Monday, August 16, 2010
Helping People Soar Like Eagles – an excerpt from ‘One Minute Entrepreneur, by Ken Blachard’
Helping People Soar Like Eagles – an excerpt from ‘One Minute Entrepreneur, by Ken Blachard’
Nancy Kaline had taken over the presidency of her large, family owned company from her father, who had built an incredible business from scratch with a classic ‘my way or the highway’ leadership style. Yet that hadn’t seemed to work in the last few years he ran the company.
“Several things changed,” Nancy told Jud and Terri when they all got together. “First of all, business is much more complicated today than when my dad started out. Globalization, intense competition, and rapid and constant technological change were stretching him beyond his comfort zone. The one-man-band strategy of decision making just didn’t cut it anymore as the company grew. Today’s knowledge works want a partnership relationship with their leaders”
“Partnership?” said Jud.
“Yes” said Nancy. “Dedicated employees today believe that ownership and management need them as much as they need the company. If they feel undervalued or uninvolved, they will go elsewhere. As with customers today, loyalty from your people has to be earned”.
“How do you earn your peoples loyalty?” Terri wondered aloud.
“By letting them bring their brains, not just their bodies, to work” said Nancy. “As Lou would say, let them soar like eagles instead of quack like ducks. To do that required owners and bosses who are servant leaders”.
“Servant leadership?” said Jud. “It sounds like the inmates running the prison”.
“Or some kind of religious movement” said Terri.
Nancy laughed “To truly understand what servant leadership is all about, you have to recognise that there are two aspects to leadership: vision and implementation/ The visionary aspect of leadership sets the direction, the values and the major business initiatives. That’s the ‘lead’ part of leadership. It’s what I call strategic leadership. This is what my father was good at”
“Sounds like a big-picture guy” said Terri.
“He was” said Nancy with a smile. “And he had a number of experienced folks with him from the beginning, who would do anything to please him and make things happen. These were the typical employees of the past – loyal and willing to do what they were told. They dedicated themselves to the company in exchange for lifelong loyalty from their employer. Without folks like them, Dad would have been in trouble. He didn’t focus much on implementation. He would set the direction and then expect that what he wanted to have happen, would happen”/
“What do you mean?” asked Jud
“He would tell people what the task was, and then he’d disappear” said Nancy. “He would head off looking for the next business opportunity. They were okay if they understood exactly what to do. But that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes work didn’t get done in a timely manner, and mistakes were made. When that happened, he would circle back and become a seagull manager, swooping in, making a lot of noise, dumping on everybody and then flying out. But since my dad was loyal to them, they’d pick up the pieces and get back to work.
“When I took over, most of the original folks were retiring or heading out the door. It’s a whole new ballgame now. People understand that good performance starts with clear goals, but what interests them the most is how those goals are going to be met – the operational leadership. That’s where the ‘servant’ part of servant leadership comes in.”
“Today, people want managers who will work with them to accomplish goals. They want leaders who think of them as partners. That’s what servant leaders do.
“And yet” said Nancy, in most companies – whether large or small – leadership is commonly thought of in terms of a hierarchy, where the owner or president or CEO is in charge and everyone’s energy is focused on pleasing their boss. That was happening with my father. In my experience, that kind of top-down leadership does not bring out the best in people”.
‘In other words” said Jud, “leadership that is perceived as side by side rather than top to bottom is more likely to create high performance and satisfaction”.
“Right” said Nancy. “With such a side by side partnership, the focus is on helping people produce good results. When that happens, your folks feel good about themselves and the company wins.
“So, how can we, as entrepreneurs make sure that we’re emphasizing both performance and satisfaction?” asked Jud.
“By encouraging everyone to become a leader. Entrepreneurs who retain their people do just that. They realise that they can’t do everything by themselves. They have to depend on the people they hire to take their dream, run with it, and make things happen. When mistakes are made, these leaders use these occasions as learning opportunities, rather than as a time to punish others.”
“I see a lot of entrepreneurs who let their egos eat their brains” said Jud. “They start to think their business is all about them. They forget about the importance of their people. I hope I never fall into that trap”.
