Take a moment to reflect on your grand strategy for your team or organization.
Seriously, take just a moment to sit back and focus on what you plan to accomplish.
Arguably, that exercise has likely revealed that you are in one of three groups:
Group #1: You found this to be a fairly simple exercise as you have invested significant resources to create your plan. You have paid the price in time, energy, and intellectual bandwidth to create the plan. Congratulations. This is good news, but is likely destined for disappointment as you don’t have a process in place to execute the strategy.
Group #2: You’re thinking I have no idea what my grand strategy is, I’m just hoping to make it through the week. Unlike the first group, you too are destined for disappointment, but at least you may not understand what could have been accomplished. Thus, your disappoint will be muted compared to Group #1.
Group #3: You have invested to create a plan AND have a process in place to make it happen. You and your organization are the rarest of breeds.
A Framework to Get You Started
If you are looking for an approach to strategy and execution, consider this high-level framework. I created it and have used it with many clients to help them, Plan, Implement and Evaluate organizational strategy.
The approach, called the PIE Chart, is simple, but not simplistic. Watch this five minute video to get you started.
Some time ago, I walked into a small, one of a kind, coffee shop. The place was clean and the coffee good, but what stuck with me was my conversation with the woman behind the counter.
As I approached the register, I was met with a pleasant smile and a kind, “Good morning, how may I help you today?” The handprinted name tag on her smock read “Helpful Helen”. As I watched her perform her duties, it became apparent to me that she was living up to her name…
I was unfamiliar with the menu – Helen was helpful& patient
Numerous people were crowding the cafe, many sending off signals of being in a rush – Helen was helpful& efficient
A customer asked for directions to a nearby business – Helen was helpful& informative
Although I appreciated her service, what struck me was her passion. The place was busy that day; I imagine it is busy most everyday. However, as customer after customer came to the counter, Helen greeted each with a smile, called many by name, connected with everyone in the moment, and seemed to make each person feel special.
When I thanked her for her service, she looked at me and and said, “You’re very welcome. It was a pleasure to serve you today and I hope to see you in the future.”
I responded, “Well, the next time I’m in town, I will certainly come here for breakfast.” I quickly added, “You truly seem to enjoy your job.”
In all sincerity, Helpful Helen replied, “There are lots of things I can do in life, but I’ve realized that my biggest contribution comes from serving the people who come through our door every morning and making their day a bit brighter. I love my job!”
Helpful Helen had me. The next time I came to town, I would make it a point to visit this little shop. She wasn’t merely serving coffee, she was choosing to make a positive impact on every person who walked through the door.
Helen had a rare gift. She knew her unique contribution and she was fulfilling it.
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, I’m glad Patrick had a pleasant experience, but I don’t run a small coffee shop. Our work and people are far removed from Helen’s world.
Regardless of what you do and who you work with, I think we would all agree that having more competent, confident, committed, and contributing people in our organizations would be a wonderful thing.
What would it mean to you and your organization if you had a culture of Helens? A culture of passionate contributors striving to bring their best to every meeting, every customer touchpoint, every task, every day?
Disclaimer: Bare with me. I’m not trying to be overly simplistic. I know that some people will never choose to be a Helen. I also know that there are many organizational elements that must be built, aligned, and maintained to achieve a team of Helens. (Click here for a post where I discuss five such programs.)
However, a few naysayers shouldn’t hold you back; nor, should some organizational program that might be years in the future keep you from make progress – today.
How might you start?
Ask each of your people to answer these questions, reflect on their responses, and then to set up a time to have a conversation with you about their answers.
What do you do that energizes you?
What drains your energy?
What do your customers (internal or external) need that is currently going unfulfilled?
What could you be really awesome at doing?
What do you see yourself doing now and in the future?
What does your ‘gut’ tell you is the right thing to do?
After your discussion, encourage them to answer one more question, “What will you uniquely contribute in your role to our organization?”
