Archive for the ‘HR Strategy’ Category

Feeling Like a Fraud: The Big Fat Lie

Monday, April 4th, 2016

In this fourth of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how dramatic changes can make you believe that you are not adequate to the situation you are facing. This is the Big, Fat Lie. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in late April, 2016. This is only one month away, and pre-sales of the book are available on amazon.com right now! Following this current article, the two remaining installments in this series include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: who am I at the core?
  • Feeling like a fraud: getting real again!

In general, what is the Big Fat Lie? It is simply the belief that you are not adequate in the situation or circumstances you face. This false belief often occurs when you face new, unfamiliar challenges that make you begin to doubt your ability to handle them. When the changed circumstances seem extremely challenging to you, and you feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, you might begin to think that everything you know is wrong and you are totally inadequate to the task (see our last post on this topic). You might start to doubt yourself and your abilities. You might even experience a level of destabilization at the core of your being.

In David’s case, for example, he experienced dissonance in his new role. When David and his manager first met with me to talk about starting a coaching relationship, several factors were clear immediately. David was an extremely bright VP who had grown up in the finance part of the high-tech manufacturing company in which he was employed. He was personable in an introverted sort of way, displaying an easy smile and a wry, somewhat random, sense of humor.

In the first meeting with David and his manager, she described him as, “someone who struggles a bit taking a strong, definitive stand in the midst of uncertainty. That is, he often seems uncomfortable going with a hunch when he doesn’t have what he feels is a sufficient amount of data to support his conclusions.” His manager indicated that the most important challenge in David’s new role was for him to influence leaders more broadly within the organization, to create the right vision and plan so that others would follow, and to empower his team to make decisions and take action. From her perspective, he needed to move more quickly to explain the core of the issues and help frame the discussion so that others could get up to speed and on board with his thinking.

For his part, David admitted that he tended to not ask for help until he was in deep water, believing thathe could “just work my way out of it.” He described himself as, “the kind of person who stubbornly refuses to admit defeat,” and who, instead, would “crank up my hard work ethic and put in more hours until I get the job done.” This behavior tended to push his team away when they could have been of the most help, and it took time away from his more important role of influencing the thinking of internal and external customers.

It also contributed to his feelings of being a fraud, because he thought that, “If I’m smart enough to be in this role, I should be able to figure out the answers without needing someone to step in and save me.” Because he could not always figure out a way to work through the problems he faced, he began to feel inadequate as a leader.

Senior management in the organization was keen to support David in his new role. They viewed him as having all the right stuff to be promoted even further, yet needing to change some fundamental ways in which he operated, as reflected in the feedback he received from his manager and his 360-degree results. After reading his feedback from others, and recognizing that he was not as successful with internal and external customers as he expected himself to be, David wondered whether, in fact, he was the right fit for his new role and responsibilities.

Identifying the lie. David and I had met a couple of times in our coaching engagement before he was comfortable enough to confide in me that he felt like a fraud in his role. He did so by sharing his version of The Big Fat Lie, “I need to be someone totally different to really be successful in this role.” His peer, Faye, was in a similar product management role, and David began to believe that he needed to fashion his approach to match Faye’s personality and style.

As David described it, “Faye comes from a marketing and sales background, so her personality is naturally much more outgoing and verbal, and way more engaging with customers than mine. She’s also extremely confident interacting with internal and external customers, with much greater finesse at casting a vision and enrolling them through her charisma.” David had tried to emulate Faye, but felt like he had failed miserably. This just underscored in his mind that he was a fraud in the role.

Despite the fact that he was chosen for the role and had been fulfilling it with relative success for nearly two years, David had somehow still harbored the lie that he was not fit to be in the role. Consequently, everything he saw about himself in the role was filtered through this Big Fat Lie, and he continually felt like a fraud, particularly when he was with clients and potential clients.

This initial conversation led to many others as David and I fleshed out what his core personality characteristics, abilities, motivations, and beliefs were, and strategized how to leverage these fundamental characteristics to maximize his effectiveness. We discovered together that he tends to be most comfortable in a role when he can act as a ‘guide’ or ‘helper’ to the people around him. I challenged him to think of ways he could shift his approach in his current role so that he could function primarily as a guide or helper with his team and his customers. He began to shift his approach to fit his core style, and began to experience success with his team and clients.

The problem for David–and for you–is that the Big Fat Lie, while it seems to explain things on some level, also acts in a self-fulfilling way to inhibit your effectiveness. The misperception that you must act differently than whom you are at the core undermines your ability to be successful. To what extent has a Big, Fat Lie limited your success in your career? What lie do you believe right now about yourself that makes it difficult for you to be completely effective in your work?

Please weigh in on our blog with your own experiences with this phenomenon of feeling like a fraud:

http://roselleleadership.com/stay-informed/leadersynth-articles

Feeling like a Fraud: Everything I Know Seems Wrong!

Friday, February 26th, 2016

In this third of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how dramatic changes can make you believe that everything you know seems wrong. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in April, 2016. This is only two months away! Following this current article, the four remaining installments in this series include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: the big fat lie
  • Feeling like a fraud: who am I at the core?
  • Feeling like a fraud: getting real again!

You may have had experiences in your life and work where everything you knew seemed wrong. As we discussed in the last Leadersynth article, being confronted by new information, situations, and perspectives that radically differ from your prior understanding of how things work can make it seem that everything you know is suddenly insufficient to the problems at hand. This type of situation nearly always generates some dissonance, but when you actually develop a deep belief that everything you know IS wrong, it can destabilize you and stir up fraud feelings.

Such was the case with Burt, a 50-something clinical researcher who had been enjoying his role as the team lead, until, suddenly, a new boss stepped onto the scene. It felt abrupt because Burt thought that he would continue to lead the clinical trials team. However, senior management decided to create a new level of leadership to which Burt and the rest of the clinical team would report. Burt was not considered as a candidate for this new role. In a sense, Burt had received his first demotion in nearly 10 years of work at this company, and in almost 30 years in the industry. His reaction to the new circumstances was to feel destabilized and overwhelmed, and to employ a hide and avoid strategy.

His new boss, Yolanda, was at least 10 years younger than Burt, and had moved quickly up the ranks in her previous company. She was smart, well educated, and personable, but she and Burt got off to a poor start when, in her mind, the dynamics between them seemed more competitive than collaborative. Based on the information she had been given by Burt’s previous boss, as well as her early observations of him, she did not see any evidence of him functioning like a leader in this organization. He seemed to be in denial and unable to step in to lead his smaller functional role. Burt, for his part, felt like a fraud in his new role, and he thought that Yolanda wanted him to be someone very different from who he was.

The problem. Since Burt had been in the lead role before Yolanda arrived, he continued to receive emails and voicemails from the team asking for his expert perspective weeks after his boss had started. Unfortunately, he simply answered many of their questions and weighed in on problems without thinking that he was overstepping the boundaries of his boss’s new role. He explained that, “Others don’t know her well enough to have confidence in her, so they come to me as they have in the past. I’m trying to not overwhelm her with decisions, but she thinks I’m being secretive.”

Part of the problem was that, in fact, he was not certain what responsibilities his new role and the boss’s role now included. In the absence of specifics about his new job description, he interpreted his role as simply filling in the blanks and protecting Yolanda’s backside from potential problems. However, whenever he stepped in and deflected the impact of some of the early decisions she made, she interpreted this as resistance, not protection.

Because Burt had always been certain of the scope and expectations of his jobs in the past, not knowing these things created in him a destabilizing tailspin. The harder he tried to figure out who Yolanda wanted him to be, the closer he came to crashing. Consequently, he began to stay in his office and dig into details that, unfortunately, were not priorities to his boss.

Sensing that I did not have much time to turn this around as his coach, I began to work with Burt immediately. He was a deer in the headlights when we first talked, still trying to understand how he ended up in this smaller role, and highly suspect of what my coaching function was. The more he revealed to me in our first meeting, the clearer it became that, while Burt was understandably resistant about this new situation into which he had been thrust, he was also approaching the new circumstances with the same ineffective tools and perspective that he had used in the old role. In fact, he was using the same tools and perspective that he had used for most of the last 20 years of his career.

The assessment. I decided that it was time to help him see that, in some ways, everything he knew WAS wrong. We started with 360-degree feedback and personality tests, and the picture from these data was quite clear. I summarized the results by saying, “Burt, the good news is that you are viewed as a technologically savvy scientist who is steady and predictable emotionally, assertive in your communication, and empathetic in your relationships. The bad news is that you are not viewed as a strong team player, nor someone who can inspire others or generate enthusiasm, and you tend to be a bottleneck for work the team is trying to complete on time.”

My blunt assessment of these 360-degree data surprised Burt, and he became red-faced and defensive about the comments and ratings. He was having a hard time assimilating them into his view of himself as a leader; consequently, he could only dismiss or debate them. He was obviously flummoxed about others’ perspective on him, and this seemed to stir up even more fear about being a fraud. Over the course of our in-person meetings, as well as phone calls or emails between sessions, I deliberately supported the validity of the 360 degree data and, at the same time, affirmed the value of who he was at the core as a person and a leader. We worked together to make this a growth experience for him.

The solution. Burt’s story illustrates clearly the phases we each must pass through in order to grow from feeling like a fraud–because everything we know seems wrong:

  1. Gather accurate information from several sources to gain a true perspective on the situation
  2. Compare those data with your own perspective, feelings, interpretations to find disconnects
  3. Provide as much clarification as needed, so that all involved agree on expectations, roles, etc.
  4. Facilitate the growth process through coaching/mentoring /teaching toward a better approach
  5. Huddle periodically to make sure progress is being made, expectations are clear, etc.

Please weigh in on our blog with your own experiences with this phenomenon of feeling like a fraud: http://roselleleadership.com/stay-informed/leadersynth-articles

Why Leaders Fail – Part 2

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

In our last Leadersynth article, we raised the question, “Why do leaders fail?”  We discovered that the reasons for leader failure fall into three broad categories of dysfunction:

  • Poor relationships with people (not handling problems, too emotional, not considering needs of others, abrasive, blaming)
  • Inadequate results (problems with planning/organization/execution, not strategic enough)
  • Inappropriate guidance (over-controlling, failing to manage/nurture talent, not building/maintaining team)

In part, this dysfunction can occur because strengths that get managers promoted can become liabilities in more senior roles, weaknesses tolerated at lower levels can create obstacles at higher levels, and events outside a leader’s control can undermine results.  While no leader is strong in all the core competencies of effective leadership, our goal as organizations should be to pick the best talent for our culture, make sure that new leaders receive feedback early on, and address problematic behavior immediately. BEST PRACTICES.  What are the best practices other organizations use that can help you dramatically reduce the extent of leader failure in your organization?

  1. In the pre-hire process, screen candidates for potential derailing characteristics
  2. In the on-boarding process, help new hires acclimate, acculturate
  3. After six months on the job, conduct multi-rater feedback
  4. Confront any behaviors that appear to be dysfunctional when they arise
  5. Provide coaching/mentoring to mitigate any problematic behaviors

Pre-hire screening.  Create a process that screens candidates for negative characteristics like poor interpersonal skills, reactive behaviors, lack of organizational skills, inadequate team/talent management.  There are several screening mechanisms you can employ to accomplish this; keep in mind that no combination of screening tools will be completely fool-proof.

