Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Good Economy Hides a Multitude of Sins

They used to say that “a good economy would hide a multitude of sins” in how a business was operated. It was not hard to be profitable years ago when the economy flourished. The business didn’t even have to run very efficiently to make money. All that being said, the economy is still hiding some sins. I would submit that “a poor economy also hides a multitude of sins”. The economy is hiding sins in how organizations are managing its employees. With the job market being tight, and candidates being plentiful, management is no longer worrying about sins in the areas of employee relations. It could also be said that a bad economy is when management shows its true colors.

In these economic times, organizations have been focused on reducing expenses, including the downsizing of the workforce. Many have downsized themselves dramatically, leaving employees with large workloads and low morale. Human capital initiatives have been eliminated as HR budgets and programs have been very low on the list of priorities. The list of eliminated initiatives include employee engagement, talent and leadership development, and succession planning. Of course, eliminating these programs from the budget also harms organizational effectiveness and productivity.

For the last few years, employers and corporations have been clearly in the driver’s seat. Regardless of how companies are treating their employees, turnover has remained relatively low. It could be said that some organizations have used the weak economy as a retention strategy. Organizations are comfortable that their employees are easy to retain or replace, and often corporate management has set aside employee development and relations as a priority. Sometimes management is so focused on short term profits, as well as their own jobs, that the culture turns toxic. Despite all of this, the downturn has kept turnover rates somewhat low.

But the game may be changing for management. The prevailing wisdom is that “turnover intent” is quite high, meaning that there are many employees prepared to leave their employers as soon as the economy recovers somewhat. As a matter of fact, human resources consultants like Deloitte Consulting and Mercer LLC report in their surveys that many employees are prepared to leave their organizations even now. Deloitte reports that overall, 65% of employees are considering leaving their companies, with Generation X leading the way at 72%. The Baby Boomers listed lack of trust in leadership as their top-ranked reason to leave their employer. Mercer reports that only half of the employees they surveyed say that they have been treated fairly by their employer, and only 29% of employees believe that their organization is well managed.

So much for keeping employees satisfied, let alone employee engagement. Many employees are feeling disengaged and disconnected from their organization. They don’t believe that their employer has their best interests in mind. Once the economy begins to recover, the expectation is that the job market will be hit by a “resume tsunami” unlike anything that’s been seen before. Turnover will spike, and organizations will suffer significant losses of talent and intellectual capital. Ironically, at a time when organizations should be benefitting from a recovering economy, their operations will instead by hampered by widespread and the high cost of turnover. With internal operations and service processes in a state of turnover, these organizations will struggle to stay focused on customers. Imagine losing customers to the competition and missing out on market opportunity at a time when the economy is finally recovering.

Are your employees engaged? Or will your talent be part of the exodus?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leadership Comes From Personal Power, Not Authority

“Now tell me, what does it mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I.” – Mel Gibson as “William Wallace” in the movie Braveheart.

It was a very powerful moment in the movie. A discussion between Sir Robert the Bruce, the nobleman with titles and authority, and William Wallace, a common man with no title, but who carried enormous personal power. As a result of that personal power, it was the commoner who commanded the allegiance of his countrymen, rather than the nobleman. William Wallace, the farmer, did far more to demonstrate courage and commitment and leadership than did Sir Robert. And so the followers stood behind William Wallace.

There are many examples of this sort of reality everywhere. I’ve observed it many times in corporate America, where the junior manager commanded more respect and trust than did the senior executive. People would rather follow someone they trust rather than someone they didn’t trust, even if they carried a high rank. Someone with rank or title might not actually have the “leadership capital” to actually lead people. Leadership capital is the ongoing scorecard that we keep on each other. We may not think about it consciously, or even acknowledge that the scorecard exists. But regardless, we all keep it on one another. It’s the scorecard that answers the questions: “Is that person trustworthy? How well do I trust them? Do I trust them well enough to follow their lead?” It’s the leadership capital that gives someone an influence that can far exceed the influence from authority.

