Category Archives: Leadership

Team Leadership

leadership

Continuing with the theme of our previous post, one of the most prudent steps you can take to maximize the impact of a team or a team improvement initiative is to appoint a strong leader.

An effective project team leader moves the team forward and inspires team members to do their best work. They also manage many of the organizational systems needed to keep a project on track.

The roles of a team leader include the following:

  • Manage the team toward accomplishing tasks and maintaining focus
  • Take a vested interest in solving the problem
  • Build commitment to the team charter and objective
  • Develop, with the members, the project plan
  • Lead activities such as problem solving, progress monitoring and team building
  • Interaction between meetings, offering help with action items
  • Meet with the facilitator between meetings to review the previous meeting and to plan for the next meeting
  • Keep the necessary people (sponsors, functional management) informed of progress, barriers and roadblocks and provide guidance to the team based on management direction
  • Maintain documentation of the team’s efforts
  • Behave in a way that contributes to team effectiveness

An effective team leader must also possess a range of skills if they are to fill these roles, such as project management skills, communication skills, and the ability to understand problem solving as well as the differences between team members.

The “R” Factor Part 2: Show Me the Money!

Our previous post focused on the importance of relationships within the workplace and the impact on people.

It has also been well-documented with facts and data that the cost of poor relationships in the workplace is significant; and in contrast, improving relationships improves the bottom line.

For example, a Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found a direct correlation between trust and profitability. Where employees trusted executives, companies posted returns 42% higher than those where distrust was the norm.

In a different study, they found that of the 7,500 employees surveyed only half trusted their senior managers. So imagine the impact of improving the relationships with the ‘other’ half!

Another study on trust in the workplace conducted by Leadership IQ, which involved a database of 7,209 executives, managers and employees, revealed that 44% of participants’ responses ranged from not trusting to strongly distrusting their top management, and that trust significantly predicts employee loyalty and their inclination to stay or leave the organization. Having employees “go” is costly and especially so at the managerial and executive level. As once cited in the Orange County Business Journal, the cost of losing one executive who underperforms or one who chooses to join another executive team is an average of $1.5 million per executive hire. Calculated another way, the cost can reach 400% of the yearly salary of a high level employee.

Along the same lines, in his book The Speed of Trust, Covey quoted Professor John Whitney of Columbia Business School, who said “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”

In addition to the obvious and direct costs of attrition (recruitment, severance, training, etc.), there are other costs associated with dissatisfied employees at any level. There is the pervasive, though
often not measured, cost of wasted time and lowered productivity — the unproductive time spent in unresolved conflicts, complaining about management or co-workers, lack of engagement and not putting forth best efforts. It follows that reducing wasted time, like reducing other forms of waste, can contribute to improved profitability.

Imagine how much better-off we all might be if we could better manage our relationships; as noted above, the improvements could be staggering!

Leadership Best Practices Too: A Simple Solution?

Continuing our previous post’s theme of leadership, a recent Gallup article cited the fact that approximately 70% of the US workforce is either detached from their work or “miserable” during their workday!

The solution is, as the saying goes, simple but not necessarily easy: managers need to be better listeners, coaches, and collaborators.

“Great managers help colleagues learn and grow, recognize their colleagues for doing great work, and make them truly feel cared about. In environments like this, workers thrive.”

The question then posed refers to shareholder capitalists, and asks if they would embrace this perspective?

“How does this impact the bottom line?” they’d ask.

Well, as it turns out, “it pays to have thriving workers!

Based on Gallup research and several of our posts on the topic of workforce or employee engagement, business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with
miserable workers.

Additionally, teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents; they also see higher customer loyalty.

As the article points out, “Wellbeing at work isn’t at odds with anyone’s agenda. Executives everywhere should want the world’s workers to thrive. And helping the world’s workers thrive starts with listening to them.”

Leadership Best Practices

Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and it provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. It requires a range of activities, including empowerment, motivation, communication, listening, and providing both direction and feedback to team members.

But in a recent article, Gallup reported that only 21% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they have received meaningful feedback in the last week.

The piece goes on to list the following guiding principles:

  1. Make feedback timely and futuristic. It’s important for managers to address issues as they come up, but rather than looking “backward” it is best to focus on the future. “Be specific and timely with suggestions so the employee can implement them immediately, but don’t criticize the person as a person — that’s looking backward. Instead, emphasize specific improvements to look forward and get results faster.” In other words, instead of telling people what “not” to do, share the actions they should take going forward.
  2. Promote strengths. Highly engaged workers say that they use their strengths at work. In addition, the article notes that positive reinforcement helps people recognize their potential. As noted above, giving people feedback based on weaknesses simply alerts them as to what they shouldn’t do. It’s possible to work on weaknesses, but the learning process is significantly more frustrating, progress is slower and the result tends to be average instead of excellent. Telling employees how to succeed — not how to stop failing — is more effective.
  3. Explain the fallout. Actions have consequences, but not all consequences are punitive, and people may not know what they are. “Managers should share with people the downstream effects of their behavior on other team members, the company and their own potential for advancement.”

Read the full article…

Leaders for Today & Tomorrow

leadership
A conceptual look at leadership and associated concepts.

Gallup recently reported a decline in employee engagement across the U.S., and given current times this might not be a big surprise.

However, they also reported that, during times of turmoil, managers are responsible for implementing leadership decisions while motivating their team to get work done, and that a high percentage of these managers are in need of help!

“Manager engagement is on the decline, and burnout is on the rise,” the article said. “Clarity of expectations and opportunities to develop are specifically vulnerable. Like your employees, your front-line managers and supervisors need to feel that they are continually developing in their work and overall life.”

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 continuous improvement, as well as the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to lead people to higher levels of performance and engagement.

These skills include:

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

Leaders Without Teams?
Finally, it’s important to note that 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. These “leaders without teams” often inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders; and they must also be given skill development opportunities, as many will likely become the “official” leaders of tomorrow.

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.