Category Archives: General Business & Marketing

Episode 131: Why am I failing to motivate someone?

If I told them once … why didn’t they do it?

Like me, you may have grown up with the phrase “if I told you once, I’ve told you a million times.” Maybe if like me you did, you probably still haven’t done it – whatever it was! In the work context, we sometimes give direction to someone and they either avoid doing what we ask or actively seem to do the opposite. Just how many times do we need to tell someone to do something we need them to do?

One of my friends, who went through management training at a large retailer, told be about a process they had adopted for these sorts of situations. After asking nicely for something to be done, after explaining why it needed doing, after being more forceful about it being done, then it was time to say ‘JFDI’ or Just Flipping Do It (that’s the nice way of saying it). This final approach is the “I don’t want any debate or discussion, do it or there will be consequences” moment in any leader-follower relationship. Typically, it is also a red line that when crossed, there’s no going back. When they don’t do it, there must be consequences or discipline collapses, or so it is believed.

Having recently read “The Three Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, there might be some value in understanding an alternative approach. Of course, no blog can do this book justice and I would recommend reading it. The book does cover some amazing ideas about how people see themselves and their work. After all, the sub-title is “Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life.” The one idea I would like to review is, how people see their world and why that might be different to yours. The word that is often used is how the ‘occurs’ to people.

How we see the world

I used to have a boss who liked to say “it is what it is.” Invariably it was the way he concluded the discussion or conversation, even when people around him did not necessarily agree with the conclusion. After reading the book and looking back now, it is clear to me that what he was saying was more like “ok, this is how I see it and therefore that must be how it is.” Whatever we were discussing had finally made sense to him as the world ‘occurred’ to him.

The reality of the work world is that we are a combination of people from different backgrounds and different experiences. We strive for diversity in our teams because that brings new types of thinking and different perspectives. Backgrounds, education and experience mean we all interrupt things differently. It should not be surprising that each of these people sees the world slightly or sometimes radically differently. The way the world occurs to all of us is different and unique.

While this may at first seem obvious, there is an important lesson for all of us in this. How we see the world, how it ‘occurs’ to us, may not be how everyone else sees it. So, while a thought or an action required may be obvious to us, within how someone else sees the world, it may not be obvious to them. Maybe instead of getting frustrated or annoyed with someone who sees something differently, you should ask the question, “I wonder how this occurs to them.”

The power of listening

We can too quickly assume that things occur to everyone else the way they occur to us. For us, something is so obvious that anyone that sees it a different way is obviously wrong. If instead of dismissing them we ask the question “how does this occur to them?” we might stop for a moment and learn something new. But how do you work out how something occurs to someone else.

The answer is listening.

You need to carefully listen and ask questions. When we do that, we stand a chance of learning things we might have missed. The best way is to listen without judging or trying to interpret what they mean. When you try and interpret what they mean, you are letting how you see the world cloud how they see the world. The chances are that when you understand their world you will get insights into your world too.

After a couple of attempts at this, what you learn is that how the world ‘occurs’ to someone is derived from the way they describe the world and the words they use. You might even find out that you see it much the same way but in different words or definitions.  When you align your definitions, you will align your understanding. Then you both get to define a future together using the same definitions, words and ideas.

While management books are full of ideas about how to ‘motivate’ people, few suggest the most powerful tool you have to change someone’s behavior: linking the outcome you want to the way the other person sees the world.

A world view

I have written before on the impact that Millennials are going to have in the workplace and how to come to terms with it. Given that this generation will be 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025, if you have a problem with them, in the words of The Eagles, “Get over it.

This is a generation that is not going to be frightened or scared into doing what you tell them to – per one survey, as many as half of all millennials would rather have no job, than one they hate. That means we need to learn to engage them with more than JFDI. The approach laid out by Zaffron and Logan, is a great way of approaching this group. You could in fact see the book as a modern approach to teamwork and management.

I have not done justice to the book here and it is worth reading it to understand the three laws and how they fit together. The book is full of case studies that illustrate the points made. This is especially true if you are part of a team that is struggling to perform and meet its potential. Should you find yourself in that type of environment, you will find the ideas behind the 3 Laws of Performance both very powerful and maybe even life changing. Finding the right language to talk about ideas is as important as the ideas themselves.

