Archive for June 2014

Cognitive Abilities More Important Now Than Ever

June 30, 2014

We all have varying degrees of steadiness.  Some of us are focused, unyielding, and undeterred by distractions.  Some of us are flexible, multi-tasked, and enjoy distractions.  Some of us are a little of both.

How does the ubiquity of technological distractions today impact our ability to be productive?  How do the super-steady types avoid getting frustrated with all the interruptions?  And how do the easily distracted types garner enough focus to finish anything?

The answer is: we adapt to the situation for short periods of time.  Our ability to adapt is largely a function of our cognitive abilities.  We must continuously adjust our natural style and what feels comfortable to either block out the interruption or respond to it.  Those with strong cognitive abilities are likely to be most successful in today’s work environment.

Are your direct reports developing their cognitive abilities?  Are you screening new-hire candidates for their thinking?  Empower your direct reports to focus on their critical thinking skills and they will be successful.

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Be Prepared For Your Direct Report’s Graduation

June 23, 2014

This is the time of year we celebrate school graduations.  All students embark on their studies with the expectation that some day they will be moving on to another life experience.  In some way, your direct reports have the same expectation.  How prepared are you for your direct report’s “graduation?”

One of the best practices for preparing for the departure of a direct report is to cross-train other team members on key job functions.  Delegate the identification, documentation, and training of these important activities to your direct reports. Challenge them to implement effective backup procedures and test how well they work when they are on vacation.  This gives the leader peace of mind that the job will be covered when the incumbent moves on.

Empower your direct reports to cross-train each other and your group will still be successful when a key member “graduates.”

Seek Stakeholder Input When Defining A Job

June 16, 2014

Most parents know the best way to get their kid’s buy-in on family decisions is to have the kids be a part of the decision making process.  We have one colleague who was dreading a family vacation with his two teenagers.  Instead of he and his wife planning the trip, he had his son and daughter plan several of the activities.  The family ended up having one of their best vacations.  Getting group input when putting together jobs is helpful, too.

Whether you are defining jobs using a traditional job description or an Accountability Matrix (our recommendation), you’ll want to get input from people who interact with the individual in the job when outlining the key requirements.

The supervisor and/or HR are generally responsible for defining the requirements for a job.  Soliciting input from those closest to the job, or those impacted by how well the job is performed provides several important advantages:

  • the people working closely with the job know whether it’s being done correctly or not — often because it impacts their work;
  • gaining input from these stakeholders helps create more robust success factors for the job;
  • consulting the stakeholders creates a commitment from them to the individual in the job to succeed since they had a hand in defining it;
  • when coupled with a disciplined selection process, the learning curve is shortened because involved co-workers aren’t just waiting for the new hire to fail.

Just imagine the support felt by a new hire!

Empower hiring managers to ask for input from a job’s stakeholders when defining their direct report’s jobs and they will experience more success.

Great Leaders Still Make Mistakes

June 9, 2014

At the beginning of our leadership workshop, we have an exercise where the participants are asked to list the characteristics of both great and poor leaders.  The poor leader list usually has characteristics like: controlling, demeaning, power hungry, credit thief, selfish, and mean.  The great leader list generally includes: empowering, provides feedback, humble, team oriented, approachable, and shares information.

When we ask the participants if great leaders have demonstrated any of the poor leader characteristics, the response is “of course, they’re not perfect.”  They are still recognized as being great leaders because they continually work hard at being great leaders — setting high expectations for themselves and others. Jeff Bezos has received several awards in recognition of being one of the great business leaders of our time, but even he has been known to slip up in his delivery of feedback.  Here are some of his less than perfect comments as recounted by Brad Stone in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon:

  • “If that’s our plan, I don’t like our plan.”
  • “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
  • “Are you trying to take credit for something you had nothing to do with?”
  • “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
  • “I trust you to run world-class operations and this is another example of how you are letting me down.”
  • “If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself.”
  • “Does it surprises you that you don’t know the answer to that question?”
  • [After someone presented a proposal] “We need to apply some human intelligence to this problem.”
  • [After reading a narrative] “This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team?”

Although great leaders most often demonstrate effective leadership behaviors, they do make mistakes.  But what makes them great is they quickly admit their mistake, sincerely acknowledge the misstep, and move on.

Empower your leaders to admit their mistakes and you’ll develop more successful leaders.

Is It Time To Abandon Annual Performance Appraisals?

June 2, 2014

Almost everyone agrees annual performance appraisals are an ineffective means of accelerating performance.  However, most organizations have an annual performance appraisal process and refuse to consider alternatives; another one of those “we’ve always done it this way” talent processes.  One of the first documented performance appraisal processes was from the 3rd century Chinese Wei dynasty.  They used a nine rank system by which officers were categorized based on their abilities.  The eighteen hundred year old formant looks remarkably like many performance appraisal forms we see today.

In addition to the traditional reasons for abandoning annual performance appraisals (waste of time, ineffective, inflated scores), there are several recently developed arguments:

  • neuroscience advances have shown annual performance appraisals actually cause diminished brain functioning
  • the new generation of workers expect immediate feedback
  • widespread team and matrix leadership methods are a poor fit for the annual performance appraisal process

Fortunately, companies are moving away from annual performance appraisals.  From 2011 to 2012, the number of HR managers reporting abandoning annual performance appraisals tripled.  Many of those organizations are moving to informal quarterly performance reviews using a single summary sheet focused on a handful of forward-looking goals, past achievements, and has no numbers or ratings.

Empower your leaders to abandon annual performance appraisals in favor of quarterly performance reviews and you’ll have more successful talent acceleration.