When unwanted attrition happens, the usual reaction is, “Why? Where are they going?” Most organizations use the exit interview to answer these questions. An HR professional meets with the departing person and attempts to learn the good, bad and ugly about why they are leaving. Unfulfilled promises and hopes are revealed as the interviewer shrinks in chagrin, wishing this critical information had been discovered sooner.
If the departing talent is senior in the firm, or in a key role, the departure interview will be shared with the company’s top executives and board of directors. Here the “why” questions intensify. The board will pepper the CEO and chief human resource officer with questions such as, “What were the warning signs? Why weren’t they heeded? What have we learned from this terrible loss? Are we at risk with others? How do we prevent this from happening again?”
These are precisely the right questions to ask. But why wait for the loss to happen, or even the threat of loss to appear, to know the answers?
We know that the millennial generation will be employed by an average of six different companies during their working lives. We also know that they are extremely connected. LinkedIn and Facebook constantly push information on new/available opportunities to subscribers, so one doesn’t even have to seek new opportunities or wait for a recruiter’s call. These vehicles also enable departing employees to stay in touch with their former colleagues, independent of communication vehicles that touch the employer. Alumni networks of former employers, colleges and professional associations are powerful magnets pulling on the brightest and best talent, all the time.
So how do company leaders stay in tune with what’s really happening with their brightest and best? How can they really know what their star talent is feeling or what might cause them to leave?
It’s easier than you think. Engagement surveys are not the answer, although they can be barometers of company culture and leadership. The best way to know how your employees are feeling is to simply ask them in a one-on-one conversation. Ask the same questions you’d use in an exit interview — but don’t wait until they leave to do so!
One of the many gifts of the millennial generation is their comfort level with directness and transparency. They are straight shooters with one another and value when they receive it from others. Just ask them the questions you want to know. And tell them directly how much you and the company value them.
And don’t assume they know what growth potential exists for them in your organization. For most millennials, advancement within companies happens too slowly, in contrast to their expectations.
This is all the more reason why executives and senior HR leaders need to budget time by having direct, crucial conversations that yield immediate understanding of what matters most to these key employees — and that conveys clearly how much they are valued/appreciated, and what their future can be within the current company.
What are the most effective tools for preventing the unwanted loss of our brightest and best talent? They lie in our leadership behaviors. Don’t wait for an exit interview to know why your top talent is leaving.
Instead, have those crucial conversations early enough to discover how to prevent the departures from ever happening.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc., co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit www.clg.com.
I grew up in the Northeast, where the year had two seasons: winter and construction. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we have five seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer and a fifth I have come to know as repainting the lines. Repainting the lines comes as predictably as the other seasons, and it happens every August, just before children head back to school.
You can see the fifth season everywhere: workers wearing neon vests, orange cones and bright floodlights highlighting workspaces at night when traffic is lightest. The season disappears as quickly as it comes, leaving crisp center lines down the middle of the road, “fog lines” along the edges, crosswalks clearly drawn and parking spaces neatly marked. White and yellow paint, perfectly applied, all to prompt the desired behaviors of drivers.
We have our corporate seasons, too: planning and reviews of strategy, capital, operating expense, succession, talent and performance. They happen predictably no matter who is in the leadership chair.
But do businesses have a season where the lines routinely get repainted? Should they?
Boundary lines are multipurpose
In companies, lines that are regularly repainted are highly visible to employees and customers alike. They remind everyone what your company stands for and what the boundaries of desired behavior look like.
You might assume that everyone knows where these lines are, even if they are faded or invisible. You want to believe that centerlines are never crossed, crosswalks are honored and parking lines are respected. But in reality, what is not visible to people does not influence behavior. More often than not, the absence of clear lines leads to inconsistency, confusion and even chaos.
As a leader, it is your job to ensure lines of importance are repainted regularly. They are needed to prompt and guide the right behaviors — and clarify when unwanted behaviors occur. The business performance will never be advanced by higher-order work if the basics are not happening well on a consistent basis.
Include in your communications examples of compliance/non-compliance and the impacts on the business. Quote customer feedback so people are reminded what is valued and not. Or take actions that engage people even more, such as asking your employees to specify or renew the company’s core values and behaviors that underlie business success and definition of the brand.
