About Todd Conkright

President & Chief Consultant, Cornerstone Global Training & Performance Solutions

Meetings Don’t Have to Suck!

The Joy of Appreciative Meetings

Remember when you weScreenshot 2015-06-05 07.24.05re a kid and your parents, after busting you for some bad behavior, said something along the lines of, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” That’s kind of how I feel about meetings. I’m not mad that meetings are so mind-numbing and soul-sucking, but I am disappointed that we’ve all missed an opportunity to turn meetings into something life-giving and encouraging. I’m not so concerned about the number of meetings we have, but know we can do better at using meetings to focus on what is going well, celebrate successes, and build energy to pursue our goals.

In their book Appreciate Leadership, Diana Whitney, Kae Rader and Amanda Trosten-Bloom suggest

 “Get staff meetings off to a positive start by asking staff members to share stories of their best day at work in the past month.”

And

“Do a positive project debrief by asking about the ‘root causes of success.’ Ask to hear about everything that happened that make it a successful project.”

It’s all about the questions you ask. When you start a meeting asking questions that center on what went wrong and what problems need to be fixed, the tone of the meeting degenerates instantly to a focus on the negative. It’s depressing and zaps energy. The atmosphere is one of defensiveness, blame, and finding more nails to hammer in.

Appreciative meetings focus on what is going well, what went right, and what you want to see more of. This is not a head-in-the-sand, mamby-pamby approach to meeting management, but a determined effort to turn the tide of the conversation to the positive.

In Appreciative Leadership they call this the “flip” – the practice of turning a habitual problem, like employee turnover, inter-group communication, technology breakdowns, and slumping sales, into an affirmative topic to discuss:

  • Employee turnover >> employee retention
  • Inter-group communication problems >> productive collaboration
  • Technology breakdowns >> users as designers
  • Slumping sales >> new markets

Asking positive questions and flipping the conversation to what’s possible builds energy. Meetings actually become life-giving sessions where teamwork develops and solutions are nurtured together. We dread meetings because they drain us and take something away from us. Appreciative meetings address challenges and opportunities from the vantage point of what we hope for.

Try it! The next time you call a meeting, spend the first few minutes asking questions about what is going right. Allow people to share successes, whether personal or work-related, and revamp the agenda to flip the discussion to affirmative topics. I guarantee your meetings will begin to suck less and might actually be anticipated!

Explore more benefits of appreciative inquiry:

  

And Other Duties as Assigned

Screenshot 2014-12-08 07.12.35Job descriptions are on equal turf with performance evaluations as tools that are operating below their potential. Most organizations take a “one and done” approach to job descriptions and only dust them off when the position is posted on a job board. We figure that as long as we include the notorious “and other duties as assigned” disclaimer at the end of job descriptions we really don’t have to take them seriously. But when done right, the job (or position) description can be a key piece of the performance puzzle.

I’ve written a lot of job descriptions throughout my career. I’ve found that it’s both an art and a science – using best practices from a career field or industry is a good place to start, but putting the unique organizational spin on a description ensures I’m hiring people that fit with my company.

Using competency modeling helps create a job description that not only reflects the technical requirements of the role, but captures the cultural nuances necessary for success in my particular setting.

Korn/Ferry, a leader in the field of workplace competencies, defines competencies as the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that lead to high performance. (Lombardo, 2009) Defining what makes a person competent in a specific role has impact on both an organizational and individual performance level.

Trying to find a well-rounded person with a cross-section of competencies may not be best for your success. Hiring an accountant who can also sell may sound like a great “two for one” deal, but you might end up with a mediocre accountant or a frustrated salesperson.

Defining competencies for a specific job takes some skill, but there are resources available to help you identify what competencies will lead to the best performance from the individuals in your organization.

Follow these steps to identify the job competencies for each position in your organization:

  1. Make several copies of the table of competencies here. Get 2-4 colleagues together (including anyone already doing the job) and have each person circle the top 10 competencies they believe are necessary to be successful in that job.
  2. Identify the ones you agree on, then narrow the list down to 5-6 by discussing any of those that you differ on. Get to the most critical competencies. 
Use the definitions from the web site, and discuss what the term means to you and your organization. It’s important that everyone has the same understanding of the term.
  3. If you have a job description already, review it to see if what you circled matches with what the job description reflects. If they 
do not match, what is different? Make any adjustments based on your review.
  4. Use the list of competencies to clarify the job description and job posting templates.

