Category Archives: Leadership

Flexing to Your Impatient Boss

Building trust with your impatient boss may be challenging and stressful at times, but if you know how to communicate with them by being direct, concise, and bottom-lined, you can build trust, showcase your competence in delivering the results, and grow a fruitful and successful relationship with them.

When your boss is an “A-Type” personality demanding more and more from you and your team, keeping up and satisfying them can be a challenge.  Most impatient bosses are not suffering from some chronic character flaw.  More often than not, they just have a particular communication style that likes things at a high level, without too much detail, and a focus on cutting to the chase.  And for the record, that describes a lot of bosses.  C-level executives, and especially CEO’s are often wired this way.

Not everybody likes to give and get information the same way.  A lot of bosses, and especially those that seem impatient, want you to be brief and to the point without much emotion.  If you give this boss the bottom line, big picture view first to gain their buy-in, you’ve got a good shot at winning them over to hearing your other points.  But if you are someone who naturally gravitates towards process- driven, detailed communication, and you give the boss point a, then point b, then point c, slowly and incrementally building to point z, you are absolutely going to make their head explode. Add emotion and drama and it’s even more deadly.

Let’s say you wanted to give your boss a presentation on 10 recommendations you have for increasing the customer experience on the company website.  Here’s an approach that would be deadly:

“Recommendation number 1 is we revamp our sales funnel to take a consultative approach to the sales process.  I suggest creating three distinct sales funnels that are based upon the customers’ skill level: straight to the shopping cart for professionals and a question/answer for novices.  Recommendation number 2 is we increase our testing and monitoring.  We can do this by hosting user-testing days that let us observe our website users live and listen to them narrate their experience so we know where people are having trouble and what their opinions are about the site.  Recommendation number 3 is to employ customer service surveys and have constant communication between our customer service department and our tech team…”

I’m going to stop there because my head is already exploding and we are only on recommendation #3.

So this isn’t about how you like to communicate or how you’d like to have it communicated to you. It’s about how the boss wants to be communicated and FLEXING to you boss’ communication style. That means adjusting your style to reduce the tension and make your boss more receptive.   What you want to do is get right to the endpoint, cut to the chase and say:

“I have 10 recommendations for improving customer experience on our website. #1: take a consultative approach, #2: test and monitor, #3: customer surveys, #4: educate consumers, #5: interview users, #6: optimize language capabilities, #7: track what’s hot, #8: implement responsive web design, #9: determine calls to action and #10: make it more social.  Please tell me which of these 10 things you want to hear more about?”

Here, the seemingly–impatient boss gets to pick and choose the recommendations they want to explore.  So instead of eye-rolls,  finger drumming and other impatient behaviors, you’re going to hear, “Number 3 sounds really interesting.  Tell me more about that.”  Now you’ll get a chance to go back and give your detail while the boss listens.

Flexing to your boss using this direct, concise, and brief style puts an end to impatient behavior, builds the boss’s trust in you, showcases your competence in delivering the results the boss wants, and allows you to grow a fruitful and successful relationship with the boss.

 

The Process Equation: People – Part 2

For companies looking to scale, it’s not enough to be smart, purposeful and passionate.  They must focus on developing process by increasing what I call their Process Equation. In my last post, I introduced you to the ‘Task’ element of the Process Equation. This post will focus on the second critical element to the Process Equation: People.

The People Process involves developing the following 4 areas:

  1. Creating Leadership Team Health – Nothing is more important than having an aligned and healthy leadership team.  Smart does not mean healthy.  Healthy means team members are open with one another; they passionately debate the important issues; they commit to clear decisions even if they initially disagree; they call each other out (provide constructive feedback) when their behaviors or performance need correction; and they focus their attention on the collective good of the organization.
  2. Building Trust and VulnerabilityTrust is about creating psychological safety; being able to say what you believe is right, without fear, and knowing that you can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.  It requires intimacy – having an emotional connection to the people around you and making people comfortable with you by sharing personal histories.  Vulnerability is about being open and transparent.  It’s having team members able to say: “I was wrong”,  “I made a mistake”, “You were right”, “I’m sorry”, or “I need help”.  You’re vulnerable when you seek constructive feedback and you make it easy for others (managers, peers, employees) to give it you.
  3. Focusing on How to Communicate – Not communication but the art of communicating.  This is the act and art of conversing with others, whether face-to-face or at meetings.  It means looking at how your email protocol is overused when a discussion is really crucial.  It requires looking at your meeting rhythms; the abundance or over use of ineffective meetings that are a waste of time, then selectively eliminating some.  Most importantly, it’s about recognizing when to pick up the phone or walk down the hall to converse with the other person about a challenge, problem to be solved, decision to be made, giving constructive feedback or managing performance.
  4. Acquiring and Developing A Players – Having a People Process also means you focus on acquiring and developing “A players” in your company.  Jack Welch said it very clearly: “One A player can do the work of three C players”.  His people strategy at GE was very clear:  “Fewer people, paid more, with a lower total wage cost”.  To achieve this, you need to create best practices around conducting a talent review at least twice a year, developing a scorecard for each position with competencies and accountabilities, having a plan for your “C players”, building your “virtual bench”, and coaching and retaining your A players.

