Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Positions and Interests

“Those two are at it again! We have dozens of toys but they both want to have the same one.” Many parents have said that or something similar. While the situation leaders face are not quite as juvenile or evident, the art and science of mediation and negotiation are critical aspects of leadership success in any setting. 

From inter-department disputes to multi-billion dollar mergers, the consistent winners are those who look beyond narrow positions to uncover the underlying broader interests. Within organizations and interpersonal relationships a mutual interest is inherent but power struggles can develop and evolve into counterproductive entrenched positions. A good leader will help mediate a solution with patience, positive attitude, understanding, listening, and challenging to move the discussion to broader interests and away from narrow positions.

In negotiations there may be multiple opposing interests, however the desire for a completed deal is often an obvious but over looked mutual interest. Fundamental to a successful negotiation is understanding each party’s interests as much as possible and not getting trapped into inflexible positions. A simple classic example is two people who each want a single orange. Rather than getting locked in a win-lose scenario of who gets the orange, exploring interests could reveal that one wants only the juice and the other only the rind and a win-win outcome can be achieved. With complicated issues solutions are, of course, much more elusive but an optimistic belief in additional possibilities can help define interests and isolate positions. Positions are usually narrow, limited, defensive and an ‘either/or’ choice. Interests are usually broad, open to possibilities, optimistic and ‘multiple’ choices. Careers and businesses flourish when the foundation of their mission is to nurture interests of others as well as their own. This ability to effectively deal with paradox is a key competency separating the great leaders from the average.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Appreciating or Depreciating

“They could be used again, we’ll find a use for them or at least somebody will want them sometime, put them in the storage yard.” The owner of the new bait shop and convenience store had a sizeable parcel of land with plenty of room to keep the solid oak doors that were removed from the building when walls were taken down to open up the space. That was probably a practical and conservative decision at the time but over the next several years and decades the open space also received used boats, lawn mowers, cars, trucks and various other pieces of equipment that never seemed to find a new home. Neglected and subjected to the elements the one time assets deteriorated and eventually became a liability that had to be removed at considerable expense when the owner died and heirs prepared to sell the real estate.

Most of us do not have a storage yard for accumulating old cars and mowers. However we may well have other assets, tangible and intangible, that are neglected and allowed to depreciate overtime. With use and care depreciation can be slowed and in some cases, particularly intangibles, they may appreciate in value.

While it is unfortunate to let solid oak antique doors or classic cars weather and rot, the bigger loss is when personal strengths and skills go unused and atrophy. Even more disconcerting is when personal dreams and visions for a better career or life are allowed to dissolve in the elements of daily responsibilities and contrary expectations of other people. A simple act of conscious gratitude for our skills, strengths, relationships, hopes, dreams, and visions will help them grow and develop. Appreciation helps them appreciate! We encourage everyone to take time to regularly and consistently identify and appreciate those intangible assets that are important, then watch them grow and thrive.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Focused Action

“I’m busier than ever with plenty of new opportunities but I’m not getting better results.” This is one of the most common statements we hear from new coaching clients. Whether you are a small business of one or a member of a large team, getting results comes down to individual performance and action.  There is never a lack of something to do but knowing the best thing to be done right now and doing it is the key. Nothing is easier than being busy and nothing is more difficult than being effective.  
Gordon Bethune, retired Chairman/CEO of Continental Airline is quoted as saying, “To succeed in the watch business, learn how the expletive watch works!” His point was to get people to think about not just what they were doing but why they were doing it, particularly the impact their action was having on the business results. Having a clear and accurate understanding of your business is necessary to be able to apply any time management system effectively. With that frame work established, we then encourage using the four quadrant segmentation of activities by Urgent & Important as outlined by Stephen R. Covey in First Things First. Quadrant two, Important/Not Urgent is the preferred place to put most your time. With dedicated practice, coaching, and support many people are able to develop focused action and new levels of successful results.  
As always we welcome your comments and questions.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Building A Winning Team

If you were asked to recruit players for a softball team to play in the neighborhood league, how would you go about it?  Would your approach be different if you were building a major league baseball team and you could get a million dollar bonus if the team won the championship? Of course, with more to gain you will put much more into it. You will consider candidates’ training, experience, past success, the role they play, how they will get along with the manager and other players and many more pertinent details. In short, you will use all of the resources available to make sure you make the best decision possible for each position on the team.

 A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out the reasons behind the growing trend of more employers using assessments in their hiring process. Fewer are willing to take a chance on anyone who doesn’t fully measure up to their understanding of what it takes to succeed in their organization. With assessment technology available at costs substantially below the cost of hiring just one wrong person, most companies understand it costs more to not use assessments than it does to use them. Savvy hiring professionals know that while the selection process may be longer for the candidate, they can spend their recruiting time with the ones who are best qualified to succeed. When they create a win-win scenario for the company and the employee everyone has a much better chance of long term success.

We have been in the assessment business for over ten years and have seen many clients create winning teams by utilizing the reliable, proven assessments we customize for each particular need. We would be delighted to help you build your winning team – particularly if you have a million dollar bonus riding on it!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Characteristics of High Performing Teams

The CEO of the small startup tech company was visibly frustrated and upset. Once again the company had missed the profit targets for the month and the downward trend was getting steeper every month. They had a great technical solution needed by the market and adequate funding to implement their strategies. They had hired very smart people with great compensation and benefits, plus they provided a first class working environment. As she analyzed the data it became clear the issue was the common human element – lack of teamwork.