Additional Helps

Note: As you consider which of the competencies are required for a particular position in your organization, think about how you define the item. For instance, “negotiating” may mean something very specific to you, but something very different to your colleagues. Come to agreement on how you define each competency. You may also identify competencies not listed on the web site table. This list is just to get you started.

A Google search of particular competencies will likely lead to some definitions that already exist. You may also want to check out the Lominger (Korn/Ferry) book, FYI: For Your Improvement, which provides greater detail on competencies and how to use them. Their competency card decks are pricy, but an excellent tool if you’ve got several positions to evaluate.

Once the job description is complete, it’s important to use it as both as a mirror and a compass. As a mirror, each incumbent in the role should reflect the image of what the position exists for. Not that every individual should look identical, but each should have the core knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies required for the role. As a compass, the job description identifies performance management and training focus to ensure continued alignment and skill development.

Regular review of job descriptions should be built in to the audit cycle of the organization. Annual position description audits might be too much for some company’s, but every couple of years makes sense. Any time there is a change in organizational design, or whenever new technology is introduced that has a significant impact on the role, the position should be evaluated and the description updated.

Maybe we don’t hate job descriptions as much as we do performance reviews, but we need to stop blaming the tool for failure. Operations and human resources leaders need to figure out how to build the right tools for their organization, and work together to get them to function for the organization and its human capital, not against. Maybe then people won’t be so cynical when they read “and other duties as assigned!”

  

What To Do When Your Organization’s Culture Sucks

You may be compelled to stay with your company because the pay is good, the work itself is rewarding, or your peers are like family. But the organization culture is mediocre, at best. What do you do when the organization’s culture sucks, but the reasons to stay outweigh the motivation to move on?

I’ve been in this scenario many times: managers who fail to walk the talk, inane policies that defy logic, and practices that thwart progress at every turn. But along the way I’ve learned some lessons about what it takes to survive – even thrive – a company culture that seems to get more wrong than right when it comes to empowering people to contribute to the organization’s success.

10 Traits of Sucky Cultures (in no particular order)

  1. Lack of leadership accountability
  2. Emphasis on maintaining the status quo
  3. Undefined processes
  4. No opportunity to participate in decisions
  5. One size fits all solutions
  6. Command and control management
  7. No support for professional development
  8. Unclear expectations & mixed messages
  9. Undervaluing in-house expertise & insights
  10. Thinking only about the bottom line

Create an Island of Health in a Sea of Bad Culture

So many quips and quotes come to mind as I think about advice for carving out a little slice of heaven in the midst of organizational Hades:

“If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I’m sure you can picture a hallway in your organization filled with motivational posters collecting dust. They are artwork, at some level, but certainly not beacons of inspiration that the purchasers envisioned. There used to be a Successories store in every major mall in America, but the platitudes and pictures of teams high-fiving and individuals scaling summits were so far from reality that they subconsciously demotivated us.

So what do I do if I’m committed to my job but am in an environment that brings me down? How do I keep going when the organization is doing so much to stop me from progress? Here are five recommendations for creating your island of health in a sea of bad culture:

  1. Know what you can do – and know your limits. Understanding your boundaries will help you adjust your mindset and not become overwhelmed by all that could and should be fixed. You may have no authority or power to fix policies, but you may be able to put some order to your world that makes things easier to manage. At the same time, be aware of signs that workplace stress is taking a toll on your health. No matter the benefits/reasons for staying with the company, when your health takes a hit, it’s time to walk.
  1. Become a stealth influencer. It’s amazing what you can do when you go undercover to influence up and down the org chart. Covert operations allow you to make recommendations and suggest improvements subtly, little-by-little. You may also benefit from piloting tweaks to processes and practices, sharing your positive outcomes after the fact. True, you probably won’t get recognition for your brilliant ideas, but your workplace will be better, which is more important.
  1. Bring others with you. You don’t have to be stranded alone on that desert island – bring someone with you! Band together with others who are committed to their jobs and want to see the organization culture improve. Partnership alone can do wonders for your job satisfaction! And even if you can’t make a cultural breakthrough, having a colleague to commiserate with will get you through hard days. Commit to being a mutual encouragement to one another.
  1. Be a burr with a sense of humor. Identify a few things that are worth fighting for and be the burr under the saddle of those who are in positions to do something about it. This is probably the most challenging of the five recommendations, since it takes an ability to pester without being labeled a pest. You don’t want to lose your influence, but you don’t want the door slammed in your face either. The key here is to have a sense of humor. If you present every opportunity as an urgent crisis you’ll not be heard (like the boy who cried “wolf!”.
  1. Celebrate successes, however small. Yes, it may be a “party of one,” but do take the time to recognize when your efforts have been successful. Whether it’s a grin as you leave your boss’s office with a new inch of ground, or a more tangible celebration (like cake!), it is important to your psychological well-being and continued motivation to reward yourself when progress is made.