The Bottom Line

There is an old Talmudic thought that goes something like this: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” At work, it might be useful to remember this when explaining what we think.

Episode 130: Why do strategies fail?

Is there a hole in your strategy?

In Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse’, written in 1786, he tells, while ploughing a field, a farmer upturned a mouse’s nest. The resulting poem is an apology to the mouse and is the source of the phrase, “the best laid plans of mice and men.” So, next time someone explains the failure of their strategy with the phrase “oh, the best laid plans of mice and men”, feel free to mention the whole Robbie Burn’s poem.

Of course, if it’s your strategy, it would be better if it did not fail. But strategy by its nature is not a ‘perfect science’. There has to be some element of risk and that risk can be the source of failure. While that is true, there are ways of executing your strategy, things we all do every day, that can not only increase that risk but magnify the chances of the failure.

Let us look at 5 of those strategy traps and how we might go about avoiding them.

  1. Not being clear on responsibility

There is an old Abbot and Costello comedy sketch called “Who’s On First.” If you have never seen it, you need to know that it is all about confusion over names. The player’s name on first base is ‘Who’ but Lou Costello mistakenly confuses the name for a question. While the joke was about people’s names, in business we often hear people say, “OK, who’s on first?”

When you hear this, the chances are you are hearing someone say, “I do not know who was meant to have that action.” What you are hearing is one of the easiest pitfalls to avoid in your strategy. That is clarity about roles and actions.  Do not confuse this with the question about who is in charge – that is not the point. The issue here is that a great strategy needs a great plan and a great plan needs actions and owners. Regardless of how good your plan is, it will fail if responsibilities are not clear.

  1. Over-reach

Having a ‘moon-shot’ is a great idea. According to a moon-shot is an “ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability or benefit and also, perhaps, without a full investigation of potential risks and benefits.” In other words, it is a goal that takes time and stretches the team.

The classic example of this was President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and getting him back safely. No one knew how to achieve this goal when the strategy was launched but the learning happened along the way.

The problem of over-reach is not necessarily the goal but the timeline and resources you allocate to that goal. The idea of ‘landing a man on the moon’ within a decade with enough resource is a great and exciting goal. The plan to ‘landing a man on the moon’ within a year without enough budget and resource is an over-reach.  When you build your plan, avoid the over-reach if you want to land your man on the moon. In addition, a strategy that requires you to change what you don’t control is also an over-reach too. Make sure you control what you want to change.

  1. Poor intelligence

Here we are not talking about a lack of intelligence in the members or leaders of the team. This is not a case of ‘people being stupid’ – which by the way they typically never are. What we are discussing here is the reasons why someone would say, “if I knew then what I know now, I would never have started.”

That does not imply you should have known what Donald Rumsfeld called the ‘known knowns.’ You clearly cannot know what is not to be known. The trick here is to make sure you have done enough work to make sure you know what could have been known. Deploying the right primary and secondary research plans before you invest too much in your strategy is a vital step. You can’t always know everything, and trying to learn everything is a mistake, but a lack of enough good information is often the cause of strategy failure.

  1. Bad communication

Mike Tyson famously said “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The idea here is that we all have to make sure our plans are adaptive. We know that things are going to happen to throw us off course and re-centering ourselves is critical. My guess, is that in your plans, you allow for this and even dedicate time to assess if this is happening. The reason for strategy failure here is not the lack of adaptability, it’s the failure to communicate the changes it requires.

Good leaders often ‘over-communicate’ to their team members – whether this is good news or bad news. Whether it is a change to the plan or just the news that you are making your goals. It is vital that everyone on the team has the same sense of where you are and what is being achieved. Knowing you are on course is as important as knowing you are about to miss.

  1. Un-stop-ability

In the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, Forrest runs into dog droppings and a man in the bumper sticker business brings it up. Forrest says “It happens,” to which the man asks “What, shit?” and Forrest answers “Sometimes.” [1]

We know and accept that not all strategies work regardless of how well you plan and execute. You may have had the most brilliant of ideas and yet you fail. Sometimes you just have to accept that you are going to fail and that you need to stop what you are doing. As the old Will Rogers saying goes, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Yet for some people, it can be very hard to call a halt to their project. Whether it is a perceived embarrassment or just a fear of the implications of the failure, they keep going hoping something else will happen. Hope as we know is not a strategy.

