Posted tagged ‘Team’

Building Your Team

February 8, 2009

Much appropriate discussion has taken place regarding President Obama’s vetting process in selecting his team. It remains unclear whether his appointees witheld information or that the process was flawed. For the most part, though, the people that he has chosen have been hailed as competent choices.

In implementing every strategy, finding the right people is essential. It is equally essential to know who should be part of the team and who should go. People need to be moved into the right position without doing too much damage to short-term performance. Beyond that, there must be goals, incentives, and performance measures that propel people in the right direction.

Here are some common traps that you should avoid.

  • Keeping the existing team too long. By the end of the 90 day period, the leader should have a clear understanding of his team and their individual capabilities. By the end of six months, it is appropriate to communicate your proposed personnel changes to HR and your boss. In certain STaRS situations such as a turnaround, these decisions may be required sooner.
  • Fixing the airplane in mid-flight. It is very dangerous to repair an airplane in mid-flight. Develop options such as hiring additional people and allowing them time to learn the ropes, and/or explore whether people down the command chain can take over.
  • Losing good people. When you shake the tree, good people can fall out too. Always look for ways to signal to top performers that you recognize their capabilities and want them to remain.
  • Undertaking team building before the core team is in place. Premature team building exercises may strengthen bonds between staff that will ultimately be displaced. This does not mean that you should not meet as a group, however.
  • Making implementation-dependent decisions too early. Weigh the benefits of moving quickly on major initiatives against the lost opportunity of gaining buy-in from people who will be brought on board later.
  • Trying to do it all yourself. Remember, that restructuring a team involves emotional, legal, and company policy complications. Do not take this on by yourself. A solid HR person is indispensable.

To assess your existing team, establish criteria. These criteria may include competence, planning ahead and risk mitigation capabilities, judgment, professionalism, energy, focus, relationships, and trust. Match these criteria against the circumstances and requirements of the job and evaluate them accordingly.

Regardless of all of the analysis or perhaps, even as a result of it, we will discover that there are certain performers who are not in the right job or simply do not belong in the organization. These are people who are not achieving their performance goals or are failing to exercise leadership effectively. An effective leader must address this situation as well.

Failure to do so exhibits false kindness. While it may be easier to leave these professionals in their roles, doing so harms the leader, other staff, and the whole company. Additionally, it sends a message that non-performance is acceptable in the company.

An employee may not be effective in the job because of any of six reasons. The person lacks the ability, was improperly trained or oriented, has the wrong attitude, demonstrates the wrong behaviors, lacks the required skills, or lacks experience.

To remedy these situations, there are four options. You can train the employee, coach him or her, shift the person to another position, or let the person go. There is a way to determine what the appropriate remedy for each situation is.

  • If it is a matter of skills, training is the appropriate remedy.
  • Attitude related issues may be remedied by discovering what is causing the difficulty, and then addressing the issue while coaching and motivating the employee.
  • Correcting behavioral issues requires coaching and patience. Behaviors shift over time. In order for the supervisor to determine whether that amount of effort should be expended, s/he must determine whether the employee adds significant value in other areas.
  • If the person lacks sufficient experience, it may be possible to shift the employee to a position where her/his experience level is appropriate.
  • If the person lacks the ability, that individual should be let go. No amount of training, coaching, or shifting will allow him or her to make a meaningful contribution. If there is a need to let the person go, do so respectfully and in accordance with the management philosophy that you wish to inculcate. Direct reports will form a lasting impression based on how this part of the job is managed.

Strategy is most effectively implemented when there is a compensation and reward system designed to focus people. Typically, strategic goals will be distributed among functional departments and then further distributed among each department’s employees as employee goals. Performance is encouraged through effective incentives and clear criteria for measuring performance.

A blend of push and pull tools may be employed to reach strategic goals. Push tools, such as compensation plans, performance measurement systems, annual budgets, and the like motivate people through authority, loyalty, fear, and the expectation of rewards for productive work. Pull Tools, such as a compelling vision, motivate people by inspiring them and enrolling them in a new future. Methodical and risk aversive employees are more likely motivated by push tools while high energy performers respond better to pull tools. It is important that an effective mix be developed that rewards collective (where interdependent work is most important) and individual (where independent work is most important) performance.

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Negotiating Success

January 30, 2009

According to Professor Watkins, to succeed with a new boss (the American People?)  or  for that matter, a new Congress, it is critical to invest the time in the relationship up front. Your new “boss” (and here you can substitute the word “Americans” to relate to President Obama’s situation) sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to the resources that you need. This person will have more impact than any other individual on your eventual success or failure.

Negotiating with the boss is about determining the shape of the game so that you have a fighting chance of success in achieving your desired goals. It is here that realistic expectations are established, consensus is reached, and resources secured.