There are plenty of articles and books, and consultants like myself who are available to assist leaders in creating positive workplace cultures, but if your executive team has yet to crack open any of Edgar Schein’s great works on designing culture perhaps the advice above will keep you engaged in the meantime. Or you might want to pick up a copy of one of these books and initiate a “lunch & learn” to talk about what might be done to create a great workplace culture!

By Edgar Schein:

The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, 2009

Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2010 ed.

By Others:

Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (Cameron & Quinn), 2011

Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture & Organizational Design (Argyris), 2012

(Order below from the CreativeGapMinding Bookstore):

      

Lean Performance Management: Moving Toward Peak Performance

What is lean?

The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.  -Lean Enterprise Institute (lean.org)

 

Lean manufacturing is a process improvement methodology based upon the highly acclaimed Toyota Production System (TPS).  The main focus in lean manufacturing is the removal of waste from a value stream. leanprocess.net

So, “lean” has to do with trimming away things that get in the way of optimal performance. Processes and practices often take on a life of their own over time, and before you know it you have a monster on your hands. Normally lean consultants (six sigma/process improvement) are brought in when performance has devolved to a state of crisis, but smart organizations engage lean principles as part of their business-as-usual operating culture.

Lean manufacturing is underpinned by 5 principles:

  • Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective
  • Identify all the steps along the process chain
  • Make those processes flow
  • Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer
  • Strive for perfection by continually removing wastes

(http://www.leaningforward.co.uk/principles.htm)

Applying these lean processes to human performance creates a focus on productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction. Practicing lean in performance management enables peak performance and allows employees to focus on value-adding tasks.

Performance management is a structured process for setting expectations, identifying key performance indicators (metrics), measuring outcomes, and improving performance through accountability and feedback. Performance management is both a science and an art. Performance technology provides the framework to structure and analyze human performance, while emotional intelligence and relational skills ensure a sensitivity and empathy. A solely scientific approach is dehumanizing and detrimental to lasting performance change.

Specify what creates value from the customer’s perspective.  Job descriptions and performance accountability should place a priority on customer- facing behaviors. Identify how the role supports customer satisfaction, identify how the customer is impacted when the job is (and isn’t) done well, and tie performance metrics and rewards to those behaviors.

Identify all the steps along the process chain. A job-specific SIPOC will do the trick here. A SIPOC is a picture of Suppliers – Inputs – Processes – Outputs – and Customers surrounding a specific role or task. Identify how performance is impacted along the way, from when work is handed off from one role to another, and the interdependencies that may create roadblocks and inefficiencies.

Make those processes flow. Remove barriers to performance and hold employees accountable for keeping things flowing smoothly. Reward process improvements and build expectations for internal customer service. Create a culture that challenges the status quo in pursuit of optimized performance.

Make/offer only what is pulled by the customer. This is somewhat of a repeat of the first principle, but an additional point when it comes to performance improvement is to be aware of processes, and even positions, that don’t add value. Just because a position has always existed, or a form is always used, or a handoff has always been a part of the process, doesn’t mean it adds value. Go back to the analysis of what supports customer experience, and eliminate everything that gets in the way. This streamlines performance management by simplifying the focus to one thing: the customer.

Strive for perfection and continually removing waste.Perfection is a lofty goal, and probably not realistic. But striving for perfection, as elusive as it may be, keeps us focused on continuous improvement. Waste is anything that hinders peak performance: tasks and deliverables that don’t add value to the customer; missed opportunities to leverage resources; and systems that create more work than they’re worth.

Using the principles of “lean” to manage human performance ensures an emphasis on quality work that ties to the customer experience. The benefit of applying lean to performance management is that “fluff” (waste) is removed on the front end, through better performance planning, and on the back end as performance is evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness.

In an age where “doing more with less” is standard, eliminating non-value-adding tasks, systems, and processes means you can still expect high quality work even if you’re running with a smaller staff. If the reports are correct that most of us work far below capacity (50-70% by some accounts), then applying lean will help us move toward better time management, stronger accountability for the things that matter, and continuous improvement across the organization.

   

Process Excellence Essential to Success

You can have great products and great people in your organization, but without great processes, you may be missing opportunities and squandering resources. Process excellence doesn’t just happen, though, it requires intentional focus on evaluating and building processes throughout the organization; across the supply chain.