First, expose candidates to multiple interviews internally.  Keep them occupied with interviews, lunch, and other interactions over the course of a day to see how well they “wear” over time.  Make them come back for several interviews on different days with the same people, so that you can look for inconsistency in their behaviors.  Assign a “homework” assignment between interview days to generate an example of their critical/strategic thinking and organizational skills.

Employ an outside selection assessment service, such as that offered by Roselle Leadership (RLSI), to ensure the advantage of standardized tests and behavioral interview questions.  Using personality inventories, tests of critical thinking and numerical/verbal reasoning, and behavioral interview questions applied to thousands of candidates over the years, firms like RLSI provide a deeper perspective and a clearer picture of how candidates will likely behave six months down the road.

On-boarding processes.  Though the best strategy for minimizing leadership failures is to pick the perfect candidate every time, this does not typically happen.  Every candidate has flaws that do not show up in the pre-hire screening; the hope is that they will be minor flaws.  Even very good candidates, however, can get off on the wrong foot and end up cross-wise with their boss, their team, or others.

One way to minimize this is to develop a six-month on-boarding process that emphasizes the importance of the new hires getting to know their team members over a number of weeks, building relationships with their boss and peers, and becoming acculturated to your organization.  Too many leaders feel the pressure to deliver major results within the first 90 days, and that tends to generate dysfunctional behaviors and undermine their success in leading others.  A strong on boarding process will help new leaders acclimate to their new roles, even if they are internal candidates that have been promoted.  Using outside coaches who know your organization’s cultural expectations can also help.

Multi-rater feedback.  After new hires have been in their roles for six months, conduct a multi-rater feedback process.  Either use a strong internal mechanism, like an employee survey,  for accomplishing this, or employ an outside resource like RLSI’s FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™.  The purpose is to provide early feedback to new leaders, whether hired from the outside or promoted from within, on how their direct reports, peers, boss, and others view their approach so far.  Six months gives coworkers enough time to formulate an informed impression, while still being early enough to make any changes recommended by the feedback.

Dysfunctional behavior.  Using the 360-degree feedback or other informal feedback on their behavior and its impact so far, sit down with the new leader and address potentially dysfunctional behavior.  Focus in particular on their success in establishing relationships, building a team, organizing and executing the work for which they are responsible, the quality of their results, and the capacity to manage their own emotions and respond to the needs of others.  Any behaviors that appear to be dysfunctional and could lead to derailment should be identified immediately and clearly.

In providing this feedback, watch for reactions that suggest they are not taking ownership and, instead, are blaming others, trying to create a smoke-screen, or becoming defensive.  These are serious warning signs typically associated with leaders who are on the path to failure.  Consider using an outside resource to provide this feedback and confront any defensive reaction to it.  Look for a genuine commitment to change potentially derailing behaviors and attitudes, before you invest in support.

Provide Coaching/Mentoring.  If the new leader responds positively to the feedback by taking ownership and asking for help turning the corner in this new role, provide a combination of internal mentoring and external coaching.  Most of the behaviors identified in this article as dysfunctional and leading to failure (being abrasive or emotional, not considering others’ needs, failing to organize/deliver or think strategically, managing and nurturing talent in overly-controlling and ineffective ways, not building a functional team) can be significantly improved through coaching.

As in most situations in life, however, the dysfunctional leader must be committed to the process for any real change to occur.  If you, or an outside coaching resource, are working harder than the new leader is to become more effective in your culture, it is probably time to sever the relationship.

Why Leaders Fail – Part 1

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Why do leaders fail? This is a critical question, and the answer to it is important because, in most situations, as leaders go, so goes the organization. The good news is that empirical studies in the last several years have shed ample light on this question.

But, let’s begin with a brief look at why leaders succeed. An increasing body of research and practical experience suggests that highly effective leaders create motivated followers, and that these engaged employees make the difference between the organization that thrive, rather than just survive. At Roselle Leadership Strategies, our research and experience suggest that the most effective leaders exhibit strengths in three basic pillars of competence: building relationships, achieving results, and applying resourcefulness. These “Three-R’s” of leadership form the basis for our FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™, and include such behaviors as driving for results, inspiring and motivating others, providing strategic perspective, coaching and developing, influencing decision makers, and collaborating across groups.

It is not necessary for leaders to possess strengths in all three of these buckets in order to be successful. In fact, most leaders do not have the perfect “trifecta” of strong relationships, results, and resourcefulness. However, it is imperative that their weaknesses are not so large that these overshadow their strengths. When dysfunctional, toxic behaviors dominate leaders’ behaviors, their strengths become almost unnoticeable.

Recent research from a consortium of executive coaches and talent management consultants shows that one in four externally hired executives and one in five internally promoted executives do not perform as expected, even after two years on the job. They concluded that in most of these underperforming executives, the most critical factors in their failure were lack of interpersonal and leadership skills. Other factors cited as contributing to these failures were: organizational structural problems, conflicting goals with more senior management, and poor fit with the new role.

These are important data, because the failure of leaders at multiple levels in organizations typically has as a component lack of interpersonal/relationship skills. Across a variety of studies using different methodologies in various organizations and cultures, unsuccessful leaders were found to display poor judgment, inability to build effective teams, difficulty building relationships, and little evidence of learning from their mistakes. They fail to address the gaps that others point out to them in feedback, do not thrive in changing situations, lack self-insight, and/or exhibit flaws in their moral character.

Other research over the last 30+ years shows an average rate of leader failure at about 50 percent, with a range across various studies from one third to two thirds. When top leaders fail, it is usually a very expensive problem to resolve. One cost is the actual financial impact. Various studies have estimated the range in cost from $500K to more than $2M, depending on the size of the organization and the level of the failed leader within it. These figures do not include the value of pre-negotiated severance packages, or missed business objectives.

Other costs, less tangible and measurable, include the stress and unhappiness that dysfunctional leaders cause in their team members and peers. Organizational climate surveys consistently show about 75 percent of working adults indicating that the most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate boss. In human resource exit interviews, the reason most frequent cited by those leaving is poor relationship with their manager. The costs in decreased productivity, negative acting-out behaviors at work, and employee turnover is considerable. Overall, the costs associated with toxic leaders may represent the greatest profitability opportunity for most organizations.

The initial studies of leader failure primarily focused on U.S. males. However, subsequent studies replicated the results in females and across various European and American samples. Three themes that consistently seem to rise to the top in their impact on leader failure are: problems with interpersonal relationships, difficulty adapting to changing dynamics, and poor business performance. Earlier in this paper, we described the three pillars represented in our 360-degree instrument, the FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™, as reflecting the Three-R’s of relationships, results, and resourcefulness. The studies of leader failure clearly parallel the need for a degree of capability across these three.

Within the last five years, other researchers have identified nine categories of destructive leader behaviors and found no differences between males and females. The nine included issues like: persistent people problems, over-controlling with others, under-controlled in their own emotions, poor planning/organization/execution, inappropriate use of information/rumors, failure to manage/nurture talent, and failure to consider human needs. This last factor, failure to consider human needs, was found to have the most devastatingly toxic impact on staff morale. Within the last 10 years, research has identified specific behaviors that can potentially result in leader derailment. They include the following four major problem areas:

  • Building/maintaining team (micromanaging, autocratic, poor morale/motivation)
  • Non-strategic perspective (too detailed, reliant on technical skills, unable to prioritize)
  • Working relationships (insensitive, abusive, blames others, not politically astute)
  • Inappropriate behavior (over-reacting, poor integrity, easily stressed, gossip/rumor mongering)

If you reduce the types of problems identified across the various research studies into broad categories, you find that poor relationships with people (not handling problems, too emotional, not considering needs of others, abrasive, blaming), inadequate results (problems with planning/organization/execution, not strategic enough), and inappropriate guidance (over-controlling, failing to manage/nurture talent, not to building/maintaining team) are the three fundamental issues that stand out. Again, this set of recent findings parallels the Three-R’s of leadership from Roselle Leadership: relationships, results, and resourcefulness.

This first of two Leadersynth papers on the topic of Why Leaders Fail is designed to pull key finding from research and experience to identify behaviors most associated with derailment, dysfunction, and leader failure. In the next paper, we will explore what organizations like yours can do to minimize the likelihood of selecting dysfunctional leaders and mitigate the effects of the toxic leaders already employed there.

Everyone Looks Good on Paper!

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that
actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Some of our client organizations use psychological assessments to help them hire candidates, others do
not. In the current marketplace, with multiple candidates for every open position, you might decide
that it’s a “buyer’s market” out there and every candidate is a great one. You might conclude that your
current hiring process already does a good job of filtering out the worst candidates and netting the best
ones. If that is your firm mindset as you begin reading this, you can stop right now; this Leadersynth
edition will not be helpful to you!

On the other hand, if you look at the success rate for your new hires over the last several years and think
“there must be a better way,” you might learn something here. This is the story of a recent hire for a
client organization that illustrates an effective series of steps to insure the best hires.
TQX, a mid-sized manufacturing company, was looking to hire a senior design engineer. At the
beginning of their search, they were contacted by Tom, an engineer from a competitor, about possible
job openings at TQX. The COO and CEO were somewhat familiar with Tom and his career at the
competitor. In fact, the COO lived near him; their kids attended the same high school and had played in
the same soccer league growing up. The COO knew Tom as a friend and neighbor, and she was
favorably inclined to hire him. However, the CEO had a nephew who worked at Tom’s current
employer, and the nephew’s sense of Tom was that he was arrogant and difficult to work with,
sometimes responding with inappropriate emotion when upset.

TQX called me in to conduct a pre-hire psychological assessment. The COO, CEO, and I met up front to
discuss the position and what their desires were for the successful senior design engineer candidate. I
left with a clear sense of what they wanted in the position and what they liked and disliked about Tom
from their first interview, as well as their knowledge of him from other sources.

We sent a couple of personality tests and a critical thinking assessment to Tom as pre-work, and then I
met in person with him to conduct an in-depth behavioral interview. In particular, I focused on his
challenges, successes, and failures in previous roles and projects, as well as the aspects of his work that
had motivated him throughout his career. At one point, we talked about the last couple of years at his
current employer, and it was clear that he had been involved in a project that did not go well and had
caused him a great deal of stress. He obviously had not felt supported by senior management in the
project, and, in fact, there had been legal issues for which he was called to testify in court. It had been
very unpleasant for him.

At another point in the interview, I asked him what was motivating him to leave his current employer.
As he answered, he began to tell me about how his wife had been involved in a serious car accident
about a year ago, and how stressed he felt traveling out of town for projects and leaving his wife and
kids at home as she recuperated. At this point, tears began to well up in his eyes and his voice became
choked with emotion.

He was able to finish the interview, and, after he left the office, I thought about these new data points
he had shared. First, it was clear that he was on the rebound from a very negative work experience in
which he felt unsupported by his management. Second, it was clear that he had a tendency to become
overwhelmed and uncomfortable reaching out for help when he needed it on projects. Third, I began to
understand why others might have experienced him as arrogant and difficult to work with, with all the
upset related to his wife’s recovery and his extensive travel schedule.