If you are in realignment, you need the boss to help you make the case for change. In a sustaining success situation, you need help to learn about the business and avoid early mistakes that threaten the core assets. In start-ups, you need resources and protection from too much higher-level interference. In turnarounds, you may need to be pushed to cut back the business to the defendable core more quickly.

There are certain dos and don’ts concerning how to build a productive relationship with one’s boss.

Don’ts

Dos

  • Don’t trash the past. Understand it instead — and concentrate on assessing current behavior and results and making the changes necessary to improve performance.
  • Take 100% responsibility for making the relationship with your boss work. The responsibility rests with you.
  • Don’t stay away. Get on your boss’ calendar regularly. Be sure that your boss is aware of the issues that you face and that you are aware of the boss’ expectations and how they are shifting
  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often. Begin managing expectations right away.
  • Don’t surprise your boss. Report emerging problems early enough. The worst scenario is for your boss to learn about a problem from someone else. Give him or her a heads-up as soon as you become aware of a developing problem.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and actual planning. Do not let yourself get caught up immediately in firefighting. Buy yourself some time to understand the organization and come up with an action plan.
  • Don’t approach your boss with only problems. Bring along a plan as well. This does not mean that you need full blown solutions every time. The key is to give some thought to how you plan to address the problem, to your role, and the help that you will need.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss. Figure out what the boss cares about the most. One way to do this is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you are doing about them every time you interact. However, do not take actions that you think are misguided.
  • Don’t run down your checklist. Running through a checklist of what you have been doing is inappropriate. However, updating on what is being attempted and how the boss can help is appropriate.
  • Pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects. Be alert to the multiple channels through which information about you reaches your boss.
  • Don’t try to change the boss. Adapt to his or her style and idiosyncrasies.

There are five conversations that should be held on an ongoing basis.

1)      Situational Analysis Conversation. It is important to understand how your new boss sees the business situation. How did the organization reach this point? What are the challenges? What resources can be drawn upon?

2)      Expectations Conversation. What does your boss need you to do in the short-term and medium-term? What will constitute success? How will performance be measured? When? Are there any areas that are untouchable? Learning the answers to these questions will allow you to reset expectations. If you are operating from different perspectives, it is critical that you have a conversation that creates alignment. Be conservative in what you promise and focus on over-delivering. If you have multiple bosses, it makes sense to bias your efforts to the one who has substantially more power early on, as long as you redress the balance, to the extent possible later on. If you cannot get agreement working with your bosses one-on-one, it is appropriate to bring them to the table together to avoid getting pulled to pieces.

3)      Style Conversation. This is about how you and your boss can best interact on an ongoing basis, i.e., in writing, face-to-face, voice-mail, and/or email? How often? On what kind of decisions does s/he want to be consulted and where can you make the call yourself? How are your styles different and what are the implications of those differences?

4) Resources Conversation. This conversation is essentially a negotiation for critical resources and should be had once you have agreed upon the diagnosis. The first step is to identify what resources are needed given the state of the business. In turnarounds and realignments, the need for resources is far greater because different skills and experiences are required. A menu approach that reflects different results based on different levels of commitment may be appropriate. Focus on the underlying interests of your boss and tailor resource requests accordingly. Look for mutually beneficial exchanges that support both of your agendas.

5) Personal Development Conversation. This conversation should only be held once your relationship has matured. In what areas do you need improvements? What actions or courses could you take? Discipline yourself to be open to learning about new skills that are required for the new role.

Securing Early Wins

January 28, 2009

While it is important to secure early wins, it is equally important to avoid early losses. Common causes of early losses include the following:

  • Failing to focus. This appears as having too many initiatives. Identify the moist promising opportunities and concentrate on them
  • Not taking the business situation into account. What constitutes an early win in one situation can be a waste of time in another. See the table above regarding examples for each type of situation.
  • Not adjusting for the culture. Leaders who come from outside the organization naturally assume their old culture is in existence. Be sure to understand what the organization considers a win.
  • Failing to get wins that matter to your boss. Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing access to resources.
  • Letting your means undermine your ends. Process matters. The early win must be accomplished in a manner that exemplifies the behavior you hope to instill in the organization.

Studies show that successful change is implemented in “waves” with distinct phases. These phases include acclimatization, change, consolidation, and deeper learning so people can catch their breaths. What follow are deeper and more thorough structural changes. The final wave is focused on fine-tuning to maximize performance.

Each wave ought to consist of distinct phases.

  • Learning
  • Designing the changes
  • Building support
  • Implementing the changes
  • Observing results

The goal of the first wave of change is to secure early wins that build personal credibility, establish key relationships, and identify and harvest low-hanging fruits – the highest-potential opportunities for short-term improvements in organizational performance. These targets should be consistent with your A-item business priorities and introduce the new patterns of behaviors that you want to instill in the organization.