It’s all about execution
Every game, including that of business, is won or lost on execution. Execution is often a lot less glamorous than strategy development, and often feels about as rewarding as painting lines on roadways — but those lines of execution define your culture and your brand, and are critical to getting the right base behaviors that ultimately determine the performance of your business.
You may be the most visible line painter in your company, but know there are others who, day-in and day-out, have to follow those lines to enable everything else to happen. They are the people who check valves, tighten screws, review orders and inspect products. They match orders with invoices for correct billing and ensure service contracts are renewed.
They are the people whose actions must stay within the lines, day-in and day-out, doing the basics reliably, in order for your enterprise to perform well. Is it time to repaint the lines in your company? ●
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. coauthor of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.clg.com.
As parents, we are vigilant about our children’s choice of friends. We are rightly concerned with peer influence on our daughters and sons alike, and we go to great lengths to ensure that certain people are either “in” or “out” of our children’s lives.
We know our kids will be judged in part by whom they hang with, and we know their peer group will strongly influence their attitudes and behaviors. So it is extremely important that such influences on our children and their future are healthy, honest, hardworking and so on. It’s an agenda we parents never let go of.
Yet curiously, as leaders, we seem to relax that vigilance when it comes to whom we surround ourselves with at work. This is especially true the longer we are in a job or with a company.
New employees use the caliber of the people as a key criterion in deciding whether or not to sign on, but that standard nearly disappears as time goes on.
Employees are retained, bonuses are paid and promotions are given — often based solely on whether short-term business results are delivered. Concern for how employees get those results is increasingly discussed in talent reviews, but in practice, the how still gets trumped by simply achieving short-term results.
Leaders increasingly tolerate aberrations in behavior in themselves and others, under the rubric of “what is best for the business …” “what it takes to get the business …” “what we must sacrifice to deliver the business …” — and this is a very slippery slope.
Before you know it, you find yourself confronted by issues of ethics, accounting adjustments, product quality and contamination issues, workplace injuries, abuse of company property, etc. Not to mention facing unwanted attrition of the “good guys” who see the situation clearly and vote with their feet.
What’s essential for success?
A few years ago, I co-authored a study of more than two-dozen sitting CEOs of top global companies. We interviewed them to identify qualities they saw as essential for success. These CEOs reported six qualities that were most necessary and most contributory to their success:
3. Intellectual curiosity and
5. Self-awareness and humility
6. Dispassionate compassion
Underlying each of these qualities is recognition that who and how matter a lot. Great companies with sustainable high levels of performance are about far more than just business results. These companies are about people at all levels who are dedicated to their organization’s mission, who are aligned and intentional in their actions, and who model behaviors consistent with the company’s moral fabric.
They seem to understand, better than most, that tolerance of behavior that is inconsistent with those six qualities sends strong, undesirable signals to the rest of the company that, as long as you deliver results, the rest doesn’t matter.
What is incredibly oxygenating is that, as with our children, surrounding ourselves and populating our companies with the right people — those who lean in to their work and who model high integrity, courage, resilience, self-awareness, and humility — creates a magnet for more like them.
People want to be a part of a winning culture and a winning team. They want to be proud, not just of what they did, but also of who they did it with, and how. We must never forget this. Who you surround yourself with still tells the world a lot about you. Just ask your parents.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH, is co-founder of CLG Inc., coauthor of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew,” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits: Developing Leadership Behavior That Drives Profitability in Your Organization.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. Reach her at (412) 269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit, www.clg.com.
Someone once told me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” When I became a mom, I realized that is one of the most truthful statements ever. When one of my children is sick or miserable, it’s impossible for me to focus and be 100 percent right with the world.
I have observed the same phenomenon with teams. Much is written about what high-performing teams look like: they communicate well, they are aligned, they are clear on their purpose and success metrics; and they hold themselves accountable.
However, rarely is it acknowledged that a team is only as effective as its least effective member. It’s like a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A team cannot realize its full potential if one member is unhappy, working against the team’s vision and efforts, or is behaving inconsistently with what the company is trying to instill in its culture.
The multiplier effect
In mathematical terms, a team’s divisor should be one. The team is as good as it is, not compromised by any single variable. And, when the team is really rocking, there is a multiplier effect that makes its value greater than it otherwise should be. The multiplier comes when teams are hitting on all cylinders and become greater than the sum of the individuals.
However, a non-contributing team member — or worse, one who works against the grain of the team — is like having a divisor greater than one. This diminishes the size of the end product, no matter how large the starting number is. The team will always be less than what it could be.