Good leaders know when a strategy has had its time and call a halt when see it. They do not blame others for this happening. Ending a failing strategy is a brave thing to do and accepting the accountability for it is the right thing to do. Of course you might be in an organization that punishes you for this but if you are, that says more about the organization than you.

Bottom line

We have all been involved in creating or at least being part of great strategies. The desire to do something and do something different is what has changed the world. But having the great strategy is not enough. To succeed you need to manage it through its execution and avoid the traps that lay ahead of you.

[1] Wikipedia

Episode 129: What are the worst types of people for a team?

Episode 129: What are the worst types of people for a team?

Have you heard the old joke about the difference between Heaven and Hell? In Heaven, it says: the French are the chefs, the Italians are the lovers, the British are the police, the Germans are the mechanics and the Swiss make everything run on time. In Hell: The British are the chefs, the Swiss are the lovers, the French are the mechanics, the Italians make everything run on time and the Germans are the police. Hell as we know, is not meant to be the perfect world.

In a perfect world we would all be perfect and nice to each other. We would get on well and everybody would be happy. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. It’s full of people who make your work life more difficult. Bad team members can be a cancer for both your team and its chances of achieving its objectives.

Here are the 5 types of people who exist in my work Hell and who I want off my teams.

1.    The enthusiastic amateur

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”  Red Adair, Firefighter

I have not been a great lover of the amateur in business, even an enthusiastic one. There is a sense that if you give someone long enough they will get the right answer. The problem I have is that they tend to go through a lot of wrong answers first. That is why Red Adair implies it’s expensive to hire an amateur. When the author Steven Pressfield talked about the habits of people he said, “The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”

So does this mean we should never hire someone without the right experience? Well, it depends what we mean by experience. Employees can bring many skills to the table and not all of them are necessarily related to the task. Additionally, we all have to keep learning and can not be ‘professionals’ at everything we do. When putting someone on a team, we need to be clear what they bring to the table, what we expect them to contribute and where they need to learn.

Our job at work is to meet our objectives in the best way we can, often in the shortest period of time possible. We can argue the need to train new members for the team but we should avoid being led by people who are ‘making it up as they go along.’

2.    The passive-aggressive

Over the years, the most commented on episode of The 3 Minute Mentor is the one on dealing with Passive Aggressive Behavior. Wikipedia describes Passive-Aggressive behavior as an “indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.” At work it is simpler to classify it as “saying ‘yes’ to avoid saying no, which is actually what you plan to do.”

If you believe in H-I-T (Honesty-Integrity-Transparency) in the workplace you owe it to the team and yourself to be honest about your intentions. The conflict this may cause is of course what people are trying to avoid, but that conflict may actually be helpful because you may be right. Avoiding the conflict and just saying “yes” is wrong, and may put the mission of the group at risk.

We can all fall into passive-aggressive behavior – to go-along-to-get-along – but in reality it’s a cancer that damages a high performing team. Either the behavior needs to be eliminated or the people will need to be!

3.    The perfectionist

What links Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Tyra Banks and Martha Stewart?

The answer is that you can find quotes where they call themselves perfectionists. Not being a psychologist, I can not tell you the value of being a perfectionist to artists and achievers like this. Maybe to reach the highest levels of achievement as an individual you need to think this way. You can also find quotes about working for these stars – they are often called obsessive and difficult.

Being part of a team requires some level of negotiation and agreement. There will always be something that you might want to do differently than the team but to complete the mission you agree to put your view aside. The Passive-Aggressive agrees to the ‘compromise’ but doesn’t act on it, but The Perfectionist will typically want it their way or not at all. In the end, this can stall a team and make achieving the mission impossible unless The Perfectionist is ignored. This will either lose them from the team or turn them into a passive-aggressive. If you want to know if you maybe a perfectionist, check out this page called “10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist.” Are you guilty or not guilty?

