Posts Tagged ‘vision’
It is a generally accepted principle that an organization over time cannot be much better than its leadership. There may be temporary, heroic flashes on the front lines, but for sustainable, renewable performance, leadership is essential.
The reasoning is that effective leadership sets the stage for performance and alignment of activity. Without clear context, the narrative of what is supposed to happen, agreement on the values in use, what matters, what makes sense and all those other functions of leadership people are left to their own devices, and anything from confusion to chaos can result.
Now let’s switch gears for a moment.
When people talk about “performance management” in the federal government, what comes to mind? The press is full of stories of non-performing employees, bureaucrats who administer red tape, embrace process over results, and any other number of criticisms and dings. Everything from productivity, to work ethic to innovation all get called into question.
The idea seems to be that employees need their performance managed. That’s the assumption that I suspect many people make.
But there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.
How do we talk about performance management for leaders?
And since we now know that things like emotional intelligence, engagement, open communication, transparency, truth-telling and the ability to craft a compelling narrative around the “why” of work really, really matter in leadership, how do we regard or manage the performance of leaders who are more about high control, secrecy, command, politics, inner circles, vision of nothing except (in the private sector) making a fortune, or manipulation?
Of course, the mushrooming use of the 360-degree assessment is one foot in the door, but I suspect the whole notion that leaders are held accountable for their performance on the job – and in the process, not just in the results – is something of a surprise for many.
In this context, an article last year in Government Executive on how senior executives in the federal government evaluated political appointees was fascinating reading. The appointees earned a “C” average. More than 30% of the respondents gave the appointees a “D” or “F.”
The story reads: “Obama officials lack functional and agency-specific knowledge, according to survey respondents. Many believe appointees don’t understand human resources and procurement rules, saying they presume the ‘institution is there as an obstruction’ and attempt to ‘break organizations.’
“Appointees have ‘unbelievably poor communication with career employees,’ one respondent commented. Almost 40 percent of managers gave appointees Ds or Fs on collaboration and communication with their staffs. Some ‘have a divide-and-conquer strategy, and there are way too many industry fingers allowed in decision-making,’ a respondent noted. At another agency, a manager said the result has been ‘politicization of normal agency functions.’”
You can only wonder how the people the survey respondents were talking about feel about these results. In my experience, leaders hearing such criticisms usually go to defenses. This is all unconscious activity, but it’s quick, and often well-grooved. They will talk about how others don’t “get it,” they have complainers and whiners on their hands, the culture has too much deadwood, etc.
Which raises the question, whose accountability is that?
Moving beyond simplistic and naive power-based notions of “I set the rules” to acceptance of everyone’s performance really mattering – including at the top – is one of the dimensions of the new story of leadership emerging in our lifetimes. The disconnect between poor performance in leadership and accountability for that is just one more issue organizations are grappling with as they find their way into this new and very different story.
Not to be macabre, but I noticed the other day in looking at my high school reunion site (Truman High School, Independence, MO, Class of 1975) that 36 classmates have died.
You never know how much time you have to get done what you are here to get done.
There is a great old story about a great old drummer named Bernard Purdie, who, if you’ve not heard of him, played on records by James Brown, Frank Sinatra, BB King, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and Steely Dan.
Bernard has a beautiful sense of time. When you hear him playing a simple beat, you want to move. (For an example of that, click on the following link.)
The story goes that when Bernard was hired for a session, he would come in, set up his drums, and then before beginning to play, would also put up two signs, one on each side of his drum set.
One sign read: “You done it.”
The other sign read: “You done hired the hit-maker, Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie.”
That’s pretty bold.
If you watch the video clip above, you’ll understand why he was so bold. If you watch this video clip below, you’ll hear Walter Fagen and Water Becker (they are Steely Dan) talking about Bernard’s signs.
“Boldness” is a word used in coaching that turns out to have some real significance. Boldness is about confidence, belief, passion and conviction.
It may be easier to understand by its opposite: lack of confidence, lack of belief, lack of passion and lack of conviction.
Boldness comes from processed experience. That means that not only have you lived something successful, but you have thought about it, and consciously concluded you have reason to be bold about something. (Sometimes people are very good at something, but taking a page from the “aw, shucks. It’s just little old me” playbook, they downplay or minimize their contribution. Not recommended.)
A key with boldness is to find where it naturally occurs in your work. Where do you find your voice? What gives you energy? Where does fear dissipate?
Where can you put up your own signs?
I’ve figured out how to have never-ending growth in the stock market—get rid of the analysts! Have you noticed how every description of downward-spiraling stock values concludes with the simple comment, “… but it was lower than analysts’ predictions”?
“XYZ Corp’s stock dropped two percent today. Although they made $27M more last quarter than the same quarter a year ago, it was lower than analyst predictions.” Clearly, the analysts don’t know anything. Why else would they be so far off in their estimates for the past three years?
Okay, it should be obvious that my suggestion to dump the analysts is said tongue in cheek … sort of. So another option is to have all the analysts grossly underestimate the companies’ quarterly performance. This way every company will always outperform the analysts’ predictions and stock values will go up. Again, tongue in cheek.
