November 2011

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write the books on leadership and I read them.  Since they have the credentials and credibility I will simply quote these reminders from their article in the December issue of Talent Management magazine.

“Getting extraordinary things done means engaging in the following five leadership practices:

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart

Leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities available to anyone.  It can be learned, and the best leaders are the best learners.” (emphasis mine)

Model the way
“Exemplary leaders set the example through their daily actions, demonstrating deep commitment to their beliefs, and ideally this should be done every day in plain view of those expected to follow those values.”

Inspire a shared vision
“…exemplary leaders know they can’t command commitment; they have to inspire it by enlisting others in a common vision.”

Challenge the process
“Innovation comes more from listening than from telling, so leaders should constantly look outside of themselves and their organizations for clues about what’s new or different, and what possibilities others are not seeing.”

Enable others to act
“Leaders foster collaboration and build trust by engaging all those who must make a project work, and in some way, all who must live with the results.”

Encourage the heart
“Celebrations and rituals, when done with authenticity and from the heart, can build a strong sense of collective identify and community spirit that can carry a group through tough times.”


The November issue of Talent Management magazine has a feature article on performance reviews.  It contains many valuable insights into performance management and a plan for integrating performance discussions into your daily or weekly routines.

The author asserts that annual performance reviews “inspire defensiveness, incredulity, and even disgust.”  I think most people can relate to some degree with this view.  Its my view that annual performance reviews become missed opportunities because they aren’t tied to clear and documented expectations and the time gap between performance and evaluation is often so wide that the opportunity to act is lost.  Here are some reasons provided in the article.

  • Performance-related items – good and bad – are often forgotten by the time formal reviews are conducted
  • Observations and input from stakeholders seem arbitrary and unfair because they aren’t adequately documented
  • Performance measures appear subjective and/or reactive

The article advocates a program that “invests time and resources to proactively and regularly engage with employees to make targeted observations, listen to concerns and offer customized feedback.”

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Who doesn’t want to be proactive?  What employee doesn’t want to receive targeted observations and receive timely customized feedback?  Is that how your performance is evaluated?  If you are a manager, is this how you view performance?

According to the author, “the catalyst [for change in performance management] is going to be two things: People at work are focused primarily on helping themselves and advancing their own careers; they’re going to start bringing tools to work that make a difference in the workplace.  Also, performance systems will begin integrating into work systems.”  I don’t put much stock in the first premise.  In a previous post I referenced a book by Daniel Pink that indicates people are motivated by more than self-interest.

What would this “new” form of performance management look like?  Here are some high-level recommendations from the author.  Managers should

  • Consistently build one-on-one dialogues with employees
  • Spell out performance expectations
  • Review previously set performance expectations

Here are 8 steps managers can follow to implement this strategy.  According to the author, “15-20 minutes per conversation is all a manager needs.”

Step 1: Get in the habit of holding regular daily or weekly one-on-one meeting with each direct report.

Step 2: In these one-on-ones, practice talking like a coach or teacher.

Step 3: Build each unique dialogue with each person based on what’s needed to be successful in the role, and what that person needs to improve his or her performance.

Step 4: Make accountability a process by getting people in the habit of giving regular ongoing accounts of their performance in these one-on-ones.

Step 5: Spell out expectations in detail every step of the way.

Step 6: Track performance in writing every step of the way.

Step 7: Solve small pr0blems before they turn into big problems.  I would add that it is important to know what is truly a big problem.  I have more thoughts on that below.

Step 8: Do more for some people and less for others based on what they need.

What does it take to implement a program?

  • Tie performance to specific business goals.
  • Don’t confuse activity with performance.
  • Document performance expectations (step 5) briefly.  Too much documentation will undermine your efforts.
  • Exercise restraint.  Everyone is under pressure.  The tendency is to overemphasize problems.  The point of this approach is to improve performance.  It only takes one overreaction to undermine trust.

Football fans in San Francisco are well aware of the trevails of Alex Smith.  For those of you who aren’t from San Francisco here is a brief summary.

  • 3 head coaches
  • 7 offensive coordinators
  • Separated shoulder in 2007
  • Broken bone in shoulder in 2008
  • Pay cut in 2009 (in lieu of being released)

Below is an exchange between radio hosts in San Francisco and Steve Young on the development of Alex Smith.  I always hear something worth remembering in these interviews.  Sometimes its about leadership.  Other times its about coaching.  Below are some thoughts on why Alex Smith is succeeding under Jim Harbaugh.

Click here to listen.  Its better to actually hear the exchange but I understand if you don’t have time or desire.

Young: “Alex [Smith] is successful because he has someone calling plays for him, focuses on his strengths and weaknesses.  They are not making mistakes.  Jim came in and saw the ability, saw the ember in him, and got some flame.  How good can he be?  I don’t think even Alex knows.

Host: “Last week you said you’d like to see them do what they ended up doing, which is come out and put this on Alex and see how it works out…and they did exactly that.”

Young: “I think he expanded on what happened last week.  I think he did more.  They trusted a little bit and he responded.  I think he made some throws that really mattered.  I think that they’re building on that…He made some big plays.  Alex is slowly becoming part of the reason that they’re winning.  Some people say ‘oh, he’s a manager.’  That’s 70% of the job!  That ‘s Michael Vick’s problem right now.  He’s not doing the little things.  By the end of the year I’d like to say Alex Smith is the reason why they’re winning.”

Host: “When they do get to Alex, as they have the last couple of weeks, occasionally, I’ve noticed something.  He doesn’t drop his head.  His chin doesn’t drop any more when he’s scrambling.  To me that makes me think he feels more comfortable.  The game has slowed down a bit…he seems to know the rush is coming.  I’m going to move here or here but keep my eyes downfield so I can see what I have in front of me.

Young: “He was a broken guy.  He wasn’t sure.  What Jim [Harbaugh] was saying made sense to him.  You get a guy who understands quarterbacks, game playing, organizations, it feels good…[San Francisco] is a place for quarterbacks again.”

Some other excerpts
Tom Brady: [He is] doing the simplest little things.  It was musical to me.

Tim Tebow is a great competitor.  [He] understands the big pieces of what you have to do to move the football.  Its 11 on 11.  At some level its a matter of will…In the long run, in the NFL, with the speed of the players it is astronomically faster than college, if you tell me you were going to line up and run the spread option solely you will have no chance in the NFL.

I was reflecting on how I measure success this morning as I was reviewing an announcement for a new promotion.  In the announcement we wanted to provide background information, build enthusiasm, and remind recipients of a new process.  With such a variety of information success could be measured many ways.  From a training standpoint there is only one measure that matters, execution.

My part in ensuring successful execution was making sure the message was communicated clearly.  Other people put the promotional elements together but I took responsibility for compiling the right information and assembling it in a succinct message.

I firmly believe in brevity.  Some would say I am too brief.  I can live with that.  However, if the recipients do not understand what is expected of them your plan will not achieve its expectations.  Nothing will undermine enthusiasm faster than poor execution and nothing is more frustrating finding out you did not communicate the right information.  I can tell you from experience.