Category Archives: Uncategorized

Coaching

As David and I progressed in our development session, his energy in our conversation caught my attention. I usually associate this type of energy with confusion, but I’ve known this company president for years, so I thought back to the cycles I had observed throughout our relationship.

I mentioned to him that in the past, mid-year typically finds his company at a place where goals and performance are in tension. A place when the high hopes of January give way to the reality of June. Even though David wasn’t aware of his feelings, he couldn’t deny his energy, so we continued our conversation.

I recently learned that the typical worker checks their device screens 74 times each day, for texts, emails, and internet browsing. Given my own experience, I’m not surprised, but the real motivation for these actions did surprise me.

It seems that the brain associates checking with working and the more a person checks, the more they feel like they are working hard. A sense of working hard seems to help people cope with feelings of anxiety and create a false sense of self-esteem.

Senior leaders often demonstrate these same motivations in another way. David’s intensive planning process loads a series of growth goals, initiatives, and changes into a fixed talent pool of leaders. Yet at mid-year, the facts say the talent pool doesn’t have the capacity to win. Becoming busier, for the sole purpose of coping with reality, fills this aching hole. David acted very busy.

While this might sound like a simple problem to solve, it’s not. Scheduling stretch goals, organizational changes and other initiatives can make a leader feel purposeful and busy. Yet, once that sense of, “I can’t win” settles in, busyness depletes a person’s energy that developing talent demands.

I’ve asked other leaders what they would do when facing this dilemma and they all say something like, “Either increase the talent pool or decrease growth plans.” Yet, when it comes to following through almost none do and for a good reason.

Yesterday, I was having a developmental conversation with a senior leadership team who state that on average they spend 40% of their time solving problems, 13% recruiting, 8% on developing direct reports, and 35% on other tasks.

As our conversation drilled down we realized that in all cases what they called “developing direct reports” was in reality, solving problems. Why was this intriguing?

This group had identified three behavior changes in their direct reports that would improve their capacity to win, yet none was eager to implement them. As we pursued this, it was clear they didn’t believe they could succeed so their energy remained too low to engage. As we looked deeper, the root cause hit us all like a ton of bricks. They had never learned the skills to coach others on changing behavior so they busy themselves with solving problems.

If the leaders who are responsible for developing talent lack performance coaching skills, your stretch goals will always be in jeopardy. Firing, hiring, and bringing in outsiders should never be a primary method for expanding talent. Every time you bring in a new person, they bring their culture with them – like creating drag on an airplane that wants to fly.

Each of you has one or two stretch goals that seem out of reach because you or others on your team don’t have either the right skills or experience. Good news is that it doesn’t need to stay this way.

Would you like to help your people grow? Start by creating a baseline for each person through a 360 review. They’re inexpensive and easy to implement. Let me know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Ownership

Something needed to change – this critical software development project was taking more time and resources than projected and if this continued, the product would miss the market.

As the CEO described how he intervened in this problem, a gnawing question forced its way through my lips.  I asked him if we could explore this more deeply, with the purpose of creating value for him at a more personal level, and he agreed.  So I asked, “In your company, what specific outcomes are you responsible for?”

Recently, a CEO asked me to interview his team members with the goal of helping them execute faster.  He believed they were not getting the traction they needed and he didn’t know how to fix it.

Traction comes when commitments are tied to the name of one person – not a team, a department, a group or a company, and in both cases, this was not happening.

Managers in the Northwest can seem “politically correct”, or I’ve also heard this term called “Seattle Nice”.  Either way, it’s the same costly fog screen designed so that everyone gets a “trophy”.

It may seem harsh to name one person responsible for a specific outcome, but it actually makes an organization crazy when you don’t, which is why this software project was behind schedule.

Leaders are people who make commitments and take on personal responsibility and risk.  To assign a title that implies leadership, without assigning specific public commitments, for outcomes by a certain date, is common and unproductive.

I know what great execution feels like, both at the beginning and at the end of a project that I have led.  When it works, it feels remarkable.  When it doesn’t work, it is usually because there was no single name and date, tied to ownership.

When I asked the software CEO about what he was accountable for, his first response was, “Wouldn’t that send a message that I work for them?”  While I loved his honesty, I let his question linger without an answer and then he said, “I’m not sure I’m seeing this right, maybe what I want is mutual accountability.”

As he considered this, he began to see the bigger picture.  Unless he models real accountability to his senior team, he won’t get it from them.

