Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony


The president selected Johnathon–a no nonsense, high-performer– to lead a low-morale team that had consistently missed performance objectives.

Johnathon announced to his team, “Your performance disappoints me.  You can do better.  I will change what I need to and I expect you to meet all performance metrics.  I will inspect all activities closely and take quick, corrective actions where needed.”

Employees grumbled, griped and blamed failures on unrealistic expectations, vendor problems, a warehouse fire, and bad weather.

Johnathon, anchored like a rock in a sandstorm, continued pressing.  He made changes, terminated a couple of employees, some quit.  The performance needle began vibrating upward.

After a few months, the president said to the team, “You have performed a turnaround beyond my highest expectations.”

Jonathon impatiently asked for even more from the team.  Turnover became an issue again, excuses emerged, and performance stalled out.  Eventually, the president removed Jonathon.

Johnathon’s methods jerked a group of carless whiners into a high-performing team, but he could not sustain the success.  Effective leaders are not one-trick ponies, they adapt.  Structure often turns bad performance into good, but support and freedom is necessary to sustain high performance.

Leaders Set Expectations High–But How High?


Compare the philosophies of two leaders.

“I say the sky is the limit.  I ask my team to do more than what they are capable of doing because I want to get all that they have to give.”

“I try to be reasonable.  I don’t expect my staff to be super humans, but I do ask them to do what I know they can do.”

More than six in ten of my workshop participants think the first leader gets better results.  Considerable research and my personal experiences suggest the second leader accomplishes more.

Before employees commit to going all in for some leader’s high-flying vision, they must believe there is an eighty to ninety percent chance of success.   Unrealistic pipe dreams do not fuel sustained employee effort.

If a team historically performs in the bottom ten percent of an industry metric, I can assure you neither the team members nor the leader has a clue of how to become Number One. Figure out how to get into the top half.  When top-half performance becomes reality, the leader can adjust the expectation to “let’s take aim on the top one-third.”

While moving from a top one-third position to industry leader is hard, members are more likely to buy in because, from where they are, the expectation seems realistic.

 

 

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

 

Continuous Coaching on Employees’ Weaknesses Frustrates Everyone


Max, a new supervisor, said to Jamison, a well-trained and experienced employee, “Your work is good but the metrics show that it takes you too long to complete your tasks.”

“I like to be very careful,” replied Jamison.  “I don’t release my work until I know it is right.”

“I appreciate that but I don’t think you need to spend time verifying information that has already been double-checked and approved.”

“I just like to see for myself.  I don’t always trust what I get.”

“Sometimes I see you completely redoing a task that is already in compliance with customer specs.”

“I want to make sure that customers get my best work.”

Becoming irritated, Max said, “You are making it hard for others to complete their tasks on schedule.”

“They should concentrate on their work and not worry about me,” replied Jamison.

The more leaders focus on fixing employees’ weaknesses, the more frustrated everyone becomes.

According to Gallup Surveys, continuous coaching on employees’ weaknesses creates frustration, anger, de-motivation and resentment.   After employees have had sufficient training, if their overall work is acceptable, it may be better to realize that not all will be superstars.

 

Why Fans Boo Referees But Not Players


It’s the opening game of the season.  The receiver for the home team takes the kickoff in the end zone and fearlessly charges up field.

The standing crowd claps and cheers as the under-sized scat-back flattens three defenders on his way to the fifteen-yard line.  Spectators continue to roar.

Why?  The youngster made a bad decision that cost the team five yards.  If the receiver had downed the ball in the end zone, his team would have begun play on the twenty-yard line.

The crowd cheered because the youngster gave a heck of an effort, even though the result was less than desired.  Fans and coaches know that fan approval motivates the team to continue striving during broken plays, fumbles and interceptions.

During the game, players (and coaches) make many mistakes; but fans seldom boo their home team.  (By contrast, referees make very few mistakes and fans frequently yell bad words at the refs.)

Some days stuff happens.  When stress and blood pressure rises, it is tempting for leaders to show their displeasure (“boo”) to employees.  But this may be just the time that a loud cheer for “effort” is more beneficial.

How to Motivate Employees with Pseudo-Set Framing


“Things occur in three’s and seven’s.”  This phrase rings in my ears when I train my pup to point and hold birds.  I first heard the phrase while attending famed-trainer, Delmar Smith’s workshop for amateur dog trainers.

Successful dog training requires mind-numbing, repetitive activities.  To stay focused, I set targets of completing three sets of seven’s; sometimes I vary it to seven sets of three’s.

Many years later, I read in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” that researchers Kate Barasz and others report that people have an irrational need to complete “sets” of things. Their experiments show that pseudo-set framing (describing things as groups) significantly improves results.

Rather than asking employees to perform the same task hundreds of time during a work day, consider breaking the tasks into groups of ten’s or twenty’s.

You seek a twelve percent improvement in some performance metric; break the request into four phases with each phase representing three percent.  If your team is in tenth place, challenge them to improve three places.  Then ask for three more.

How do you eat the whole elephant?  Take three bites at the time.  Think “sweet sixteen,” “six pack,” “two for the price of one,” “top ten,” “one dozen,” “five, ten, fifteen . . .”

Coach’em Hard and Hug’em Later


“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”

“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’

“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”

“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”

“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”

“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”

“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”

“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”

“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”

These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.

Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name.  And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.

Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods.  And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures.  Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.