There are two main elements on the leadership capital scorecard: character and capabilities. These are what we care about when contemplating the individual. Leadership capital is built first by your integrity. It begins with honesty, fairness, and how well your words are supported by your actions. Your actions must be very closely connected to your words. This is true whether on the corporate ladder, the baseball field, or the field of battle. This is what we mean when we refer to “authentic” leadership. After a time, those around you will take notice that you are trustworthy, and they begin to follow your lead. It won’t matter if they report to you, or to someone else. They may not even work for the same company. They might be a friend or business acquaintance. When you speak, they will listen, and they will follow your lead.

Leadership capital is a precious asset, and can be lost very quickly. We all know well enough that trust takes weeks or months to build, but can be lost in a day from a single incident. Once you have that leadership capital, keeping it means always staying the course of integrity, open communication, and commitment to others. When people begin following you, they will expect your support, and rightfully so. They will have an expectation of learning from you, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to come through. Peter Drucker told us “rank does not confer privilege nor power. It imposes responsibility.” All leaders have a responsibility to those that follow them. Leaders have an obligation to motivate and inspire as they lead. They have a responsibility to support, develop and mentor others. Leaders have the responsibility of developing other leaders. I sometimes call it a “psychological contract”, which is both more delicate and at the same time more powerful than a written contract. In the contract, there is a shared mutual commitment in the pursuit of shared goals. The contract silently stipulates that leadership is built around cooperation, rather than coercion.

The finest leaders will never use their authority or rank. They have all the influence they need by virtue of their leadership capital. These leaders will have created a strong team culture with mentalities of trust and cooperation. The team is well motivated, and they are clear on the goals, and committed to the vision. Rank, title, and authority all become irrelevant, because leaders engage others and earn their followers.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to use Personality Profiles to Improve the Recruiting Process

Its no wonder that personality profiles have become a standard assessment tool in the hiring process for many companies. Hiring managers and recruiters know full well that resume screening, interviews and reference checks are not a very reliable or objective means for making hiring decisions. Recent surveys of HR executives show that up to 80% of organizations are now using personality profiles to improve hiring decisions. The same surveys also list performance management and succession planning as top priorities for these organizations. This indicates that the personality profiles are also being used for hiring decisions, and employee development as well.

All that being said, some organizations continue to struggle with hiring, even though they use assessment tools in their hiring decisions. The most likely reason for that is simple: any tool, be it an assessment tool or a hammer, needs to be in the right hands to get the great results. Used improperly, both of these tools can hurt you. The personality profiles are complex tools. And the information they provide are deep and not always easy to interpret. We humans are deep, complex creatures ourselves. To make their tools easier for HR professionals to use, the tool providers have simplified the computer generated reports to improve readability. The down side to simplicity, however, is that simplicity diminishes the depth of information and the power of the tool. Less granular means less detail. This often creates challenges to drawing useful and accurate conclusions that are helpful in the workplace.

The answer is that HR must work with an expert assessments practitioner who has deep experience in the interpretation of the personality profiles, and can effectively impart the valuable takeaways to HR personnel. The practitioner administering the assessments to candidates and employee makes all the difference in the world. They should be certified in the use of the assessment tool, and they should be experienced in imparting insight and value. The practitioner create a reliable profile of the candidate, or an effective action plan for employee development. Some assessments provide many raw scores, some of which may or may not contradict other scores on the same assessment. A certified assessments practitioner will know how to address some of the extraneous information on the computer generated report. In addition, they will be familiar with trends and patterns that indicate certain strengths or blind-spots in the individual. Most importantly, two individuals with very different personality profiles can still both be successful in the same role. The practitioner will help identify these scenarios so that HR does not overlook and miss out on great talent.

There are countless different personal assessment tools available on the market, and they vary significantly in what aspects of the personality they measure and how they measure those. But none of these tools measure every one of the human dimensions necessary to reflect a complete picture of the individual. The reality is that it’s just not possible in a single tool, because we humans are just too complex. In utilizing personality profiles, the goal is usually to “measure” the individual in their entirety. This includes expected behaviors, innate talents, cognitive abilities, decision-making biases, emotional intelligence, motivational drivers, and character. We also need the results to be accurate and reliable. That is a lot to ask from a single tool and a computer generated report. The only way of getting “how” a person behaves, as well as what drives those behaviors, and why they are drivers, is by utilizing more than one tool. The US Department of Labor also recommends a "whole person" approach wherein companies never rely on any single instrument for developmental or hiring decisions.

