Tag Archives: performance goals

Plain Sight

Smart, talented, and ethical – each of the 11 members in this company’s value creation group® (VCG) possesses a strong track record. So why is this business currently underperforming? In addition to the whipsaw changes occurring within their industry, there are other systemic causes.

In response to my last blog post, John, a geologist, commented, “Every drive I take in the mountains or in Eastern Washington turns into a Geology lecture. My family may see a pretty barn on a hill and I see that the hill is bedrock high that became a suitably drained building site.” Like John, we each see things through our history until someone or something helps us see through a new lens.

While we all enjoy the company of an optimist, over a pessimist, this disposition of looking at the favorable side of events and expecting the best outcome is a costly business posture. I knew that deep down this group was prepared to face facts, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

The problem with reality is that it often causes optimism to flee. I’ve seen groups who aren’t comfortable spending time with each other in reality and they unknowingly use optimism to avoid the truth. Even when the facts are discouraging, hope, anchored in faith, is strong enough to remain present. That’s exactly what we were establishing in this group, the capacity to do good work while facing reality, and slowly developing a trust that could recover from interpersonal setbacks.

As this VCG settled down and relaxed with each other, I noticed a fresh capacity in their ability to listen. The edginess of tight deadlines and unfulfilled expectations was replaced by curiosity and patience. In under an hour, they transformed their space from a hectic, “I don’t want to be here”, time suck meeting, into a mutually constructed personal learning laboratory.

Suddenly, a comment surfaced about the lack of shared priorities and a tendency to look for quick fixes without doing enough research, and this elevated their attention. When everyone paused and nodded in agreement, I knew we needed to make hay while the sun was shining. For the next two hours, their level of collaboration was palpable.

During our wrap-up, I asked them why they were experiencing this and the newest group members said, “This is first space I’ve ever known where we could relax and focus without performance pressure.”

Attention is a condition of readiness that includes focus and receptivity. When each one of us is attentive and present in the group we can birth collaboration – and value creation always follows. Conversely, the pressure of hurriedness, tight deadlines and individual deliverables can kill collaboration. But when a magnetic topic materializes, everything can change!

It is a facilitator’s job to notice this shift and sponsor the group’s movement into deeper exploration. That member’s comment was the magnet and a hidden truth was now in plain sight.

This group longed for a noble set of priorities to collaborate around, something powerful enough to draw them together. The source of all teamwork is a common future and these talented people were ready. Are you? I’d love to know your thoughts. Jim@peer-place.com


Break it Down

“I’m pretty clear about what I expect so why is that department struggling? They haven’t performed well in over two years!” After the CEO expressed his concern, he described his expectation to his peers and they replied, “That is not clear to us.” How could he think he was clear when no one else did?

The journey toward building a great company is laced with disappointment. We each experience to some degree what this CEO expressed, how we respond is the key.

The other day I was meeting a member of my Vistage CEO group for our monthly 1:1 meeting and I captured this interesting picture at Aqua on Elliot Bay in Seattle.


Lee, a restaurant manager, explained that even though they hire great people they wrongly assumed that a perfect table setup would follow every time. The purpose of the photo shoot was to show their servers exactly what a table setup must look like every time. Aqua is an elegant dining destination and thoughtful execution is a standard.

I recently worked with a management team helping them complete “a work breakdown structure” for one of their core value creation processes. As we progressed from the macro level of intention to the micro level of individual milestones, metrics and measures, the group’s level of chatter diminished and thoughtfulness emerged.

Before you let these details distract you, here is my point. Thoughtfulness comes when a person becomes crystal clear in their understanding of their own personal commitments.

The restaurant picture above makes this point. The manager was clear on the dining standard as well as his commitment to implement the standard. If you want to make sure that a standard is set in the mind of those that count, make a visual picture or layout a detailed description that helps them achieve it.

A bored unaware leader creates more chaos than they realize.

Slowing down to communicate at a precise level is emotionally difficult for some leaders. For example, afflictive emotions are anger, sadness and fear; neutral emotions are boredom and dryness and positive emotions are joy, happiness and pleasure. Most CEOs handle afflictive and positive emotions but are lost when dealing with boredom and listlessness, so they over function to escape the feeling and actually create the confusion that make them angry.

We all feel bored or emotionally dry at times, but letting these feelings drive how we lead people is a problem. Choosing how to cope with boredom is impossible when you’re unaware and this leader’s inability to cope directly affected the struggling department in question.