What does this have to do with leadership? Two words: managing expectations.
I’m not suggesting that leaders should low-ball estimates or standards when communicating with their employees. Rather, I do suggest this prescription for managing expectations:
1. Be realistic with your employees—not overly optimistic, but also not pessimistic. Say what you expect; explain your desired outcomes. The number one job of a leader is to establish and explain the vision. Describe what you expect in the way of employee performance toward those outcomes.
2. Be prepared to fight for resources—the number two job of the leader. Nothing dampens employees’ expectations for success more than knowing the needed resources aren’t forthcoming. Demanding high performance with no resources leads to frustration, anger, burnout, apathy, and, ultimately, high turnover.
3. Help remove obstacles. Have an honest conversation and be realistic about what you see as the challenges, but be careful not to unwittingly limit your employees’ opportunity to succeed. Truthfulness goes a long way toward limiting workplace drama. In the absence of information, employees will make things up. So eliminate confusion by discussing up front what’s known and what’s unknown.
Employees are smart. Believe it or not, they care about the success of the projects they are working on. Set your organization on an upward spiral: manage employee expectations by having honest conversations about what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you.
Then watch your organization’s capital grow!
Who are you?
Are you an individual, who has made choices around career, relationships and where to live?
Or are you your job, relationships and location?
It sounds like a silly or trick question, but let me share with you a line I heard delivering a leadership development program at one government agency.
We had shown a video that highlighted leaders’ ability to evoke possibility and outstanding performance from those they are leading. Much of the video stressed the emotional connections and deeper communication with people that helps unlock possibility.
I suppose the person who delivered the line I am about to share had not really thought about that way of leading, or felt unable to lead in that way. (Hey, that’s the work.) In any case, here is what he said.
“But we’re a bunch of lawyers! We’re not like that!”
I believe what he meant was that in his role, these kinds of leadership behaviors were not mainstream, or conventional. Never mind that they work better. It was just hard to see the change, given the context, especially culturally, in which he worked.
I submit this is really over-identifying with a role, career or job.
What works for you? What individuality do you bring to where you work?
Are you your job? Or are you you?
Like probably almost everyone else reading this blog, I have spent much of my adult life horsing around with software.
By this, I mean trying to navigate user interfaces, trying to understand the architecture of forms, trying to understand responses in the FAQ or Help forums that ironically assume proficiency in the programs or at least a master’s degree in software engineering, encountering bugs, eliminating viruses, losing saved work, spending half an hour trying to figure out how to do something that seems like it should take half a minute, and a variety of other tasks that added zero to productivity.
And like probably almost everyone else, I have just gotten used to it. It seems like just part of the terrain that software should be counter-intuitive, frustrating, buggy, quirky, glitchy and time-sinking.
No one intentionally sets out to design bad software. But people do design it in a context – that context being what’s in their head that they understand about the program and code, and how they see the entire software system.
Notice one word missing here: “customer.”
The shift involved in moving from thinking about one’s own distinctions, knowledge, perspectives and assumptions to those of the customer is nothing short of profound. It means letting go of whatever you think is “the right way,” and all the knowledge and beliefs you bring to the work, and instead entering a state where you get into the head of the customer. It doesn’t mean that’s the only legitimate point of view, or that the customer is always right. It does mean understanding the customer, though.
It is a great example of the platinum rule: Don’t treat others as you want to be treated. Treat them as they want to be treated.
This is why relationships matter. If you are not in a place where you want to make this shift, you’re done before you start. The door is closed to solutions that delight customers, that meet them where they are, and help them perform the work they have to do.
The shining example of a company that has embodied users as the point of the software is Apple. Every Apple user I have talked to makes the point that there is a significant difference between a Windows-based computer, with its attendant software and hardware, and an Apple computer. As a user myself, I appreciate the experience every time I use my iMac or iPhone. Steve Jobs’ fanatical insistence on elegant, customer-friendly design is the key.
I often think of software as the automotive industry 100 years ago. The prevailing mental model was probably that the goal of the car was to get people from point A to B. And it was. Except that along the way, people started to think about things like rider comfort (shock absorbers, better tires, suspension, frame construction), safety (frame construction, bumpers and seat belts) and fuel economy (more efficient engines). It has culminated now in cup holders, DVD players and music systems. The user experience is very different now.
Yet most of the discussion in the software field seems to remain around features, power and technology. The machine, not the person, is the focus.
This is why the user experience today is not really a technology problem. Apple has already proven a company can create a great user experience.
No, it’s really a problem with relationships. For any successful relationship, the parties have to understand each other, and unfortunately, I think most technology companies understand technology a lot better than customers.
A breathtaking example of this came when one company I worked for rolled out new technology for a Wall Street firms, who can be accused of being many things, but stupid not being one of them. After a steady stream of complaints from bond traders and analysts regarding the complexity and difficulty of use of our product, the marketing manager who had presided over the development of the software proclaimed in a meeting, “Well, the customers are stupid.”
