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