This weakening of potential can manifest itself strategically, operationally or culturally.
Strategically, it shows up as a leader not supporting enterprise initiatives, not putting the best talent on companywide efforts that will drive major changes, or focusing on a single vertical at the expense of other verticals or the enterprise as a whole.
Operationally, it shows up as a leader running the business in a way that dishonors agreed-to strategies and priorities, or engages in practices that do not support company policy or commitments, or making decisions that favor the local to the detriment of the whole.
Culturally or behaviorally, we see things like not speaking up in meetings on important topics for which they have relevant input, or making/implementing decisions without gathering input from key stakeholders, or behaving in ways that don’t align with the company’s stated values.
Poorly functioning teams a hazard
The ongoing cost of a poorly functioning team can be high. So what can you do about an ineffective team member?
Always start by making the person aware of the effect that his/her actions are having on the rest of the team and the company — and do it in a way that enables learning on both sides. There may be factors not apparent to others that are causing the team member’s behavior.
The conversation must be about listening as well as telling. Feedback should be given by the person’s boss, a senior HR person, or an outside adviser who may be hired to do a 360 assessment. It is important that the dialogue be constructive to enable a more productive future.
If the feedback changes the behavior, that is wonderful. But if not, then ultimately you have to decide whether this individual’s value outweighs his/her cost. If you can’t change the person’s behavior, your behavior may be to change the person.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her team help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.
As businesspeople and business leaders, we have full plates. Whether it’s balancing work, home, community, social obligations, aggressive business targets, strategic initiatives to sponsor/support/implement, unwelcome external influences, or customers expecting more for less, prioritizing all of that can be a daunting challenge.
Prioritize and focus are the business vernacular terms we always hear. We smile grimly, mutter “uh huh,” and return to our overwhelming pressure cooker without changing a thing about what we do or how we are approaching our work.
But those words really are the key to managing our crazy world of over-commitment and under-capacity — when combined with two more words: critical few. Prioritizing and focusing on the critical few results, products and people who truly matter more than others is job No. 1 for executives.
How to look at it
The facts: You have a critical few customers, without whom your business would dramatically suffer. Ensure that your organization serves those customers disproportionately well. That does not mean ignore the others; ideally, all customers would be served flawlessly.
You have a critical few products/offerings that make up the 80 percent in the 80/20 of your business. Ensure you get them flawlessly right. Your brand is set by those core products or services. If you get it wrong there, the rest may not matter.
You have a critical few employees/direct reports who play a disproportionately impactful role in the success of your business. Your time should reflect that understanding. It doesn’t mean ignore everyone else; it simply means that you cannot leave to chance that your key people are sufficiently directed, motivated, feeling challenged by their work and appreciated.
They are people you can build the rest of the organization around. You’ve got to get it right with these folks above all others and then rely on their help to reinforce and motivate the rest of the organization.
Optimize and organize
So clearly, identifying your critical few customers, products and people is job No. 1 for results. How do you optimize your short list of the critical few? Simply answer these three questions:
? What are the critical business results you need to deliver?
? Who are the key performers who will deliver those results?
? What are the critical few behaviors that your key performers must do?
That reads like common sense, and it is. But achieving it isn’t so simple.
Don’t forget reliability
You know your critical results and key performers right now, but what about those all-important critical few behaviors that people must do to make it work? If people don’t do the right things, you won’t get results.
Many initiatives are designed to get those critical few behaviors to occur — behaviors that we think should automatically happen, but they don’t. How do we get people to do the right things reliably?
It’s not about making people happier at work. Many happy workplaces go belly-up. It’s easy to be distracted by things that create fun and do little to improve performance.
It comes down to (1) pinpointing those actions, which if performed reliably, will move the needle for your organization and (2) ensuring there are reinforcing consequences for those critical few behaviors and corrective consequences for behaviors inconsistent with what you need. That alignment is necessary, and it is often overlooked.
So in a nutshell: Ensure focus on the critical few results, people and behaviors. Don’t allow yourself or your organization to be distracted. Without the critical few happening well, you will spend many more hours fixing things than growing your business. ?
One of the patterns I often see are highly talented employees who plunge from being the likely successor to the CEO, the company’s best salesperson or the best hire ever made (aka: the hero) to being questioned whether they have what it takes to remain in the company (aka: the dog).
