My Cheese has Wheels!!

My Cheese Has Wheels!

Sometimes change is just a little too “in your face.” We need to help people get past — and accept — change. Spencer Johnson’s book is a great metaphor.

And remember — there’s only two types of people who really like change:

  1. The person controlling the change (obviously), and
  2. The person who personally benefits from the change.

All others need to be sold. So sell ’em. And don’t forget…

Be Brazen.

Top 10 Client Lessons from 2019

Another year in the books (or the cloud, or wherever we store history these days). In 2019, we worked with executives in healthcare, technology, contact centers, financial services, higher education and more, and we’ve helped them become better leaders who developed more leaders. Along the way, we had the privilege to help their organizations grow, transform and improve, and in doing so, we saw some noteworthy trends we thought we’d share with you. If any of these sound familiar, learn vicariously from the collective and use this as a catalyst for improvement.

We’re all people first. Relationships before processes. Relationships instead of processes. It’s intuitive that employees do better when change is their idea; we’ve learned that the same thing holds true for the consultant-client relationship. More shut-up, more listen.

Leadership is a contact sport. We’re all busy with a host of really important organizational and administrative tasks, but if you’re in a leadership position, leading is your primary job and not an additional duty. It’s not that idiotic term “soft-skill” if it’s the one you need to do your basic job. You can keep busy staying in your office, but you can’t develop authentic, trusting relationships with those you lead from there. Don’t let busyness become an excuse for half-hearted leadership.  

Even the best need help. Michael Jordan had a coach. Tiger Woods had a coach (back when he was good; now… who knows? ???? ). Tom Brady and LeBron James have coaches. Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai have coaches — even Oprah Winfrey has one. 40% of Fortune 500 CEOs fail within 18 months; 82% of them because of relationships. This isn’t a push for our executive coaching services; it’s a reminder (from our clients) that even those we consider superstars “need someone.” They need help to grow, develop, and continue their superstar status. Leading at the top is hard stuff, and having someone to advise and counsel — and just listen sometimes — is crucial.

Leadership development isn’t an event; it’s a process. If your leadership development program is solely an HR-led, one-and-done training seminar, you’re doing it wrong. It’s just not effective. Top leadership support for development is essential, and only individuals at the highest organizational levels can create a climate that encourages a continuous learning environment.

Often, you have to choose sides. Leadership—and consulting—has risks. In this profession, too many try to be all things to all people, tripping over non-committal PC verbiage. We must stop. Sometimes we have to tell the CEO that the SVP of Operations has the better plan to consider. It’s what’s best for the client that must always drive our actions, advice and counsel.

We can do two things at once. No, no one is advocating individual multi-tasking, but organizational multi-tasking is a must. We simply cannot focus on just one strategy, direction or objective. We must have the leadership bandwidth to move multiple objectives forward while still dealing with the occasional organizational fire.

Process cannot overcome culture. There is no single 12-page Guide to Leadership; if there were, I’d have written it, become a kazillionaire with my own island and you wouldn’t be invited. If an outfit’s culture is not conducive to, say, empowered decision-making, then for Pete’s sake don’t allow some outside consultant to teach or coach on empowerment or high-level delegation. Work on the culture first, then use leadership “pull” instead of consultant “push” to marshal through necessary objectives and behavior changes.

Talk’s cheap; meaningful conversations are priceless. Most senior leadership teams declare themselves to be great communicators… and they’re usually not. Not with each other or their employees. Think about the conversations you have around the conference room table. Are they about hard things, or are they guarded to ensure everyone “gets along?” Trust is never built hiding behind the thin veneer of playing nice; it requires authentic and meaningful conversations. Collaboration and deference look a lot alike. They aren’t.

Don’t stop doing what works. We saw this so many times in 2019 that we felt compelled to remind you. If you’ve changed a process (or put a new one into place) to correct a problem, don’t quit following it when the problem goes away. That’s like stopping your blood pressure medicine because your blood pressure isn’t high anymore. It’s hard enough to implement a new process and get it to stick; having to do it twice is self-induced suffering.

Check your ego at the door. When leaders let their ego influence decisions, they become deaf to the messages their behavior conveys, and blind to how others perceive those messages. Ego is the major culprit behind leaders who won’t admit they might have been wrong or refuse to show vulnerability. When the little green monster keeps us from making good objective decisions, we lose trust not only from those affected but also from those who watched – and don’t even think no one was watching.  

I can only imagine what I’ll learn from my clients in 2020.

Be Brazen.

Needing Leaders… The “make” or “buy” decision…

So, do you grow your own leaders from within, or hire someone new with – presumably – the leadership skills you need are unable to find inside your organization?  What do you tell yourself to justify not developing those skills from within your organization?  How about these?  See if any sound familiar…

“I don’t have anyone ready to ‘step-up.’”

“Leadership development is expensive.”

“If I train them, they’ll just leave and join the competition.”

Please.  I’ve heard them all, and many more just like these.  Some are urban myths, some are akin to the business version of “old wives’ tales.”  All are dumb.  Worse, however, is that some are actually damaging to your organization.

For example:

I don’t have anyone ready to step up.  Really??  You have no one on your staff, or available to you, who with proper development, coaching, and mentoring could step into a more responsible role?

My first comment is “not likely.”  If you really believe that, though, here’s some free advice: Whack ’em all and start over.  Simple statistical odds are that some should be ready or capable of becoming ready; if not, our hiring process is so remiss that blowing it up and starting over may be the only option.

It costs too much.  Again with the “really??”  How much does it cost, in revenue, earnings, and your time, to re-tell, re-advise, re-answer, and re-work?  How about the conflicts that apparently only you can resolve? Aren’t you tired of having to make every decision yourself?

What sort of productivity gains are you missing by not having competent and skilled managers and supervisors at all levels of the leadership food chain?