After writing a report describing the key attributes of this candidate, I met again with the CEO and COO
to discuss the report and dig more deeply into our collective overall impressions. They found it helpful
to ask questions and hear me elaborate on his potential strengths and development areas. In particular,
they were a bit surprised that Tom became emotional in the interview. I described him in the report as
someone who expresses his feelings openly, in part due to my interview observations, but also due to
several scales on the personality tests. This discussion helped us pull together the various bits of data
from his workplace, the interview, and the test results that supported the notion that he was likely to
wear his feelings on his sleeve.

Other than these couple of concerns, however, Tom was a very strong candidate. He was smart,
personable, strategic, creative in problem solutions, and a hard worker. Just the kind of person they
wanted in the senior design engineer role. To allay any lingering concerns, they circled back to Tom to
discuss their perceptions of his style under pressure. They liked his responses and decided to hire him.
This story, for which the names and other specifics were changed, illustrates several key steps to build
success into any organizational hiring process:

  • Be clear upfront what you want/need in a candidate for a particular position
  • Conduct initial interviews internally to narrow down your list and screen out poor candidates
  • Use additional resources to screen candidates beyond internal behavioral interviews. In this
    case, it involved using an external psychologist to administer tests and an additional interview; it
    also included data from an insider at the individual’s current job and the perspective of a
    neighbor in the community. Using standardized tests, particularly personality and abilities
    assessments, can provide a helpful norm-based perspective for hiring.
  • Discuss the candidate in the light of all the data and use the discussion to explore the possible
    meanings of the data you have on the candidate. Use this time to identify development areas
    for the candidate that, if you hire the individual, you can begin to address when he/she first
    begins to work.
  • Circle back to the candidate to discuss potential concerns and see how he/she responds
  • Make your final decision

Remember: everyone looks good on paper, and most people can manage to look good for at least a first
screening interview. Use objective and standardized sources of data to help you paint a picture of what
a candidate will really be like six months after being hired! Roselle Leadership Strategies offers valuepriced
Selection Assessments to help build success into your hiring and promotion strategies. With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Throw Away “The First 90 Days”!

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Since I have lived most of my life in the Midwest, I typically moderate strong feelings I might have on any topic. In fact, I usually just get so mad that I ALMOST SAY SOMETHING! However, in this case, it’s time someone stood up to The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. When I suggest that you throw away the book, what I really mean is that you either read and apply the whole thing, or throw it away. Since my experience tells me that most leaders who try to apply the concepts in the book do so selectively and with disastrous effects, I still think throwing it away is the best course of action. I will leave that to you to decide for yourself.

Let me explain by telling the story of Joe, a new VP of client services at a large advertising communications firm. As he entered this new role, the President of the firm informed Joe that there were productivity problems in the Account Services department, which was accustomed to a “country club” atmosphere. Joe was directed to “kick butt and take names later” as he established himself as the new sheriff in town. So, that’s exactly what he did, wanting to please his new boss and to have a large impact in his first 90 days. He had read the book, you see.

Joe had been applying this strategy for about two weeks when I received a phone call from the VP of Human Resources. She knew that many of the folks in Joe’s department already had their resumes on the street and were looking to bail as quickly as possible. I called Joe and set up a meeting within the next couple of days to discuss the situation.
When we met, Joe basically said he was just doing what he was told to do. He had accepted the President’s assessment of the situation without gathering his own data and had not made any attempt to get to know people before he started criticizing their work and making changes. In his mind, having read the The First 90 Days, he did not have much time to make a huge impact.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Diane, an individual I had coached in the past, accepted a new position at a competitor that offered a two‐level promotion. Before she began her new role, we sat down to discuss how she should approach her team as she came on board, and I suggested this strategy:

  • Gather as much information as possible about the team and the situation, the challenges and opportunities. You could do some of this in advance, but the bulk of it by meeting individually with team members and learning about them, establishing rapport.
  • Begin to develop relationships with team members and your boss, listen to them and how they perceive things. Learn what they want you to accomplish in the role, what they need from you and hope you can provide.
  • Then, work on building interconnections and coalitions with key stakeholders within the organization. Begin to create a vision and strategy, based on what you are hearing, and start to enroll others in the approach you intend to take.
  • Finally, after thoroughly listening and using others’ input and perspective to inform your strategy, begin to implement the plan and look for early wins. Continue to work at enrolling and actively involving key stakeholders as you roll it out.

I knew it was a great strategy. I had seen it work impeccably recently at another client organization when a new CEO took the reins, and I shared this success story with Diane. When we parted that day and she headed off to her new role, I was convinced that she would get off to a terrific start. I suggested that she take the first four to six months to work on the first three bullets, and then begin to look for early wins in the implementation.

Unfortunately, she also spent time talking with a few people from her previous employer. Having read The First 90 Days, to a person, they recommended that she dive in quickly, size up the situation in the first week or two, and then begin to implement large‐scale changes. She thought to herself, “Okay, I’ve got to do something big here in the first three months, but I’m not sure what that should be.” The weight of their suggestions obliterated my ideas, and she dove into the deep end—or perhaps, went off the deep end. After about three weeks of this approach, her new boss confronted her and asked pointblank what happened to the person he had seen during the interviewing process. She had so insulted people by ignoring what had been accomplished up to this point and pushing to affect changes with no input that her new boss was now second‐guessing his hiring decision.

In fairness to Watkins, his book does suggest things like “accelerate your learning,” “build your team,” “create coalitions,” and “match strategy to situation,” but these chapters do not focus enough on the importance of simply spending time with people and listening. In the mind of those who have used this book to affect change from a new position, the compelling chapters are those that prod you to “promote yourself,” “expedite everyone,” and “secure early wins.” It seems that most people, like Diane’s well‐intentioned friends and former coworkers, become fixated on the “early wins” chapter. Watkins’s recipe for success quickly becomes a concoction for disaster.

The answer. So, what should effective leaders do in situations where they step into a new role with a group that needs to quickly reach a higher level of performance? First, recognize that no matter how negative the perception is of a team’s functioning, they are trying to be successful and are proud of their accomplishments. The true story in any situation usually includes layers of complexity that you can only discover and appreciate by meeting with people and listening deeply to them. Withhold your judgment, ask insightful questions, and take good notes. Be encouraging as you observe them, keep your mind open, and do not share your early conjectures. Appreciate the obstacles they have overcome to get to their present level of effectiveness. Do not say anything negative about their former bosses or the decisions that led them to where they are.

As much as possible, follow the four bulleted suggestions I gave Diane. If you start telling yourself what a waste of time all this listening is, keep in mind that you will need an engaged team behind you when you roll out your changes. The best way to do that is to ask their perspective, use their ideas in developing the new direction, bring in a healthy dose of your own thoughts to shape the strategy, and give each team member an important role in implementation. Ignore your inner voice, and perhaps your boss’s voice, about driving change quickly.

The good news is that it is never too late to do the right thing. After rough beginnings, both Joe and Diane circled back to their teams, asked good questions, listened deeply to the answers, and used the information to build a new strategy. This time, they had the team on board, and they took the right amount of time, about 180 days, to do it.
I think they both decided to throw away their copy of Watkins’s book.

To Coach or Not to Coach?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Earlier today, I talked with a manager in a financial institution who was struggling with a particular direct
report. She wanted to know if coaching would be beneficial for this person. After we talked and I
answered her questions and gave her my perspective, it occurred to me that others might have the same
questions as her. This Leadersynth edition focuses on how to determine whether or not an individual is
appropriate for executive coaching.

It is important to note on the front end that most of our client companies at Roselle Leadership use
executive coaching as a development tool for high potential individuals and key leadership roles. Most of
the time companies refer leaders to us for coaching, it is something the individuals have requested for
their own development and there are no “derailing” issues involved. This was true for the situation
described here, as well.

The most important questions. In deciding if coaching is the right choice for an organizational leader,
there are four key questions that I always ask, even before I meet the individual. These are the four questions I
asked this particular manager, and the order in which I posed them:

1. “Is this person a valuable contributor, someone worth the investment?” That is, if the coaching
resulted in positive change on those dimensions that seem to get in the individual’s way, would it be
worth the effort in time and money? She indicated that he was a solid leader on many dimensions,
and that his contributions were very strong. However, he approached situations in a way that was too
focused on day-to-day issues, like he was fighting fires. Also, his interpersonal style was rather
aggressive with others on the team.

2. “Is the individual likely to value from coaching?” This is a more complicated question, which takes
a good deal more probing. For example, I asked her what she, as his manager, thought he needed to
work on to become more effective. She quickly identified these needs:

  • Be more visionary and big picture, more strategic
  • Prioritize more effectively, with greater emphasis on achieving results before moving on
  • Be less combative, competitive, quick to debate with team members
  • Exhibit more patience, emotional control

We talked through each of the identified needs, and I used them to give her a framework to better
understand which issues were coachable and which were not. Becoming more visionary, for example, is
typically not something amenable to coaching. I indicated that I would help him address this need by
asking better, big picture questions and identifying others on the team who could help raise strategic
questions. However, I noted that he would probably never be strong at this if she had not seen it so far.

As for prioritizing, we talked about how his personality characteristics, like on a Myers-Briggs, might be
more P than J, more open-ended than planful. This would mean that he was not naturally inclined to plan
the work and work the plan, push for closure, or start early on tasks. However, he could learn more
effective strategies and techniques to keep himself and his team organized. I could help him do that in
coaching, and it would likely shore up this weak area enough that it was no longer problematic.

I told her that my approach would be similar for the issue of his combative, competitive style. She had
already indicated to me that his StrengthFinders results showed highest scores in Command, Significance,
Competition, Achiever, and Focus. With such a profile, it was unlikely he would ever fade into the
background in a discussion. However, if I helped him develop insight about how extreme his style was
and probed to find some faulty beliefs that might drive his extreme behaviors, I might be able to move the
needle enough that he would just come across as “assertive.”

The patience issue, I informed her, takes a different depth of coaching. People who are impatient are
usually perfectionistic and driven by beliefs like, “If I don’t get things done very quickly, others will not
think I am competent,” or “If I don’t deliver at the highest level of quality, my job is in jeopardy.” I
indicated that, for this issue, I would probe his underlying irrational fears and faulty beliefs about what it
means to be successful and competent, and help him develop a more realistic, healthy perspective. From
past experiences, I know that such an approach would help reduce the “edge” that others experience with
him. (For complete perspective on this topic, see my 2006 book, Fearless Leadership).

3. “Does the person take responsibility for what’s getting in the way?” I asked his manager if she had
sat down with him and communicated clearly how his style and approach created obstacles to his
success. She said that she had done so, but had probably not given a direct, hard message in most of
her past communication. When she recently had a “these things need to change” conversation with
him, he seemed to take it in and listen. She was not sure if he actually took full, personal
responsibility yet, but he at least did not react defensively and blame others. This was a positive sign
to me that he would take personal responsibility and be amenable to coaching.

4. “Is the individual committed to becoming more effective?” This is the final question I like to pose,
and often it cannot be answered until I actually meet with the individual to discuss the possibility of
coaching. Of course, I asked the manager what her opinion was, and she said she knew he wanted to
be promoted and was probably motivated to improve in his weakness areas. My perspective is that,
even though I primarily focus on leveraging core strengths and personality characteristics in
coaching, it is important to minimize the impact of weaknesses. Once an individual recognizes how
his or her attitude, beliefs, techniques, and approaches become obstacles, the weaknesses typically are
mitigated enough to let the strengths shine through. As this happens, the commitment to become
more effective gets reinforced.