How we get things done in our organizations warrants the same level of attention as developing and marketing products and services. We wish that developing methods and procedures was a “one and done” endeavor, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve been working on an operational audit for a global financial services company that has been around for four decades. The pace is fast, change is constant, and competition is fierce.  In this environment, procedures and processes must be agile—there must be a constant review of how things are done, why they’re done, and who is doing them.

An Operational Effectiveness Review, whether conducted by internal or external resources, should be a regularly scheduled event in every organization. Trained experts in process improvement and organizational effectiveness can provide insight into the best way to perform a task, technology that can provide automation (and reduce human error), and organizational design that will ensure information and work flow smoothly up and down the supply chain.

The outcomes of an OER will vary depending on several factors, such as how well processes are currently documented; how many tasks are performed within each function, and what technologies are currently in use. There are, however, some outcomes that are common no matter the size or scope of the effort in your organization:

  1. A short list of process improvements that can be implemented quickly and easily (low hanging fruit).
  2. Significant cost-saving (or revenue-generating) improvements that may take longer to implement or require a budgetary commitment.
  3. Long-term solutions, such as implementing new technology to streamline a process, or adding a position to eliminate a bottle-neck to a process.

One of the greatest aspects of an Operational Effectiveness Review is that subject matter experts—those employees who do the job day-in and day-out—already have ideas for improvements. The OER resources help build on those ideas and provide the expertise to implement them well.

Process excellence leads to better efficiency and effectiveness, key ingredients to overall organizational success. And an OER ensures excellent processes and addresses the need to evolve the way things are done within your company as internal and external circumstances change and new technologies are made available.

   

 

PLEASE MIND THE GAP

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 8.01.39 AM

If you’ve ever been to London and traveled on the tube (underground subway) you’ve heard the phrase “please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”  It’s a reminder that there is either some separation or a step up or down that could trip you up and cause harm.

I chose this ubiquitous phrase as the theme for my blog on performance management (www.CreativeGapMinding.com) because it’s a fitting reminder that there is often a gap between what we are currently experiencing and what is possible, and that there are dangers to not minding these gaps.

KNOWING THE GAPS

Minding the gap means not just watching for the dangers, but preparing for them…minding them. Minding a gap means proactively keeping it before us and not haphazardly walking through the terrain of our workplaces.  Mindfulness is a choice to open our eyes to what’s happening around us – to take everything in consciously and with a determination to remove the blinders that so often keep us from the levels of success that are possible.

A gap is anything that could get in the way of achieving goals; missed opportunities, unrecognized threats, inefficiencies that create waste.

TOOLS FOR MINDING THE GAPS

There are countless tools that help identify gaps. Here’s a handful that I like to use…

1.   SWOT Analysis: The SWOT is a tried-and-true tool used around the globe. Even a cursory use of a SWOT can identify things that should be considered. The SWOT’s four quadrants: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, can lead to further exploration of gaps that exist, either in a positive sense (Strengths/Opportunities), or n a cautionary sense (Weaknesses/Threats).

2.   Five Why’s: Another simple tool is Five Why’s, which seeks to get to root causes of issues. Start with the surface symptom that reveals a missed opportunity or shortfall, then keep asking why that behavior or condition exists until you’ve discovered the source(s) of the gap.

3.   Root Cause of Success Analysis: We are used to looking for the root causes of problems, but rarely take time to consider the actions and decisions that lead to success. Take the fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram, and instead of starting with a problem statement, begin with an identified success. Identify all of the systemic factors (people, technology, policies, management, etc) that contributed to the success. You may identify gaps or opportunities that will take things to the next level.

4.   Appreciative Questioning/Future Search. Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search are similar tools that build on organizational strengths and successes and uses positive questions to imagine the desired future together. Getting representation from all stakeholder groups to contribute stories of when they have felt empowered and engaged in the organization unlocks a powerful dialogue that uncovers opportunities and addresses unseen gaps between stakeholder groups.

 

Become a gap-minder by focusing on the difference between today’s reality – those things that you know could be better – and what is possible. Many companies find themselves dinged up from their lack of minding the gaps, but paying attention to the risks and possibilities before you trip can mean higher levels of success and a more engaged and satisfied work culture.

   

Why Are Organizations So Bad At Managing Change?

If only I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard the worn-out truism, “the only constant is change!” I would be wealthy, but possibly none the wiser. If change is so constant, why aren’t companies good at it? If we know that things are predicted to become more complex, more quickly impacted by advances in globalization and technology, why don’t we pay more attention to how change impacts our organizations?

