Archive for January, 2009

Building Synchronicity: Some tips to help managers and team members build a One-Team mindset!

January 29, 2009

“No wind is favourable to he who knows not where he is going!”. We owe this maxim to Seneca, Roman politician, statesman and stoic philosopher and this maxim still applies today to all interested in the question of effectiveness, especially if you consider effectiveness through the lens of the annual appraisal process.

All companies have an annual appraisal process of one form or another and all HR managers in charge of managing this process constantly seek to improve the process and make it more effective.

To my mind, the key way of making the annual performance appraisal process effective is by applying Seneca’s maxim so that the appraisal process is considered not as a way of evaluating past performance but as a way of setting the direction towards future performance. Managers and team members should have a few simple rules in mind before they sit down to perform what some consider to be a chore.

However, even more important is the nature of the relationship between manager and team member. To produce effectiveness, managers and team members need to go beyond the process and synchronize their relationship so that both adopt effective winning behaviours and mindsets to form a winning team. Here are some rules and tips to help managers and team members synchronize in a one-team way.

Rule 1: Know where you’re going
Simply put, the first rule in performing the annual review effectively is knowing where you both want to go. This seems common sense but quite often, managers and team members don’t take the time to set a clear course of action together at year start and spend all the time reviewing what went wrong the previous year. This is because some managers see the process as an evaluation of past results and indeed, the name given to the process “annual appraisal process” or “annual performance review” reveals the spirit in which some companies and/or managers promote the process.

One of the consequences of promoting the process as an evaluation of past results and rear view mirror approach is that managers and team members wait and wait and wait until the end of year to review results. Given that they perceive the process as a type of exam, anyone who has ever sat an exam will always remember that you only correct the exam at the end of the examination period and not while the person is actually answering the questions. However, if the goal is to build a winning mindset between manager and team member, the purpose should be to ensure that all the questions are answered correctly and not to see who gets 100% of the questions right. That makes a big difference.

Rule 2: Focus on future results, not on past performance
Managing performance and especially performance effectiveness is not about looking in the rear-view mirror and telling someone where they went wrong in the hope that in the coming year, they will correct their behaviour. Such a view is like shutting the stable door when the horse has already bolted! Because at the end of the day, the team member will have underperformed and everyone loses: team member, manager, company. The goal is to set a course of action for the team member to follow and to ensure he/she has all that is required to chart a course to success. That’s another big difference.

Rule 3: Think Win-Win
If we consider that the goal is effectiveness and higher performance, results should always be positive and therefore, the annual review should be focused on future results and what course of action the team member should take to achieve those results, how the manager can support him to deliver to expectations, what means and resources he needs to deliver. This means that the manager should be constantly working throughout the year to build a win-win partnership to support and coach the team member so that he/she can implement the course of action effectively and reach the desired goal. This means that at the end of the year, the discussion on the previous year’s performance should be very short and there should be no surprises, given that manager and team member have worked throughout the year in a win-win partnership to deliver the results. That again is another big difference.

Rule 4: Think long-term performance!
To help team members deliver effective performance, managers need to focus not only on the short term but also on the long term. This means setting some objectives which will not deliver immediate results but which will take on board the team members own personal career development objectives. Focusing only on the short term may be good for the manager but not good for the business long term if the team member doesn’t have a perspective which extends beyond the immediate horizon. It won’t be good for the employee either who needs a long term view on where his career is going. Thinking long-term reinforces the link between manager and team member.

Rule 5: Seek to empower
Peter Drucker defined efficiency as doing things right and effectiveness as doing the right things. In an ever-evolving business environment, team members must be more and more proactive and adapt objectives according to changes so that they are not only doing things the right way but doing right things. It’s no good doing things right if those things no longer meet business needs. Effectiveness therefore involves making choices and prioritizing actions between different competing and/or conflicting goals. Managers must constantly empower team members to make these choices and be responsible for these choices because if not, the ship will lose its “manoeuvrability” and flexibility if everyone has to wait for the captain to decide. Again, if team members understand that they can decide for themselves nd their managers trust their decisions, this will reinforce synchronicity and shared sense of purpose.

So in the light of Seneca’s advice, here are some tips for participating in the annual performance review for managers and team members in a synchronized way:

Tips for managers seeking to synchronize with team members:

1) At year start, set a clear direction for your team member through some SMART objectives where:
S = specific
M = Measurable
A = attainable and ambitious
R = realistic
T = Time-focused

2) Think Win-Win. The purpose of the discussion is to plan ahead so that the team member understands:
– Where he/she is going
– Why he/she needs to go there (link to team objectives and business objectives)
– How he/she will go there (what resources he needs, what training & developmen will help)
– Who will help him/her get here (what objectives he shares with other team members, roles & responsibiliies)
– What obstacles he/she needs to avoid (the do’s and don’ts, the dangers and risks, etc.)
– What support you as manager will provide along the way
– Don’t forget that what counts is the quality of the relationship and the partnership with your team member and not blindly following the process.