The decision. To coach, or not to coach? It’s an expensive question either way. If you decide NOT to
coach an individual and that person becomes more toxic and problematic, you risk others on the team
leaving. People who stay despite the toxic behaviors often do “work arounds” and try to avoid the
individual. The loss of productivity and motivation on the team can be quite costly, but hard to measure.
If you choose to provide coaching, either internally or from an external source, you could invest
thousands of dollars in the hope of affecting change in a leader, with no tangible success at the end. You
can minimize the likelihood of this by making sure the coach sets clear, mutually agreeable objectives on
the front end and includes regular feedback to the organization during the engagement.

The bottom line is that you should chose to provide coaching to leaders who are worth the investment,
who take responsibility for the behaviors that get in their way and are committed to improving, and who
would value from a coaching engagement. Choose a coach who is experienced, well-educated, and who
either knows your organization, or can get up to speed quickly about the important nuances. Then, build
in feedback points to help create a successful outcome.

Create Sustainable Growth in Leaders by Rattling their Core

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Growing and sustaining leadership competence is a critical need for your organization.  A recent survey by ASTD indicated that leadership/executive level skills were the most critical gap across 10 categories of potential gaps organizations anticipate in the near future.  Identifying and nurturing high potential individuals who can move into leadership roles is a core strategy for meeting this need, along with providing development opportunities for your current group of key leaders.  But, how do you create leader growth in a way that it is sustainable?

In The Leadership Pipeline (2001), the authors suggest that at least six major transitions occur in the leadership progression from individual contributor to CEO level, and that each stage requires qualitatively different approaches.  They suggest that, to build effective leaders at all levels, organizations must identify high potential leaders early on, provide them with growth assignments, give them constructive and frequent feedback, and support them with coaching and mentoring. 

We agree.  However, we believe that sustainable growth occurs through an important paradox.  The lasting changes in leader effectiveness at various stages in the leadership pipeline are those that rattle or reorganize leaders to their very core, and at the same time, remain consistent with that core. 

Allow me to explain.  At the foundation of every leader is a unique pattern of personality characteristics and abilities.  We can assess these using standard personality inventories, as well as tests for strengths, motivated abilities, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, etc.  At RLSI, we do this all the time on the front end of coaching engagements to help individual leaders and ourselves understand who they are at the core.  Moreover, we ask what energizes them and assess how their thinking patterns either support or get in the way of effective leadership.  We use all this information to help us determine who they are at the core. 

To be sustainable, growth must occur within the context of this core for each leader in your organization.  At the same time, true growth seldom occurs unless events rattle the basis upon which leaders think and respond, or circumstances force them to reorganize internally with each new stage in the leadership pipeline.  Psychologist Jean Piaget called this “accommodation” and contrasted it with “assimilation,” in which we simply incorporate new thoughts, ideas, perspectives, etc. into the mental framework we already have. 

In accommodation, however, we recognize the need to reorganize our internal framework in order to take into account our new experiences.  For most people, heading off to college for the first time is a clear example of needing to accommodate to a whole new existence that we had not imagined previously.  Other major life events like marriage, death of a close loved one, or the birth of children similarly cause most people to accomodate in order to take into account dramatically different circumstances.

Joe Folkman (The Power of Feedback, 2006) makes the case that genuine change in behavior requires changing core beliefs.  Not who we are at the core, but how we think about things and make sense of circumstances.  Folkman emphasizes that lasting behavioral changes are those that feel natural and consistent with our core character and personal style.  These two principles form the basis for this seeming paradox:

  • To shift our approach and show evidence of true growth, we must accommodate to new circumstances and demands by changing some of our core beliefs, which then shifts our behaviors; however,
  • To sustain this growth, we must stay within the boundaries of our core personality, abilities, and motivations.

At RLSI, we see this most clearly in our executive coaching.  Using a framework from my book, Fearless Leadership (2006), we help leaders recognize how irrational fears and faulty beliefs can become obstacles to high performance behaviors.  We coach leaders to recognize the symptoms when they begin to react poorly to situations, and we teach them how to create a set of healthy beliefs to shift their core thinking.  In the words of the paradox, above, we provide tools for shifting some of their core beliefs.  The beliefs we typically focus on are those they have held for many years, but have not examined closely.  For example, a leader might have operated for decades on the belief that she must always be correct and show no faults, or that he must avoid conflict situations and make sure that people do not become upset.  These kinds of faulty beliefs can undermine a leader’s success, especially when paired with irrational fears about looking incompetent or being rejected by senior management. 

You can use the two components of this paradox when growing leaders in your organization.  Find challenging tasks or problems, new reporting relationships, or different team assignments that will stretch the competence and confidence of your high potential and key leaders.  Use the experiences to identify faulty beliefs and approaches that limit their effectiveness, and help them accommodate to become more effective as a result.  However, as you put them in situations and provide support to help them change their faulty beliefs, make sure you affirm who they are at the core (their strengths, unique personality/style, motivators, etc.).  To sustain the growth, it is critical that they do not conclude that they must change who they are in order to be successful at the next level.

Leverage Your PAST to Lead Your Future

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

David and I had met a couple of times in our coaching engagement before he was comfortable enough to confide in me that he felt he needed to be someone totally different than himself to be successful in his role. His peer, Edgar, was in a similar business development role, and David began to believe that he needed to fashion his approach after Edgar’s personality and style.

I still remember the pained look in David’s eyes as he described how much better his peer was suited to their Director, Business Development role, and how much David felt out of Edgar’s league. As I listened to him, I recognized that he desperately needed an alternative perspective to help him take a stand and become highly successful in his new role.

Many leaders at all levels in your organization probably struggle with the same sense of inadequacy, particularly when they take on new roles or report to a different manager.

In working with others as a coach since my initial work with David, I began to talk with them more intentionally about leading from the center of who they are. The concept resonated with them, and they recognized more clearly how often they got in their own way by straying from the core of their effectiveness. 

From these conversations with organizational leaders, it has become very clear to me how important it is to lead from the core. In fact, my experience makes me conclude that trying to lead from someplace other than the core is the primary reason leaders derail. Attempting to lead others with an approach that is not grounded on who you are at the center of your being is a guaranteed recipe for failure. 

Why do organizational leaders think they must lead from someplace other than their core? Some, like David in the first example, start a new position and convince themselves—falsely—that they must approach things very differently than they have in the past in order to be successful. Others have deeply-rooted, fear-based doubts about themselves and lack of self-assurance at the core. Consequently, they struggle when they must take on a new role and they unwittingly undermine their ability to lead. Still others get the strong message from their manager or other senior leaders that they must function in a completely dissimilar way in order to be successful in a new situation. 

While it is often true that changes in position, manager, or organization require individual leaders to make some adjustments in their approach to the work, this almost never means that they must alter themselves at the core in order to be successful. In those very rare situations where individuals are not likely to ever thrive with what they bring to the table, the best resolution is for them to leave the position or the organization and look for a better fit. Changing who you are at the core is never the most desirable way to handle a set of circumstances or personalities in your work. 

To put it in simple terms, every leader at the core is the product of his or her PAST:

  •  Personality 
  • Ability
  •  Spirit
  •  Thinking 

You are a product of your PAST, as well, and it is the key to your future. At your core is a combination of personality characteristics, feelings, intellectual, emotional, and physical abilities, and a responsive spirit. At the center of who you are, there are also thoughts, beliefs, and opinions that you hold to be true, and that you have developed since early childhood. It is not feasible to leave your PAST behind. Wherever you go, your core personality traits, abilities, spirit, and thinking go with you. We will address each of these four components individually.

Personality (P). For the purposes of your own self-analysis, think about the aspects of your personality that uniquely define you. What are your signature leadership traits and
characteristics, the ones most central to your personality?
 

This includes characteristics like:

  • style and approach across various situations  
  • intensity of observable energy, degree of drive  
  • self-discipline, accountability, preference for structure  
  • emotions, feelings, degree of compassion 

Abilities (A). Included in the term abilities are your innate talents, gifts, motivated strengths, cognitive intelligence, and emotional intelligence. Abilities are innate capacities, not learned ones. Certainly, people develop their abilities over time, and those that receive the most focus tend to be their strongest and most recognizable. However, there is a clear line between knowledge and skills you develop, and abilities, talents, or gifts you possess from an early age.

Words like communicator, linguist, wise counselor, visionary, interpersonal facilitator, healer, educator/guide, motivator, or initiator reflect underlying capacities that can be expressed in outward behaviors and actions. Using this partial list of fundamental abilities as a starting point, what are your most motivated abilities as a leader? What do you do easily, that comes naturally to you, and that energizes you? What abilities do others most appreciate about you; what strengths do they leverage most often when involving you on team projects? 

Spirit (S). Your spirit develops from a very early age—perhaps at birth or even in the womb—and grows to become an integral aspect of your core being. In popular theological terms, the human spirit is a deeply situated, core aspect of the individual, subject to spiritual growth. In many ways, it is the very center of your capacity for joy and desire. 

Spiritual refreshment is one way you can think about the Spirit component of your core. What gives you the greatest sense of calm, relaxation, or inner peace? Which activities in your life resonate within you in a way that leaves you composed or serene? Alternatively, when are you most energized and excited in your work and life? What tasks or activities bring out the most intense feelings of joy, elation, and well-being? Or, when do you most have the sense that your life has meaning, or that it matters? What in your work seems most central to your life purpose? 

Thinking (T). This component includes your beliefs, values, and opinions based on your learning and experience. It includes your attitudes toward things, the way you make sense of the world, and the primary basis upon which you make decisions. Thinking includes logic and intuition, creativity and originality, common sense, and the recognition and understanding of others’ feelings and needs. In short, thinking includes any function within your core that involves thought processes.

Some thinking is healthy and leads to confident, competent performance as a leader. Other thinking based on faulty beliefs can undermine high performance behavior. For example, believing that you must prove you are right, avoid conflict situations, speak up first in a debate, convince others that their perspective is wrong, are all examples of faulty beliefs. 

Each of these four components of your leader core—personality, abilities, spirit, and thinking—are important for you and other leaders in your organization to understand and leverage. Trying to lead from someplace other than your core is an ultimately fruitless exercise. Helping others around you recognize and apply their PAST is an important aspect of you as a mentor or coach.

The Power of Leader Charisma in Employee Engagement

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

The last couple years have been tough on organizations on many fronts.  One area organizations are now struggling with in particular is employee engagement.  Through this trying time much has been written about what it takes for leaders to create and develop engaged workers at all levels of the company.  This entry pulls together some of those conceptual threads to suggest ways of using your personal charisma as a leader to help energize your employees.

Let’s start with a quick look at leader charisma.  First, what does charisma mean?  Wikipedia defines charisma as a personality trait that features personal charm and magnetism, along with powerful interpersonal abilities.  But what makes leaders personally charming or magnetic?  It might be helpful to think about what charismatic leaders do and what they do not do, what they embrace as behaviors and what they avoid or totally eliminate. 