A-item priorities should

  • Follow naturally from core problems
  • Be neither too general nor too specific. They must include measures for overall success so that wins may be recognized. In other words establish S-M-A-R-T goals but not goals that result in micro-managing.
  • Offer clear direction yet allow for flexibility when you learn more about the situation. This is an iterative process. Be prepared to test, refine, and restate the goals.

To realize A-item priorities, it is imperative to eliminate dysfunctional behavior. To alter culture, the new leader must define which behaviors are desired and which ones are not. Some organizations refer to this as the creation of a management philosophy but the key element is that the behaviors must be defined. It is also important to note that every culture has good points and faults. It is crucial that the good points are maintained so that people have stability in times of change. Elevate and praise the good points that already exist so that people have a bridge to the future.

In turnaround situations, bringing in new people from the outside and setting up project teams to secure performance improvement initiatives are a good fit. In realignments, it may be well advised to start out with less obvious approaches to behavior changes. The new leader can set the stage for collective visioning by changing performance measures and beginning to benchmark.

Once the A-items have been identified and behaviors have been defined, detailed plans for early wins may be created. During the first 30 days these wins are about building credibility and deciding where you will focus your energy to achieve early performance improvements in the next 60 days. The goal of a second wave of change, once this has been accomplished, is to address more fundamental issues of strategy, structure, systems and skills to reshape the organization. This is when the real gains of organizational performance are achieved.

To build credibility,

  • Determine what you want to get across about whom you are and what you represent.
  • Decide the best way to convey those messages.
  • Identify your key audiences (direct reports, other employees, and key outside constituencies). Craft messages tailored to each focusing on who you are, the values and goals that you represent, your style, and how you plan to conduct business.
  • Think about how you introduce yourself. Should you first meet with your direct reports as a group or individually? Will the meetings be informal get-to-know-you sessions or immediately focus on business and assessment? What other channels such as e-mail or video will you use to reach people? Will you meet people at other locations?
  • Remove minor but persistent irritants to your organization.
  • Focus on strained external relationships and begin to repair them.
  • Cut out redundant meetings, shorten excessively long ones, and improve physical space problems.

A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

January 18, 2009

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.

Five Practical Guidelines when Hiring

November 9, 2008

Here are some practical considerations that are now part of my hiring process. They are a result of both experience and my research into what other executives, such as Jack Welch, have done to make their hiring process more successful.

1. Think Through the Assignment

Job descriptions may last a long time, but the assignments and the challenges associated with a position fluctuate with the changing conditions of the organization and the environment or marketplace. If the challenges are different, then the talents and skills necessary for the role will change. Undoubtedly, the role of Treasury Secretary today is different than the one of two years ago – yet the job description may well be the same. To grow a new area from scratch is very different from managing a seasoned team. If the team is getting close to retirement age, the new sales manager may need people development skills to grow the new team. As a leader, you must get to the heart of the assignment.

One of the ways to determine what is at the “heart of the assignment” is to revisit the strategic plan. By understanding the strategic goal and the tactics necessary to achieve the goal, one will be able to understand the key skills required to achieve success in a role. As a result, your thinking shifts and a new set of candidates may emerge.

2. Look at a Number of Potentially Qualified People

The key word here is number. Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration, as their absence would eliminate the candidate. The person and the assignment need to fit each other. To make an effective decision, three to five candidates should be considered.

3. Think Hard about How to Look at These Candidates

The crucial issue is to understand the focus and priority of the assignment. The primary questions are, “What strengths does each candidate possesses?” and “Are these strengths the right ones for the assignment?” While weaknesses may rule a candidate out, if the answers to these questions are that s/he is the right person for the assignment, regardless of a particular weakness, then that person gets the job. It is then the company’s responsibility to provide the additional training, talent, or skills to mitigate the effects of that weakness.

4. Discuss Each of the Candidates with Several People who have Worked with Them

One executive’s opinion is worthless. That’s because we all have biases, prejudices, likes, and dislikes. Competent executives do this routinely and informally. My former partner, a senior executive at Microsoft, has five to seven people in the interview loop. If the candidate does not meet the approval of this group, the candidate is eliminated from consideration. Each interviewer is also assigned a specific attribute or characteristic of the candidate for evaluation. One might evaluate analytical problem solving while another might evaluate collaborative skills. By following this discipline, one gains valuable additional perspectives.

5. Make Sure the Appointee Understands the Job

After the appointee has been in a new job for three or four months, he or she should be focusing on the demands of the job rather than on the requirements of preceding assignments. It is the executive’s responsibility to call that person and say, “You’ve now been manager for three months. What do you have to do to be a success in your new job? Think it through and come back to me in ten days and show it to me in writing.” It is critical that you, as a manager, assist others to think through what a job requires. Frequently, these requirements are not the traits that the performer thinks got him the job in the first place. And as we will discuss later on, if this person was promoted to this position, it is almost a one hundred per cent certainty that he will have to shift his work approach and focus in order to be successful in his new role.


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