“It’s an easy trap to fall into” said Nancy. “If your organisation is all about you, you don’t allow your people to become committed to your dream. They’ll shuffle in and out of your company, depending upon the offers they get elsewhere. When you think of your people as your partners, they’ll begin to act like they own the place. They take responsibility for what they do. And that is exactly what you want them to do”.
“How do you make people your partners, exactly?” asked Jud.
“You have to set up strong performance management system” Nancy replied.
“The word ‘system’ often has negative connotation” said Jud with a smile.
“You’re right” said Nancy. “Most entrepreneurs don’t think they need a system to manage their people. Yet as Peter Drucker often said, ‘Nothing good happens by accident’. I am sure you have several people in your life who always remember your birthday”
They all nodded.
“They are very thoughtful people” continued Nancy. “How do you think they became so thoughtful? They are organised. They have some system that signals them several weeks before your birthday that it is coming up. That same kind of systematic thinking has to drive your management of people at work”.
“What does a good performance management system involve?” asked Jud.
“There are three parts to an effective performance management system” said Nancy. “The first is performance planning. This is when you agree with your people about the goals and objectives that they should be focusing their energy on. All good performers start with clear goals”
“So, if people don’t know where they are going, they have little chance of getting there” said Terri with a smile.
“That’s for sure” said Nancy. “Too many people in organisations get punished for not doing what they didn’t know they were supposed to do in the first place”.
“And goal setting helps eliminate that” said Jud.
“It certainly helps” said Nancy “Particularly if people not only know what they are being asked to do, but they also know what good performance looks like – what the performance standards are”
“Does the partnering begin with the performance planning? Asked Terri.
“Yes” said Nancy. “But you have to remember that in performance planning, it’s okay for the owner or manager to set the goals, because if there is a disagreement between a manager and a direct report about what the goals are, who wins?”
“The owner or manager, I assume” said Terri.
“Yes” replied Nancy. “Because that person represents the goals and objectives of the company. That doesn’t mean that you don’t involve your people in goal setting, particularly experienced people. It just means that the responsibility for goal setting rests with the manager. This is the ‘lead’ aspect of servant leadership”.
“What’s the second aspect of a good performance review system?” asked Jud.
“Day-to-day coaching” said Nancy. “This is where you invert the proverbial pyramid and turn the hierarchy upside down, so now you are essentially working for your people”.
“Why do you do that?” asked Jud.
“Because then as a manager you become the cheerleader and supporter of good performance by your people” said Nancy. “It’s the role of managers to do everything they can do to help team members be successful. This is where the partnering relationship and the ‘serve’ aspect of servant leadership really kick in. You do everything you can to help team members soar like eagles”.
“What’s the third aspect of an effective performance management system? Asked Jud.
“Performance evaluation” said Nancy. “This is where managers and their direct reports sits down and examine the performance of each team member over time”
“I used to dread performance – evaluation sessions” said Jud. “even though I knew Dirk, the CEO, was on my side”
“The reason most people dread their performance evaluation sessions” said Nancy, “is they are never quite sure how they will be evaluated. They just hope they have a good relationship with their boss and, therefore, that their evaluation will go well”
“That certainly was the way it was with me” said Jud. “ I remember Dirk had a form he filled out on me”
“Oh yes, the form” said Nancy. “When I go into most companies, and organisations, people will say to me, You’re going to love our new performance-evaluation form”. I always laugh, because I think most of them can be thrown out”.
“Why do you say that?” says Terri.
“Because these forms often measure things that nobody knows how to evaluate. For example ‘initiative’ or ‘willingness to take responsibility’ or ‘promotability’ – that’s a good one!
‘When no one knows how to win on an evaluation form, they focus most of their energy up the hierarchy. After all, as Jud said, if you have a good relationship with your boss, you have a high probability of getting a good evaluation”
“That really rings a bell with me” said Jud. “I never knew exactly how Dirk was going to evaluate me, except with my sales numbers, which were very specific”
“That gets back to performance standards, Jud” said Nancy. “remember how I said that all good performance starts with clear goals? You need performance standards. After all, if you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it. Often people are evaluated on unclear areas, where they don’t eve know what good performance looks like. And sometimes they haven’t even been told that their boss is interested in a specific area”.