One way to think about it is in terms of the interpersonal signals leaders emit to others around them.  This includes their non-verbal behaviors, like eye contact, facial and hand gestures, energy and enthusiasm, or how close they stand to people.  Signals also include verbal behaviors like word choice, vocal tone, and clarity of articulation. 

Successful, charismatic leaders.  The most charismatic leaders are those who exhibit an energized, enthusiastic presence.  They are verbal and talkative, but also spend a good portion of their time asking questions of others and deeply listening to the responses.  They recognize and appropriately respond to people’s interpersonal cues.  They draw people out with their gentle queries and encourage others to speak up and participate in conversations or discussions.  Optimistic and upbeat, they motivate others and help create a collaborative environment and culture. 

Charismatic leaders often set high standards for their teams, and they hold themselves to the same metrics.  They make their expectations clear, cast a motivating vision, and help remove obstacles so their team members can feel good about the progress they make.  Though serious in their focus on achieving objectives at the highest levels of quality, they also exhibit an inclusive sense of humor.  And they make it a priority to help their direct reports develop in their careers.

Sounds too perfect, doesn’t it?  The good news is that leaders do not need to be perfectly charismatic in order to have a very positive effect on their direct reports and others.  Even if they simply avoid the opposites from those attributes and approaches outlined here, most people will view them positively as leaders.  For example, just by avoiding things like accepting mediocre work, being closed to new ideas suggested by others, displaying a lackluster level of energy, and projecting a muddled vision, most leaders will exhibit a level of charisma.  You do not need to be perfect to be charismatic.

Engaged, resourceful followers.  You can also positively affect your team members by emphasizing the importance of facilitating “followership” as you lead.  This graphic outlines the various types of followers you may currently have on your team:

Thumbnail

In the lower left corner are those followers who are relatively disengaged from their jobs and the rest of the team, and, at the same time, likely to avoid decisions or actions that seem risky to them.  Your goal as a leader is to help team members move from this quadrant to the resourceful and engaged part of the graph.  Followers here display a good level of energy related to their tasks and responsibilities, and they are capable of coming up with new ideas for improving their approach.  One way to dial up your charisma and encourage development on your team is to identify which of your direct reports would best be described as:

  • Risk-averse and disengaged
  • Risk-averse, but engaged
  • Resourceful, but disengaged
  • Resourceful and engaged

Each category, above, requires a different charismatic strategy to generate enthusiasm and optimism on the part of your team members.  Of course, for the resourceful and engaged team members, the strategy is simple—keep doing what you are doing and try to stay out of their way!  But, what about the other three categories?

For the resourceful, but disengaged, the key is to figure out what is causing the disengagement.  Perhaps you have not sufficiently reinforced them for their resourceful ideas and actions, and, consequently, they have become discouraged.  Maybe something outside of work related to their personal situation is causing them to disengage from work.  They might even be depressed on some level and not cognizant of their level of disengagement.  Whatever the cause, your role is to point out examples of the disengagement and express your desire to help them re-energize and become engaged again.  Reinforce any behaviors you observe that seem energetic and positively engaged.

In the case of the risk-averse, but engaged, the primary need is to help them experience success in taking risks.  Start by giving them small stretches that might not seem risky to you, but may seem like major hurdles to them.  Give the degree of support they need as they work on the task, and encourage every resourceful step you observe.  Continue to give them assignments that stretch their comfort with risk, and make sure you positively reinforce every resourceful step you observe them take.

The most entrenched and difficult to move are the risk-averse and disengaged team members.  They need a consistent combination of reinforcement for small steps they take to optimistically solve problems or take a risk, as well as any expressions you observe that suggest energy and engagement.  You might consider pairing them on projects with someone who is both resourceful and engaged, to see if the enthusiasm of the one rubs off on the other.  As a last resort, you should consider replacing the person in the position.  Disengaged, risk-averse workers are not happy in their work, and might blossom in a very different role.  Sometimes, the most compassionate step you can take as a leader is to help someone exit their role or the organization.

The bottom line.  To function as a charismatic leader, you must exhibit energy, engage others in communication in which you both listen and convey your thoughts and feelings, and use humor to disarm stressful situations.  Make certain your expectations are clear, set high, but attainable goals, and ensure that the team makes good progress.  Prioritize the development of your team members so that they become more engaged and resourceful in their work.  The result will be one in which you, your direct reports, and the organization all win.

Get bang for your buck with selection assessments!

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, hiring top talent is of utmost importance.  To this end, organizations employ a wide range of assessment strategies, from a “one size fits all” approach to the other extreme, the “more is better” theory.  In the following post I will analyze both ends of the spectrum and use empirical evidence to suggest a best practice.


One-size fits all.  Those who trust in one standardized instrument, like the Predictive Index™, Caliper™, or Prevue™, use the same tool to help them make most hiring decisions.  They trust the instrument, are familiar with its content, and have a favorable view of its success rate in weeding out poor candidates and highlighting strong ones.  The advantages of such an approach include simplicity, minimum time and financial expense, and, oftentimes, a straightforward, common vocabulary to use in discussing candidates.  The primary disadvantage is that one simple approach for all levels of hiring decisions can miss important data and perspective, especially for senior positions that are critical to the organization’s success.  In these cases, one instrument is often not sufficient to pick up essential details.


More is better.  Contrasting with the one-size fits all proponents are those who believe in using complex assessment centers, or a wide variety of instruments and approaches to gather large amounts of data on each candidate.  These assessments typically include some combination of the following:

  • Structured interviews with multiple consultants
  • Personality tests
  • Abilities tests, including IQ tests
  • Work simulations (either tailored to the specific organization, or an “off the shelf” version designed for a marketing, engineering, or other functional area position)
  • Interpersonal role plays (individual, team)
  • Administrative in-basket exercises


The advantage of using such an approach is that the assessment views candidates from a variety of perspectives in order to draw a conclusion about them.  The instruments used typically provide a much greater level of depth than the one-size fits all, minimalist approach.  The multiple assessment components also offer a good deal of “face validity” in that it seems logical that multiple components would provide a more valid perspective than using a single test. 


While these advantages are enviable, there are many disadvantages to the more is better approach.  The cost per candidate can be prohibitive, especially if the assessment uses custom-designed work simulations, in-basket exercises, and role-plays.  The results across the various components often conflict and, consequently, are confusing.  The validity of these complex assessments is not significantly greater than the one-size fits all approach.  Let us look at each of these disadvantages separately. 


Prohibitive cost.  The up-front fees for designing and implementing an assessment center runs somewhere in the five figures range.  Even when formal assessment centers are not used, the cost per candidate for all the pre-work testing, the multiple interviews, and the in-basket, simulation, or role-play observers and raters is typically several thousand dollars.   


Conflicting, confusing results.  This happens because candidates usually do not respond equally well to each of the various assessment components.  They are not great actors, for example, so they struggle in the role-plays or simulations.  Perhaps they score well in the work simulations, but their personality testing raises red flags.  Or, they impress people in the interviews, but fail miserably in the in-basket exercise.  A related issue is that large assessment companies use multiple raters and observers across a group of candidates, often using consultants from geographically dispersed offices.  Despite the best efforts to train each of these consultants consistently on how to observe and rate candidates, their own individual biases and nuances in training introduce variability into the scoring process.  This adds to the conflict in results, and confusion in the interpretation.


When consulting companies determine the bottom line result/recommendation for such candidates, they usually sound confident in their decision.  As a client, however, you may not know what decision rules led to the conclusion and why they determined that the role-play was more important than the personality testing, for example.  The underlying decision rules, therefore, are critically important to the conclusions drawn, but these are often “hidden” from you as a client.


No real gain in validity.  How this can be, you might ask.  Why else would you include so many different assessment components, if not to substantially increase the validity?  From a strict statistical perspective, the validity of a set of assessment components is not appreciably higher than the validity of the most highly valid component. 


We know from employment research that the most valid single predictor of future job performance is general mental ability.  For this reason, any selection process should use some measure of mental ability as a primary differentiator between candidates.  From there, the question is which assessment component(s) add substantial incremental validity above mental ability, without prohibitive costs? 


A 1998 review of hundreds of assessment studies found that Assessment Centers have substantial predictive validity themselves but only add a 2% increase in validity when combined with a measure of mental ability.  In other words, applicants who score well on measures of intelligence typically also perform well in Assessment Centers, so there is little to no additional value in adding this substantial cost to the selection process.


On the other hand, both work sample tests and structured interviews add some incremental value when used in conjunction with mental ability.  A measure of mental ability plus a well-designed work sample test will predict 42% of a candidate’s performance, while mental ability combined with a structured interview will predict 40%.  However, the cost of developing a work sample test for a specific occupation in a particular organization is significantly higher than conducting a well-structured interview.  Again, the question is whether adding significant cost is worth the additional two percent in validity.


How do you get the most bang for the buck?  For most of the people they hire, our clients want an individual whose background, style, and skills match the demands of the role for which they are hiring, and give them the potential to move beyond that role.  As a leader in your organization with responsibilities for the hiring of new employees or the promotion of existing ones, you must answer the question yourself of how to get the most from your selection assessment process. 


At Roselle Leadership Strategies, we take a balanced perspective in the assessments we provide to our clients.  That is, we include tests of mental ability and structured interview as the data, above, suggest.  We typically include personality tests to help illustrate the candidate’s style and fit with the culture.  However, we avoid the excess of work simulations, in-basket exercises, and role-plays that can add major costs, with little additional validity.  Moreover, as noted above, the various components often confuse and obfuscate the bottom line results.  We try to get the clearest picture possible of the candidate, using responses from written and verbal interview questions, personality assessment, and mental abilities testing, and then we map that to the current and future needs of the organization.


Assessment results should act as a catalyst for further dialogue about a candidate, not pronounce indisputable judgment on them.  It is important to avoid situations like the one we recently encountered with a very successful director of a non-profit organization who went through an assessment.  The conclusion reached by the firm conducting the assessment was that he had “a 9 percent chance for success” in his current role.  Such a pinpoint conclusion by any vendor, in light of the limitations of the assessment components we just outlined in this paper, was either ignorant or arrogant, or both. 


The bottom line is that we suggest you use assessment tools that fit your budget and help you make better hiring decisions.  Understand that an assessment recommendation is a helpful part of an overall selection process, but should not be presented or interpreted as the final arbiter of a candidate’s chance of career success in your organization.

Under-reacting: Lessons from Ft. Hood

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The massacre at Ft. Hood, in which an Army major killed 13 and wounded 42 military and civilian personnel, raises important questions about a little-examined behavioral problem: under-reaction.  The media seems mostly focused on the question of whether this was a terrorist act or another example of someone “going postal” due to psychological problems.  We will not address that question in this paper.

The more compelling question for those of us who coach and train organizational leaders is why so many people suspected issues with this individual, but neither reported them nor took them seriously enough.  The question we explore in this paper is what “under-reaction” is and why it exists in the repertoire of human behaviors.