3) Clarify roles & responsibilities: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
– To be effective, team members need to see the bigger picture. They need to know their own objectives and also those of team members

4) Give constant feedback throughout the year
– Constantly give clear feedback to the team member as the year progresses to align the behaviour to expectations
– Constantly update the team member on changes to company/team objectives so that the team member can adapt course of action accordingly
– If company strategy changes, don’t hesitate to change the objectives, even if this means starting again.

5) Be decisive
– Don’t wait until it’s too late to realign objectives. A quick “bad” decision is always better than no decision. A quick “bad” decision can be corrected as you go. A good decision taken too late cannot.

6) Explain the rules of the game: you build the road as you go
– Managers often take for granted that team members understand the rules of the game. In a future-focused approach, team members need to understand that they need to work continuously with managers as the year progresses and that the road is built as they go.

7) Empower team members to act within the scope of their responsibilities
– Encourage team members to act within their area of responsibility
– Promote a no blame culture
– Reward risk taking. It’s better to act and correct as you go than not act for fear of failure
– Remove obstacles to action
– Condemn openly all individual strategies which encourage risk avoidance or “sitting on the fence”.

Tips for team members seeking to synchronize with their manager

1) Be proactive:
– Seek to understand the company and team strategy
– Don’t wait for your manager to set your objectives. Propose your objectives and be ready to defend them.
– Be flexible. If your manager sets other objectives, accept them gladly while seeking to see the bigger picture.

2) Be SMART
– Seek to get SMART objectives from your manager with clear deliverables and deadlines. Know where you’re going.
– Don’t forget your day-to-day activities which need to be done and are the bedrock on which smart objectives are set.

3) See the bigger picture
– Clarify your role and responsibilities with your manager
– Seek to understand the team objectives and how you contribute to team objectives

4) Think short-term & long-term
– Balance short-term objectives with objectives which are more long-term. Producing short-term results are no good if it means sawing the branch on which you are sitting.

5) Seek to develop you skills aligned to business needs
– Seek to develop your skills through training, coaching, support from your manager, new projects, by doing
– Set personal training and deveopment goals which support short-term and long term business objectives

6) Think Win-Win
– Everybody wants to win and nobody sets out to fail. It’s in your manager’s interest for you to win. Seek to set up and maintain a win-win partnership throughout the year.
– Constantly update your manager on your progress, formally or informally.
– Be transparent and open. Don’t keep your manager in the dark.
– When in trouble, get support early. Don’t let a small problem become a big one.
– Remember that what counts is the quality of the partnership between you and your manager. Don’t execute the process blindly. Seek to maintain a positive relationship with your manager.

7) Seek to be empowered
– Seek and accept responsibility for results.
– Don’t be afraid to decide. A “poor” decision is always better than no decision.
– Don’t sit on the fence. Participate actively.
– Seek to help your team members achieve their objectives.
– Propose solutions, not problems.
– Update your manager continuously and seek out his support. There should never be any surprises.

So a piece of advice first offered more than 2000 years ago is still relevant today. Empires come and go, civilizations change, cultures change, technology changes but the need for adopting effective behaviours remains the same throughout the ages. Above all, effectiveness through the annual performance review process requires managers and team members to synchronize their behaviours and mindsets so that they adopt together a win-win relationship. The annual appraisal process is important in driving results. What is even more important is the quality of the manager-team member relationship and how both synchronize together to build a One-Team partnership.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

January 24, 2009

When I was in university, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” was a favourite saying of one of my professors and this saying seems to me very pertinent in the current global crisis. I’ve read many articles and comments about what type of new leadership skills are required to face the challenges in a downturn and this search for a new leadership skill set surprises me.

To my mind, the question is not what new leadership skills are required (as if the leadership skills in the “pre-crisis world” are no longer adapted to dealing with the current situation). In my opinion, leaders simply must demonstrate the skills they are supposed to have had all along and front up to the challenges of defining and implementing the long term solutions.

Indeed, what good is leadership in sunny, blue sky weather? When times are good, you don’t really need leadership and you rely on good management to keep your ship on course. However, when the storm hits, you need leaders who can draw certainly upon all their experience but above all draw upon their character and courage to plot a course to safety.

Just as you can only test character under trying conditions, so you can only really test leadership in difficult circumstances and now is the moment for leaders to demonstrate their leadership skills by stepping up to the plate and showing their true mettle.

Indeed, throughout history, times of crisis have always been windows of opportunity for those who have had the vision and the character to see the difficult times as an opportunity to take responsibility, roll up their sleeves and get to work. For those looking to develop their leadership, perhaps the opportunity has never been greater to demonstrate that they have what it takes.

What’s more, if we accept that leaders are made, not born and if we accept that in the current crisis, what is required is leadership and not management, then we can accept that the current crisis will help us develop our leadership skills if we have the character and courage to rise to the occasion and build our leadership skills as we go. So paradoxically, rather than trying to identify who has the right leadership skill set to fit with the current crisis, we should be trying to identify who has the right character and determination to rise to the challenge and is tough enough to get going when the going is tough!

As Warren Buffet said “It’s only when the tide goes out that you realize who’s been swimming naked” and this axiom applies also to leadership. The current crisis doesn’t reveal a need for new leadership skills but simply reveals perhaps that some leaders didn’t really have the leadership skills we thought they had and now is the time for those with the real leadership skills to seize the day.