How does this happen? How can employees who earn such superlatives bottom-out? Can they really be so great and then become so terrible? Were their initial contributions and potential misread or overstated? How can someone plummet from “Second Coming” to “How do we move him or her out?” And why does this happen so often?
When I see this hero-to-dog pattern, I attribute it to three not-so-obvious factors.
Losing your perspective
When a person is selected for a new job, we often see very high levels of performance and potential. We see them doing things we’ve long wanted, at a level we only dreamed about. We attribute all kinds of greatness and possibility to the individual.
However, this may actually be more illustrative of the low baseline they started with. If we become accustomed to an underperforming incumbent, the new hire seems super human by comparison.
You have to set clear criteria for what you expect a fully performing person in the role to look like. Measure the person in the new role against these criteria, not against the predecessor.
You may find you finally have a strongly performing person in the role, doing a great job. That’s what you hired for. By all means, recognize and reward their impressive performance, but don’t exaggerate their incredibleness until you are sure they are truly exceeding expectations.
As executives, our business success depends on the performance of our leaders and key performers. We can’t win with mediocre performers, and we can’t succeed unless our key performers do.
Therefore, although we hate to admit it, we would gladly welcome a person to come along and save the day. Consequently, we often overstate and overinflate greatness from a high performer. We are so hopeful that we start believing that one person can actually save the day.
Don’t burden a high performer with your desire for someone to save the day. Praise and reward the person’s great performance, but don’t allow yourself to believe you are seeing anything other than high achievement by a hardworking person with high standards of excellence.
Reading too much into the start, not the finish
Running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace will burn out the runner before the finish line. A new person may overachieve early, looking like the greatest hero to walk the earth. However, the pace may not be sustainable and holding the person up as an example of best ever only makes the fall harder.
Starting great is extremely important, but finishing greater is what really matters. You want to help sprinters run their best times but at a pace they can sustain to the finish line. Don’t decide the really strong athlete is Olympic material until they win a few races. Better they are noticed for how they finished, in addition to how they left the gate.
Your credibility with the board and the organization can be harmed significantly when a hero-dog situation occurs or, worse, becomes a pattern. Your judgment of people will be questioned and trust will be weakened.
Remember: Keep perspective and skip the superlatives. Success comes from hardworking people, engaging in the right behaviors, sustained over long periods of time. Don’t be lured into believing otherwise. ?
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board members are chosen intentionally for their experience, functional expertise and potential to add measurable value. But not all board members are created equal.
Often, impressive experience comes with little knowledge of the company’s industry, competition or market dynamics.
Sometimes members might possess industry content expertise but have no experience with a for-profit/publicly traded company. They bring the passion but not the necessary sense of accountability to shareholders by which for-profit companies live and die.
Look for hidden costs
A board is essential for good corporate governance. However, boards can bring many nonvalue-adding costs that are hidden beneath their dynamics and interplays. These costs often sacrifice the realization of maximum benefit.
An example is the complex dynamics among members or between the chairman and CEO that lead to much off-line conversation, churning and defensiveness — or, worst of all, rocked confidence of the CEO or his team to act boldly in the best interest of the company.
Another example is time wasted while these members attempt to outdo others with positions and comments that do not advance the business of the company.
Yet another cost is staff time spent in preparing special reports or analyses that less-informed board members are “just wondering about.” These requests can tie up human capital for days and days. Such board requests from members who are “just curious” — or worse, who want to escalate their pet issues to center stage — divert the efforts of key management teams and staff from solving the real issues of the business.
Thankfully, solid board members often try to offset the behavior of such peers — but that is a time and energy drainer for the “good guys who try to do the right thing.”
The makeup gives a clue
I often contemplate these questions: Do ineffective board members know who they are and do they care? Do they come from environments that value being difficult for no reason? Do they somehow think that behaving in a belligerent manner is what board members are supposed to do?
Some encouraging news is that we increasingly see board members who are sitting CEOs or executives of other companies. In our experience, they make the very best board members. They are deeply immersed in the real world and active in the trenches of business today, so they better understand the marketplace dynamics of the season.
They participate on the board to learn and grow to further their own careers versus just seeking income. Their challenges tend to be issues-based versus people-based. They are sensitive to the time constraints of the CEO and management team because they live in a similar world, so they tend not to ask for unnecessary reports or additional work.