We know that people around Maj. Nidal Hasan noticed or documented these issues, but did not take decisive action:

  • A former med school classmate described him as a very outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq
  • In 2007, his supervisor at Walter Reed wrote a memo claiming that Hasan showed a pattern of poor judgment and lack of professionalism
  • Also in 2007, Hasan gave a slide presentation to fellow medical staff at Walter Reed Hospital, in which he stated Muslim soldiers should not serve if they are in a position to injure or kill fellow believers
  • In 2008, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force looked at his email exchanges with a US-born, radical Muslim cleric living in Yemen, but dropped their investigation
  • Earlier this year, he came to the attention of law enforcement officials for reasons that are unreported so far
  • He recently posted radical Internet statements regarding suicide bombings

There may be excellent reasons why no one connected the various “dots’ of issues with Maj. Hasan and concluded that he could be a danger to himself and others.  The issues involved unconnected agencies and individuals, occurred over several years, and could have been dismissed simply as cultural insensitivity on the part of the observers.  Yet, we cannot help but ask, “what if someone had stepped forward and acted decisively?”

The broader question that becomes a lesson from this tragedy is why people, in general, observe situations and fail to respond appropriately to them.  More specifically, why do organizational leaders at multiple levels under-react?

Under-reaction is fear-based.  When people fail to respond appropriately in a situation, sometimes it is the result of lack of knowledge or skill to do so.  Most often, however, failing to respond is the result of irrational fears and faulty beliefs that undermine a reasonable response.  Bruce Roselle describes this phenomenon in his book, Fearless Leadership (2006).  For organizational leaders, under-reacting to situations that present themselves is as dangerous, and perhaps more dangerous, than over-reacting.  The goal for any leader in any set of circumstances is to respond appropriately, with the right level of timeliness, force, and insight.

What dynamics create the “perfect storm” to make a leader under-react?  The graphic, below, illustrates that the two primary factors are level of logical analysis and degree of fear of consequences:

Thumbnail

From the graph, we can see that as fear of consequences for taking action increases, the likelihood of an appropriate response occurring significantly decreases.  Most often, an appropriate response comes as the result of a moderate degree of logical analysis and a low fear of consequences.  When leaders over-react, it is usually the result of a knee-jerk reaction based on high fear of consequences and little forethought.  Under-reaction, on the other hand, results from high fear of consequences and too much thought.  Unlike over-reacting when a person or situation pushes your buttons, under-reacting stems from analyzing too much.

In responding appropriately, leaders typically demonstrate these kinds of behaviors:

  • Trust gut intuition
  • Spend a reasonable time in analysis before taking action
  • Discuss the situation with trusted others for additional perspective
  • Use common sense (if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…)
  • Take personal responsibility to act, even if others are also likely to take action

By contrast, leaders who tend to over-react to situations often exhibit these types of behaviors:

  • Become defensive, angry, and resistant
  • Blame others for the situation, find fault outside themselves
  • Engage in cultural profiling, projecting their fears onto others
  • Sound and look irrational to observers
  • React with either passive avoidance or aggressive attack

The behaviors of leaders who under-react typically include these:

  • Worry about being politically correct
  • Afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or be seen as incompetent by others
  • Analyze situations to the point of paralysis, unable to take action
  • Believe that others who are more competent, confident will take action, step in to risk the consequences
  • Do not trust their intuition or common sense to be correct

Minimizing under-reaction in your leaders.  What can organizations do to apply lessons from the Ft. Hood tragedy in order to minimize the negative consequences of under-reaction?  Perhaps the most important lesson is to make certain that your organizational culture genuinely encourages leaders to reward risk-taking.  This does not mean kudos only for those who try and succeed, but also for those who try and fail, and learn valuable perspective in the process.

A second critical lesson is to promote openness and honesty, even when it means, “blowing the whistle” on a situation or coworker that could be dangerous or problematic.  While you want to fall far short of creating a vigilante environment, it is possible to develop a team-based culture in which people talk straight to each other about behaviors they observe, and, if that fails, talk to their supervisors about potential problems.

It is also important to encourage taking action, even if it may occasionally come off as a ready-fire-aim result.  Since a key factor in under-reacting is to analyze a situation too much, encourage leaders to move forward into action and know that they can adjust their direction as new facts become available.  Emphasize the importance of taking personal responsibility for taking action to address safety, quality, and other issues.  If five people shine a light on a potential problem, that should be viewed as preferable to only one person bringing it to someone’s attention.

To paraphrase the observation of Sen. Joe Lieberman regarding the under-reaction at Ft. Hood, “When people become aware of someone behaving in a way that seems extreme, they must reach out to do something before real harm occurs.”  How can you reach out and do something?  Start with self-examination of the ways in which you might be guilty of under-reacting as a leader in your organization.  Then, begin to do what you can to reward risk-taking, promote openness and honesty, and encourage others to take action.

The Three R’s of High Performance Leadership

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Although leaders do not need to be highly effective at every behavioral aspect of building relationships, achieving results, and demonstrating resourcefulness, they must maximize the strengths they have and minimize the impact of their weaknesses.  Using a multi-rater instrument like the FULLVIEW™ provides leaders with the in-depth perspective they need to identify their strengths and development areas as seen by their manager, peers, direct reports, and others. 

Once individuals receive feedback, how can you best work with them to leverage their strengths and ensure that they have no major gaps that might derail them?  In our work with client organizations, one approach we employ regarding this question is to provide Development Assessments to a group of leaders or high potentials.  This type of assessment typically includes FULLVIEW™ 360-degree feedback, personality testing, and an in-depth interview with each individual. 

The feedback results for leaders or high potentials on our FULLVIEW™ tend to cluster into a six-cell matrix, with different development strategies attached to each, depending on their strengths and deficits across the Three-R’s (relationships, results, and resourcefulness):


 

Some strengths in 1-2 areas


Solid strengths in all 3 areas



Standout strengths in 1-2

 

Minor deficits in one or more areas



Spend minimal development time, focus on strengths, consider band-width limitations



Develop strengths, spend minimal time on deficits

 

Leverage strengths, spend minimal time on deficits

 

Major deficits in one or more areas



Spend minimal development time, look to replace


Develop strengths, look for underlying issues in deficits, consider replacing



Leverage strengths, look for underlying issues in deficits

KEY:   red=low priority     amber=moderate priority      green=high priority development

Based on this matrix, we recommend minimal investment of development time for individuals with some strength in one or two areas (first column); if they have minor deficits across the three core competencies we often encourage spending some amount of time building their existing strength areas, if their potential has not been tapped fully.  For example, if you have a few young leaders who exhibit some ability to achieve results and can be resourceful on occasion, you might conduct other personality and ability/skills tests to determine their potential for growth.  If the results are encouraging, you could decide to invest some development time focused on their strengths.  For leaders with only some strength in one or two areas, but major deficits in the other areas, you would probably not invest development resources, but, instead, look to replace them.

On the other hand, for leaders who show a balance of solid strengths across all core competencies (second column), your inclination usually should be to invest resources to build on those strengths.  When they have only minor deficits, our suggestion is that you ignore these in favor of focusing on their strengths.  If they have major deficits, however, you will serve the organization best by looking for underlying causes.  These leaders are ones you probably want to keep, but you will need to invest in improving their deficit areas. 

Often, there are underlying causes like organizational obstacles, poor fit with boss, poor fit with primary responsibilities, or internal obstacles (perfectionism, defensiveness, low self-esteem, etc,) that get in the way in these situations.  Making changes, removing obstacles, and bringing in a coach are ways to remove or minimize underlying issues.  If these steps seem too costly, or they show little impact early on, consider replacing the individual.  In using our Leading Fearlessly™ model with such leaders, we often discover that underlying irrational fears and faulty beliefs cause or contribute to their ineffective reactions to situations.  Bruce Roselle’s book, Fearless Leadership (2006), provides a six-step approach for recognizing ineffective reactions and replacing them with high performance behaviors. 

For leaders with standout strengths (third column), get out of their way as much as possible.  Help them leverage strengths, but do not force them to spend much of their time in the deficit areas, especially if they are minor.  However, leaders with standout strengths and a major deficit or two are usually great candidates for coaching.  This is only true, however, if they recognize the deficits, take personal responsibility for them, and express genuine interest in becoming more effective in these areas.

All leaders with minor deficits (first row in the matrix), whether they have only one or two strengths or standout strengths, would also benefit from training in the areas of leadership effectiveness.  Learning and practicing a set of core skills and understanding the perspectives of high performance leaders can raise an individual’s level of overall effectiveness and offset minor deficits.  As an example, our clients often bring us in to provide sessions from our Good Managers to Great Leaders™ workshop series to enhance strengths and support development areas.  Although leaders do not need to be highly effective at every behavioral aspect of building relationships, achieving results, and demonstrating resourcefulness, the primary goal of any leadership development initiative should be to maximize the strengths they have and minimize the impact of their weaknesses. 

Core Capabilities of Effective Leaders

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

For a number of years now, leadership theorists and designers of multi-rater feedback instruments have discussed and debated the number and nature of core capabilities that exist in an effective leader. Several have settled on five dimensions or five practices, others have identified as few as two and as many as eight dimensions. Most of these have not provided proof of the validity of the core capabilities they hypothesize exist. Consequently, it is difficult to know if their dimensions reflect real, measurable leader capabilities. 

In 2008, Roselle Leadership Strategies, Inc. embarked on a rigorous validation study of the FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™, a 360-degree instrument developed in 1996. When we first constructed the instrument, we determined through our experience with high performing leaders and our analyses of other multi-rater instruments that there were three fundamental capabilities important in leaders at all levels in an organization. We called these Building Relationships, Solving Problems, and Taking Initiative. Then, we expanded these into 12 competencies, which we measured with 48 behavioral items and 14 sections of anecdotal comments.

Our construct validation study is now complete, and it includes FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™ results of more than 300 leaders in various organizations. For the purposes of the study, the researcher (Colleen McGinnis) conducted separate factor analyses for each different perspective. That is, she analyzed Self, Manager, Direct Report, and Peer data individually and searched for the best fit for number of core capability factors. In each case, the researcher ran a factor analysis for two, three, four, and five factor possibilities. The results of this analysis indicated that, in fact, three factors best represented the data clusters across the 48 behavioral items for each perspective (self, manager, direct report, and peer).

Because the correlations of specific behavioral items from the 48 differed somewhat by self, manager, direct report, and peer perspective, the researcher created separate core capability data sets for each. She named them in a way that she felt best captured the content of the items in each set. It makes sense that the items would differ slightly across these four rater groups, because they each represent a unique perspective on the person they rated. For example, an item like “utilizes a wide range of approaches to persuade people, provide feedback and coaching, show appreciation,” fell into four different core capability categories, reflecting variations across the four perspectives:

  •  Inspires Others (self perspective)
  •  Achieves Results (direct report perspective)
  • Exhibits Resourcefulness (manager perspective)
  • Uses Resources Wisely (peer perspective)

Despite the variability of a few items like this one, however, the results clearly identified three factors across the four distinct rater perspectives. Using the criterion cut-off that at least three of the four rater perspectives must include an item in the same core cluster, the results showed 16 items in one category the researcher named “Achieve Results,” 16 items in a second category she named “Build Relationships,” and 8 in a third category she named “Adaptive Resourcefulness.” The three-factor analysis, then, accounted for 40 of the 48 total items—solid proof that our initial supposition of three core capabilities was valid.