Ask them to write down their answer to the final question and to share it with a few people to gain feedback. Invite them to refine it, to truly make their own. Lastly, encourage them to put it in a place where they will see it everyday and to reflect on it.
Oh, and you should do it too. This isn’t just an exercise for frontline employees. It’s for you as well.
Accelerate Your Efforts
Download a tool that you can use with your team to get the conversation started.
We all have blind spots. These are things that others know about you, but about which you are completely clueless. They can be small things…
A stain on your shirt that everyone sees – except you.
A conversation that you arrive late to and say something out of place. Everyone knows the arc of the discussion – except you.
A mispronounced word when speaking a foreign language. Everyone knows how to correctly say it – except you.
If you survived your teenage years, you’ve no doubt had at least one of these experiences. You might be embarrassed when the blind spot is revealed; however, the damage is typically not too significant – at least in the long-run.
On the other hand, if you are in a leadership role, some of these blind spots can be particularly costly. They can impact your professional reputation, performance, and organizational results.
In 1955, American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created the Johari window to help us better understand how we interact with others. They taught us four areas: open, hidden, unknown, and blind spots.
Open: Known to you and others (e.g., a certain skill, work experience, etc.)
Hidden: Known to you, but unknown to others (e.g., an insecurity, unrevealed feeling, etc.)
Unknown: Neither known to you or others (e.g., a bias that you have yet to discover, a fear that you haven’t uncovered, a capability that you never had reason to know you possessed)
Blind: Known to others, but not known to you. These are blind spots.
There are many potential blind spots, but I find these four are particularly pervasive and costly. Each is based on a specific assumption. Are you falling prey to any of these?
1. Assuming People Know the Goals
Research suggests that only 15% of people can actually name their leaders’ most important goals. But, many leaders assume everyone knows what’s most important.
I once worked with a client who swore all of his employees knew the top goal and challenged me to prove him wrong. The next day I presented a list of 23 different goals that his employees said were most important. All 23 stemmed from the leader. Although the leader saw himself as the goal-oriented, visionary-type, they felt he hadn’t met an idea that he didn’t like. Consider these questions:
What are the 1-3 most important goals for your team or organization?
Do your people know the goals?
How do you know they know them?
2. Assuming People Know What They Should Do
Clarifying and communicating a goal is critical, but insufficient. Employees also need to understand how their work connects to the stated goals. Assuming people understand the connection, or that a connection exists at all, is another leadership blind spot.
When you assume people know what to do, you may walk out of your meetings asking each other questions like, “That sounds like a great idea, but what can we do to impact that goal?” In these instances, people don’t feel empowered; they feel abandoned. Consider these questions:
Do your people know what they can do to accomplish the goals?
Do they understand how their daily work drives goal accomplishment?
3. Assuming You Know How to Best Do Your Employees’ Jobs:
Sometimes a leader assumes that he or she knows best how to accomplish the goal. The leader both tells the people the goal and how to do it. Unlike the abandonment issue above, these leaders are micromanaging. The leader assumes he is being helpful, but the people simply believe that they are trusted. Of course, this is a bad situation, but it’s even worse if the leader doesn’t really know how best to do the task.
Do you ask your people how they might choose to go about accomplishing the goals?
Are you too directive?
Could you be violating the concept that involvement breeds commitment.
4. Assuming You Know What Your People Find Motivating
Different things motivate people. What one might consider a reward, another thinks is far from positive recognition. Some leaders assume that if they personally find something motivating that their people will feel the same.
Be mindful that a financial reward isn’t too motivating if the employees simply want a few extra hours of free time. Most of your folks already have enough t-shirts and coffee mugs. Moreover, a pat on the back or a hand written note is sometimes reward enough. If you really want to know what motivates your people, don’t assume, ask.
How effective have your last reward/incentive programs been?
Like you, I have been to (and led) my share of team meetings – some effective, others a colossal waste of time.
None are immune from the occasional poorly run gathering.
Want to improve?
Work to get team members to say 4 things.
1. “We go in there, do what we need to do, & finish.”