Try to think about it this way – if everyone who worked for you knew that you owned three specific measurable outcomes with dates, what would change for you?  How would that impact your company?

You might be saying to yourself, “What I have now is working, so why change it?”  As I discussed this topic with my CEOs this past week, several asked me to set up a 360 review for them so they could find out if they are doing a good job.

The clients I have are amazing – they want to be better as leaders and are willing to risk seeing themselves through the eyes of others.  The Truth does set us free.  Would you like more ownership from your people?

I’d love to know your thoughts.   Jim@peer-place.com

PS – I have gone fishing and will write another post in two weeks.

Jim

www.peer-place.com

The Crucible of Execution

As this CEO shared his frustrations regarding a key leader on his team, I mentioned that I’d been hearing him express this for quite awhile when he quickly fired back, “No, it’s only been a few months.”  With a patient voice, I proceeded and then he volunteered, “I guess you’re right, it has been going on for quite awhile.”  With this statement, he shifted into awareness.

It’s been said that 70% of the communication between two people swiftly occurs through body language.  With this in mind, consider also that frustration is often described as low-level anger.

When my wife Becky, greets me with, “Hi, how was your day?” her words carry different meanings based on how I interpret her body language.  Eye contact for a second or two means one thing, while shifting eyes means something very different.

In the case of the CEO described above, although he denied it, his frustrations had been present in this critical relationship for some time and were being communicated to this key person through his body language.

Like a low-grade fever, this hidden message was actively eroding their capacity to execute and was even threatening the longevity of this vital relationship.

The companies that I work with have less than 1,000 full time employees and I can tell you that in this space, hidden messages abound and denial is the norm, but I have seen this change.

Key relationships are a crucible.

A crucible is a container that can withstand very high temperatures.  In a similar way, we find ourselves being tested and refined through the key relationships in our lives.  Execution depends on key relationships; they are a special place where energy and meaning flow as a current between people.  When frustration, unmet expectations, rushed, inadequate or incomplete communication or judgment is allowed to linger, the flow deteriorates: creating a cycle of waste that dramatically affects execution.

In the words of Warren Bennis, “Social architecture is that which provides context (or meaning) and commitment to its membership and stakeholders.”  “An organization’s social architecture serves as a control mechanism, sanctioning or proscribing particular kinds of behavior.”  “A leader must be a social architect who understands the organization and shapes the way it works.”

When a CEO is frustrated with a key contributor for long, it points to a bent social architecture – one that sustains and supports a crippled relationship.

Relational connection is the conduit that supplies the flow of current that your future depends upon.

Most “first company CEOs” form their leadership patterns in a predictable fashion.  Their first step is usually to replicate the skills and moves that landed them the CEO seat in the first place.  When these moves yield diminishing returns, the hunt for new tips, techniques and ideas ensue.  With hundreds of promising self-help sources within easy reach, their experimental cycle accelerates.  After much trial and error, a few CEOs choose to move deeper.

After either repairing or replacing this key relationship, the next move for this CEO is about looking deeper.  It involves personal transformation in pursuit of the ultimate question, “Who am I that I would allow this frustration to linger?”  Tackling this question is important because by choosing this path a more authentic and durable CEO will emerge.

In my experience, the craft of leadership starts with heightened self-awareness and this gift is usually presented to us in the crucible of execution.

Exciting strategies are fun to develop but poor execution is the norm.

What should we be talking about that we are not?  I’d love to hear from you.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

www.peer-place.com

Raw

As we walked along the Mercer Slough my friend described his hunger for competition.  This long time member of my CEO group said, “Sometimes it seems like I can’t control myself and I act inappropriate.”  Hearing his feelings took me back to a time in my own life when an impulsive need to compete had me “caged”.

While he was talking about competing he was also saying, “Being so competitive no longer serves my purpose and I’m wondering what’s wrong with me, why can’t I stop?”

In recent months, I’ve begun to discover the wonder of digital photography, especially the ability to collect images, select and process the best, and end with a digital record of the experience that inspired me, which brings me to my point.

In the world of photography, the term “raw” describes when an image most represents what the camera sensors captured.  In one sense it might be the most pure version, a kind of baseline image.

Adobe Photoshop introduced a technique called layering that allows software to stack layers of artificial modifications onto a raw image – ultimately transforming it into something much different than the original.