The remaining eight items did not cluster significantly with any of these three core capabilities, but included important behavioral observations like “exhibits a model of healthy life balance and wellness,” “analyzes multiple perspectives before making decisions,” and “recognizes impact of actions on whole system.” Since these eight items did not exhibit a strong statistical relationship to each other, it was clear that they did not represent a fourth distinct leadership capability. One important outcome from this study is that we will revise or replace each of these “miscellaneous” behavioral items to create a better fit with the three core capabilities. All of the items on the revised FULLVIEW instrument (available at the end of 2009), then, will more closely align with these three validated factors of leadership effectiveness.

The results of this factor analytical study illustrate why we are so confident at Roselle Leadership Strategies when using the core competencies of the FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™ in our Development Assessments, our Good Managers to Great Leaders™ workshop series, and our executive coaching engagements. These three core capabilities are the most foundational and critical to leader success across multiple levels in any organization. We have started to describe these three capabilities as the “Three R’s of Leadership” because they focus on

  • Relationships
  • Results
  • Resourcefulness

Is your 360-degree feedback system actually valid?

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

One of the most popular recent advances in leadership development is the 360-degree feedback system. Many organizations use this type of assessment to collect information from various people who can accurately rate the performance of a specific manager with whom they work. In the eyes of most users, the strength in such instruments is their capacity to capture multiple perspectives that most often include manager, self, peers, and direct reports. If your organization has purchased and used a 360-degree instrument, do you know the validity of the feedback?

The results of these surveys provide the basis for important human resource decisions—such as individual development goals, promotion, and training emphases—that, cumulatively, can make or break the success of an organization over time. Most organizations do not use multi-rater feedback for selection or promotion decisions, in large part because the results rely on subjective perspectives, and the instruments are not designed for these purposes. Despite the popularity of these instruments, however, the majority do not report validity data to confirm that they actually measure the underlying leadership factors they purport to assess.

What is Multi-rater/360-degree Evaluation? Although leadership performance historically has been measured through performance appraisals delivered solely by an individual’s supervisor, the last three decades have seen the emergence of multi-rater, 360-degree feedback systems. Effective leadership is a complex construct, requiring leaders to master a host of sophisticated cognitive, strategic, and interpersonal skills. Starting in 1967, researchers began to note that using only a single rating source to evaluate leadership might not provide all of the information necessary to evaluate a leader’s performance properly. Since then, relevant research has convincingly demonstrated that a single assessment of a leader, either by self-evaluation or by a supervisor, is inadequate to capture that leader’s performance fully. First, individuals are not always the most astute evaluators of their own performance. Self-ratings of any behavior are often widely different in comparison to ratings of that same behavior when completed by another observer (Atwater & Yammarino, 1992). Second, various rating perspectives (i.e., supervisor versus peer, manager versus direct report) actually assess different underlying performance constructs (Turkel, 2008). That is, individuals in differing organizational roles have limited opportunities to observe a specific individual’s behaviors, so we need multiple perspectives to measure performance accurately. However, this leaves the question of how to interpret the variation in ratings between raters.

Measuring Validity and Reliability. Concern about inter-rater agreement focuses on the meaning of low agreement across organizational perspectives. If two perspectives disagree substantially in their ratings, the meaning of that discrepancy remains unclear. Theories range from those claiming that the data are inaccurate or meaningless, to those concluding that differing perspectives supply equally valid data. Tornow (1993) suggested that, “the very differences in perspectives among those who provide feedback can enhance the personal learning that takes place.” Therefore, the differences in rater perspectives are not treated as error variance (variation that needs to be reduced), but rather as critical additional information that makes the findings more reliable and gives them deeper perspective.

Further, Scullen et al., (2000), hypothesized that observed variations in ratings might reflect actual differences in performance, because a manager is likely to perform differentially in front of diverse groups of people. Specifically, they found that both supervisor and subordinate perspectives capture something unique to those perspectives, but peers do not. They suggest that these rating differences are more a function of true differences in the observed performance than of variations in the observers themselves (bias). Despite the fact that differing perspectives exist on each individual leader, Scullen, Mount and Judge (2003) also have shown that raters across various perspectives share a common conceptualization of a specific leader’s overall performance. 

Knowing that it is crucial to gather multiple perspectives when attempting to create the most accurate possible picture of performance, and with so many instruments from which to choose, how can you know where to start? According to VanVelsor et al. (1997), authors of these instruments must meet the guidelines of a comprehensive process for evaluating 360-degree instruments. According to them, an author of this type of instrument must:

1. Attempt to identify the full range of behaviors or skills believed to represent leadership competencies.

2. Provide reliability information regarding whether the instrument items cluster in behavioral competencies that are internally consistent, distinct from each other and useful for feedback.

3. Provide validity information about whether the scales actually measure the behavioral dimensions they purport to measure (construct validity).

If your company is currently using some form of multi-rater feedback, did someone scrutinize it for these three features? The majority of multi-rater feedback providers designed and implemented their 360-degree feedback tools with the assumption that they accurately measure the leadership skills necessary for success in a particular organization. They picked items that logically seemed important to leader success, or they evaluated data they collected on competencies that support or undermine leader success. Some used a combination of logic and data collection, but most did not assess them for validity.


Works Cited

Atwater, L.E. & Yammarino, F.J. (1992). Does self-other agreement on leadership perceptions moderate the validity of leadership and performance predictions? Personnel Psychology, 45, 141- 164.

Scullen, S.E., Mount, M.K., & Goff, M. (2000). Understanding the Latent Structure of Job Performance Ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 956-970.

Scullen, S.E., Mount, M.K. & Judge, T.A. (2003). Evidence of the construct validity of developmental ratings of managerial performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 50 – 66.

Tornow, W. (1993). Perception or reality: Is multi-perspective measurement a means or an end? Human Resource Management, 32, 221-229.

Turkel, C.C. (2008). Female Leaders’ 360-degree self-perception accuracy for leadership competencies and skills. Dissertation Abstracts.

VanVelsor, E., Jean-Brittain, L. & Fleenor, J.W. (1997). Choosing 360: A Guide to Evaluating Multi-Rater Feedback Instruments for Management Development. Greensboro, N.C.: Center for Creative Leadership

What are you doing to protect your organization’s future in these troubled times?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

In a shaky economy, many organizations take dramatic steps to freeze expenses related to new hires and promotions, downsize, and suspend or limit expenses.  This is the conventional response and it makes good economic sense.  In fact, these moves, plus a focus on protecting the existing business revenue, are often critical in the short-term to insure that organizations remain viable. 

For the most part, senior executives have little illusion about the severity of the current economic crisis, or the chance of emerging from it soon.  Most corporate leaders are taking deliberate, intentional actions to manage through the challenges, and part of that is to lower costs and increase efficiency by reducing headcount and restructuring jobs.

The conventional response.  Laying off a percentage of the workforce is one option companies choose, but often is not the best way to reduce expenses.  A 2001 study by Bain & Company, for example, found that it took companies six to 18 months to realize savings from job cuts after the 9/11 attacks.  The actual time to realize savings is probably longer, since these numbers do not reflect the additional costs of recruiting, hiring, and training new people when the economy turned back around.  Other options to decrease cost, and often better ones, include cutting salaries, reducing benefits and perks, mandating a standard number of unpaid vacation days for everyone, or offering financial incentives for voluntary separation.

For example, in a March 2009 study by Roselle Leadership Strategies, Minneapolis, that included 30 companies ranging in size from below $50M to more than $10B, 67% are making targeted cuts in workers and managers in what they deem the least critical areas, and 70% are working with vendors to reduce cost and/or inventory.  Nearly 100 percent indicate they are taking some steps to reduce costs.  The specific steps they identify include:  institute pay cuts, increase virtual meetings, freeze or limit new hires, close marginal business lines, reduce travel and other discretionary expenses, require all employees to take unpaid vacation time, delay the filling of vacant positions, make changes to existing health plans or 401K matching contributions, and put off various consulting expenses. 

Not all cost reductions are equally helpful.  The key to effective cost reduction is to keep your organization’s core competencies intact.  Leaders need to have clear understanding of, and commitment to, the capabilities that differentiate them from the competition.  Organizations cannot succeed long-term by making short-term decisions that undermine this strategic differentiation.

The challenge for leaders in trying times like these is to be courageous and strategic, and at the same time, practical and realistic.  This is the paradox at the core of an unconventional response to an economic  downturn.

The unconventional strategy involves four facets:

  • tapping into the creative ideas of the entire organization
  • creating a distinct process for strategic expenditures
  • investing in leadership development for the stars
  • attending to the personal lives of employees.

Tap all creative ideas.  While leaders seek areas in which to make financial cuts, it is important to tap into the creativity of the entire organization for future-oriented ideas.  In difficult situations, leaders too often hunker down and try to make all the brilliant decisions themselves to save the organization.  A better strategy is to tap into others at multiple levels to harvest their thoughts and energy.

Many corporate leaders recognize the importance of developing innovative approaches to address business challenges.  One way to foster creativity is to cultivate an open and collaborative culture.  The key is to develop a corporate mindset that stimulates people to think and do things differently, and then stays out of their way enough to let ideas percolate.  Workforce diversity helps fuel this process.

Success often depends on leadership’s ability to use open-ended questions to nurture inventive problem solving, encourage information exchange and scenario analysis, and challenge the status quo with a motivated vision.  Leaders must identify the innovators in the organization, the ones that can focus on the most important kernels without getting lost in the peripheral chaff.  Successful innovators can look at business challenges from multiple perspectives and identify those approaches most likely to fly in the organization’s culture. 

In our study, we found that fully 70% were making deliberate attempts to tap into creative ideas across the organization.  How are they doing this?  By asking questions and listening (57%), encouraging information exchange at multiple levels (53%), developing various future scenarios (60%), and sharing a motivating vision of the future (60%).

Create a process for strategic expenditures.  Recognizing that this economic downturn will not last forever in its current condition, and that the marketplace may not return to its former condition, organizations must develop new strategic initiatives, and set aside money to fund them.  These might include new products, reconfigured services, expanded marketplaces, new business models, and improved talent base.

The key here is to develop some likely strategies and allocate sufficient resources to test them.  History tells us that in the lean times, future orientation rules the day.  For example, from early 1973 to late 1974, the U.S. stock market experienced a 45% drop in market value.  Spikes in oil and gas prices, easy credit, and a murky military endeavor (Vietnam) preceded this dramatic drop.  Sound familiar?  Despite these challenges, companies like FedEx, Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, Apple, Genentech, Oracle and others were born during this difficult economic time.  

This next generation’s growth companies will be the ones that exploit technology and innovation and learn to thrive during periods of deflation, inflation, and delusion.  Even in this economic downturn, such companies will invest in new products and services, nurture innovation, leverage technology, and expand into new markets.  They will expand segments of their workforce in potential growth areas, at the same time they decrease headcount in other areas.   

The new growth companies will search their high potential talent pool to find innovative people and give them future-oriented projects with few parameters to limit their thinking.  Since innovators need access to resources and networks of people against whom they can bounce ideas, leaders will also remove obstacles, and encourage mentoring and peer feedback. 

Some companies will look for opportunities to increase the level of their talent by intentionally seeking innovative and self-motivated individuals from other companies who are frustrated at the reduced career options with their current employer.  In a 2009 Deloitte study conducted by Forbes Insights, nearly half of the 300+ senior business leader respondents indicated they would focus on product development and innovation this year.  Fully 40% indicated their organizations would recruit more for critical talent. 

