shutterstock_108271331While a framework provides leaders with a plan and creates a sense of comfort, and tools supply data and a language for change, leaders still need to implement actions in order to transform their effectiveness. This is where strategies come in; within the Master Chef metaphor we’ve discussed in previous blogs, they are the equivalent of cooking methods such as steaming or frying.

In simple terms, there are five key strategies, framed below as shifts, which can help any leader be more effective:

  1. From content to context; leaders shift their focus from the day-to-day operational and technical detail of their world to creating a context for the success of others.
  2. From talking to walking; leaders shift from telling others what is required to showing them.
  3. From competing to collaborating; this shift involves moving from isolation, politics, and interpersonal conflict toward genuine relationships built on trust and a desire for mutual success.
  4. From guru to guide; leaders shift from providing answers to coaching others to find answers themselves.
  5. From critic to cheerleader; this final strategy involves moving from a focus on what is going wrong to what is going right.

While these five strategies are simple, they are not simplistic. For many leaders, the real challenge will not be learning new behaviors, but embracing the beliefs and assumptions that underpin these shifts; that people need purpose, trust, growth, care and sense of community to do their best work.

Just as chefs select from different utensils when creating a dish, business leaders have many tools at their disposal, including ones that profile or measure a range of attributes such as behavior, personality, values, strengths and thinking styles.

While any or all of these tools can be useful in a transformation effort, I have found in my research and practice that it is far more useful to profile leader’s impact than his or her personal attributes. That is, what’s most important, is how a leader encourages others to behave.

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For a tool to be truly useful in the context of transformation, of course it needs to be statistically valid and reliable, but also accessible; it must possess the substance required for credibility as well as the simplicity required for action. Additionally, a tool needs to establish a baseline measurement that allows leaders to see how they are being experienced by their most important stakeholders – one that allows for an “apples and apples” comparison at a point in the future. And that baseline needs to be set against the leaders’ own vision in their daily interactions.

That said, a great tool is no guarantee of success. To return to the Master Chef metaphor, an amateur chef cannot achieve the same precision with a utensil as someone who has honed his or her technique. Take experienced sushi chefs, who over many years have developed an artful application of their sushi knives. An amateur chef using the exact same knives is unlikely to replicate their results. They are also unlikely to have a full appreciation of how dangerous these tools can be when used with poor technique!

In recent times, cooking has been elevated to a social phenomenon and a marker of cultural sophistication. Prominent chefs like Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Nigella Lawson, and Anthony Bourdain have achieved global celebrity status through their TV shows, restaurants, books, and product endorsements. They exemplify how cooking has become something of a theatrical art form across both old and new media, and how cooks have become ‘Master Chefs’.

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The metaphor of Master Chef may be new to the realm of leadership, but it provides valuable insights into transformation. The Master Chef metaphor is about artfully applying leadership science – frameworks tools and strategies for change – in much the same way as a chef employs recipes, utensils and cooking methods to create a culinary experience. Over time, leaders can and should advance form amateur cook to Master Chef, using their skills with increasing creativity and flair and thus maximising their impact.

Whenever I ask leaders who have shown dramatic improvement in their effectiveness how they did it, I’m usually surprised by their answers. They will almost unanimously point to the frameworks, tools, and strategies we encouraged them to employ. Which is great, of course, but the reason I’m surprised is that there are many frameworks available for those seeking to make changes. The tools and strategies are everywhere, but case studies of transformation are relatively rare.

In exploring this seeming paradox, what has emerged for me is a far more nuanced and subtle appreciation of how it is the ‘artful application’ of frameworks, tools, and strategies that helps leaders transform their leadership and their organizations.

shutterstock_157267163When leaders openly declare their intention to change, their colleagues are more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt as they make their first, often clumsy steps down this path. And leaders who invite open feedback enlist a host of ‘coaches’ among their colleagues to help them align their impact on others with their noble intentions.

Most importantly, there is a consequence when leaders make a public commitment to change and invite others to hold them accountable; such a declaration creates an implicit expectation that team members will follow their lead and make a similar commitment. In effect, all team members become accountable to one another in their quest to become more effective leaders. In effect, the leader creates a Snowball of mutual accountability with themselves at the centre and their team compacted around them, all aligned to the same desire for increased leadership effectiveness.

Practically speaking, leaders become implicitly accountable to people under their direct authority. In so doing, they flip the traditional hierarchy and yield their positional power to standards that they and their team have agreed upon. While you might think this means the leader is relinquishing power and control, I have learned that in fact the leader acquires more power to lead the organization and elicits a genuine and personal commitment from everyone else to live up to those standards.