Like all of us, CEOs and managers have added “layers” to their lives.  In response to parents, teachers, coaches and others who earnestly shaped us into what they wanted us to be, we took upon ourselves “layers” we thought would earn their respect and favor or help us avoid their disapproval and disappointment.

Just like this CEO, the most effective leaders have increasing awareness of their layers and the impact they have on others.  Left in isolation though, this CEO would remain in a self imposed “cage” of personas that steer him away from flourishing – and that’s where practice comes in.

This CEO has a unique leadership “practice field” where he enjoys a team of CEOs that help him learn to flourish.  I have the privilege of facilitating his “practice field” and seeing every aspect of his life transformed from his leadership, to his workforce and family.  When leaders start practicing with peers transformation always happens!

When each person in a company can focus on utilizing and developing their raw talents (doing more of what they naturally do best, more profitably), the company flourishes, as does each employee and their families and even customers.  However, when a leader has a compulsive need to compete or extend their domain, they will unconsciously fill the space where another person could flourish.

When this happens we have limited space to flourish and we cope by withdrawing our hearts and adding layers, which is why employee engagement remains so low.

However, the space between is rich with possibilities.  Are you aware of these opportunities and expecting others to do more of what they do best more profitably, so they can flourish?  Or, do you unconsciously fill this space with your shadow?

In this hypercompetitive commercial world, the only thing that can’t be copied is how well your people learn, adjust and flourish.  Everything else becomes a commodity.

I’d love to know your thoughts.   Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

www.peer-place.com

Where’s the Juice?

“Why do you do this work?” I asked them.  As the members drilled into the question, their answers seemed detached.  They were describing their personal motivations through the third person.

Third person answers to personal questions are a useful way to distance ourselves from the risk of being vulnerable.  If I answer that question with, “I need the money” then I risk exposing a part of myself to others.  So instead I’ll say, “financial reward”.

Financial reward is a concept.  Whereas “I need this money” is personal, but not near as personal as “I need this money to prove to myself that I’m successful” or “To prove to my family and friends that I’m successful.”

Why is this distinction important?  In these cases, money isn’t the motivation for working; it is a means to an end.  That’s why money, as a motivator, is thin.  However, there’s more here to learn.

As our dialogue continued, one member shared that they are financially top stopped at their current level of income.  This member went on to describe his motivation as, “the freedom to just do good work.”  This was personal.

Trying to stay safe means, we distance ourselves from what matters to us and our motivations become powerless.  When we talk about our motivations in the third person, we rob ourselves of the emotional attachment to our work and our peers.  We lose connection with others and ourselves!

Employee engagement is an individual, emotional phenomenon.  It’s also the raw material of morale, which is a group phenomenon.  When an individual is emotionally engaged with their work, it’s because they get something they value – “the juice”.  An engaged employee affects group morale positively, while an unengaged employee affects their group negatively.  One type strengthens connection while the other destroys connection.

Group dynamics drive your business yet most leaders struggle to calibrate group health.  By themselves, individuals accomplish little, but if our group is learning and growing in their willingness and ability to risk accomplishing important things, then connection grows and so does the business.

Normal businesses have groups that are stuck.  They talk in the third person, they point to external circumstances as the problem and they disconnect with reality.  As a result, they create stress and tension for themselves and others.  When work groups or individuals stop learning, they are boring!

So how do you change this?  Ask yourself these questions – Do you hear staff talking about what they are learning about themselves and their competencies?  Do they share their disappointments and adjustments?

If these are absent so is “the juice”!

You can dramatically improve the personal connection your staff has with each other and your business.  When you become transparent with your aspirations, disappointments, learning, and above all, demonstrate your adjustments consistently, I guarantee that others will eventually follow and change too.

Leadership is the wise use of power and power is the ability to translate intentions into reality and sustain it!  Where is your juice?

I’d love to know your thoughts?    Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

www.peer-place.com

Presence

These managers had been contending with change in their company and they were wondering when it would end.  In the recesses of their hearts, a scary question had formed in some of them, “Do I want to continue?”

Change is usually described as something external that causes us discomfort.  While this is true, my discomfort is internal to me and very personal and unconsciously, escape becomes my goal.

As this group described their world, one member exclaimed, “We are losing control.”  After listening further, I noticed that the word “control” was more present in their language then I had first noticed.

In war, we have command and control systems like the ones we are currently deploying in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.  As a concept, control is useful because it allows us to realize how little we have.