No matter how smart your company is or how much heart you have, the need to develop and master task and people process is critical for scaling, growing and succeeding.

Process Equation

The Process Equation: Task – Part 1

While recently working with an incredible start-up, three things occurred to me about this young group of millennials:

  • They are all brilliant and smart – they have “the mind”
  • They are purpose-driven, have passion and focus on stakeholder well being – they have “the heart”
  • They lack process in two critical areas – task and people (the “Process Equation”)

The “Process Equation”, focuses on two critical elements: task and people. It can be developed within your organization.

We recognized that while key business metrics were exploding off the charts, developing a task process would be crucial to sustain the rapid growth and leverage the collective efforts of each leader, manager and employee.

Task Process involves developing these 4 areas:

  1. Prioritizing and focusing the right things – with dozens of priorities and projects and new ones appearing weekly, everything becomes important, creates ambiguity and strains resources.  An organization that is scaling must choose 4 to 5 of the most important priorities it needs accomplish and make them clear to everyone in the company.
  2. Synchronizing and executing – connecting and aligning among members of the leadership team, then through all functional areas of the organization so that everyone is aligned and can describe what is most important to the company this year and this quarter.
  3. Crystal clear metrics – having KPI’s in place and making certain they are understood by all members of the organization.  You must also choose 3 to 4 Critical Numbers (KPI’s on steroids) for the next 90 days.  Everyone in the organization should know how their own tasks and functions impact achieving those Critical Numbers.
  4. Tracking accountability – Individual owners must be identified to be responsible and accountable for project and priority results.  Accountability owners for the top priorities ensure success of priorities and results crossing the finish line.  Owners need to share updates and results of their priority at bi-monthly Executive Team meeting.

No matter how smart your company is or how much heart you have, developing the task and people process is critical for scaling, growing and succeeding.  In my next post, we will explore “The Process Equation: People – Part 2”.

The Value of Involving Your Managers in Creating Your Planning and Execution Strategy

When setting out to develop a strategic plan as part of the annual planning process, it’s crucial for leaders to understand the difference between Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning.

Strategic thinking is done by the leadership team, engaging in discussions defining the companies core ideologies (values and purpose): core customer, brand promise; Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and the 3-5 year targets / winning moves.

Execution planning is about the short-term – what happens within the 12 months, and more specifically, the next quarter (or 13-week period).  This involves creating the quarterly goals (rocks).

While both of these functions must include the organization’s leadership team, outstanding results occur when the next level of managers are brought into the execution planning process.

A recent 2-day Annual Planning offsite proved to create outstanding momentum for one of my clients.  On the first day, the leadership team focused on strategic thinking.  We reviewed the rocks from the previous year and quarter, then developed targets, priorities and critical numbers for the next year and upcoming quarter.

The second day, next level of managers joined the leadership team and developed the details of the 1-year and quarterly priorities.  Blended sub-groups worked at flip charts outlining the detailed tasks that needed to occur over the next 13-weeks.  Cross-functional “Rock Teams” were formed with members from different functional areas joining together to plan out the tasks and activities that needed to occur for each of the four new company rocks that were created for the quarter.

The effect of this effort created five (5) powerful outcomes:

  1. The company developed a strong execution plan for Q1.
  2. The next level of managers felt significant, respected and included.
  3. Some new hi-potential managers stood out to the delight of the leadership team.
  4. Action plans were created for communicating to the next (third) level in the organization.
  5. Accountability and alignment were crystal clear and the company was energized.

Leaders must set the course with strategic thinking, but true wonders occur when their managers are involved in the execution planning process.