The notion of giving up power generally makes leaders uncomfortable, particularly those who rely on position and title to get things done. But in practice, the chain of command doesn’t actually change; subordinates will just aspire more willingly to the goals of the leader because they are being led by someone who is holding himself or herself accountable to the same high standards he or she is asking of them.

Remember the Road Runner cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote being swept up in ashutterstock_242443354 snowball as he careens down snow-covered mountain? That image might make you wonder what this metaphor could possibly have to do with leadership transformation. But it’s a simple way to understand how something small and potentially insignificant builds upon itself over time, thereby becoming large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable.

The metaphor of the Snowball describes a virtuous cycle of accountability that propels a change effort forward. It starts with the most senior leader, and builds momentum as others are swept up in the journey. There are two dominant themes of the Snowball metaphor; accountability and momentum.

A Snowball is a self-amplifying structure that feeds on itself and this process can manifest in a negative and a positive way, as a vicious or virtuous cycle. But alongside this cyclical motion, the Snowball also follows a linear trajectory down a mountain. The cyclical motion of the metaphor can help us to understand the mutually reinforcing cycle of accountability that develops between leaders and their subordinates when they engage together in a shared leadership agenda. The trajectory down the mountain allows us to explore the sense of momentum toward shared leadership goals, which seems to result from this mutual accountability.

 

shutterstock_367496936In the earlier stages of my consulting career, I didn’t probe too deeply into a leader’s personal motivation for change, partly because they didn’t offer it up easily, partly because I didn’t want to risk losing the big consulting gig with their organisation, and partly because I suspected it would emerge over time.

What I now understand is that respectfully probing into leaders’ personal ‘fire’ from the very first interaction is the surest way to create a foundation for the successful transformation of their organisation. What are they most afraid of? What keeps them awake at night? What does success look like for them, personally? What legacy do they want to leave?
If leaders are evasive or insincere in their answers to these questions, I now know the chance of them leading a successful transformation in their organisation is close to zero. If, however, leaders are open and authentic in their answers, then I know they have a great chance of success. Organisations don’t change, people do.

 

shutterstock_365174810It was management consultant Daryl Conner who first coined the concept of the burning platform, and Harvard professor John Kotter who popularized the idea as the critical prerequisite for successful change efforts. It derives from a real-life tragedy that occurred on July 6, 1988, on the Piper Alpha oil platform in the North Sea, when 167 men lost their lives.

One of the survivors of the catastrophe was Andy Mochan, a superintendent on the rig. Woken by a huge explosion, he ran up on deck to discover that the platform was engulfed in flames. He faced a choice: Stay on the platform and burn to death, or jump some hundred and fifty feet — approximately fifteen stories — into freezing cold water and hope to survive? He decided to jump. Somehow he survived the impact and was picked up by a rescue boat just before he would have frozen to death. When asked why he jumped, he replied, “Better probable death than certain death.”

The apparent application of this story to a business context is that fear and urgency are not only necessary but desirable motivators for change. But while a burning platform can spark leaders into action, my research and practice strongly suggest that a mindset of urgency and fear is not conducive to sustaining change over time.

In a world of burning platforms, there are many pyromaniacs. It is, in fact, a burning ambition — a strong desire driven motivation — that enables leaders to accelerate and sustain transformation efforts over time.

When was the last time you paused to reflect on what’s working for you, and what’s not?

The festive season offers us the opportunity to press ‘pause’ on our busy professional lives and reflect in a way that can be difficult at any other time of the year. If this sounds appealing to you, the goal of this blog is to help you get started with this important task, so that you can come back in the New Year with renewed clarity, insight and energy.

I use the word ‘pause’ very deliberately. Often, we can feel like we are stuck in a repetitive loop – a bit like Phil Connors, the Pittsburgh TV weatherman played by Bill Murray in Harold Ramis’s classic Groundhog Day (1993). At six o’clock every morning, Connors wakes up to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the radio, and to the dreaded realization that he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. He is trapped in Groundhog Day.

Like Bill Murray’s character, we sometimes don’t comprehend how we are perpetuating our own Groundhog Day through our actions and impact on others. We need the time, the space, and the reflective capabilities to plot a way out.

To get out of Groundhog Day, we must pause and reflect on our actions – a bit like visiting an editing suite to watch the movie of our professional life played back to us. From this more detached vantage point, we are more likely to see how our actions are helping or hindering us.