Personality profiles can be categorized into three separate categories:
1. Analysis of behavioral styles.
Marston’s DISC and Myers-Briggs are two of more popular behavioral assessment tools on the market. The DISC test does more quantifying than the Myers-Briggs test, and has gained in popularity in the last number of years. The DISC test creates a profile of how an individual behaves by reporting quantified behavioral attributes across the four DISC dimensions. This tool to be especially powerful for investigating internal conflicts within teams. Hiring managers will use these results to judge culture fit, but ascertaining culture fit is not as simple as that. Too often this tool is used in the recruiting process as the only profile for candidate assessment, which is not an ideal approach. It’s far more important to measure cognitive skills and talents and motivations than just behaviors. The other challenge is that the results of the behavioral tools can be skewed by the candidate by giving “expected” responses during the assessment process.

2. Analysis of cognitive abilities and talents.
This is one of the most important aspects of the candidate assessment, and is also powerful for employee development as well. These tools are about measuring talent and potential. The best tools will measure how well individuals are evaluating their surroundings, their judgment clarity, and decision-making focus. The result is a strong profile of the person’s communications skills, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, work ethic, engagement levels, and leadership potential. These tools are useful for candidate assessment, but even more powerful for talent management and succession planning.

3. Analysis of values and motivational drivers
These tools are invaluable for pre-employment. Some of the best tools are based on the Spranger-Allport work, and they identify and quantify the levels of motivation of an individual across seven motivational dimensions. They provide clarity on where the drive and passion is in an individual, and so it helps ascertain how well a fit someone is for their role and career direction. This is one of the most important assessments to use when trying to ascertain the likelihood for success of any individual in a given role. It is also useful in the midst of the talent management lifecycle to ensure that the individual is on the appropriate career path within your organization.

Respectively these can be referred to as the How, the What, and the Why of employee performance. By measuring each of these domains, one can obtain a very clear and accurate representation of the individual’s behavioral style, as well as a reliable predictor of their fit to a job role and how well they will perform. Best of all, when used in the development/coaching context, these profiles create a strong self-awareness for the employee that facilitates growth and development. But it is very important to note that it is very possible to have two individuals with very different assessment profiles that are both capable of succeeding in the same role. Your assessments practitioner will have the expertise and experience to identify those and ensure great hiring decisions.


Monday, April 18, 2011

5 Reasons Why You Need A Really Awesome Recruiting Process

Measuring the quality of your job candidates (and your employees for that matter) is vital for organizational success and competitive advantage. We are no longer in a manufacturing economy, but rather a service/knowledge worker based economy. This means that human capital makes all the difference toward organizational performance and the ability to compete. Successful hiring keeps the working culture healthy and productive, team performance and creativity high, and workplace turnover low. This translates to employee engagement, and there is enough research that shows organizations with high levels of employee engagement perform well in a poor economy. Getting the wrong people, even if they have the right direction, will never result in building a great company. To paraphrase Jim Collins in Good to Great, you have to get the right people on your bus, and the wrong people off your bus. Then you need to ensure that you have the right people in the right seats. Then and only then can you start your bus moving the right direction.

Here are five reasons why a really awesome recruiting process is necessary:
1. Employee salaries represents a significant part of the operating budget for most organizations, usually on the order of 40% to 50%. Given those numbers, its easy to see that there is a lot at stake in hiring only the best talent. It should be a safe assumption that a reasonable return on the salary investment is expected. It should also be a safe assumption that the recruiting process must take proactive measures to minimize the risk of hiring someone unsuitable for the positions that are open.

2. The labor market is flooded with great talent, and also with poor talent. Separating the producers from the pretenders has never been more difficult. Considering the way organizations have leaned out and reduced headcount, there is even less room for error in the hiring process. Those fewer people on the payroll are now dealing with higher management expectations and need to be more productive than ever. That also means that keeping the culture in a good place is that much more difficult. Hiring for culture fit as well as talent is crucial these days.