When I see incomplete initiatives, emotional awareness is usually the issue. Not sure if this describes you? Then just ask your team or your peers if they experience you this way. Be thoughtful about your answer and send me a note – I would love to hear your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



A New Doorway

As I worked with the senior leadership team, I noticed there was no discussion about their specific goals or targets, yet I knew they considered themselves a high performing team. They chose to approach performance differently and I had the privilege of walking through the process with them.

When I say the word, target I think of a dartboard, something to shoot arrows at or drop bombs on. A point on a graph, chart or table can also represent a target. But, a static number does not move my heart. The words “targets” or “goals” seem to create anxiety in most managers so asking why is important.

The word goal often represents something that someone above me wants me to accomplish. It is their goal, and they want me to take ownership and act like it’s mine.

It’s a fact that each person wants their life to have increased meaning and meaning is generated by the story we tell ourselves about the experiences we have. It is also a fact that we generate motivation when we anticipate meaning and this energizes us to take on the big commitments that call forth our greatest creativity and drive. Unfortunately, the metaphors we commonly use in our companies to generate meaning seem impotent. So why do we keep using them?

The following poem was posted on the door of a fourth grade classroom. As you read it ask yourself, “What possibility does this open for my leadership in 2013?”

On the Other Side of the Door

On the Other Side of the Door I can be a different me,

As smart and as brave and as funny or strong

As a person could want to be.

There’s nothing too hard for me to do,

There’s no place I can’t explore

Because everything can happen

On the other side of the door.

On the other side of the door

I don’t have to go alone.

If you come, too, we can sail tall ships

And fly where the wind has flown.

We’ll find what we’re looking for

Because everything can happen

On the other side of the door.

Jeff Moss

What doorways of opportunity and risk are you moving through in 2013? Have you invited your key contributors to walk through these doorways with you? Have you given them time to anticipate and shape what this might mean for them? How does your planning and communication capture the amazing levels of risk that so many people in your company take to pursue greater meaning?

2013 can be a wonderful year of growth and learning, because everything can happen on the other side of the door! Jim@peer-place.com



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Turning Points

The members of this group were senior; several had been with this successful company more than 10 years, so they were invested. Yet they lacked the ability to diagnose the growth problems they were experiencing now and this was generating considerable frustration. As their frustration grew, this group looked to me to fix their problem.

As an outsider, I saw that the people in that room could solve every problem they were experiencing, but first they needed new skills, some courage and a fresh view.

It is hard to see the forest when you are a tree.

The conversation became more granular as one leader described his performance frustration, with an eye towards others as the reason. I asked him, “Is there anyone in this room that could help you achieve better performance?” He cautiously replied, “Everyone.”

Asking for help can be challenging and while it may be true that everyone can help in some way, it is always true that one or two people can offer tangible help more readily than everyone can. So what is hard about asking for help? Two reasons stand out for me.

Leaders are humans that “talk to think” and unless they’re part of a leadership team who can help them explore the challenges they face, their problems often remain inadequately defined. If leaders don’t have this skilled peer group, then asking for targeted help can be a risky crapshoot.

Asking for help also means risking rejection and none of us like that feeling, so we avoid rejection by either not asking or asking for something safe and impotent. This member courageously stumbled through his initial experience of talking about his problem with increasing granularity, when one person emerged as being most helpful. With this turning point, the conversation became more personal.

During my career with Xerox in the 70s, I was expected to achieve specific monthly performance targets and was taught to address any obstacles that stood in my path. Asking for what I needed was a cultural expectation.

Monthly performance commitments are the glue that binds any group of people trying to accomplish something significant together. I find that the word commitment is more effective than goals or targets, for one reason. Commitment is a very personal thing and the people making them do so with cautious thoughtfulness. Without commitments, there is no glue and without thoughtfulness poor execution flourishes.

Without measurable monthly performance commitments that cascade up to the top company level, growth is very difficult to manage. You might ask why?

Effective managers focus on managing commitments, not people. Without tangible commitments, managers have no alternative but to try to manage people, which is like herding cats. With monthly performance commitments, managers can expect their people to address anything that stands in their way and can then coach them to take responsibility, by asking for what they need or seeking help to define their problem.

As this team successfully navigated through this turning point, I could tell the next one would be much easier. What turning point is your team facing?

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