I am a fan of Gandhi’s famous challenge, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe people must be ever watching for ways to influence the positive outcomes of the circumstances they are in. Sitting on the sidelines complaining that “someone should really do something about this” creates a cynical, passive community. One more adage that rings true is, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

OK, enough of tired maxims and back to the issue of managing change. the point I’m making is that with the wealth of wisdom and experience around us, why are organizations so ineffective at managing change? And what can individual managers and employees do to positively influence the outcomes of changes that are unceremoniously thrust upon them?

When I decide to change something in my life, I confront the reality that something has to give. In order to develop a new habit, achieve a specific goal, or move in the direction I have chosen, I have to give up some things that hinder me from my objective while embracing behaviors and attitudes that propel me forward. But when I am not in control of the change, I naturally resist.

This simple truth is where organizations fail miserably. With a sense of urgency, sometimes panic, managers push ahead and just assume (or hope) that everyone will come along eventually. Forgive me one more maxim: Hope is not a strategy! The lack of a change strategy means certain delay, stunted development of required new skills, and decay of morale within the workforce.

Change management strategy is seen as optional; a luxury if you have the time – and no one has the time. At best, change management is relegated to a functional group, usually human resources or IT (for information technology changes), and consists of some high level communication about the change, and usually some training. But it’s not enough, and often does more harm than good.

The first step toward more effective change in our organizations is to infuse the culture with an understanding that managing change is as important as the change itself – a non-negotiable part of introducing any new procedure, policy, or technology. Accountability across functional and hierarchical lines makes change management a way of life.

So what does a good change management process look like?

Anticipate. Be aware of what changes are likely to occur. Remove the element of surprise and make it everyone’s job to know what new technologies, competition, economic shifts, and efficiency opportunities might have an impact on a business unit or the whole enterprise.

Communicate. Communicate early and often. Get ahead of the rumor mill and share as much as you can, creating truthful messaging, even if there is more to come. Make sure every level of management has talking points and model positive communication throughout the organization.

Strategize. Adopt a change management model as an organization and make sure everyone is trained thoroughly in the principles of change. Then, as new processes, programs or technologies are introduced, use the model to strategically implement the change. This consistent approach will create trust and will have a calming influence on your organization.

Accountability. Hold managers accountable for how they manage change. If you’ve equipped them with the tools to do change well, then make it a part of their performance expectations.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Organizations need a concentrated changing of the collective mind when it comes to change management. It cannot be optional, it cannot be haphazard; it must be well-designed if it is to be effective.

Here are some resources that will help…

 

       

How to Hire High Potentials

I don’t like the term “high potentials.” To me it smacks of elitism and ranking people based on a set of made-up criteria. On the other hand, I believe we are all high potentials and that it is a matter of fit that may make us more successful in one setting and less successful in another. Your set of skills and experience that got you ahead in a formal, bureaucratic organization may not garner you more success if you take that job at the startup. The opposite may also be true. If you feel like you’re always swimming upstream while everyone else is lazily floating down, you may soar if you make the leap to the less formal, innovative company.

So it comes down to finding the right fit, and if you are responsible for hiring, it is your job to find people who can be high potentials in your organization. The following principles will equip you to make the best hiring decisions, giving you the right talent to support your mission while providing opportunity for employees to reach their potential.

Assess Your Organization

Before you hire anyone, you should understand your own organization. If the values and priorities haven’t been well articulated, take some time to think about what you stand for as a company and the types of people who tend to succeed in your organization. What skills and personality traits have proven effective? What individuals have been promoted and which ones have thrived in their new roles? Knowing what makes your enterprise tick will guide you toward better hiring decisions.

Asking good questions is the key to uncovering your organization’s culture. I strongly advise an Appreciative Inquiry approach, which looks for the positive, life-giving aspects of your organization. A formal cultural assessment might be useful to get a broad picture of strengths and opportunities.

Assess Your Position(s)

Dig deeper into your organization’s needs and consider the strengths, competencies, and traits required for the position(s) you have open. Most job descriptions are outdated and incomplete, so go beyond what the position was about when that document was written and consider changes in the industry, technology, or company. There are several tools that can help in this effort, such as the Lominger FYI competency book and accompanying sort deck, or the Position Information Questionnaire (PIQ).

