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.
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:
- The company developed a strong execution plan for Q1.
- The next level of managers felt significant, respected and included.
- Some new hi-potential managers stood out to the delight of the leadership team.
- Action plans were created for communicating to the next (third) level in the organization.
- 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.
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:
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
Imagine 2 Organizations…
The first is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are open with one another
- Passionately debate important issues
- Commit to clear decisions even if they initially disagree
- Call each other out when their behaviors or performance needs correction
- Focus their attention on the collective good of the organization
The second is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are guarded and less than honest with one another
- Hold back during difficult conversations
- Feign commitment
- Hesitate to call one another on unproductive behaviors
- Pursue their own agenda rather than those of the greater organization
What steps have you taken to build a higher performing organization where you work?
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.
I’m amazed at how critical meetings and the simplest elements for group communication continues to stymie the organizations that I work with.
I recently spent a day with a client’s leadership team. The following day, we added the next level of management below them to the meeting.
Initially the CEO asked me, “can you bring in the middle managers and facilitate a meaningful conversation among us? There are half a dozen issues on which we’re not aligned, where we have conflict, and where we don’t communicate”.
We ended having an effective day, had a number of good conversations and solved several key issues.
In doing so, we identified the 5 things that an organization must do to be more effective:
- Leaders must become strong facilitators.
- A Leader must create a thoughtful agenda that includes critical conversations with outcomes.
- Teams must gain an appreciation for conflict and passionate debate.
- Team members must develop trust and be authentic with each other.
- Discussions need to come to a close with problems solved and decisions supported by all.
Leaders and organizations can and must learn how to do these things in order to scale and achieve outstanding results.
As I read what Jeff Bezos said in the NY Times responding to the latest news at Amazon, it brings up the importance of having core values in your organization.
Core values are a handful of rules that guide behaviors in the organization. There are 3 key tests to determine if they are for real.
The first test – would you really fire someone who repeatedly violates a value? The second test – would you be willing to take a financial hit? Would you be willing to actually cut out a vendor, or cut out a customer that broke a core value?
And the third test, which is most crucial is, are the values alive and well in your organization? Which means, do your people talk about them? Are leaders talking about them? Are you telling stories about them?
If you can’t pass those three tests, you don’t really have core values in your organization. It makes me wonder how much work Amazon did in instilling values into their organization?