Category Archives: Leadership

Motivating people to improve performance

inspiration

We have consistently observed that most high-achieving organizations are able to develop and sustain high performance cultures in which team members are inspired, engaged and highly motivated.

During a discussion with Human Resource, Quality, and Continuous Improvement leaders, various approaches to the motivational component of performance management were shared.

Individual v. Group
Some organizations focused on personal quantitative measurements to motivate individuals and to encourage and inspire them to achieve important goals. Tying these individual goals to the organization’s KPIs was cited as an effective way to align behaviors with goals and make sure everyone is aware of exactly what they are expected to do.

However, others said that group rewards and recognition were more effective than focusing on individual metrics. For example, one participant described how teamwork deteriorated to the detriment of the organization as a whole after his organization switched to individual metrics and rewards instead of rewarding everyone based on achievement of the company’s key strategic metrics.

Show me the money?
We also discussed experience with financial rewards as opposed to intrinsic rewards, such as recognition, and financial rewards did not necessarily produce the best results.

One participant explicitly pays people for participating on improvement teams in some of their facilities, while one of their Midwestern plants is prohibited from paying for participation. The Midwestern plant relies on intangible rewards such as recognition and “thank you notes.” Surprising to many, the Midwestern plant had a much higher rate of participation than the others, seeming to demonstrate that intangible or ‘intrinsic’ rewards can be more effective than monetary rewards.

Another organization found recognition, sometimes coupled with small gift cards, was an effective method for their organization.

Two Critical Factors
Everyone agreed that two keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.

Several examples involved peer-recognition programs, in which people were empowered to recognize one another by giving-out stars or some similar token when observing a co-worker exhibiting certain behaviors. When someone receives a certain number of stars, they get a gift card and the ‘star of the month’ gets a party, recognition, and a preferred parking space. It was noted that guidelines for the awarding of stars or tokens were set in advance.

Another perspective relative to timeliness involved making motivational and performance management activities an “everyday job,” and basing strategies on more than just past data. Over-reliance on past data when crafting improvement or motivational plans was referenced as working through the “rear-view-mirror.” A better approach not only enables managers to identify opportunities for team improvement based on analyzing past activities and results, but to also identify preemptive action steps and strategies that can impact outcomes and future results.

Conclusions & Best Practices

  1. Performance Management and motivation must be about much more than individual performance measurement. As Deming said, over 90% of problems are caused by the system not the person. To manage performance, we must manage the system by which people, plant, process interact to produce results.
  2. Frequent observation and feedback is more helpful to people than formal annual reviews. Motivation and engagement levels were consistently rated as “much higher” when team members received frequent, consistent feedback on their work, and also when they felt they had input to improvement plans.
  3. Frequent communication about what an organization needs and wants greatly increases the odds that the organization will get what they need and want.
  4. Group rewards encourage teamwork, while individual rewards encourage an individual to optimize his or her own goals even if it may sub-optimize the organization as a whole.
  5. Tying money directly to performance appraisal can be a two-edged sword – raising stress and reducing the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction from doing a good job for the team.
  6. Intrinsic rewards tend to increase motivation over time as opposed to financial rewards. Recognition is among the most effective. The keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.
  7. Avoid performance management in the “rear-view mirror.”

Are Questions the Answer to Making Breakthrough Solutions?

questions

An article published in 2020 as part of the Drucker Forum’s “shape the debate” series raised some interesting perspectives about leadership and making breakthrough improvements.

The simple premise shared by consultant and author John Hagel is that “questions” are the answer.

“The most effective leaders of the future will be those who have the most powerful and inspiring questions,” Hagel said. “…and who are willing to acknowledge they don’t have the answers, and that they need and want help in finding the answers. It’s in sharp contrast to the conventional view of leaders as the ones who have the answers to all the questions.”

This view aligns nicely with ours, as we’ve found that posing questions of and involving the people closest to the work is the shortest path to the largest gains.

After all, where do new ideas that lead to lasting solutions come from?

They come from people… that is, if those people are asked.

Here are three different approaches to identifying new ideas and solutions along with some of the questions we might ask the right people while studying the related work:

  1. Classic brainstorming. When studying the current situation and causes does not lead directly to identifying lasting solutions, you need to elicit a number of different ideas from your team by asking questions that stimulate creativity. How can we increase our productivity by 10 percent? What are the most common obstacles causing the process to stall? What is the most difficult aspect…”

    Before you launch into your brainstorming, make sure you have convened a diverse group of people with some knowledge or interest in the problem at hand. Keep in mind that it is always easier for people to “think outside the box” when they come from outside the box.