Plan Your Recruitment Strategy

Hiring talent that fits with your organization – those who will be high potentials in your company – takes an intentional effort. Armed with your position assessment that tells you what kind of person will succeed in the position and with your company overall, you need to create a strategy to go where you will most likely encounter those types of candidates. Don’t take the passive approach, hoping that the best candidate will naturally apply for your position.

Advertise in those places where successful people in your industry or the job field hang out. Use social networking, especially LinkedIn, to review profiles and proactively reach out to potential candidates. Talk with current successful employees and ask them for referrals. Attend professional development workshops and networking events to get to know candidates in their native habitat.

It’s best to create a short checklist to ensure you’re considering all of your needs. It’s easy to get sidetracked by one aspect of a person’s skills and experience and ignore something else that may be just as important. The following checklist is from my book: A Small Business Guide to Peak Performance Through People.

Screenshot 2013-12-28 10.19.23You can make your checklist as detailed as you need to; the point is to avoid biases and blind spots that may lead you to hire someone that doesn’t fit.

Read resumes thoroughly, but realize that they are a marketing tool. Some people are really good at putting together a resume, or they get professional help to maximize this important tool. Others may not have an impressive resume, but could have the right experience and competencies you need. Remember, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. It’s best to make a list of observations and questions as you go through the resume. What do you want to know more about? What do you want more examples of? What needs to be clarified?

Once you’ve narrowed your list of candidates and begin scheduling interviews, don’t rely on the interview questions provided by your human resources partner or from a web site. They may be valuable to a point, but to really find out if a candidate will fit well, you have to customize your questions based on your needs and expectations, not a set of generic interview questions.

Intuition vs. Data

Sometimes a hiring decision comes down to a gut feeling. If you’ve done your homework and followed your  checklist, you know whether someone is capable of doing the job and their degree of success somewhere else, but sensing if they will fit and succeed in your organization often comes down to intuition.

Keep a matrix – or scorecard – from all of your interviews and hiring checklists. This will give you a visual of the data (education, experience, technology, etc.). You can choose to give points for different items on the checklist, or simply have a check box. A color-coded system may also be helpful, which allows you to use red-yellow-green to show whether requirements are met, not met, or somewhere in between. Yellow can indicate an area where you’re just not sure how you feel. If you believe the person is otherwise a good fit, but one area is giving you heartburn, have someone else review their qualifications with you, and possibly interview them. It may ultimately be your decision, but it’s important to listen to trusted advisors and second opinions.

A Fit From Both Sides

Finding high potentials is about intentionally identifying what you need from a person in each position you’re hiring for, then developing a strategy to find and assess candidates until you are certain you have the right fit. But the candidate is accountable for doing their own fit assessment throughout the selection process, and they are easily distracted by the need to be gainfully employed.

Candidates, especially ones who are unemployed, shoot themselves in the foot when they allow the potential for a position to cloud their judgment. Suddenly things like values, company culture, daily tasks, and management philosophy aren’t as important as a regular paycheck and health insurance. So a company committed to ensuring best fit – of hiring people who will be high potentials in their organization – must be diligent to help the candidate think through the process.

High potentials in your organization won’t look exactly the same as high potentials in another organization. It’s about fit and the process used to identify someone who will thrive in your culture. Taking the time to evaluate your organization’s values, the requirements of the position (beyond the job description), and intentionally going about the selection process, will ensure you find high potentials who will move your organization toward achieving its goals. You’ll reduce turnover and frustration associated with managing performance that doesn’t fit with your needs. Instead, your attention can be on maximizing potential that aligns with your company and optimizes your culture.

We’re Peers, Not Rivals

Have you ever wished you could go back to a previous job or workplace situation and do things over again using the knowledge and skill you’ve acquired since that time? I can think of several circumstances that I am much more prepared for now than I was in the moment. There are conversations I would have guided differently, concepts I would have used to solve a challenge, and attitudes that have evolved over the years that would have been much more beneficial.

Do-Over

Focusing on interpersonal do-overs, I imagine a few things come to mind. For me, there are 2-3 significant situations that I wish I could go back and re-do: a rivalry with a coworker when I was in sales; a time when I became so entrenched in a position that I couldn’t hear others; and a missed opportunity to confidently present my idea to someone I allowed to intimidate me.

The study of emotional intelligence reminds us of the importance of knowing our own motivations & emotional triggers, and how to become more intentional about how we engage with those around us. Our attitude towards something drives our actions, so we have to use the right attitude and words if we are to optimize a situation.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Choosing the right attitude can change the outcome of a situation, and when it comes to those we spend so much time with in our workplaces, it’s critical that we give thought to the best attitude that will move us toward positive results for ourselves and others.