The really god news is that if we visit the editing suite often enough, we can eventually develop the capability to reflect in action – an ability possessed by every successful and happy leader I know. Have you ever had the experience of being in a conversation and also observing that conversation at the same time?  This is reflection in action – a heightened state of awareness that effectively slows our movie down. From this place of stillness, we can draw upon past learnings, insights and strategies to choose more effective actions – in real time.

If you would like to reflect this festive season on what’s working for you, and what’s not, you can start by watching the three minute animation below. Once you’ve done that, you can complete the ‘movie’ exercises on my Leadership Transformed portal, which is completely free to use.

The journey to increased leadership effectiveness starts with increased personal awareness. I hope this festive season proves prosperous for you on this journey.

As I highlighted in the blog on the inhibitors to better performance management systems, one reason it is so challenging and complex is because we are often trying to squeeze many competing needs into a single event. Most leaders accept that this approach is no longer helpful, but are unsure how to transition to a more useful approach. My recommended approach, contains four distinct but interrelated rhythms that add up to an effective approach.

Practice a four-phase drumbeat

Performance Management Coaching

Annual Goals

The individual sets a small number of big goals, that he or she feels will maximise their contribution and move their organization forward toward its aspirations. The manager and individual refine the goals together using the 5C™ and Autonomy-Accountability™ tests. Once the performance goals are agreed, have a conversation about one or two potential ‘blue goals’; goals the individual will not be held accountable for, but will encourage them to dream big. Discuss how the individual can model the standards of the organization, and agree the individual’s most important development opportunity for the next year, given their role and goals. Finish with a conversation about how each party can help the other to be successful, and establish expectations for the rhythm of conversations for the year. Following the meeting, document the key outcomes within ‘the system’ and ensure that the individual has absolute clarity of how performance will be measured, and how financial awards will be calculated and allocated.

Weekly and/or daily coaching

If you were a keen tennis player, and Roger Federer’s coach happened to be at your local court, you would likely not hesitate to ask for guidance or advice. In a corporate environment, however, coaching can induce fear, suspicion and defensiveness. Historically, coaching was primarily associated with remediating poor performance, though this stigma has diminished quite significantly over the past decade given most people now understand it as a crucial factor in personal growth, learning and ultimately, success.

Many fixate on developing the skills for coaching, and these are obviously useful, but there are three principles that are even more important:

  • Just make it part of how we do things around here. If it’s another normal and natural part of everyday life in your organization, any sensitivities or stigma will reduce substantially over time. It also reinforces the close connection between feedback and goal achievement
  • Engage in the moment. Treat every interaction as an opportunity for learning and growth.
  • Engage as you would with a friend. This simple shift in mindset encourages everyone to come from a place of care and support, rather than judgment.

Quarterly and/or Monthly Checkpoint

Given the annual review is likely about performance, accountability and career, we need a vehicle to build momentum and alignment towards those big outcomes. That vehicle is a structured checkpoint at monthly (or at least quarterly) intervals between the individual and their manager, based on a simple personal scorecard to guide the conversation. A personal scorecard is a quarterly view of the individual’s agreed goals, 2-3 key deliverables against each of those goals for the next quarter, why those deliverables are so important, and 2-3 behavioural shifts that the individual is committed to making in line with the company’s values. The goals and the behavioural shifts have a traffic light rating system, and all of this content is captured on one simple page (see format below).

Performance Management Scorecard Image

 

At least once a quarter, but ideally every month, the manager and individual do a quick review of the personal scorecard, led by the individual. The purpose is to build momentum towards the big annual goals, and to address gaps or changes in priority.

Quarterly (or at least bi-annually), team members share their scorecards with one another to look for gaps, overlaps and potential conflicts, and give each other feedback and suggestions for improvement. The purpose is to increase alignment and build mutual accountability.  Coaching and support amongst peers increases as a result.

Annual Review

The annual review is best used to confirm an individual’s performance, to confirm financial awards (unless you can separate this conversation), and to have a big picture conversation about career opportunities and progression. We use the word confirm very deliberately. If you have embedded the principles and rhythm recommended above, then the annual review will be a confirmation of your ongoing dialogue, based on a huge amount of data and information. Done well, it’s a meeting with very little new information or expectation, and therefore much less anxiety for everyone.

Conclusion

Mark Twain famously once said “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” and we have come to the same conclusion about performance management.