Personal leadership charisma and skills are indispensable to becoming a successful leader but who the leader leads is even more important. Selection of team members for individual job fit is a familiar topic for regular readers of the Employee Whisperer. When all the team members are assembled and begin performing, the leader, much as an orchestra conductor, needs to develop coherence and harmony among all the individual performers. Strategies, policies and processes provide basic direction. Supplementing those with regular feedback and relentless communication, the team is positioned to succeed but the remaining constant challenge is to produce results and consistently increase performance. The stress of the challenge to keep growing and improving will undo average teams, however high performing teams have characteristics that enable them to excel in similar conditions.

Developing the characteristics of high performing teams was described in detail by Patrick Lencioni in his book Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators. Those five characteristics are quite simply: trust; conflict; commitment; accountability and results. In our work with leaders and their teams we use the analogy of a pyramid with trust as the foundation. If team members do not have trust and confidence in themselves, each other, the leader, their strategy, the organization and its vision the structure will eventually crumble. However with trust firmly established the team can begin to work through inherent conflicts of individual perspectives. Communication skills, personalities, and positive attitudes about collaboration often need to be developed to productively identify and address conflicts. Once the conflicts are resolved the team can advance to the level of commitment and define goals, objectives, mutual expectations, directions and culture. When commitments are made accountability naturally follows. If the team members are not mutually accountable to their commitments performance will erode and falter. The results, the top of the pyramid, is of course why the team exists. Everyone needs to know the score and understand if the team is winning or losing as well as be clear on what they need to do to increase performance and contribute to the teams results.

If a team is not producing the expected results a basic diagnostic process is to drill down through each layer of the pyramid to reveal the defective characteristic. It isn’t easy to drill to the lowest layer so average leaders don’t do it, but solidifying every level of the pyramid is what every great leader does.

Make it a PEAK day!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Contributing Member on a Winning Team

The most common and critical business relationship is between an employee and their boss. While leadership responsibilities certainly make the boss primarily responsible for that relationship, every employee needs to have ongoing conversations with the boss in five key areas (based on The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins). If the boss isn’t initiating the discussions the employee must take the initiative.

1 – Be clear on the situation. There are vastly different implications whether you are in a start-up situation; turn around; realignment; or sustaining momentum of recent success. Besides knowing where you are at the moment, it helps clarify the contribution you are expected to make to the team.

2 – Articulate and understand expectations. Following naturally out of understanding the situation; defining what is expected, by when, and how will help both parties establish a deeper understanding of what they each will give to and get from their work together. An important element of expectations is defining how performance is evaluated and measured for compensation changes.

3 – Figure out a style of working together. There are many different ways for a boss and employee to work together. Rather than taking a trial and error approach to finding what will work for both parties, it is far better to have a deliberate conversation and agree on a style. Elements of style include communication, feedback, progress updates, questions, and problems. For example, will we meet at planned intervals or as needed; in person or by phone or e-mail; one on one or at team meetings; written reports or verbal updates.

4 – Agree on resources available. Resources include budgets, equipment, time, people and facilities. A clear understanding of what you have or don’t have available to do the job is a critical component to defining and meeting expectations.

5 – Develop a plan for accelerating success and ongoing professional development. Everyone has something more they could learn and skills to add or develop. Beginning a dialog about these at the start establishes development and professional growth an inherent job element and a mutual recognition of current strengths and opportunities.

The best time to have the first round of these conversations is during the interview process. When open discussions in these five areas are ongoing natural interactions between the leader and the employee, success is more likely and both people will feel like contributing players on a winning team.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The team was really excited about the strategic plan they put together last year. They had analyzed the market, anticipated what the competition would be doing and set several key goals for what they wanted to achieve. 2014 was going to be a record year – but in reality it will barely be ahead of 2013 and that was nothing to brag about. People seem to be taking it in stride without too much disappointment. After all, they knew they had worked hard all year. Also they have seen other strategic plans come and go. Usually ‘reality’ sets in by mid-year and the goals are essentially forgotten.

This is a tale heard often from teams, businesses, non-profits, individuals and families. Plans and resolutions are made in January but by December they often become stories of disappointment rather than the success anticipated. The difference in success and failure is usually not the strategies or the plans but rather the execution of them.

As Stephen Covey explained in The 4 Disciplines of Execution strategies fail for four key reasons: people don’t understand the strategy; if they know what it is, they don’t understand what they can do to help achieve it; they are not sure how well they are doing to know if they are making progress; and there is no timely individual feedback and accountability. 

The secret to successful strategies is to have no more than two to three major goals; focus on lead measures that people know they can control as well as directly influence the goal; make a compelling scoreboard that tracks the lead measures; and have regular accountability and feedback meetings to celebrate progress and adjust to overcome problems. Those disciplines along with people who fit the job and a leader who helps them feel and fare better create an outstanding team.

We hope you had an enjoyable holiday season and have a successful 2015!