4.    The “brilliant jerk”

Teams can be sensitive and delicate. Their success requires compromise and balance. We have seen how people like The Perfectionist can damage a team but there are others that are equally dangerous. While we all want the brightest and smartest on our teams, we should however avoid what Netflix CEO Reed Hastings calls the “brilliant jerk.”

It doesn’t matter how smart you are if no one wants to work with you. Worse, if you put a Brilliant Jerk on your team, because of how smart they are, no one will want to work with them.

There is a great article by Marty Fukuda, Chief Operating Officer of N2 Publishing on giving reasons not to hire The Brilliant Jerk but it comes down to chemistry. At the end of the day people do not want to work with ‘assholes’ regardless of how smart they are.

5.    The shirker

While we may create teams as ‘learning experiences’, typically at work we create teams to get something done. That means there will be actions, follow-ups and to-dos. Therefore, another person to avoid having on your team is The Shirker. Wikipedia defines a shirker as “one who shirks a duty or responsibility.”

In a team, we define The Shirker as the one “who never takes any actions.” Typically, they are the person that is happy to contribute and give other people work but never take it for themselves. Worse, they maybe the one that takes actions, often under peer pressure, but never achieves them. Not for the same reasons as The Passive Aggressive (who never intended to) but just because, oh well, many reasons. Starting with ‘the dog ate my homework.’

More dangerously the shirker can be one who tries to avoid being part of the decision making processes. They believe that by not being part of the decision, they will have ‘plausible deniability’ should the decision turn out to be a bad one. Of course this seldom works out that way but you will hear them say, “I never thought that was the right decision.” Trust me, it’s never too early for them to leave the team.

Bottom Line

A team is only as strong as its members. If I have the power or the opportunity, these are the first people I get out of the way of getting work done.

Can you see these people in your work world?  Maybe you have a type you would like to add to the list. Let me know.

Episode 127: How do you set someone SMART Objectives?

Episode 127: How do you set someone SMART Objectives?

If you believe an article in Fast Company last October, “Accenture, GE, Adobe, Netflix, and dozens of other organizations are killing annual performance reviews as they aren’t enough for today’s workplace.” In Forbes they declare at IBM that “… yearly goals are a thing of the past.” It’s all because these annual reviews, according to Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks on CNN Money, are “entirely demotivating.” Cleary we can all breath-out and relax knowing there is no need to fuss anymore about our company’s annual review cycle.

Not so fast.

This desire to kill the old-fashioned review process is part Millennial-reality and part HR frustration. Whatever you do, or don’t do, the need to set objectives and goals doesn’t go away.  The framework in which you provide feedback to employees on how they did against their goals is, however, changing. In this episode of The 3 Minute Mentor, I reviewed how to set good goals using SMART, but let us think for a moment about the review cycle.

Some people in HR’s view

There seem to be two arguments against annual reviews. First comes from the over-worked and ‘down-trodden’ HR departments, and one comes from people who are actually looking at the changes in the workforce. The first, in my experience makes no sense. The second will become the way of working for all of us – more on that later. First to the HR departments.

Over my career I have worked with many great HR teams and partners. I do not mean to paint them all with this broad brush but there are some recurring messages on the annual review cycle. They go something like this:

“Most managers are bad at doing annual reviews or do them badly. They either rush through them and give poor or useless feedback or they look to avoid them all together. This frustrates the employees and demotivates them. Worse still, if you force a skew (tell some people they are better and more valuable than others) you disrupt and destroy everyone’s productivity. We should all back away from this very 1970’s GE view of ranking people and move to a more modern approach. We need to more regularly review employees progress against their goals and give them better feedback.”

Does that sound familiar? I know I have heard this a number of times. This statement does have four points to it, each of which is worth discussing.