However, what the current crisis does reveal is that we need to rethink how we identify our leaders because as the saying goes, you can’t solve a problem with the logic that caused you the problem in the first place. What is most surprising with regard to the current crisis is how so many commentators fail to challenge the role poor leadership has played in generating the current chaos. Many commentators blame the system, the processes, the organisations, even point out specific individuals such as Jérôme Kerviel or Bernie Madoff but not many seem to focus on the poor leadership globally which allowed so many errors to accumulate in the system over time until the system finally collapsed.

This is indeed surprising.

Human Factors theory teaches us that accidents only happen when a certain number of factors in the process are aligned together, allowing the error chain to be connected. To prevent these factors from aligning, multiple safeguards have to be built in for each factor and the process must be monitored through effective leadership so that these safeguards are constantly tested and judged to be operational.

It would seem that these safeguards were gradually eroded over time for each factor due to poor leadership and this poor leadership led to systemic breakdown.

So I think it’s time to rethink our leadership model. Leadership is based on character which reveals itself in a willingness to confront difficulty and build the road as you go. Leadership is not an attribute or an inherent trait but an action. A leader is only as good as the next challenge he or she confronts.

As the current crisis shows, the bad news is that so many people in leadership positions viewed leadership as a title or position and as a career asset and not as an intention which can only express itself through action.

The good news is that leaders can be made or rather, leaders can make themselves if we fully understand that leadership is an intention that needs to be constantly expressed through action.

Click on the link below to hear Richard Branson’s view on Leadership in a crisis.

Richard Branson discusses leadership in a crisis

Reigniting the Leadership rocket: more leadership, less stress!

January 22, 2009

The subject of stress and how to deal with its impact on workers has become a very pressing topic in the workplace today. HR managers are becoming more and more aware of the impact of stress on employee and team effectiveness and are launching different initiatives to support their employees deal with the drivers contributing to increased stress. A lot of these initiatives focus on trying to help the individual “adapt” to his/her environment. But what if we focused on the environment generating that stress?

To my mind, some key organisational drivers contribute to increasing stress:

1) Poor communication of company vision
2) Poor definition and follow-up of objectives
3) Distant or non-existing relationships between managers and team members
4) Lack of shared objectives and team work
5) Poor definition of roles and responsibilities
6) Poor development of skills
7) Lack of career prospects and opportunities to progress
8) Jobs overly specialized and taylorized
9) Lack of employee empowerment and responsibility
10) Conflicts in the workplace due to conflicts in priorities

All of the above drivers can be acted on with strong leaders who understand their role and above all play their role effectively. So if we want to act on stress, we need to think of how we can support managers to be able to play their leadership role effectively. The less leadership, the greater the stress for managers & employees alike. A key action to reduce stress would therefore start with reigniting the leadership rocket!

One World, One Team – Leading teams effectively in a global environment

January 11, 2009

Managing diversity: the real challenge
Hello all. This blog is dedicated to understanding how to lead teams more effectively in a global environment. Business is more and more global and many executives face the challenge of leading teams over different geographies and time zones with team members from different cultures, speaking different languages, with different mindsets, values and expectations. All of these differences can cause divergence if we let them do so. However, where there is a will, there is a way and with the right effort and energy, these differences can be transformed into drivers of convergence and this diversity can be valued for what it is: a source of wealth and increased skills, knowledge and know-how.

This diversity makes life very challenging and very interesting indeed. Project leaders need many different skills to be able to build the convergence necessary to achieve the desired results.

Our purpose is to explore the challenges of leading globally and define a framework to help all get the best out of their global teams. In our opinion, these challenges involve the following themes:

Change management which becomes more challenging when the change must be implemented in culturally diverse organisations
Talent Management: again, developing talent across geographically spread organisations brings particular challenges
Engagement: how can global leaders develop the engagement of culturally diverse teams with different mindsets?
Human Factors: what strategies need to be adopted to develop flexible leadership behaviiours which are inclusive of he human factors which impact on building a On Team culture
Leadership: what are the leadership skills which are required to manage in complex and ambiguous environments?
Creativity: how can leaders and employees develop their creativity to manage the complexity of working in fuzzy organisations?
Cultural diversity: how can leaders and team members transcend the challenges diversity brings to build inclusive teams positive to diversity?

Visitors can explore the right hand menu to discover more on ideas and best practices on these subjects.

Building relationships
In our view, global teams will only be effective if project leaders and team members create a common vision and purpose, agree on shared objectives and build together the trust in one another to get things done according to the agreed deadlines. This means building strong relationships amongst all project team members on the basis of the belief that all share one fundamental characteristic: the will to succeed together. This means all team members sharing the idea that all can contribute to success and that success will only be achieved through trust and respect.

So many things conspire against global teams: language, time, geography, culture,.. However, all the more reason to think of all the different ways of transcending these differences so that the reasons for succeeding far outweigh the reasons for failing.

We’re open to tips, suggestions, articles, lessons learned, best practices from all those who have worked in a global environment and who wish to share their knowledge and experience with fellow global journeymen.

Joseph Noone


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