who lack willingness you no longer have a training or development issue – you have a motivation issue that needs addressing.

2. Use clear language. For example, language such as “be able to discuss and illustrate an understanding of Excel and Word” is fuzzy language. Explicit language such as “create two spreadsheets importing data from two different formats and export this into a pie chart within Word” . You have to be clear about what performance you want.

3. Don’t confuse instructional and administrative objectives. Instructional objectives are those that focus on employee performance and administrative objectives focus on instructor/teacher/facilitator performance. The most important objectives are the ones that focus on employee performance.

How clear are your objectives?

Performance Review Makeover

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Most employees view performance reviews unenthusiastically. Why? For many the review process is a monologue by the manager and is devoid of a deeper, meaningful, and authentic dialogue. It is less about how both the manager and employee are creating the extra-ordinary, and more about staying out of trouble with human resources.

The riskiest aspect of performance reviews is playing them safe. Here are two ideas to give your performance reviews a makeover without betting the farm.

1. Do what hotelier Chip Conley does at Joie de Vivre. After three months, sit down with your new employees and ask them how your operations are doing. Ask them to give you a performance review both for the overall operation as well as for you as a leader. New employees have fresh eyes and will see things you don’t – you’ll walk away with some terrific ideas.

2. During your annual reviews, ask every employee to share with you their top three ideas for reinventing the way they do their work. Ask them to tell you how they would do things differently if they could start over from scratch. What would they do if their name was on the door? What would they do in order for their customers to be obsessed with their service or product? Yes, obsessed!

These questions might not work for you. What is important is that you change the conversation you’re having with your employees. If you do that you’ll change the level of engagement your employees have for making your team and organization noteworthy, remarkable, and extraordinary. Changing the conversation WILL transform your organization!

Life’s 3 Most Important Questions

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I’m not an existentialist – I am someone however who believes there are important questions that need to be asked of ourselves in order to effectively lead others.

Twelve years ago I met Dr. G., a psychiatrist deeply committed to helping people get clear about their purpose in life. In a serendipitous meeting he asked me the following three questions – questions I now believe are central to being an effective leader. He asked:

1. Who are you?

2. What is your purpose for being on the planet?

3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two?

These questions may be easy for you to answer, but for me at the time I was scrambling for the exit because I was so uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because at forty years of age I didn’t really have a clue as to how to answer his questions. I gave answers but they were answers intended to put a good face on things not to get at the root of what I believed to be true.

In my coaching work I’ve adapting the questions to provide a jumping off point for leaders to get clear about their leadership. They are:

1. Who are you work? What’s your brand, your reputation, your sphere of influence?

2. What is your purpose for being here at ABC corporation? Just as an FYI, it is not to run the accounting department. Think bigger about what value an extraordinary accounting department provides and to whom? Your purpose is typically much, much bigger than your first stab at an answer.

3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two? This question is where your grand intentions from number two meet the real world.

Ideally, at the end of each week you would be able to find multiple times where you intentionally lived out your answers to number two. If you can’t find these times, the reason why is either because you haven’t gotten crystal clear as to your answer, OR, and this is a big or, or your number two isn’t compelling and inspiring enough. You may have answered the question, but there is a bigger answer yet to be unearthed.

Two things to remember. The first is that in order to lead others you have to start by leading yourself. The second is that your leadership will be built on small good deeds practiced daily and not grand intentions.

Are you ready to take a stab at 3 little questions?

Avoiding The Sting

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I remember vividly the first time I was stung by a hornet. It was so painful that I’ve become conditioned to take flight – not unlike my dog at bath time. Whenever I find myself near them, it doesn’t matter who is around I’m heading for cover! I understand intellectually hornets play a crucial role in maintaining the pest insect population, but my memory of being stung is so strong that I have a semi-panic oriented reaction.

People get stung at work – sometimes by accident and sometimes intentionally. I spoke with a client today who said she’s been stung so many times by some of her co-workers that she’s determined that benign neglect is the best response. Is this a wise decision for a smart, well educated, committed, and passionate professional? Yes, under the circumstances it’s a wise decision.

But what about her level of engagement and commitment? My client’s negative experience with hornets prompted her to play her important and pivotal leadership role safely, quietly, and respectfully in the hopes of not upsetting things. Unfortunately her fear of being stung is jeopardizing her effectiveness and the results she’s achieving.

Once we talked about her leadership from the perspective of being stung she was able to see her behavior in a new light. She realized the implications were too big to ignore and was open to discussing how to be safe around hornets, AND how to realize more fully her hopes for her role. The conversation changed from “I can’t do that” to “until now I haven’t known how to do that.”