  1. While there may be some managers who are doing bad reviews, there are many who are good at it. What is often cited as the problem here is managers having to tell people they are performing badly. The difference between those who can do this and those who cannot is training and experience. While it takes time to get the experience, most companies do a poor job of training their managers to give reviews. If you find a manager reporting to you that is bad at doing review, mentor them and if your company has no management training, encourage the creation of some.
  2. They are often rushed through and poorly designed systems and tools don’t help. It’s the review not the tool that should be the focus of the process but few companies invest in good on-line review tools. Having a 15 stage process that makes reviews a grind is as much a problem as anything. HR tools are never the top of the investment list. Pity really if people are our biggest asset (see Dilbert).
  3. Having a sense of ranking is not a bad idea – forcing it on a team of 10 people is. That is why I do agree that a forced skew within a small team makes no sense. However, across divisions and companies, having a sense of your talent is important. We have all been confused by a team of top rated people who misses all the objectives. Maybe it’s not the people but the manager, or it’s something.
  4. If the problem is people not doing an annual review well, it’s hard to believe, unless you change something, the same people are going to do more regular reviews any better. Of course the implication is that the more regular review would be a different type of review – more focused on the task at hand. While that’s good, at some point you still have to tell the employee whether they are doing well or not. If the problem is a manager’s inability to be clear with employees where they stand annually, they are not going to do it any better monthly or weekly.

This is not an argument for keeping things the way they are – they need to change. But they need to change because the workforce is changing, not because people ‘suck’ at doing reviews.

The Millennial Change

By 2020, around 50% of our workforce will be Millennials or younger. By Millennial, I mean that they were born on and after 1980 and started work in the 21st Century. There has been a lot written about managing Millennials and if they are a mystery to you, I would suggest some good reading. I wrote a blog called “5 questions that will stop you talking to yourself and motivate your Millennials” which might a good starting point.

One of the stereotypes I hear about Millennials from managers who are struggling with them is a perception that they need constant ‘reaffirmation of their value’. What I think that manager is seeing is not a need for constant ‘reaffirmation of their value’, but a desire for continuous feedback.

In Anna Liotta’s book “Unlocking Generational Codes,” she talks a lot about how the different generations think and work. Using her perspective, and my experience, here is how I think the different generations view the issue of feedback from their manager.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946-1963) like an annual process
  • Gen Xers (born 1964-1979) like a monthly process
  • Millennials (born 1980-1999) like a weekly process
  • Nexters (born after 2000) like a daily process

While this view is a little simplistic, I do think it can help us to think through how to feed back to our teams. It does imply that one size does not fit all. Managers and leaders are going to have to tailor their review process to the people they are reviewing. This clearly supports the idea of a more regular process, but it does not necessarily deny the need for an annual process of some sort.

There will always be winners and losers

We create organizations and companies to achieve objectives and goals. Without these unifying elements there would be no need for us to come together as a group other than to achieve purely social connections. If these end-games exist, then we need to have a view as to whether we are moving towards them and achieving them. In business, there are greater pressures than just pure strategic goals. We need to pay wages and this requires money. This money is probably derived from selling a good or service. If we fail to make enough money, then at some point we cease trading.

Setting objective in a SMART way, maximizes your ability to achieve your aims. If you don’t both communicate and delegate these down the organization, then you cannot be surprised if you fail. Once you delegate them, in whatever form you do that, you have to hold the people who receive them accountable for their role in achieving them.

Across the whole team, some people will do more to help you achieve these objectives and some will do less. Some work harder and some slide-by doing just enough. In the end, while it may not be politically correct to say so, business has winners and losers. Unless you can find a Utopian world where everything is fair and equal, there are tough decisions that have to be made.

  • Some people take bigger risks than others – those risks need to be rewarded
  • Some people contribute more to the success or failure of a goal – if you assume all do equally then you punish high performers and reward those who perform sub-par
  • Not everyone can get the same pay raise – unless you ‘peanut butter’ (divide equally) the money, which will motivate no one
  • Not everyone can get the promotion – unless you have no hierarchy at all

Whatever the reason, it is clear that you are going to have to judge how each member of your team did and tell them what you judged them by.

Bottom Line

While the rigid system based tools of the last century seem out of date with today, talking to your team is not. Telling people what you expect them to achieve and letting them know if they achieved it, is never going to be out of style. If once a year is too infrequent, then do it quarterly or monthly. Do it daily if you need to. Whatever the cycle, you still have to do it. So if the idea of no annual review makes you or your management team think they are getting out of anything, think again. The alternative is clearly more often, not less.

Finally, all of this can be made better with training and mentoring. You need your team to get clear feedback and you need your managers to know how to give it. If they don’t, the answer is to help them, not to prevent them talking to their teams.

Let me know what you think.

Next Page »