Losing focus costs time, money, & energy. Don’t let the conversation wander too far, feed personal agendas, or allow someone to hijack the discussion. If Monday is always a crazy day, avoid it. Pick a time that works best & protect it.
2. “We come prepared & understand what we are trying to achieve.”
Don’t show up & then figure out what happens next. Think the meeting through, ask for input, distribute an agenda. Expect people to come prepared.
3. “We have true TEAM meetings & strive to get better.”
Rotate responsibilities (e.g. timekeeper, notetaker, etc.) Routine is good, but too much is boring. Ask your team to rate your meetings & listen to their input.
4. “We don’t talk just to hear ourselves. We actually hold each other accountable.”
Don’t’ fall into the trap of forgetting what was discussed as soon as the meeting ends. If a commitment is made, follow-up on it. Don’t have meeting amnesia.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many great leaders. I’ve watched them interact with their people and observed the results they’ve achieved.
I’ve also noticed a pattern in how these leaders think and act.
This pattern seems to emerge regardless of leadership role, industry, or location: Here are a few quick examples:
I taught a leadership program to a group of government officials in Iceland. I saw the pattern.
I consulted with a manager who works for a regional business in Malaysia. I saw the pattern.
I coached a senior leadership team at a Fortune 100 in the States. I saw the pattern.
I have come to realize that truly great leaders SET themselves (& others) up for success in three areas:
(Before you write a comment about spelling and grammar, I do realize that I’m taking liberty with these words.)
Here’s a brief explanation of each area and questions for you to answer as you assess your own performance.
1. Choose the Right Mind-SET
Success begins with the right mindset. Consider these ideas…
Creation happens first in the mind and then in the physical world.
Poor performance often follows a bad attitude; the right attitude typical proceeds exceptional results.
Failing to think through a situation in advance often prohibits a leader from taking the right action in the moment.
Great leaders invest the required time and energy to achieve the right mindset.
They think through their day and prepare themselves mentally for success.
They pause before a meeting and focus on desired outcomes.
They chose their actions from the right perspective.
Do they mess-up at times? Of course – they are human.
However, they approach the occasional blunder with the right mindset. They ask what they can learn from the mistake. They commit to not making the same mistake twice. They move on.
Consider these questions about your mindset:
How open are you to changing your paradigm in the face of new information?
Are you hanging on to old perspectives that aren’t serving you well?
Do you frequently check yourself to ensure you have the right mindset when you enter a meeting, start a new project, go on a client call, etc.?
What should you do today to improve how you approach choosing the right mindset?
2. Develop the Right Skill-SET
Great leaders invest time and energy to build on their existing skills. They also work to add new skills when new situations change.
If the company is looking to enter a new market, these leaders spend time learning about potential customers and competitors. If a new technology emerges, they work to understand its advantages and threats.
These leaders also know that they don’t need to personally possess all the skills. So, they surround themselves with people who bring different skills, knowledge, and capabilities to the team.
Consider these questions about your skill set:
Are you actively learning new things and enhancing your skills? Or, have you grown complacent?
Have you created a team that complements one another? Or, are you failing to create enough diversity?
What skills are currently missing on your team that you should proactively work to develop?
3. Access and Properly Use the Right Tool-SET
A colleague once told me that a tool can be used for one of three purposes.
As intended:A sales report can be used to assess current results, learn what is working, and chart a course for the future.
As a weapon: The same sales report can be used to verbally hit someone over the head, creating fear and isolation.
As a crutch: The same sales report can also be used to lean on as an excuse for poor performance. Sales people argue about the report’s timing, accuracy, etc.
Great leaders ensure the right tools are available and properly used.
They become loyal to the results the tool produces, not the tool itself. If the tool is not serving the organization well, great leaders tweak, toss, or replace it.
Consider these questions about your toolset:
Do you and your people have the tools needed to effectively deliver results?
Are you strangely loyal to tools that are no longer meeting your needs?
What could you do today to put better tools in place?
I wish you the best as you develop yourself, your people, and your culture!