Here’s what I want to know:

1. Do you have a hornet’s nest at work that you’re avoiding?
2. Are you losing energy, creativity, and or effectiveness by avoiding it?
3. If you answered no to number two – how do you know that to be true?
4. Would others who know you best agree with your assessment about your answer to number two?
5. Have you grown sick and tired of the situation?

If you’ve grown sick and tired of the situation and want to know what to do, I have one suggestion. I know I’m supposed to have three suggestions, but in this case I only have one.

Choose A Different Response!

Twenty-two years ago I met a therapist who told me “Hugh, you will always be 100% accountable for every decision you make. The rub is that you’ll never have enough information to make the right decision. As soon as you make a decision you’ll get new information and see an alternative that wasn’t there before.” Thank you Bruce Watson.

The same holds true with how we’ve decided to deal with the hornets at work and at home. The first thing to remember about hornets is that hornets will always do what they were designed to do. They’re not going to choose to act like butterflies, so give up any hope that your hornets will be magically transformed. The second thing to remember is that you are expending energy avoiding and protecting yourself from hornets and the only way to address the hornets in your life is to choose a different response that more effectively works for you. Think about the admonition from Bruce above.

In order to do your best work, to fulfill your highest hopes for your work, your leadership, your team, and your organization, you need to choose a different way of talking to yourself. Specifically, choose to think “yes and” instead of “yes but.” The word “but” is an eraser word. It erases everything that comes before it and is disempowering. If you heard someone say “I know there are people who are thriving in this economy, but I just don’t see how that’s possible for me.” The moment you hear “but” you can say to yourself here comes the truth.

When you exchange the word yes for the word but you’ve taken a huge step forward in telling yourself that you are in control of how you interact with hornets. You’re saying you’re empowered to make a difference – if nothing else for yourself. You’re willing to acknowledge that there is new information that might transform the situation.

Avoiding being stung by hornets has us playing things safe – I know because I’ve done it myself for too long and at too high of a cost. It’s time to show up fully engaged – and that starts with a simple change in how we choose to talk to ourselves.

But then again maybe I’m over simplifying things. Yes, and then again, maybe I’m not.

What’s Your Leadership Philosophy?

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After twenty-seven years in leadership roles I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of leadership development programs are misguided, ineffective, and detrimental to organizational performance. I’ll even go so far as to say that the whole notion of leadership development is a waste of money.

Why? Because as a leadership consultant I see organizations placing leaders front and center of their development process and forgetting that leadership isn’t really about the leader – leadership is about those following the leader.

How pervasive is this backwards view? Google the word leadership and you get 209,000,000 results. Google the word followership and you get 509,000.

Leadership is leader centric while followership is follower centric. Followership is the most important of the two words because it’s geared toward engaging and inspiring others to willingly follow you. Willingly being the operative word. Leaders who understand this distinction recognize that what’s at stake is commitment and have jettisoned being satisfied with compliance.

How do you view your leadership? To find out, here are two of my all time favorite leadership questions:

1. Would you willingly follow yourself if you were the person in charge of this project, team, department, or organization? Not follow you begrudgingly or because your name is higher on the organizational chart, but out of conscious choice to willingly follow? In either case why?

2. Are you inspired by your own words and or behavior? I’ve advised leaders repeatedly that they can’t give CPR if they’re dead! Does your leadership make you feel alive? If it doesn’t you need to read my article Make a Difference or Make an Exit.

Before you try and have others follow you, define your philosophy of leadership and see if you pass the smile test. Do you smile when you read your leadership philosophy? Does it inspire you and help you look forward to another day of leading others? Or, do you smile knowing that no one will see your leadership philosophy and therefore you’re off the hook?

I suggest you get on the hook and define what leadership means to you. To do so you can ask yourself these questions:

1. What aspects of leadership have you fallen in love with? Are there aspects of leadership that make your heart skip a beat?
2. From your perspective what traits and or characteristics need to be present in order for you to be worth following?
3. What do your key stakeholders want to see in you in order for them to commit to your beliefs about moving forward?
4. What part of your leadership do you want people to speak about at your funeral?
5. What do you want to be known for? What inspires you about leadership?

Without taking the time to answer these questions leaders will continue to exhibit the latest and greatest leadership fads in the hope of finding their way to extraordinary leadership. The rub is that you don’t need to read another book. You don’t need to attend another seminar. You need to find what’s important to you, what inspires you, and what you’re unwilling to leave undone – then and only then can you have others willingly follow your leadership.

A Bigger Yes

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A Bigger Yes from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.