Getting on the Same Side of the Stream

So, how do you view your coworkers as a whole? Certainly there are some you would call friends and others you would call rivals, even enemies. If you’re competitive by nature, perhaps you would consider most of your coworkers “friendly rivals.”

I am a word-nerd, meaning that I really enjoy studying word origins and meanings. Language and word choice are important, so I seek to understand how a word evolved and what that means to how it is used to communicate an idea. Rivalry (a person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity) is a deficit-based attitude that believes that resources are limited and only a few can win.

Rivalry comes from the Latin word for stream (rivus): rivalis means “a person using the same stream as another” or “on opposite sides of the stream.” As neighbors vied for use of the limited resource of the water supply, the territorial arguments could become heated and may last for generations. In our contemporary workplaces we fight for budgetary support, strategic placement, favor from the boss, and any number of tangible and intangible resources.

But what if instead of rivals we take on the attitude of peers? A peer is an equal, someone of the same status, someone who is on the same side of the stream as we are, working side-by-side with us to achieve a common purpose.

I know it seems like a simplistic, utopian position to take. It sounds like “be nice, be positive, and you’ll win.” But there is more to it than that. The field of Positive Organizational Scholarship, which applies the concepts of positive psychology (what’s working vs. what’s broken), led by the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, provides some compelling research about attitudes and behaviors that lead to thriving organizations.

Toward Positive Organizations

In their article “Prosocial Motivation at Work: When, Why, and How Making a Difference Makes a Difference,” Adam Grant and Justin Berg  define prosocial motivation as “an employee’s tendency to care about benefiting other.” When we view our colleagues as peers, we are motivated to help them achieve their own success. Research shows that as we help others, our own productivity rises and we are more engaged in the collective success of our peers (or at least a chosen few).

The research from the Center for Positive Organizations is slowly making its way into mainstream business dialogue. For those more academically inclined, and who don’t mind carrying around a book that’s 3-4 inches thick, the Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship is an excellent resource. There are also many articles and more “pop-business” books on various aspects of positive organizations.

Our workplaces are complex social structures, with multifaceted layers of social and relational dynamics making it difficult to navigate. The sense of urgency within mot organizations leads toward an expeditious (decide now, justify and think through the details later) culture. This alone can foster rivalry between colleagues and business units.

Choosing to see coworkers as peers rather than rivals creates a mindset that leads to cooperation, creativity, and collaboration. The synergies and partnerships that are formed through a peer-based mindset take energy that would normally go to competitiveness and territory-protecting behaviors and funnels it into something much more positive.

Evaluate Work Relationships

Make a list of the people you interact with most in your organization. Make a column for “rival” and another for “peer.” As you go down the list and check which of those relationships are peer-based and which ones are rivalry-based, think about what drives the competition in your rivalries. Jealousy? Limited resources? Personality?

How could you see your rivals as peers? What attitude adjustment would create a more collegial mindset and foster a “same side of the stream” approach to working with those people?

     

The Investment-Based Leader’s Toolbox

Screenshot 2014-06-23 21.43.39Leaders in any organization give a vigorous “me too” when they hear the adage “our people are our greatest asset.” It’s the right answer! Yes, we value our employees, want to see them succeed, and hope that they’re happy in their jobs. But often the reality is not so positive. Several surveys have been done in the past couple of yeas measuring employee engagement. The sobering truth is that employees are disengaged because what leaders say and what they do is in disalignment.

The good news is that

When trust, values and a purpose-driven mission exist to a statistically significant degree and guide leadership, decision-making and behavior, these “enablers” give rise to a highly inspired group of super-engaged employees. (Forbes, September 2012)

The question, then, is how do we communicate and develop trust, values and purpose?

The answer is by investing in your greatest asset; the cornerstone of your organization. The toolbox for investment-based leadership will get you on the right track.

Trust starts with sincerity. Employees sense when a manager is just going through the motions. So before you pull any of the tools out of the toolbox, it’s important to consider you motives and attitude. Do you really want to invest in your employees not just because it may lead to higher productivity, greater sales, or other bottom-line reasons, but because it’s the right thing to do? Yes, you can invest because of what you’ll get out of it, but you’re putting a cap on potential.

A true investment in your employees means you have more altruistic motivations. You want to see them succeed because you care about them as individuals. You want them to grow, find meaning and purpose in their work, and set their own goals because that’s what every human being wants. We have to stop viewing employees as a means to an end and see them for the unique souls that they are.

Once you’ve committed to a true investment in your employees, the following tools will assist you in building a workforce that is engaged, committed, and eager to help you succeed.