This is a crisis in relationships. Such thinking cannot lead to products and services that are Apple-like in their beauty.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when my wife reported that her mother had been experiencing computer problems. She had called the help desk, where a technician asked her to unplug and replug a USB cable. When she couldn’t do it fast enough and the technician became impatient, she let him know that she’s 80 years old, the USB port is just above the floor, and in the back of the computer. It meant she had to crawl around on her hands and knees. While I’m sure the technician understood the USB configuration (actually, maybe not – it didn’t solve the problem), he didn’t understand enough about the user to ask, “Is the USB port easily accessible?”
It all starts with a question: Do you care? Do you want to try to understand the world through the customer’s eyes? If not, just go back to work. But don’t ever expect to be great like Apple.
If you do care, the door swings open to tremendous learning. One fish-in-a-barrel phenomenon – you could retire on this bet – is around what happens when a senior leader goes out an interacts with real customers. Every time, it results in some kind of significant learning.
It’s an interesting time right now with Steve Jobs on a medical leave of absence. The speculation is around how the company will do without his vision. It’s a startling and sobering point that he may be that indispensible. Is there no one else who is capable of putting customers first and foremost as Jobs has done?
A central question, and a great place to start, whether it’s your software, customer service, or any touch point with customers, is in asking the question: Are your processes and practices customer friendly, or are they organization friendly?
Apple “gets it.” Do you?
Last spring, I attended a pre-college planning session at my daughter’s high school, and decried in a blog the counselor’s reference to “a little personality test” as essentially a throwaway adjunct to the real stuff of standardized academic testing.
I’m pleased to report that in the latest of these pre-college sessions, the counselor this time – a different one — talked about the importance of the young adults creating a real plan for college, which is linked to their vision of their best-fit career, which is ultimately grounded in, yes, you guessed it, the personality tests.
These are evidently the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory, two great assessments of the self.
The battle to get people to see the importance of understanding the self, and not just how to do more, better, faster and cheaper, is a long one. Many organizations just want more of the same.
But when people take responsibility – and it’s a very big responsibility — for figuring out where they are going to do their best work, then new and better things can start to happen.
Last night I attended a pre-college seminar at my daughter’s high school, where a counselor described to a large group of overexcited, vicariously ambitious and excessively stressed parents some standardized tests of knowledge and reasoning skills to help their (also stressed) children get into college.
There was a detailed presentation on the key test components, and then, almost as an afterthought, the counselor mentioned “there’s a little personality test in here, too.”
Later in the session, she again mentioned the little personality test, and then used the word “little” once more.
It is possible she meant the test was brief or short, but judging from her voice inflection, which sounded dismissive or condescending, I think she meant “little” as “insignificant,” or “nice to know but don’t need to know.”
There is a lot of debate now on how relevant high schools are. From abysmal graduation rates to the question of how well high schools are preparing children for the competitive, economic and social reality of today (versus one that existed 50 years ago), there is a sense that something is wrong. Bill Gates is now the chief advocate of reform in schools.
To connect the dots, I’d like to suggest that knowing one’s self (of which the personality is but one part) in order to find one’s place and succeed in the world today is more than a “little” matter.
For sure, the kids need to know science and engineering, particularly if they’re going to be scientists or engineers. But the research now is consistently showing that emotional intelligence is a much larger predictor of success in work and life than just specialist knowledge. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and.
But don’t call the self-awareness piece “little.”
I have now met thousands of people unhappy in their jobs who were unable to connect their lack of knowledge of who they really were and what they really wanted with the unfortunate outcomes they got. Feeling like they had to fit in to someone else’s mold, or feeling like distinctive or unique parts of themselves were to be covered up, or simply not knowing what made them happy had led them to some real regrets, particularly at midlife.
There are many tests you can take to help piece together the puzzle — unprecedented in human history, and never to be repeated — call “you.” The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory, FIRO-B, Disc, the Strengths Finder Assessment and others can all help you understand yourself better.
Just don’t call this knowledge or matter “little.”
How many great leaders accomplished their visions on their own? Was Apple’s iPod envisioned, designed, built, managed, delivered, and serviced all by one person? Obviously, the answer is, “no.” It takes an entire team of individuals, each at their own level of the organization, to ensure the dream of the iPod is realized each and every day with customers across the planet. It also takes a leader like Steve Jobs to paint the picture…to sell the vision…to ensure that individuals throughout the organization embody the very spirit of engagement the iPod itself is meant to create.
What I wonder is, “How do leaders who don’t engage others believe their visions will be fully realized?” Leaders who don’t explicitly extrovert and communicate their vision likely won’t create the buy-in and commitment they need to execute it. Leaders must engage the hearts and minds of others in order to fully achieve the potential of their ideas.
A few questions to consider:
- When was the last time you share, or re-shared, your vision as a leader?
- If you had to rate their level of understanding of your vision on a scale of 1-10, what would it be? What would they rate their understanding of your vision?
- What can you do today to foster a better understanding of your vision?
As a leader at any level of an organization, never forget there are a great number of people who help you accomplish your vision. Every day is a chance to revisit that vision with them.