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?

7 Steps To Exceptional Coaching

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I was on a coaching call recently with my mentor and coach, Alan Weiss, and we discussed success criteria for exceptional coaching. Seven of the twelve discussed I believe can be instrumental in helping managers and leaders improve performance with an employee they’re coaching. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that one or two may grab your attention.

The seven steps to exceptional coaching are:

1. Always focus exclusively on observable behavior – in every interaction avoid jumping to conclusions as to the motivation as to why someone behaved the way they did.

2. Communicate what you saw the person do not on what you think they did – without any judgement communicate what you saw. For example, “when your boss questioned you as to your support of the project you raised your voice, hit the table with a fist and said “of course you do – why do you ask?”

3. Remove emotionally laden language – whenever you use emotional language the likelihood is high that you are emotionally charged. Use the Joe Friday, just the facts approach.

4. Build on the persons strengths – avoid trying to improve someone’s weaknesses. It very rarely is successful long term and only serves to frustrate you and the person being coached.

5. Walk the talk – to gain commitment to your recommendations rather than compliance look for recommendations that others have seen you do so as to be seen as credible and authentic.

6. Provide specific recommendations or techniques to address the behavior you’re addressing – “next time before you respond take one deep breath fully inhaling and exhaling. Then respond.”

7. Confront and Comfort – don’t pull punches, address whatever issue you see directly and respectfully and always follow up with a supportive “you’re doing well and I’m convinced you’ll accomplish this.”

Discretionary Performance: Moving Beyond Ordinary to Extraordinary

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The term discretionary income describes the money you have left over every month after paying your taxes and all of your bills. At work we have something called discretionary performance. This is the performance we have left over after our regular work duties have been taken care of, and can be accessed ONLY if we are truly committed to an idea, team, or organization.

And yet, whenever you bring two or more people together in the workplace to accomplish a task or accomplish a goal, people end up working in one of two ways. One erodes discretionary performance and one cultivates it.

The first is as a workgroup and is best characterized as a collection of people who share a common objective, task or in some cases overhead. With workgroups there isn’t a common or compelling vision or mission and results in ten people producing eight units of productivity. No discretionary performance here.

The second way people can work together is with people working as a team. Teams are a community of individuals with a commitment to something larger than the task at hand. “Comm.”, the preface to words like community, communication, and communion means “to be one with”. When you are one with someone, some ideal, or some value, you create a connection and synergy where the total output is greater than the sum of all of the parts. Wherever you find unification and synergy, you experience ten people producing twelve units of productivity.

Discretionary performance takes root in this fertile soil. Why? It takes root because it’s safe to bring all of our talents, skills, hope’s, and aspirations to the team and to leverage them to achieve the extraordinary. When you think of whether you are more of a team or a workgroup you’ll run into a dilemma though – you can’t sit on the fence and be both – you are either one or the other.

In Jim Collins book, Good To Great, he proposed that there are three traits that all teams need to have in order to move to greatness, and I believe are essential for cultivating discretionary performance. They are:

1. Communication / Dialogue:
This type of communication and dialogue is about a CLEAR purpose that’s larger than all of us. It embraces ideas such as creating extraordinary products or services, continuously growing and learning, embracing what’s possible versus what’s probable, and making a meaningful contribution to the communities you serve.

When our conversations don’t have these aspects as the foundation, we create situations where our own self-interests take precedence and winning for one person makes it difficult for others to win. Our conversations become about WIN / LOSE, not WIN / WIN, and WIN / LOSE is always a losing proposition and is the death knell for discretionary performance.

2. Disagreement:
While disagreement might seem contradictory to communication and dialogue, disagreement is a positive aspect of growth. Not the type of disagreement rooted in being right and or proving someone wrong – that should be eschewed at all cost. The type of disagreement that is healthy and productive balances advocacy with inquiry and has a bias for listening to understand versus listening to respond. Disagreement can lead to a greater sense of shared understanding along with a greater appreciation for the strategically diverse viewpoints each team member brings to the team.

Managers and leaders need to acknowledge that people act in ways that serve their own best interest, and that understanding how team members answer the question “what’s in it for me? is not a selfish question, but rather our human nature and survival instincts showing up in the world of work. Knowing what motivates a team member to act with the best interest of the overall team in mind is essential for achieving discretionary performance – without this context and understanding teams are relegated to ordinary and not extraordinary performance.

If you want to cultivate greater discretionary performance, here are three questions for your next team meeting. They are:

1. What did we achieve last week that we believe was extraordinary?
2. How did we (through our thinking, processes, practices, and or procedures) create or hinder the achievement of the extraordinary?
3. What do we need to keep doing, stop doing, and or start doing in order to achieve the truly extraordinary?

Always Change A Winning Team

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Always Change A Winning Team from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.


Hugh  Blane:

Hello everybody my name is Hugh Blane and I’m the President of Claris Consulting and this is my video blog. Today I have the distinct pleasure of having Dr. Peter Robertson with me. Dr. Robertson is based in the Neterhlands. He has a consulting firm with offices in Shanghai, London and Singapore.
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