The frustrations that many experience with antiquated approaches to performance management are well founded, but to claim the solution is abandonment is simplistic and unhelpful. We will always need a way to enable people to set and achieve worthy goals that move the organisation forward, to have conversations about performance and receive feedback on progress, to shape careers, to identify under-performance, and to fairly distribute compensation and rewards.

Performance management is difficult to do well, but that is precisely why it’s worth doing. I hope this series of blogs will assist you on that journey.

Principles to Better Performance ManagementWhile the challenges are real and significant, there is much we can do to improve performance management; none of which involves blowing it up.

Improving the quality of performance management is best built on a foundation of acceptance; acceptance that there is no such thing as a perfect system, that it can never be completely scientific or objective, and that it will naturally be uncomfortable at times for all concerned.

With that acceptance as a foundation, I recommend nine principles that can dramatically improve both the experience and the results of performance management.

Implement 9 key principles

1. Shift ownership of the process to the individual.

Encourage the individual to self-set goals in line with the team’s overall measures of success. Encourage them to articulate why each goal is so critical. Given the many competing demands that all of us experience, we need a strong internal fire to achieve any big goal. If their fire isn’t strong enough, help them to pick another goal. One way to encourage individuals to stretch without fear, is to distinguish between black goals (on the hook) and blue goals (dreams they will strive for), knowing there is no downside for falling short. In a high trust environment, our experience is that individuals usually land between their black and blue goals – overachieving their targets, but with a greater sense of ownership and enjoyment.

2. Shift the manager’s role to be more of a coach.

Playing this role includes defining a clear picture of collective success, supporting the individual to define his or her unique contribution, providing a sense of meaning and significance for that contribution, providing regular feedback, support and correction on the path to that contribution, and being open to feedback from the individual on how to better support him or her to make the maximum contribution. Increasing the frequency and quality of feedback in this way, creates an environment where individuals are more likely to lean into growth opportunities.

3. Shift to a game you can win.

In order to see if an individual is set up for success, run two simple tests for each of their goals. The first is the 5C™ test; are they crystal Clear on what success looks like, possess or be able to develop the required Capability, have the Capacity, possess the required Commitment, and have the required Confidence? If the gaps are substantial, then chances are the goal is unachievable by this individual at this time. The second test is the Autonomy-Accountability See-Saw™ test: determine the level of autonomy they need in order to accept accountability for each goal. If the see-saw is out of balance, you have the potential for chaos on one end, or a lack of ownership on the other.   

4. Consider separating performance conversations, from the financial rewards conversation.

Even though performance and rewards should be closely linked, it can be psychologically helpful just to put a gap between these conversations. Doing so allows the individual and manager to better immerse in performance conversations, knowing that they will come to a financial discussion later.

5. Maximise collective rewards.

Individual achievement is rare without support from others – everyone knows this. The more that rewards are based on team performance, the more teamwork and collaboration you will experience in pursuit of your goals. Progressive organizations typically have a three-tiered bonus system, with organizational, team and individual components indexed to goal attainment.

6. Maximise the transparency of financial rewards upfront.

The best way to minimise the angst associated with the annual allocation of bonuses and salary movements is, as much as possible, to make this transparent at the start of the year. If everyone understands the variables, quantum and calculations that will be used to determine their pay and rewards at the end of the year, there will be a much greater sense of fairness, no matter what the result.

7. Turn your values into standards.

Many organizations now have company values as part of their formal performance appraisal, and some even have financial implications for living or not living those values in the perception of others. The challenge is that values are highly subjective and almost always mean different things to different people. The key to making this process work for any given value, is to answer – as a team – the question “how would we know if someone was living this value?” For example, if our value is ‘trust’, then a standard could be ‘we never question each other’s motives, we always assume good intent’. Now you have a standard for your value, which allows for a more objective assessment.

8. Strip the system back to the barest essentials.

Most performance management systems are overly complex, often in attempt to cover every possible scenario or control for poor execution by managers. Ask yourself this question; if we assumed an environment of mutual good intention, respect and trust, how simple could we make our system? For most, that will be a system that enables people to define a small number of big goals that will maximise their contribution and move the organization forward, to enable them to model the organization’s standards, and to highlight the next significant development opportunity.

9. Focus on how you want the individual to feel at the end.

Long after we forget what was said and done, we remember how we felt. Ensure that managers prepare for each step of the process by thinking about how they want the respective individual to feel at the end. This simple principle is perhaps the most important of all. It will often overcome all sorts of inadequacies in the system, and guide everyone to a better outcome.

In the next blog I will outline an integrated process that you can use to put the performance back into performance management.