Put Your Aces in Their Places


“I have eight members on my team and their tasks are different,” a manager said to me. “As we work in a very challenging environment, I require cross training and job rotation for all.”

“So, you wanted to ensure one hundred percent coverage in case you had an unexpected absence?” I asked.

“Exactly.”

“I think I am about to hear of a disappointment.”

“I am disappointed. Although everyone is very capable and trained, I am not getting reliable performance from all members on all tasks.”

Of course, it is important to have a back up for each task, but it is not realistic to think all team members can perform all tasks reliably. As the Gallup research revealed, even the most basic tasks require some level of talent for consistent performance.

Rather than encouraging promotion or job rotation schemes, the more effective teams assign members to tasks they perform exceptionally well; and they help them grow in those tasks. It is demoralizing to all to insist that a trained member be responsible for tasks they historically perform poorly.

As some have phrased the concept, the more effective leaders “put their aces in their places.”

How to Make Leadership Easier–Favor Team Players When Hiring


(Part 7 of 7)

A member of the selection committee described a job candidate as “outstanding with great technical skills.” 

When another member raised concerns about the candidate’s ability to fit into their team’s culture, the sponsor replied, “I’m aware she may have appeared aloof and a bit arrogant during the interviews, but I think that was just confidence.  Her cognitive test scores are excellent.”

Some members described another candidate as very good technically with a reputation for superior team skills. A member said of the candidate, “She is known for bringing disparate team members together and completing complex projects ahead of schedule.”

While the selection team valued both candidates as top prospects, the debate centered on whether to favor the candidate who had an edge in technical skills or the one who may have been a more effective team player. 

While fifty-three percent of participants in my workshops recommend the candidate with the technical edge, seventy-seven percent say most of their employee problems center around lack of team skills.

Be aware, employees are on their very best behavior during selection processes.  When two or more candidates possess the necessary technical skills for job performance, I favor selecting the candidate with the better team skills.

How to Make Leadership Easier–Appraise More Frequently


(Part 6 of 7)

“Performance appraisals are due next week,” a manager lamented.  “Frankly, I’d rather have a root canal.”

More than seventy percent of managers in surveys say they do not like their appraisal process.  Most employees report their performance reviews to be stressful with little helpful feedback.

Many companies have eliminated traditional, annual appraisals because they judged their processes to be of little value and may have been harmful.

Still, managers have an obligation to hold up a mirror and give honest performance feedback to their employees.  Consider the following suggestions for adding value to appraisals while inducing less stress on yourself and team members.

One, quit complaining about your process and appraisal form.  No process/form is perfect.

Two, meet 1:1 with your direct reports monthly to list and discuss last month’s successes and next month’s expectations.  Honestly, report what you like and dislike about each person’s performance.

Three, never argue about your assessment.  Rather, when a person disagrees, respond with something like, “I have a professional responsibility to give you my honest feedback.  I understand you disagree. Please write a note for the file explaining your position.”

Four, encourage growth by developing employees’ strengths; investments in weaknesses provide little return.

How to Make Leadership Easier–Focus on the Good


(Part 5 of 7)

“What is the best way to improve your team’s performance?” I asked participants in a workshop.

“I hold weekly meetings to review our metrics,” one responded.  “Then I zero in things we could have done better.”  Other responses included:  “training and coaching,” “keep score,” “always look for improvements,” “replace marginal performers.”

The late, legendary basketball coach John Wooden would occasionally eliminate from game films all missed shots, broken plays, defensive lapses, and other mistakes.  Players would see only successful efforts.  Rather than magnify performance flaws, coach Wooden focused on successes as a way of motivating players to execute effectively. 

I’ve asked many work teams if their managers every showed up unexpectedly at their workstations.  A typical response is “Yes when we’ve screwed up something.  We can perform successfully for weeks and never see them but make one mistake and they descend on us like vultures.”

Of course, managers should address disappointing performances; but in doing so, they often fail to find the good.   

Consider starting your next meeting by reviewing what the team has accomplished and recognizing members who have performed well.

Catching people doing things right, according to author and consultant Ken Blanchard, increases both satisfaction and motivation. 

How to Make Leadership Easier–Learn to Read an Org Chart


(Part 4 or 7)

During an intense session a couple of front-line managers disagreed with the vice president’s (VP) decision to open an office in a new territory.

“This opening will place a lot of stress on my team and it is not going to succeed,” one front-line manager commented.

Another responded, “There is just not enough demand.  My staff will be stressed out.  I can’t get them to support the decision.  They know my position.”

After additional discussion, the VP closed the meeting with, “I understand the new opening is a challenge, but it is a risk we need to take.  I’ll need everyone’s support.”

At this point, continued opposition is bad for all.  It reduces the chances of success and likely creates financial strain.  Also, the VP may become upset with dissenters and remove them.

When you accept a leadership position, you become a part of the leadership team.  Teams are more effective when members passionately support and challenge decisions during meetings, while agreeing to row in the same direction once the decision is made.

When asked why he supported an unpopular decision, one front-line manager respond, “I can read an organizational chart.”

How to Make Leadership Easier–Embrace the Numbers


(Part 3 if 7)

A manager said to me, “Following your suggestion, I began discussing our team’s metrics at all of our regular meetings.”

“And I suppose you got some push back,” I responded.

“I did. One employee blurted out, ‘We are nothing but a number to management.  They don’t care about us.’”

The manager continued, “Another member said, ‘I spend too much time recording data when I could be doing work.’  And another complained, ‘Some of these numbers contradict each other.’”

I understand that some complain about measurements and metrics, but the metrics will set you free.  Every organization runs on numbers—volume, costs, inventory turn, items delivered, retention, customer complaints and on and on.

“I watch the numbers like a hawk,” a successful leader admitted.  “When the numbers move in the right direction, we celebrate and continue.  When they go South, it is a strong signal that we need to do things differently.”

By stressing numbers, some leaders create a culture that may denigrate humans.  But the more successful leaders explain how they rely on the numbers to ensure success for the organization while providing opportunities for growth and fulfillment for employees.   

How to Make Leadership Easier–Avoid Trying to Get Buy-In


(Part 2 of 7)

When facilitating a team’s discussion of whether to purchase software, a team member bombarded the leader’s suggestion with continuous questions. Each answer by the leader prompted added questions.  Eventually, the leader postponed the decision.

Afterwards, I asked the leader, “Why did you devote so much time answering the member’s questions.” 

“I was trying to get his buy-in,” the leader said.

Spending a lot of time seeking buy-in, I believe, is a mistake.  . 

A buy-in approach often gives too much attention to what authors Ella Ingram and Kerice Doten-Snitker call CAVE people—Colleagues Against Virtually Everything.  Decisions become win-lose contests.  The leader eventually prevails and the member loses, or the leader makes an unnecessary compromise and the member wins.  

Successful change agents operate from a shared vision of what decisions attempt to create and propose potential options, seek suggestions, and move toward a decision. 

When a CAVE person objects, the leader my validate the member with, “To be sure I understand, you are saying . . .?”  The objector will agree or attempt further clarification.

The leader can then move on with something like, “I understand you support another option.  I accept some disagreement as normal.”  

While it is important for all to have a say, not everyone will get their way.