    The classic rules for brainstorming are:
    • No criticism of ideas—no idea is too crazy
    • Go for quantity of ideas and worry about quality later
    • Brainstorm individually first and then read the ideas out round robin style it is okay to pass
    • Build on positive aspects of other ideas to create new ideas
    • Capture the ideas on flip charts or on large Post-Its that everyone can see and read
  2. Tools such as the Six Thinking Hats and Heuristic Discovery, which systematically change one’s perspective to open-up new possibilities for solving problems.
    • First, state the problem in terms of an opportunity or goal. For example, a keyboard refurbishing operation needed to increase throughput, so they would ask: “How to we double our daily throughput of refurbished keyboards?”
    • Second, create a picture or map of the problem as part of the system, labeling each of the significant components.
    • Third, describe the impact of each component as it impacts the goal. Use a question format. For example:
      • What tools might we use to increase throughput?
      • How can we make sure that people’s skills are sufficient to double the throughput?
      • How can we make sure that people’s speed is sufficient to double the throughput?
      • How can we ensure the workspace layout enhances throughput?
    • Fourth, Prioritize these and generate ideas for solutions to the component problems that are most likely to impact
  3. Imagineering perfection, which helps you surface possibilities to leap past incremental improvements…
    • “What would this process look like if everything were right?”
    • What would it mean if the input we need always arrives on time and exactly the way we need and want it—no delays, no expediting, no rework?
    • What if every step of the work process were to go exactly as it should with no waste, no rework?
    • What if our work produced exactly what the customer needs, on time, exactly as they require it all the time? What would this look like?
    • What exactly does the customer need for perfection?

Emotional Intelligence, Leadership & Improvement

emotional intelligence

Our previous post focused on the important role played by “leadership” when striving to develop a high-performance culture. An important element of the necessary leadership is emotional intelligence (EQ).

As you may well be aware, emotional intelligence or EQ is the phrase used to describe a person’s ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways. It has been identified as a means to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

There are several competencies that are sometimes grouped into four major components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Research shows that organizations led by people with high emotional intelligence tend to have climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Conversely, organizations led by people with low levels of EQ create climates rife with fear and anxiety. While fearful employees may produce well in the short term, over the long run quality and productivity suffer.

The same principles hold true for Continuous Improvement (CI) teams. The level of EQ on a process improvement team affects how much information sharing, how much inquiry, and even how creatively the team will exercise.

A low level of EQ on an improvement team causes operational problems. Silo mentality and lack of inquiry and listening create sub-optimal processes and impaired results.

On the other hand, a team that is emotionally in step has more drive, more commitment, and tends to achieve greater things. High EQ leads to better listening, and thus to better learning, to new insights and better solutions as well.

We will look more closely at the concept of emotional intelligence over the next few posts, and will share ways to increase one’s EQ level and also how to leverage higher levels of EQ in our continuous improvement efforts.

Leadership: Another Prerequisite to Developing a High Performance Culture

leadership

Continuing with the theme of developing a high performance culture, another prerequisite to doing so is effective leadership.

This need has clearly been recognized in the marketplace as, according to data shared by Northeastern University, 58% of U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. The study also indicated that many more plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years— “now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.”

Leadership provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to engage and lead a cultural shift.

These skills include:

  • Communication and active listening
  • Method of sharing optimism, energy and enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Consistency
  • Dependability
  • Motivation
  • Risk assessment
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

In addition, creating and working with a select work group is an ideal way to exercise, analyze and improve these leadership skills.

Finally, it’s important to note that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist—and are highly valued—at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.

3 Managerial Best Practices for Engaging Today’s Teams

In our previous post we shared reasons why leaders at all levels (as opposed to “just CEO’s or Senior Management”) must step-up to engage their team members during this time of need.

While that post identified important areas of focus based on employee surveys and polls, this post identifies three key managerial best practices that will help leaders improve the effectiveness of their efforts to help and support team members:

  1. Communication is critically important. A recent Harvard Business Review article states, “Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager… consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement.”

    However, Gallup research also indicated that “mere transactions between managers and employees are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.”

    This perspective aligns well with the data shared in our previous post
  2. Effective performance management is also important, but it must go beyond the “annual review.” Given the significant and rapid changes we are all experiencing in day-to-day protocols, many people do not clearly understand their goals or what is expected of them. They may feel conflicted about their duties and disconnected from the bigger picture.