“Let me get back to goal setting for a minute” said Terri. “Don’t most organisations do a pretty good job on goal setting?”
“Yes, they do” replied Nancy, “But unfortunately, after setting goals, what do you think happens to those goals in most cases”
Jud starts to laugh “I bet they get filed”
“You’ve got it” said Nancy. “And no one looks at them until it’s time for performance reviews”.
“So the goals are not used actively during the year?” Terri asked
“Not they are not” replied Nancy
“Why” said Jud.
“Let me answer by asking you a question” said Nancy. “Of the three aspects of an effective performance management system, what’s the one on which the least time is spent?”
“I know it’s not performance evaluation” said Jud with a laugh, “because that seems to me to be the one aspect of what you’re talking about that every manager focuses on”.
“I bet its day-to-day coaching” said Terri.
“Bingo!” Said Nancy. The lease amount of time managers spend is on coaching. Yet this is the most important aspect of managing people’s performance. It’s here where feedback – praising progress and redirecting inappropriate behaviour – moves to centre stage. This is where your manager really becomes your partner, because he or she is giving you feedback on your goals and the results you are getting.
“If you want people to win and accomplish their goals, then they need somebody observing and monitoring their behaviour after goals are established. This is when you guide them in the right direction if they are off base, and praise and cheer them on if they are on the money”.
“This is really exciting stuff!” said Jud.
“I’m glad you think so” said Nancy “because it’s absolutely key. To illustrate, let me share with you a story about a college professor I had. He was always in trouble with university. He was investigated repeatedly by faculty committees. What drove the faculty crazy more than anything else was that at the beginning of every class he gave his students the final exam. When the faculty found out about that, they asked “What are you doing?”
He’d say ‘I thought we were supposed to teach these students’ ‘The faculty would say ‘You are, but you don’t give the students the final exam ahead of time’. He’d say “not only am I going to give them the final exam ahead of time – what do you think I am going to teach them throughout the semester? I ‘m going to teach them the answers, so that when they get the final exam, they get As. You see, life is all about getting As, not some stupid normal distribution curve’
“What a great philosophy” said Jud.
“It is” said Nancy. “He impacted my leadership perspective significantly. Do you two go out and hire losers? Do you go around saying “we lost some of our losers last year, so let’s go out and hire some new ones to fill those low slots?”
“I sure hope we don’t!” said Terri. “I like to think we go out and hire either winners or potential winners. Potential winners are people we think can be winners if they’re coached in the right way”.
“So you don’t hire people to fit a normal distribution curve, do you? Said Nancy
“Absolutely not” said Terri
“So you want to be careful not to fall into that trap, whether officially or unofficially” continued Nancy. “So often managers think of their jobs as judging, evaluation, and criticising their people. What it really is about is helping, cheerleading and supporting their efforts”
“Giving people the final exam ahead of time is equivalent to performance planning. Now they know exactly what is expected of them. Teaching people the answers is what day-to-day coaching is all about. If you see somebody doing something right, you give them an ‘atta boy’ or ‘atta girl’. If they do something wrong, you just say ‘wrong answer. What do you think would be the right answer?” In another words, you redirect them. And at the end of the performance period, giving people the same ‘exam’ you gave them at the beginning of the ‘semester’ makes the performance evaluation more effective”
“So you are saying there should be no surprises at an annual or semi-annual performance evaluation” said Jud.
“That’s exactly what I am saying!” said Nancy.
“Everyone should know what the test is going to be, and that they are going to get help throughout the year to achieve a high score. When you have a forced rating system where a certain percentage of your people have to lose, you lose everyone’s trust. Now all they are concerned about is looking out for number one”
So, if you want our people to soar like eagles and take care of our customers, we have to create an environment where they can win – where they know that we’re on their side – so they will be empowered to act like they own the place”
Leadership that emphasizes judgement, criticism and evaluation of employee is a relic of the past. Effective leadership is about treating people the right way by providing the direction and encouragement they need to be the best. If you help your people get A’s, then you have a performance management system that will ignite them to blow your customers away. They feel good about themselves and want to return the favour to others.