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:
- 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.
- Building Trust and Vulnerability – Trust 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Agreement without commitment is compliance or passive/aggressive behavior. This is a toxic.
- Agreement with commitment equals consensus – a wonderful result when you achieve it (which teams will do quite often).
- 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.
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:
- Coaching: Leaders must target and provide stretch opportunities to their direct reports so they can develop into strong A players.
- 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.
- Managing performance: Stating clear expectations for tasks, results and projects required and taking the time to follow-up on agreed upon expectations.
- Giving positive and constructive feedback: Having the difficult feedback conversation when necessary.
- 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.
We’ve all smiled at the phrase “you know, feedback is a gift”. But the receiver’s defensive reaction(s) can be a significant deterrent, when you are simply trying to be helpful by providing them feedback. This is especially true if the receiver is someone who typically responds with difficult behaviors such as: interrupting, justifying, arguing, or worse, lashing out with brutal attacks. They are often unaware (or even in denial) about their behavior. I refer to these people as B/C Players.
Some leaders of B/C Players will “look the other way” and tolerate these behaviors.
The most common excuses I hear are: “But they’re so productive and produce results”, or,
“I don’t have time to deal with stuff like that”.
I find that B/C Players are usually poison in an organization. They provide obstacles and make it difficult for A Players to thrive. Oftentimes, they are poor examples of living the core values.
Leaders MUST deliver the tough feedback message by doing the following 8 things:
- Collect examples of behavior through first hand observations and interviews with A Players.
- Spend time thinking about how to make your feedback message behavioral (citing the actual behavior).
- Schedule a feedback meeting that is formal and structured.
- Deliver the feedback directly, no sugar-coating.
- Actively listen to the B/C’s point of view, but don’t waiver from yours.
- Be willing to offer coaching.
- Get agreement about behavior change and follow up minimally on a monthly basis.
- Recognize improvements; stay firm if no improvement.
Leaders have an obligation to the organization and to A Players to deal with difficult people on their teams by having these conversations.
I had an opportunity today to coach and train a young middle management team at one of my Fortune 100 clients. It inspired me to ask myself, what are the qualities that leaders need to demonstrate to be a winner?
The topic was helping them develop strong and effective meeting facilitation skills and getting groups to make a decision. They came in a bit resistant, but within minutes I could see enthusiasm, desire and willingness to not only absorb the material but to connect with it, apply it and see new possibilities for introducing the skills and concepts into their organization.
I was in the company, all day, with “A Players”.
I can’t over emphasize the importance hiring and retaining A players in your organization. To do this, you must focus on finding talented people who are not only smart and capable but demonstrate the values of leading, commitment, making a difference and of learning. For me, that creates a winner.