Monthly Archives: January 2012

Starting Well in a New Executive Leadership Role: Advice from a Seasoned Division Executive

Stepping into any new leadership role can be a challenge, but especially so if it involves moving from a manager role to a leadership position that involves oversight of multiple managers and functions. In discussing this recently with a seasoned executive who is responsible for a division of a large, publicly held company, he gave the advice outlined below. He indicated that in his years developing the leaders, these three issues emerge repetitively. He encouraged new executives to use these three things as a starting point in order to save themselves a great deal of heartache later on.

Manage Your Time

  1. If the new executive has been in a Director’s role prior to their promotion, it is important that they quickly recognize the difference in the roles. The Director position is oriented more toward service than toward management and organizational leadership. The new executive will do well to recognize this quickly and adjust their time and priority management practices accordingly.
  2. E.g. A Controller is expected to assist other departments with understanding their financial statements, Departmental Operations Reports, etc. In their efforts to become a “good” leader, many transitioning, first time CFO’s implement a 24/7 “Open Door” policy. Additionally, when a problem arises they quickly accept the “monkey” that gets passed to them, working to resolve it themselves. As a result many new executives become overwhelmed, and resort to working long hours trying to get their portion of the job done, all of which ends up affecting personal and home life.
  3. Here are a couple of things that have helped new executives be more effective: First, find ways to create blocks of time where you can work on projects without interruption. Many have found that arriving early and blocking the morning is best. Then they can keep the afternoon open and more flexible to interact with their department leaders and others in the hospital. Second, when a problem is brought to you by a department head or someone else, it is important that you see yourself more as a developer of people, than an expert problem solver. The question that must be asked is, “Is this a monkey that I should take on?” or “Is this an opportunity for me to teach and help someone else become a better problem solver?’ More often than not, giving it back to them, while teaching them new skills or perspectives, will be a better solution for both of you in the long run.

Establish Priorities

  1. You can’t do it all of it at once. You must establish priorities, break down the work, plan the work, and work the plan.
  2. One idea is to list out the top 25 projects that need to be performed in your new role, rank them and then focus on the top 5 without putting effort into 6 through 25.
  3. Once #1 is completed, #6 moves to #5 and so on.

Establish Performance Standards and Evaluate Staff early in your Transition

  1. This may be the most important and the most difficult skill to develop and implement. Many leaders, new and older, get into hot water because they fail to do these two things and do them early on in their transition
  2. This may well be Priority 1, because having, or failing to address a poor performer on your team will create more problems than solutions. It’s not fair to you, the team member or others in the organization if they are continue to perform below expectation.
  3. It is important to establish the new performance standards early on. Then set the expectations with the employee and give them an action plan to improve their performance. If they cannot perform the job, determine if they are suited to be in another part of the organization.
  4. If not, then it is better that they move on. Termination is never to be taken lightly and respect should be shown through the entire process. However, in the long run, building the right team and establishing the right performance standards in the organization can and will take the organization to another level.

He concludes by saying what you all may have been thinking as you read this. “This is not rocket science.” He also said that in his experience, these are the three most overlooked strategies by new executives. They become more difficult to implement after the new leader is well into their new role, and if neglected, often lead to derailment.

Employee Engagement on the Front Lines

The idea of Employee Engagement is hardly just another business buzz word or fad to jump on. I have been doing a lot research and training on various aspects of employee engagement lately. Organizations have done everything from Executive Assessments and Coaching to full-on training programs on everything from Emotional Intelligence and Hiring Right, to Performance Management and Conflict Resolution, in an effort to develop leaders who can help people make their greatest contributions for the best outcomes for their companies. The problem with these efforts is that there are seldom enough resources for every manager to participate in the training efforts. This is unfortunate, especially since the least trained may be making the greatest impact.

Buckingham and Coffman, in First Break All the Rules, provides some of the best research on employee engagement, when they tied it directly to improvements in retention, productivity, profits and customer satisfaction. They boiled their research down to 12 questions, when answered affirmatively, will make significant improvement in these result areas. They went on to show that the KEY to getting positive answers on those 12 questions lies directly in the hands of our front line managers. Unfortunately, these are often the leaders who get the least amount of a company’s investment in leadership development. We spend a great deal more time and money developing the more senior level leaders, hoping for a “trickle down” effect. I say “hoping’ because I am not sure we actually show these senior leaders how to effectively coach their managers to develop these skills. However, since it is this Senior Leadership Group who can make the most impact by stepping up to their role as coach, what are a few, low cost things they can do to coach their managers in the development of the skills required to engage employees? Here are a few ideas:

You might go ahead and get the book mentioned above and have your managers become familiar with the research. Review this research as a part of your regular manager’s meetings. , Make commitments to improve, hold one another accountable for their commitments, and discuss mutual successes and failures.