Transformational Mindset:

According to an article in Psychology Today, transformational leadership

Originally focused on leaders who “transform” groups or organizations, transformational leaders focus on followers, motivating them to high levels of performance, and in the process, help followers develop their own leadership potential.

I believe this is where leaders need to start. Transformational leadership is a mindset and an attitude that puts leaders in the right frame of mind to motivate followers. In the words of Ronald E. Riggio, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College:

Transformational leaders hold positive expectations for followers, believing that they can do their best. As a result, they inspire, empower, and stimulate followers to exceed normal levels of performance. AND, transformational leaders focus on and care about followers and their personal needs and development.

Servant leadership takes transformational leadership to an even more altruistic level, emphasizing the leader’s obligation to serve followers simply because it’s the right thing to do, not for what outcomes can be generated by focusing on follower needs.

When a leader is able to focus on others and look for ways to develop and motivate them, engagement and productivity are sure to follow. It requires that a leader put their ego aside and not assume they have all the answers. Transformational leaders know that a better organization is built when individuals are empowered and have regular opportunities to engage their brains as well as their hearts.

Appreciative Inquiry:

It is said that words create worlds. The direction of our questions determines where our conversation goes, so what we ask questions about, how we phrase our questions, and what our purpose is in asking questions leads us in a certain direction.

For a leader, asking questions that lead toward positive outcomes and a thriving culture is a core responsibility. But because we are so habitually focused on problem solving and discovering what is broken, our organizational dialogue is mired in deficit-based language.

The Appreciative Inquiry 4-D cycle of Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny provides a framework for leaders and organizations to direct the conversation toward more positive ends while tapping into the knowledge, strengths, and passions of the whole.

Start by reading Appreciative Leadership by Whitney, Rader & Trosten-Bloom. This is a practice guide to infusing your leadership with appreciative tools that draw out the best in your employees and organization to move you toward your desired future through collaboration and leveraging strengths.

Positive Deviance:

Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) grew out of the positive psychology movement started by Martin Seligman. The central idea behind POS is to identify those characteristics and behaviors that enable organizations to thrive and build cultures that reinforce these positive traits. The University of Michigan Center for Positive Organizations is a great resource, providing white papers, research, and other tools.

Positive Deviance (PD) is a concept that fits into the POS frame, building on the idea that within any organization there are individuals and groups who, with essentially the same circumstances and resources, have found a way to succeed where others are stuck.

PD has been used for years in the nonprofit and healthcare sectors, but has been slow to catch on in the marketplace, where the need for control and predictability get in the way of allowing deviants – either positive or negative – to forge new paths to solve problems.

But a surge of entrepreneurship may make the marketplace more open to experimentation and renegade solutions. PD believes that the solutions are within the context of our organizations, it simply requires that we give people the freedom to pursue unproven or counter-culture methods to fix things that have so far proven unfixable.

Strengths Focus:

Finally, in my investment-based toolbox I want to focus on the strengths of each individual on my team. We have a tradition of looking for the weaknesses in ourselves and our direct reports so that we can improve those deficiencies. But research, primarily from Gallup and former Gallup researcher Marcus Buckingham, has shown that most of us will never be able to turn our weaknesses into strengths. Instead, we should focus on those things we do uncommonly well and make them even stronger.

Leaders need to help followers identify their strengths, either through one of the strengths assessments on the market, or through an organic process of observation and dialogue. Once you know the strengths of each team member you can look for ways to organize and structure your team and the work that they do.

To really get the most out of a strengths –based approach is to develop a more flexible approach to job descriptions and work assignments. According to Gallup, when employees have an opportunity to use their strengths every day they are more than six times more engaged in their work.

Making the Investment in People

There are certainly more tools that an investment-based leader should have in their toolbox, but the ones I’ve outlined above will get you started on the right path. One thing to remember when committing to an investment-based approach is that there is no formula; the key is in using the tools in the context of your organization and the makeup of your team.

It’s also important to understand that it takes time to allow your investment to grow. Your staff may be suspicious as you begin to incorporate new methods of leading, especially if you’re making drastic changes in your leadership style. It may require some trust-building and patience, including patience with yourself as you try out new approaches.

Read my previous post: Investment-Based Performance Improvement. It introduces the characteristics of an investment-based approach – humility, humor, harmony, and honor. Using these four characteristics with a transformational mindset, appreciative inquiry, positive deviance, and a strengths focus will demonstrate to your staff that you are committed to their success and value their collaboration.