When we unconsciously think in terms of control, then to one degree or another, others experience us as controlling.  It is part of our presence.  So how do you know if people experience you this way?

When you are engaged in an important conversation and you find yourself thinking about what to say next, then the other person is experiencing you as controlling – no matter how well you think you hide it.  That person may not be able to put words to it, but they sense it within their body and they react.

Why is presence important?  Good business environments thrive on problem based learning because employees grow and learn through their challenges.  When the workforce is growing in competence, they have amazing energy – they’re engaged!

If I bring a controlling presence into a conversation then I effectively cut off learning and without learning, there is no engagement.

The discomfort was present in this group and applied learning was absent.  They felt anxious and as they put their heads down, they were saying they had lost control.  I wanted to sponsor a shift in their mindset toward applied learning.

Mindset is defined as a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to a situation.  Your mindset and your presence are unconscious to you.  However, they show up louder than your words to others.

For example, others often experience leaders who use many words as controlling.  On the other hand, leaders who ask curious questions like, “What are you learning?” come across as more open.  Their presence sponsors learning.

In my own experience, the reason I became controlling as a manager is that I sensed a lack of engagement in the workforce and I anxiously felt a need to make change, so I crowded the problem solving space with my need to control.  Since then I’ve learned that this behavior is normal.

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When it comes right down to it, business is straightforward, learning is fun, and becoming more competent is fulfilling.  As I invited this group of managers to move on, they accepted.

When applied learning is expected and modeled, then the disappointments, obstacles and changes that people experience become a catalyst for growth.  When this example isn’t present, then people feel justified to withdraw, which is why so many in your company are disengaged.

You and I both know that the percentage of disengaged people in your workforce is burdening your cost structure, your life and your future.  Would you like to do something about it?

Please let me know what you think.    Jim@peer-place.com

PS – My next blog will arrive on May 10.

Jim

www.peer-place.com

Alignment

Deep down the CEO knew that alignment problems were preventing each profit center from performing at the right level and he thought he had a solution, but I wasn’t convinced.

Several years ago, I took a nasty fall while skiing with resulting back and neck pain.  In my youthful attitude, I expected that like all other injuries, this would ultimately go away.  It didn’t.

In my vain attempt for a quick fix, I engaged the services of a chiropractor who explained my problem as “the alignment and related motion or function of a vertebral joint in the neck.”  The corresponding fix was a series of “manipulations”.  After a year of this, I quit.

When significant misalignment exists in a business over time, as it had in this company, it’s because we have enabled it.  The path for change starts with our behaviors, specifically with the CEO.

The concept of alignment presents an attractive illusion that tempts us to make alignment an object to achieve.  The illusion: “If I can just get there we’ll be ok and pulling the right levers should do it.”

However, no company ever achieves alignment because people are constantly making adjustments.  Conceptually, companies are designed to create value and we ultimately measure success by very simple things: Are current and new customers using our products and services at growing levels, and are the resulting cash flows adequate to fund distributions to shareholders and business expansion at a level that creates growing opportunity for employees.

Adjustment is not manipulation!

Manipulating a system to achieve alignment might look like this, “If I delegate this problem to my operations people they will fix it.”  Whereas adjustment might look like this, “What behaviors of mine have sponsored this problem and how do I intend to adjust?”

What I dislike about business school is that it creates intellectual constructs or models of perfection that detach themselves from people’s behaviors.  Anyone who has tried to execute change in a company has experienced employee resistance and backed down!  This is the heart of the matter.

As I’ve surveyed managers who work for CEO’s they tell me that more than 75% of all change that their CEOs launch is never sustained.  Which begs the question, is this adjustment or manipulation?

But, before you start pointing fingers at the CEO, look in the mirror.  By subscribing to a change initiative, in spite of a set of experiences that indicate it is not sustainable, you have sponsored an illusion.

If leadership is “the wise use of power and power is the ability to translate intentions into reality and sustain it”, then the cure is wisdom.

Acquiring wisdom is accelerated by sharing failure and adjustment with trusted peers.  Do you have a peer group?

So how did I solve my back and neck pain?  For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked to strengthen my sagging muscles so they could keep my body core healthy.  Once I changed my behavior, my back improved.  Outsourcing this problem to an expert just didn’t work.

I’d really like to know your thoughts!   Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

www.peer-place.com