These recruitment efforts might include deliberate steps to build a marketplace brand that identifies them as a highly desirable employer.  From our work with Target, for example, we know that their brand image, built on a combination of business success, appealing products, and corporate philanthropy, is a major attraction to potential employees. 

In our study, 83% of responding companies indicate they are intentionally setting aside funds and creating distinct processes for developing future-oriented products or services.  Most (70%) indicate a focus on expanding or re-defining existing marketplaces, while 43% indicate they are budgeting for new or re-configured products or services.  About a third indicate they are creating pilots of new business models, and another third that they are exploring new product test markets.

Invest in leadership development.  One type of expenditure that many organizations consider a strategic priority is to retain and develop the critical talent they currently employ, while they attract similar talent for their future needs.  Downturns present the perfect opportunity to enhance and deepen workforce skills and capabilities.  It is smart business to use this time to help high performing managers and high potential stars expand and deepen their leadership skills in areas like collaboration, team play, and big picture strategy. 

Talented people are difficult to recruit and retain, and even more difficult to replace if they choose to leave.  Retention of key talent is a major concern across many organizations this year.  In the Deloitte study, nearly half of the senior business leaders who responded indicated their intention to invest in building new workforce skills despite the economic climate.  The companies in this survey came from across the globe, and ranged in size from $500M to more than $20B. 

Market leading companies recognize that leadership development is not just nice to have; it is essential to maintain and build competitive advantage, especially in tough economic times.  For example, Toyota pulls people offline in these times and provides training.  They utilize this strategy because the costs involved in providing leadership preparation and coaching are relatively small when compared to the potential future ROI.  Growing leaders from within an organization by using strategic work assignments, internal mentors, external coaches, performance feedback, and structured succession planning is a strategy increasingly employed by successful organizations. 

72% of those polled in the Deloitte study indicated the intention to direct limited human resource dollars to the development of leaders and high-potential individuals.  The same group of business leaders indicated that 48% intended to invest in building new skills in their workforce.

We determined in our study that 100% plan to invest in their key leaders during this downturn.  With more specific responses, they indicate their intention to take steps to maintain high motivation and productivity (80%), enhance skills and develop leadership capability (70%), and work to increase the likelihood of success once the economy turns around (50%). 

Pay attention to the personal lives of employees.  It seems obvious that creating personal relationships will help leaders get the most out of their employees, but most managers believe they are better at this than they actually are.  Times of dramatic change create predictable stress and fear in your workplace.  In the Deloitte study, an average of 44 percent of surveyed leaders indicated a decline in the morale of their employees, and almost 30 percent reported a decrease in trust/confidence in leadership. 

Greater attention paid to employees’ lives outside of work, and the personal toll on them caused by the changes, usually results in greater productivity, morale, and trust.  Acknowledging the pressure and affirming people for their efforts creates greater loyalty and effort.

Among the methods utilized by the organizations in our study, 93% indicate they are taking steps to acknowledge and show concern for the toll taken on those who remain after layoffs.  More specifically, 77% point out that they are affirming employees for their efforts and 67% indicate they are showing compassion for the emotional toll and the strain on their families.  Only 30%, however, say they are providing individual or workshop-based counseling for those who remain.

Peter Drucker describes the essence of leadership as the balance between managing what you have, and creating future capacity.  The dilemma in this economy is how to make the best choices in the dynamic tension between surviving now and thriving in the future.  The key to the courageous response is to be adaptive, imaginative, and practical.  Tomorrow’s industry-leaders will be those that position themselves to move quickly and effectively when the economy inevitably comes back around.  They will do this by cutting the fat, nurturing creativity, encouraging new strategic initiatives, and developing the talent that remains.

When the economic outlook seems grounded, invest in the stars!

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

When storms keep fishermen at port, they spend the time mending nets, repairing their boats, and discussing strategy so that they will be more productive
once the storm clears.

The conventional response. In a shaky economy, many organizations choose to freeze expenses related to new hires and promotions, to downsize, and to suspend or dramatically limit expenses for things like travel and capital expenditure. These moves, plus a focus on generating new revenue, are often necessary in the short term to insure that organizations remain viable for the long term. However, it is critical to offset the increases in workload and frustration on remaining employees caused by such measures. Even the most talented and motivated workers will respond with fear and sub-optimal performance in response to such changes in the work environment.

The courageous response. A great way to offset the negative impact of cost-cutting measures is to invest in high potential and high producing leaders throughout the organization during the slow economic times. Relative to the savings netted by freezing new hires or downsizing overall head count, the cost of leadership development is small. However, to engage in such initiatives during an economic downturn, even a major one, sends a strong and reassuring signal to the star performers who remain. This is the courageous response, and it leads to stronger companies long-term.

Though it may run counter to conventional thinking, it is even more important in the midst of an uncertain business environment to invest in your star performers.  Although the tendency may be to put leadership development in the “nice to have” category, smart organizations invest in their retained talent.  They maximize the productivity of their people now, even with limited resources, to prepare for a quick and competitive start when the general business climate improves.

Some companies actually increase their market strength during tough times.  Toyota, for example, pulls people offline in the slow times and provides classroom training for them (based on an article in the December 2008 Training + Development Journal, American Society for Training and Development).  They do this to better position themselves for the inevitable upswing. 

Why develop your leaders?  It is helpful to remind ourselves why successful organizations invest in leadership development initiatives in the good times.  Our research with clients over the last decade indicates these primary reasons for investment in their leaders:

  • Increase productivity:  From a quality/continuous improvement point of view, people—like products and processes—need to become more effective; greater effectiveness yields greater productivity.
  • Retain top performers:  The relationship between manager/executive and his/her subordinates is the key factor in retention; when leaders are ineffective at building and maintaining relationships, when top performers are not developed to their full potential, retention suffers.
  • Plan for Succession:  Senior managers and managers must look at how to leverage strengths and manage their development edges every year to be ready for greater responsibility.  The leadership pipeline needs to be robust for the future, and stars need to see opportunities on the horizon.
  • Foster a Motivated Environment:  The effective role model of leaders who are motivated to become better, themselves significantly impacts the drive to continuously develop and improve.  Leaders set the tone, especially in economically shaky times.
  • Form More Effective Teams:  When leaders at multiple levels identify obstacles to the effectiveness of their team and exhibit a commitment to work through these, the team becomes more effective.  Often, their own leadership style and capacity is one of the obstacles.

The compelling three reasons.  If these five outcomes are important in the good times, how much more critical must they be during business downturns?  Here are three reasons your organization should plant leadership development seeds in its stars now (based on the results of several recent leadership surveys described in the Training + Development journal of the American Society for Training and Development), in order to harvest their increased capacity when business turns around later in 2009:

  • Increase motivation, productivity.  Though 75 percent of senior leaders identified leveraging leadership talent as a top priority, 60 percent of leaders at lower levels were not satisfied with their leadership development options.  This leads to reduced satisfaction and a less motivated and productive environment.
  • Maintain competitive edge.  Star performers want on-the-job opportunities for skill development, and this is even more important when their options for promotion or increased responsibility decrease in a sluggish economic climate.  With many organizations already lowering salary increases or freezing them in 2008, providing development opportunities is a way to offset the lack of financial reinforcement.
  • Retain top talent.  Close to 50 percent of high performers leave their jobs due to ineffective leadership above them and/or a poor relationship with their immediate manager.  Though these employees might not have the opportunity to leave your organization in slow economic times, up to 30 percent will likely jump ship quickly when opportunities open up in the marketplace. 

The bottom line.  Leadership development is not just nice to have; it is an essential competitive advantage in propelling your organization into the future.  Tomorrow’s industry-leading companies will be the ones that leverage the current economic climate by cutting the fat and elevating the talent that remains.  In so doing, these leading organizations position themselves to move quickly and effectively when the economy inevitably comes back around.  The cost of providing leadership training and coaching is relatively small compared with the potential ROI in the next year.

Pay for Performance?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The goal of organizational architecture is to create an organization which will be able to continuously create value for present and future customers—essentially creating systems that will optimize and organize themselves.  Organizational Architecture involves three important aspects:  the assignment of decision rights (who makes what decisions), the methods of rewarding individuals, and the structure of systems to evaluate the performance of both individuals and business units.  Corporate America has re-engineered decision rights fairly well over the last 15 years by flattening out organizations and shifting manager responsibilities.  However, most companies are falling painfully short when it comes to administering rewards and evaluating performance.

Rewards are extremely important in corporate America.  Rewards can be anything from receiving a restaurant gift card for finishing a project, to getting a 100-inch plasma TV for being the best sales person in the nation that year.  In order to make a reward system successful three things must be true (expectancy theory).  The first is that employees must feel that if they put in the requisite effort, that they will be able to achieve the desired performance level.  Second, they need to trust that if they achieve the desired performance level, they will receive the reward from the company.  Third, the valence of the reward must be such to motivate the employee to put in the effort in the first place.   

Increased emphasis in American corporations is being placed on incentive pay, or performance-based pay, in an attempt to incent workers to achieve maximum results (or at least perform above the minimum level required).   One of the problems with performance-based pay is that in order to institute a policy of rewards, the company has to put some of each employees’ pay at risk—money is taken right off the top of their salary, and now they have to earn it by performing, in many cases, at a higher level than they have in the past.  This problem is often alleviated by the company building in the ability for the employees to earn more than they used to earn by achieving the highest performance threshold.  However, this system is suboptimal for employees who will never be able to perform up to the highest level, no matter how hard they try.  Although some degree of turnover is beneficial and necessary, most organizations can’t afford to lose up to 50% of their workforce at one time.  For this reason, sometimes companies will implement an incentive program without putting any of its employees’ money at risk all—simply by adding the incentive on top of regular compensation. 

So why doesn’t every organization use a pay for performance system?  Critics of incentive pay have two arguments: the first argument is that money does not necessarily motivate employees; and the second is that it is difficult to design an effective compensation plan that truly rewards the highest performers.  To me, the second argument is a lot closer to reality than the first. With increasing reliance on teamwork in companies today, the already vague line between acceptable and poor performance is getting evermore hazy.  For this reason a system for performance appraisal is vital to organizational architecture.  In order for a performance appraisal system to work, the employee or team output must be observable at low cost and difficult to manipulate by employees or the company.  In addition, when evaluating teams of employees, a measure of team performance is required while still recognizing individual contributions to the team.  For example, giving individual bonuses for work toward the team goal, and then giving a separate team bonus if the team reaches its goal.

Where most incentive programs fall short is in the expectancy link between achieving performance and being rewarded.  That is, when a company asserts that high performance is necessary to stay in business, but does not reward high performers, what does that say to those high performers who could go to another company and perform at the same level and be rewarded for it?  The opportunity costs for high performers to work at companies that do not adequately compensate for performance are the rewards (money, recognition, job security) they could be receiving elsewhere for the same effort.  To me, the extreme disconnect between performance measures and rewards is what will drive these companies out of business.

It all comes back to operant conditioning: why would the mouse keep trying to learn how to get out of the maze if she never got cheese when she found her way out?  Business leaders need to invest the requisite time and resources needed to design a maze that truly separates the high performing mice from the poorer performing ones.  Then, give your mice the cheese they deserve!