Conflict – So Misunderstood and So Beneficial

Ask anyone in your organization the first thing that comes to mind when they think about “conflict”, and it’s negative.  This is why conflict continues to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the workplace.

Conflict is the productive exchange of diverse ideas and opinions in a focused, efficient, unfiltered way. Teams must engage in conflict.  Without conflict, decision-making suffers and relationships among team members stagnate.  Worse, if conflict does not surface, it tends to degenerate to mean-spirited, back-channel comments made behind closed doors.

Redefining conflict as passionate debate is necessary to achieve resolution.  Conflict generally arises when two “A Players” have distinctly different points of view over a key emotional issue.  Here’s the challenge: they both think they’re right and guess what, they both can be!  So now what do you do?

The 5 key options around conflict are: avoid it (we both lose); get aggressive (I win-you lose); acquiesce and give in (I lose-you win); compromise (mini win/lose for both of us) or collaborate and resolve (I win-you win).

Teams must learn to collaborate and resolve conflict.  It’s about having the mindset and communication skills to work it out.

To be really good at working through team conflict, here are the 8 things you need to do:

  1. Introduce and acknowledge that the topic is difficult; call out that it’s a conflict.
  2. Watch out for artificial harmony – where people sit in silence and don’t participate.
  3. Have strong facilitation of the team, someone operating like an air traffic controller – controlling and guiding participation.
  4. Get everyone to weigh in – it’s usually only the most emotional, passionate people who speak up.
  5. After a timed discussion, pause to define and articulate the issue clearly.
  6. Brainstorm ideas and possible solutions then write them down.
  7. Come to a decision. This may need to be forced by the leader or facilitator, or the leader may need to take a stand to break the tie.
  8. Don’t strive for consensus – what we call “agree and commit”.  This is fine if you can get it, but strive for “disagree and commit”.  You may not agree but you must totally commit to and support the decision.

 

Learn to Decide Using “Disagree and Commit”

One of the most common dysfunctions on a leadership team occurs when the team leader believes they must achieve consensus for all decisions.  Great teams make timely decisions around direction and priorities and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, avoiding the desire for consensus.

How do you create buy-in for a decision without consensus?  You learn and embrace what it means to “disagree and commit”.

Here’s how it works.  You need to make the distinction between “Agreement” and “Commitment.”  You can feign agreement with artificial smiles, vacant stares (what I call the silent veto), or even outright political phoniness (advocating publicly it’s a great idea while privately despising it).

With commitment, you are all-in and will support the decision to the point where you will champion it even if you initially disagreed.  Your own team of direct reports will see you being supportive.

There are only 3 choices for team decision-making:

  1. Agreement without commitment is compliance or passive/aggressive behavior.  This is a toxic.
  2. Agreement with commitment equals consensus – a wonderful result when you achieve it (which teams will do quite often).
  3. Disagree and commit when you can’t achieve consensus.  It’s okay while discussing the decision to debate, question, challenge or disagree.  This is healthy because adults need to “weigh-in” to “buy-in”.  This option allows for passionate debate but requires, at the end of the day, all team members to be supportive and aligned.

By establishing this practice, you’ll make a huge difference in achieving your goals and will create healthy alignment for the teams you lead.

Not another meeting

Not Another Meeting!

Frequently, leaders, managers and employees tell me (with frustration) how ineffective their meetings are.  It’s become a national, if not global, epidemic!  From lack of focus to poor facilitation, people are wasting millions of hours a year which not only takes an economic toll but an emotional toll as well.

Are ineffective meetings draining company productivity?  Adopt these 4 best practices and watch your meetings go from boring and mundane to compelling and engaging:

  1. Know Your Purpose – Be crystal clear about the purpose of the meeting.  Ask yourself, is this meeting necessary?  If the answer is yes, identify if it is to provide updates (reporting out and information sharing); or to problem-solve and make a decision.  Clients tell me the typical ratio is 80/20 (info sharing to problem solving) where it should be the reverse.
  2. Use An Agenda – Stop fighting it and create an agenda template for every meeting.  Lay out the timing and objectives of each section of the meeting.  Be sure to distribute the agenda 24 hours in advance give people time to prep.
  3. Use Skilled Facilitators – This is a great opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of others on your team!  Be sure to include a scribe, timekeeper and someone who is comfortable intervening when they see challenging behaviors (ranging from dominators to silence).  Having a small cadre of leaders trained to become strong, effective facilitators will bring drastic improvements in your meetings.
  4. Finish Strong – Too often the hour is up and people are abruptly dropping off the call or packing up and running off to their next meeting.  Schedule meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour.  The final 5 minutes should include 3 essential things:
    –  Ask: “What decisions did we make today?”  Agree and write it down.
    –  Complete the “Who-What-When” action register so there is accountability for unfinished items and next steps.
    – Decide what info must be cascaded out of the meeting and to whom.