    Consequently, managers must more frequently discuss and possibly redefine mission, priorities, achievement and expectations.
  3. Focus on people’s strengths. Given the above-referenced changes in protocols, this might involve some reassigning of responsibilities – especially for those who are struggling to maintain productivity while working remotely.

    Gallup researchers have discovered that building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than a fixation on weaknesses. In the current study, a vast majority (67%) of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged, compared with just 31% of the employees who indicate strongly that their manager focuses on their weaknesses.

Leadership: “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man?”

An English proverb says, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” It’s the idea that the right leaders will emerge or step up during times of crisis.

In numerous posts we have shared data substantiating the fact that the greatest work-related impact comes from our direct supervisor. So, it’s not just CEO’s or top management, but rather leaders at all levels that must step-up to help people during this time of need.

A March 23rd Gallup article reinforced this point. “The supervisor or manager is the key conduit…” the article stated. “Only the direct manager can know each employee’s situation, keep them informed, and adjust expectations, coaching and accountability to inspire high performance.”

The question then becomes, how might we lead and inspire employees during this pandemic that’s creating anxiety and uncertainty everywhere?

The article provided some straightforward guidelines. “Global citizens look to leadership to provide a path — and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to. In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement. On the latter, if leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient.”

The piece went on to share meta-analytics, which have found four universal needs that followers have of their leaders:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

“These needs are especially urgent during crises,” the article said. “People look for these traits in their leaders as a signal that their life will be OK and that they can be part of the solution.”

Surveys Say: Room for Improvement
Among the most important actionable organizational practices to address these four needs, Gallup listed the following along with the results of their most recent tracking:

  • Identify a clear plan of action: When asked if their company leadership had a clear plan of action, 39% of U.S. employees strongly agreed that their employer had done so.
  • Make sure people are prepared to do their jobs: When asked if they felt well-prepared to do their job, 54% strongly agreed.
  • Orchestrate a plan for supervisors to keep people informed: When asked if their immediate supervisor was keeping them informed, 48% strongly agreed.
  • Make sure employees know that the organization cares about their well-being. Gallup has found five elements of well-being that each organization can act on: career, social, financial, community and physical. When asked if their organization cared about their overall well-being, 45% strongly agreed.

This data might be useful to us all as we navigate our way forward during the COVID-19 crisis. It also shows there is room for improvement.

Read the full Gallup article.

Developing Leaders

A conceptual look at developing strong leaders

Our previous post referenced recent research indicating that the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. has risen this past year, and that the primary reason for this increase is that organizations have made positive changes in how they develop their employees.

Carrying that thought a bit further, leaders at all levels within an organization must also be developed in order to bring about sustainable change and improvement. We have always known that it is a person’s immediate supervisor that has the greatest impact on their work experience and engagement level, so it stands to reason that these leaders must be trained and developed so that they can be effective.

To develop strong leaders, we have found the following five steps are critically important:

  1. Training is an ongoing step. Leaders at all levels must understand leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so they can apply the most effective style. Related skills and behaviors also include communication and listening, motivation, delegation, recognition and empowerment.
  2. 360° feedback from peers, staff members and upper management is a popular and insightful component of leadership development.
  3. Coaching in a team environment is an ideal place in which to exercise and improve peoples’ leadership skills, self awareness and ability to build upon strengths.
  4. Individual mentoring can help people analyze personal effectiveness and refine their approach based on actual performance and achievement. Mentors should observe leaders’ performance and conduct personal debriefing sessions. This cycle continues until desired skills and performance levels have have been achieved.
  5. Accountability. All leaders are held accountable for their personal development as well as for developing others.

CI & Sales “Leads”

How does your leadership style impact sales?

As noted in a previous posts, it’s important to recognize that the culture of any given enterprise is a reflection of its leadership, and that people at all levels tend to mirror that culture when interacting with one another as well as with customers and prospects.

The impact of this “mirroring” can be significant, especially as it applies to the sales force as it influences the way in which sales people interact with customers and the marketplace each day.

Consider that both the direct and implied messages your sales team conveys to others are, to a great degree, based upon the impressions they have of your business philosophy and your day-to-day behavior — ranging from how you manage and treat the team to how you talk about and treat customers.