If I train them, they’ll just leave.  So then, your choices seem to be either train someone who may eventually leave, or keeping that person without the necessary, relevant knowledge.  You’re not seriously weighing this, are you?

Why “grow our own” leaders?  In my mind, there are three simple reasons:

  1. It ensures continuity.  Someone who has seen, experienced and “lived” the functional day-to-day may better understand what issues and challenges are significant.  Yes, sometimes we need an outsider to provide some new-blood thinking, but not at the expense of continuity and corporate memory.
  2. It sends a positive message. Advancement opportunities are a big reason that good people stay – including you.  Promoting a deserving candidate trumps and external hire 24×7 in that regard.
  3. They already know, understand, and more importantly fit our culture. Let’s face it —  though valuable, skills are a dime a dozen on the open market.  They just aren’t that difficult to find (including mine and yours).  What’s difficult is finding those skills wrapped up in someone intelligent enough to learn our jobs, and who also fits our current culture.

Except in very unique circumstances, developing current staff to assume future leadership roles always, always, benefits the organization in big ways.  Many of you reading this have been promoted into your roles, so you clearly understand the value.  We can – we really can – teach and develop the skills necessary to “grow your own,” so keep that in mind before thinking there’s “greener grass” in a newly hired manager…

You Don’t ‘Create’ a Culture… You CHANGE It!

Speaking with a potential client, she asked about the process to “rebuild” their culture. The ensuing chat was interesting (I would call it “great!,” but the client hasn’t signed on yet…!)

First, culture isn’t actually “rebuilt.” It exists — in complete form — in every organization.

You may not LIKE the culture, may want to CHANGE the culture, but remember: It’s a change management effort, and has all the corresponding efforts and challenges of any organizational change process.

A specific culture can START anywhere within an organization, though it can only really be DRIVEN by the top. The top controls processes, most extrinsic motivations, environments, and sets values and acceptable behavior (the whole ‘lead by example’ thingy).

To change culture, all levers must be congruent… policies must match behaviors; values must be supported by procedures and accepted norms; compensation must match desired behaviors, actions, and results.

They’ve all got to work together, and when changing a culture (vs. maintaining), you really can’t afford even small inconsistencies.Without over-stressing my keyboarding skills, desired culture change will never take place via “programs,” off-sites, workshops or other isolated events.

It’s gotta be the whole enchilada. It must have complete support of the senior-most staff, and necessarily reinforced (in part) via performance management.

In other words, it’s kind of a big deal…

Be Brazen.

Success According to Karl

The broader impact of performance management…

The ability to make good decisions regarding people represents one of the last reliable sources of competitive advantage, since very few organizations are any good at it.”

— Peter Drucker

Two senior managers are competing for a coveted job or responsibility. Both have solid, well-known B-school credentials, blue-chip resumes, and social/personal skills that make them a real pleasure to be around. On their staffs, one of them has one A-player, a couple of B-players, and the rest Cs. The other has a handful of A-players, 2-3 B’s, and no Cs.

Who wins?? The answer is simple, isn’t it…? Hiring and firing well, though not for the faint at heart, are at the center of every successful executive and organization.

Hiring Well

When hiring. determine what an “A” player looks like for you and your firm, and don’t settle for anything less than that. If you are diligent in that regard, the worst case is you end up with a high “B” employee, not some bottom-feeding loser.

If you can’t find any of those, simply do not hire. The cost of hiring poorly is so much greater than the cost of not filling any position, including those deadly sounding “lost opportunity” costs. If your candidate pool doesn’t offer up a hirable option, blow them all up and start again, versus picking the best of the bad. Remember, even if you got the pick of the litter, you still got a dog…

Develop a new-hire profile that outlines what the candidate must look like, including skills, knowledge, and proven ability, and then add in “characteristics.” It’s usually those characteristics that divide the good-looking from the good-performing.

Fire Well

This one is so much tougher since we feel some degree of failure for that employee’s substandard performance. Rightfully so.

Truthfully, however, we probably “hired” wrong more than we “managed” wrong. In staff development and evaluation, it pays to be critical and resolute; decide what performance is required, coach as necessary, even get them additional help… but at the end of the “period,” whatever that is, hold them personally and completely accountable for delivering – or not delivering – those results.

Then act accordingly. Even when it hurts. We’re a business, not a social services agency, and we can’t fix everyone.

The problem with keeping deadwood or sub-standard performers is that it does exactly the opposite of what you may think. The deadwood loves you; the sub-standard performing crowd calls you a friend.

Your superstars, however – those whom you are relying for the current and future success of the organization – see your lack of action as a direct slight to their abilities. You pay the sub-standard performer $XX dollars per year; you pay the superstar, hopefully, $XX+Y. You are screaming to your superstar that the sole difference between them and the deadwood is that small delta between the two of them.

And we wonder why they leave??

A story… I was recently at O’Hare, in the Hertz bus going from the terminal to the car lot. The driver, Karl Levi, was nothing short of outstanding. Those who travel frequently know that those shuttle bus drivers are frequently… well, “less” than outstanding. I struck up a conversation with Karl (easy to do – he’s a “talker”).Hertz-bus-at-ohare

Karl had been with Hertz for 18 years. Folks, that’s a long time for a job that historically has high turnover. Since he was obviously good at his trade, I asked him why he stayed with Hertz all these years. His reply? Three things: (1) “They take care of me – they appreciate and recognize my work;” (2) “They are good people; those in charge seem to care;” and (3) “They don’t put up with poor performers.”

Think of the significance; this guy has been there 18 years, known me for about 3 minutes, and is responding to a reasonably personal question. One of his three reasons — over 18 years of employment — is that they don’t tolerate poor performers.

Thanks, Karl.

Be Brazen.