Incorporate similar questions into an employee satisfaction survey to get a check on how your managers are doing.

Review their surveys with them and help them come up with new ways to respond to the more challenging situations.

Teach your managers how to set clear expectations, how to evaluate their staff against these expectations, and how to help their staff improve or find another place to work.

Teach them how to do this while preserving respect and dignity throughout the process.

Then measure these results against the four outcome areas mentioned in the research to see how well you’re doing.

Teach managers how to create a psychologically safe working environment where everyone can grow, develop, contribute and make a difference. Without this safety it is impossible to get people’s best ideas and efforts for improvement. What does it mean to be psychologically safe? It means to create an environment where it is okay to:· Ask Questions, But few do, because they don’t want to look stupid.· Ask for Feedback, But many don’t, because they don’t want to look incompetent.· Make Suggestions, But some don’t, because they don’t want to be disruptive.· Criticize Processes, But too many don’t, because they don’t want to be negative

Teach them how to help their employees feel genuinely appreciated. Few things seem to matter more to employees. The single highest driver of employee engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson is whether or not workers feel their manager is genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Fewer than 40 percent of workers believed this to be the case in their current workplace.

Without appreciation we often feel at risk. When we feel at risk we become preoccupied, worried and threatened, all which drains and diverts our energy from making a significant contribution.

Teach them how to create a culture of positive feedback. The impact of negative emotions, and more specifically, the feeling of being devalued are incredibly toxic. In the workplace itself, researcher Marcial Losada found that among high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. By contrast, low-performing teams have a ratio of .36 to 1.

The only way a positive culture combined with a high performing team can occur is when everyone is confident that each team member is focused on achieving a common result. When team members are focused on results, they can have open dialogues, even conflict, as long as they know the conflict and disagreements are about getting better results, and not about personalities. When a team is focused on the “What” or the results, the “Who” becomes less of an issue. They can find ways to acknowledge one another’s contributions, constructively criticize the process rather than the person, and remain focused on continuous improvement.

When the results start to improve so does the focus and energy levels. And as the Chief Human Capital Officer at Netflix once told me, “Everyone wants to play on a winning team! It is even better than picnics and potlucks!” And that, my friends, is employee engagement!

Achieving the Impossible

I came across an article in Inc. Magazine that reminded me of how much difference a great leader can make. The four traits described in the article, Aspire, Plan, Inspire and Execute, sound somewhat benign on paper. However the stories referred to remind us of what occurs when great leaders step forward and bring these words to life. They remind us that Achieving the Impossible is truly possible.

I recall Don Soderquist, retired COO and Senior Vice Chairman of Wal-Mart giving a speech of a similar title at one of the company’s infamous “Year Beginning Meetings”. I had attended a lot of these meetings over several years association with Wal-Mart. I had heard such speakers as Sam Walton, himself, General Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, but none quite so inspirational as this one.

By this time in the company’s history, Wal-Mart had already achieved the impossible. They had grown to become the largest retailer in the world from their humble beginnings in Bentonville, Arkansas, all while never leaving the this little town or their roots. They had just ventured into the grocery business and into international expansion. What was left? How could they achieve any more? Was there truly anymore to achieve? Then Don steps up and tells several stories, including those about Roger Banister, President Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon and a horse called Secretariat all accomplishing feats that had before been viewed as impossible. He went on to describe how, that once a hurdle of the impossible had been crossed, others went on to achieve similar feats. He rested on the point that it took leadership with all the traits described above for this to happen. I can say with confidence, having worked with him through those years at Wal-Mart and more closely at the Soderquist Center, that Don is a leader who embodied these traits, and was an essential contributor to the success Wal-Mart achieved over the 20 plus years he was there.

Some personal take aways from these reflections:

  1. Keep on dreaming
  2. Take Courage
  3. Share the vision
  4. Inspire others to join you on your quest
  5. Help them believe they too can achieve more than they dreamed possible
  6. Give them the credit
  7. Share the rewards
  8. Keep on raising the bar – it inspires the human spirit

The people you work with can and will accomplish more than you or they ever dreamed possible if their leader confidently believes in a vision and in the capability of their people to rise to the challenge to accomplish it.

On a side note: If ever there was a message our nation needed to hear today, this is it. I am concerned that our nation’s leaders are losing sight of and faith in the human spirit and our need for inspirational, visionary leadership, and are prepared to lead us into mediocrity. Let’s make sure that never happens! At least not in the pocket of the world in which you lead.