Good board members have no peer
There is no substitute for the board members who do their homework prior to the meetings, get along well with others, challenge issues versus people and are always clear about two things: What problem am I trying to help solve with my requests and comments? And have I behaved constructively and added value to this management team through my comments and questions?
Never rush into a board member selection until you are very sure about how this prospective member has behaved in similar settings.
The hidden and often not-so-hidden costs of an ineffective board member can be incredibly detrimental to the company, the board and the management team. ?
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG adviser colleagues work with boards, board chairs and CEOs to improve their effectiveness. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or email@example.com
One of the toughest transitions for any organization is succeeding the founders. “Founders” could mean those who started the company, those who created a visionary product, those who worked tirelessly to prove a new concept or those who gave birth to a corporate initiative that transformed the organization.
Regardless of whether it’s the entrepreneurial brains and energy behind starting a company or the creative ideas of an exceptional employee or team, making the handoff between initiator and executor is pivotal — and very difficult to do well. Just ask any venture capitalist what worries him or her the most about his or her investment. Or ask any CEO of a large company why he or she suffered through failed product introductions — or why the CEO is navigating the next program du jour.
What is it that makes the handoff so perilous?
The short answer is the relentless sense of ownership by the founder, or founders, for ensuring success and all of the behaviors that go along with that. Those who give birth to something become intertwined with its success or failure. It is part of how the founders become defined and known and they work tirelessly and do whatever it takes.
But given that the ultimate success and sustainability in nearly all cases is achieved by nonfounders who implement the ideas, strategies or organizations they inherit, how can we improve the likelihood of the baton not being dropped in the handoff? Here are some proven ways that go beyond the obvious.
Ensure that the person hired to implement has passion for the cause. Even the most talented leader can’t fake “love” — and nearly all entrepreneurs are in love with their creation and will do whatever it takes to ensure its success.
Often it is the passion and energy of the leader that infects others inside and outside the organization with excitement and motivation to go above and beyond.
Ensure the successor has the skills and credibility to lead. Would you have a smoker implement your health and wellness strategy? Would a leader who drives a large SUV be your pick to lead a “go green” initiative?
A leader may have important skills, but if he or she lacks visible loyalty to “the cause,” employees will see that and be negatively impacted. There is no substitute for the leader walking the talk when no one’s looking.
Arrange for the new leader to receive mentoring from or continued access to the founder. Boundaries on both sides need to be respected, of course, but founders can provide invaluable history and counsel. They may be the one person who truly understands what that leadership role entails and uniquely help the new leader accordingly.
Require the successor to replicate before he or she innovates. Too often there is a rush to “put my stamp on everything.” But if it wasn’t broken when you got it, don’t break it — yet. Learn quickly by replicating what worked under the founder.
Then channel the observations, learnings and new capability to leapfrog the product/organization forward — benefiting from a base of deep understanding and infusion of new insights and capabilities.
Plan for succession from the outset. The biggest test of a start-up company or a new initiative comes when the founders move on. It is really successful only when it is led/championed by those who didn’t launch it.
So, don’t treat succession like it’s the elephant in the room. Treat it as though the future depends on it.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010) and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2007). Braksick advises top executives, their leadership teams and boards of directors on issues of strategy execution, leadership effectiveness and organizational performance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most organizations have elaborate systems for monitoring product inventory and product backlog. Small, medium and large companies alike rely on highly disciplined processes for forecasting and sales management to ensure that they do not create a backlog of excess inventory. Even the most junior business major knows that too much product inventory is a bad thing.
The “white collar” or executive version of “product inventory,” however, goes unmeasured, unmanaged, and even worse, unconsciously ignored. It creeps into an organization without any awareness that it is even happening or of the unintended impact it has.
The white collar version of product inventory — unmade decisions that rest at the feet of people in management positions — cost organizations far more than the worst overage of product inventory. They dominate thinking and conversations exponentially across an organization.
“What are we doing about X? Why aren’t we doing Y? When will we know which way we are going? What do I do until we know?” They soak up time and energy and they delay progress. They cause people to take intermittent actions that act as false starts, consume more resources than decisive actions would and keep people from moving important company matters forward.
People lower in the organization are forced to hedge by resourcing many options. Employees have learned they will be expected to move quickly when the decision is made, so to cover all possibilities, they do things, buy things and allocate resources to ensure they can cover all possible outcomes. Deferring an important decision has a costly impact that fails to ever appear on any budget line item.