Meetings don’t have to be nightmares.  They can be incredibly productive for speeding communication; accelerating decisions and healing relationships.  Try following these 4 best practices and I guarantee success!

A leader must remember to manage

A Leader Must Remember to Manage

With so much emphasis on leadership over the last 10 years, critical management responsibilities haven taken a back seat.  Proactivity, flexibility, vision, inspiration, confidence, intuition and optimism are all key characteristics of a great leader that can create a great organization.

Leaders also have the responsibility to manage.

Oftentimes, a leader (especially at higher levels of a company) will forget the role he or she plays as a manager, neglecting the 5 key critical management responsibilities:

  1. Coaching:  Leaders must target and provide stretch opportunities to their direct reports so they can develop into strong A players.
  2. Holding people accountable for their performance and behaviors:  Leaders often say they don’t have time for this, yet it only requires a 30 second direct conversation.
  3. Managing performance:  Stating clear expectations for tasks, results and projects required and taking the time to follow-up on agreed upon expectations.
  4. Giving positive and constructive feedback:  Having the difficult feedback conversation when necessary.
  5. Decision making:  Knowing when to step in to “tell” an individual or team what the answer is (or what to do) rather than gain consensus or allow people to flounder.

Great leadership is required to take companies to new heights.  Leaders must understand (and remember) the importance they play in their role as a manager.

Your Sales Are Great - But Your Business Is Not

Your Sales Are Great – But Your Business Is Not

In working with leaders of companies where top-line revenue is growing between 20 – 50% per year, there’s often a feeling that “we’re in great shape”.  But when you go deeper and look at the low morale, high amounts of stress and drama, mistakes made and poor communication, you can see that companies too often are not prepared to deal with the growth or that maintaining the level of growth is not sustainable.

As a CEO or leader, two critical areas to focus on are your people and your execution.  You have to step back and work with your leadership team and ask (then answer) some very important questions:

About People

  • Do we have the right people in our organization? (and do I have the right people on my leadership team)?
  • Are my managers all “A players?”
  • Would I enthusiastically rehire everyone in my organization?
  • Are we regularly reviewing every six months our talent and going through an “A, B, C Player” Assessment?
  • Are we developing our B players and exiting our C players?
  • Do we have a process for finding and hiring the best people we can?

About Execution

  • Do I have everyone on the same page?
  • Are we all aligned on the priorities – for the company and individuals?
  • Are we focused on the right projects and goals for this quarter?
  • Do we have KPI’s in place to measure our results?
  • Are all processes inside the business running smoothly without drama?
  • Are we having effective meetings and moving communication throughout the organization?

First work with your leadership team to answer these questions.  Then dig deep and begin to create plans for overcoming any deficiencies.

Top-line sales growth can be a blessing, but without the right people and flawless execution, you might start thinking that it’s a curse.

Never Stop Learning

Never Stop Learning

The last four days, I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Fortune Magazine/Gazelles Growth Summit, in Dallas, Texas.

Four days with my fellow Gazelles coaches and presentations by some of the greatest business thought leaders (and authors) of our day:  Ron Kaufman on Uplifting Service, Adele Revella on Buyer Persona, Andrew Davis on Brandscaping, John Mullins on The Customer-Funded Business, Jeff Sutherland on Scrum, David Rendall on The Freak Factor, and Verne Harnish on Scaling Up.

We shared ideas, debated issues and sharpened our saws.

This session impacted my entire being – brain, heart, soul and spirit.  At the core is the love of learning.  I want to continue learning.  To not learn means I stop growing, expanding and changing and I start dying (little by little each day).

I want you to keep learning about whatever it is that you love, whatever it is you are passionate about.  Read books, magazines, blogs and articles.  Watch videos, YouTube and webinars.  Listen to podcasts and audiobooks or any other way you like to learn.

You will become smarter and discover new parts of yourself, plus you will impact and inspire others – your family, friends, teams, colleagues and associates.  And there is no greater gift that you can give.