As organizational leaders, here are seven things you can do to positively support, improve, and “lead” the selling process:

  1. Know your customers and maintain an understanding of their true interests, needs and priorities, taking each into account when setting policies and procedures. This alignment will send a strong message to the sales people that you are, in fact, a customer-centric organization.
  2. Maintain consistent two-way communication with the sales force, keeping them well-informed with respect to the organization’s mission and vision. Encourage them to deliver or reaffirm that message in the marketplace. As summarized by a recent American Management Association article, “Leaders must develop and communicate a compelling vision that inspires people.”
  3. Provide regular development and feedback — considering that the marketplace is in a constant state of “change,” the sales team must also continually improve and evolve. It is vital, the AMA states, “to share both motivational and developmental feedback.” People need to know when they’ve done a good job and when there is room to improve.
  4. Sell to the sales force — make sure they understand that the job can be done and that you and the organization have faith in their ability to do it; make sure they understand that the grass is, in fact, not greener “across the street,” and that there is a secure future for them if they work hard to earn it.
  5. Create and implement a formalized sales management / performance management system that consistently and fairly inspects what it expects, and holds the sales force accountable for activity as well as results.
  6. Recognize and reward desired behaviors and success as part of a formalized plan plan to engage and motivate the team, and to retain good performers. If the team is exceeding expectations, be sure to share in their celebration as opposed to intimating that the quotas might be too low.
  7. Similarly, if the sales force is not enjoying high-levels of success or is struggling to meet expectations, provide solutions and support — build upon strengths versus focus on weaknesses. A constructive approach to improvement can significantly impact their success, while a more critical or negative approach tends to promote continued failure.

The CEO & Enterprise Engagement

Leadership

Since our inception we have stressed the fact that an organization’s leadership must champion a Continuous Improvement (CI) effort if it is to become cultural and if it is to succeed in a sustainable fashion.

Along similar lines, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance has shared data as well as experiences indicating the same holds true for engaging employees and customers; and just like a culture of CI, a culture of engagement generates a measurable return on investment.

“A CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to human capital management can enhance performance and create a better experience for all,” an article on the Enterprise Engagement Media website states.

“Without the leadership of the CEO, it is impossible for an organization to fully engage all its stakeholders in its brand, mission and goals—customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors, communities, shareholders, etc.—or to achieve measurable ROI.”

The Enterprise Engagement Alliance was the first to give a name to this strategic and systematic process to connect and align all stakeholders toward a common brand, mission, values, and goals, naming it “Enterprise Engagement.”

Building a Culture of Trust

Trust: a soft concept that’s hard to beat…

Based on a recent interview with Aron Ain, author of WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, and CEO of Kronos, a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions, our previous two posts have demonstrated that creating a high-trust culture is worth the investment — just as Covey predicted in The Speed of Trust.

Kronos’ success nicely exemplifies what a culture of trust can yield. But building this culture isn’t easy.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to instill trust throughout the organization, one manager at a time, starting with me,” Ain said. “First, we give employees atypical degrees of latitude and freedom. Until proven otherwise, we assume their competence, judgement, and good intentions.”

Kronos also deploys tools that support the creation of a high-trust organization, such as Predictive Index, to help people get to know one another, and a performance feedback and rating system that gives substantial weight to an employees’ effectiveness at building trust. They also establish HR policies that demonstrate trust as an organizational philosophy, such as work-at-home options, and unlimited time off.

In addition, the management at Kronos works very hard on three specific management behaviors that support effective deployment of trust:

  1. Communication is key, as trusting your people to just do what they think is best for the organization doesn’t work out nearly as well if internal communication is weak. In fact, communication is so important that Ain devotes the second chapter of his book to overcommunication.

    “Don’t just communicate,” he says, “overcommunicate. You really can’t do it enough!” He goes on to note that inquiry and listening are just as important forms of communication as updating and explaining.
  2. The courage to lead is a high-profile concept at Kronos. Patrick Lencioni in The Five Disfunctions of a Team identifies the lack of trust among a management team as the root cause of most poor performance. At Kronos, the concept of courage has an even higher profile, as managers are required to lead with genuine courage. They have developed a Courage to Lead program, which has three major sections: Be Bold & Humble — Challenge & Support — Disrupt & Connect. And the first principle under Be Bold & Humble is: ‘Trust others, both within and outside your functional area.’
  3. Studying results is the third component of the Kronos formula for building a culture of trust. Trust doesn’t mean assuming everything will all work out as planned. Far from it! In fact, Kronos’ approach aligns nicely with Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle: they plan carefully, try out an innovation or improvement, then study the results, and act on what they learn.

    “We measure everything,” Ain says. This is their commitment to “exposing reality” — seeing how the plans and decisions are actually working without succumbing to wishful thinking.

Read the full article…