At a time when speed, precision, prioritization, and informed choices should rise to the top of the list of management priorities so that limited capital can be best directed and leveraged, executives are becoming less decisive in their quest to keep all options open. They are forgetting one simple fact: doing nothing is doing something.
The failure to make a decision is in fact, making a decision. It’s making a decision not to act; not to boldly proceed in a particular direction. It conveys a lack of confidence, assurance, conviction and willpower. It’s making the decision that it’s OK to fake it, guess or wing it. It’s broadcasting to the entire organization that management is unsure which way to go.
Failure to act bold has led to the demise of more than one organization; think Kodak, Commodore or Swiss Air.
Don’t let that happen under your watch. Gather enough data, wisdom and insights in order to make informed decisions — even if it requires extra data analysis, time or resources. Involve people closest to the work/customer to help shed light on the situation. Do the necessary things to gain the clarity and confidence to decide and take action. Next, take the time to understand the pros and cons of various options and key steps to executing the strategy successfully.
It is well known that most failed strategies fail not because they were bad ideas, but because they were plans poorly executed. Effective strategy execution goes hand in hand with clarity of decision, communication, engagement and understanding the liabilities and what is critical to achieving success.
Lastly, make a schedule and set a deadline for when the decision must be made and stick to it. Nothing frustrates an organization like endlessly tabling an issue.
Don’t contribute to your organization’s management inventory. Take the extra steps needed so you can model timely and effective decision-making. The people lower in your organization want to do the right thing every day in every way. But they can’t do that without clarity of direction from their leaders and managers.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues help executives and their teams make timely decisions that matter to the success of their business. You can reach Leslie Braksick at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.
I have attended four funerals in three weeks. Each service, a “celebration of life,” was amazing. I am a better person for having known and loved these people — and for seeing their lives and accomplishments honored so beautifully by their families and friends.
A phrase I heard often from the adult children of each deceased was: “I just lost my biggest cheerleader.” They lost the person who never stopped reminding them of how good they were and the difference their actions were making in the lives of others. They lost the person who made certain they fully appreciated their special gifts and talents, the person who cheered when they succeeded and encouraged them when they failed. They lost the person in whose likeness they strove to be.
As I reflected on that phrase, I thought about the world of work — and the opportunity we have to be the biggest cheerleaders in our companies: leaders who genuinely encourage the best from our people. There are many employees who have lost their “biggest cheerleader” — or worse, may never have known one. We are surrounded by individuals who might be startled to have an authentic conversation with their boss about the difference their effort is making, the impact of their work on the company and others, and their potential to contribute even more.
The idea of “evaluating performance,” or comparing one person’s actions with another’s, precedes time itself. However, the introduction of formal performance review processes traces back to the era of Frederick Winslow Taylor when time and motion studies and quotas were the subject of the renowned first efficiency expert. And the use of performance reviews to motivate people or map out career/development plans is a far more recent concept — and arguably one most companies still don’t have quite right. (And if we think “cheerleading” happens well within our company’s “performance review system”, then we are all in trouble!)
I am not suggesting that we adopt a “cheerleading system of management.” But I continue to be struck by the power of positive reinforcement, in the form of praise, when it is received from someone who is trusted and respected. I continue to believe this is the single greatest, most underleveraged asset in most companies today. If “praise for good performance” were management’s product, I’d say we have a ton of inventory sitting around, warehoused without a plan to distribute it any time soon — and it is costing most companies, dearly.
We can choose to change that, so simply, by recognizing three things:
Praising great performance and offering caring, constructive feedback for less-than-great performance are premium products in every leader’s inventory. Don’t let them sit in the warehouse. Distribute them with a sincere heart.
Feedback is one of the world’s great natural resources, and it does not deplete. The more you give, the more you get back — and the more impact you will have. Catch people doing things right. Coach for improved performance, and recognize the impact of your sincere and caring words.
Be a genuine cheerleader for your organization. People want and treasure a sincere cheerleader — a leader who makes sure you know how good you are — and who lets you know when you need to try harder. Honesty and praise from a respected/trusted leader is worth its weight in gold.
Employees spend more time at work than they do at home. So as leaders, we can help them live richer lives through their work experience.
Down the road, when your life is celebrated, how affirming it would be if your employees remarked, “I just lost my biggest cheerleader.”
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues develop the capability of leaders to cheer the performance of their people, often and well. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.