3. Turnover creates an insidious cost and impact for organizations, and the issue often is not taken as seriously as it should be by employers. Setting aside the recruiting fees, the costs in lost man-hours can be enormous. The lost productivity associated with interviewing and evaluating a replacement for the position, having temporary help to fill in for the position, and disruptions to the operations surrounding the position, is often overlooked. Then there is the training of the new hire, and then waiting for the new hire to come up to speed and become productive. If the role was a customer facing role, it also impacts the customer service operation, including customer service levels and the customer experience. Conceivably, there could also be additional impact from lost customer relationships if it was a key role in customer service. Impact to customer operations is not only visible, but can quickly translate to lost revenue. All in, published research puts the cost of turnover at 35% to 45% of the annual salary for the given position.

4. The consensus is that there is a leadership crisis in corporate America. Senior executives are now acknowledging the weaknesses in their leadership pipelines in research surveys. This is a significant problem as more and more baby-boomers are retired. Identifying leadership potential should begin at the recruiting stage. High potential individuals, upon hiring, should be identified and put into the leadership pipeline. They also need to be designated as people leaders, customer leaders, change leaders, etc. All of this assumes, of course, that the organization indeed has a leadership pipeline that is formally identified, managed and developed.

5. Great hiring practices (as well as delicate firing practices) builds the brand equity. Poor brand equity can drive up the cost of salaries because candidates will prefer to work in an organization with a good reputation for treating its employees well. Also important to note is that reputation influences the customer market as well. The labor market now pays close attention to the reputation and culture of an organization. Social networking and websites like and makes this information very accessible to candidates. They now have the ability to learn what the culture and environment are like within an organization before applying for a position. A company like Google Inc., with its powerful brand equity, will be able to attract a higher quality of talent. That talent will be less focused on salary, and possibly settle for less money just to have the opportunity to work at a company like Google.

So all that being said, how can we do better at recruiting? Many organizations have found the answer to an extent. They are using personality profiles as part of their assessment process to make a more objective data-driven hiring decision, rather than a hiring decision based on anecdotal evidence and intuition. Research shows that hiring decisions based on gut-feel carry a high failure rate, resulting in productivity issues, culture challenges, employee disengagement, and eventually turnover. These personality profiles present quantified values and criteria and make for much better predictors for performance and success. As a result, personality profiles reduce the number of unknowns associated with the hiring decision and add a good deal of quality control to the recruiting process.

The bad news is that there are a confusing number of these profiles, and all too often they are used ineffectively, or altogether incorrectly. Later this week, in our next post, we will discuss how to best approach these personality profiles and how to utilize them most effectively to successfully hire top performing talent.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Success Begins With Strategic Thinking

Success in any business or profession requires having a clear vision of where you are going, and what your "rules of the road" are. Vision and values is where it all begins. The motivation is having your business or profession "become" something. This is how a business creates long-term sustainable growth, and how a career creates long-term reward and fulfillment.

Strategic thinking means starting from the 100,000 foot level of what your endeavor is to become, and working your way down to the trenches level and identifying individual action steps. One of the most important deliverables of strategic thinking is the business/career plan, and it should answer the question: "what are the priorities and action steps for the next month, quarter, etc?".

Planning out a business/career strategy can be framed into the following steps:
Step 1. Visioning
I am amazed at how often this step is skipped. The result is that many entrepreneurs and professionals will needlessly wander in mediocrity.

An organizational or career vision is a statement of potential, and a statement of direction. A vision statement is a description of what you or your endeavor is to become. Entrepreneurs should ask: "what do I want my company to be known for; and what do we want people to think of when they hear our company name mentioned?". Professionals should ask "What do I want to be known for; how do I want others to remember me?"

Step 2. Strategic Thinking and Planning
The term "strategic thinking" can be defined as the process that determines the future direction of the organization. This is where you give careful thought to what you want and where your passions are. You think about your strengths, and weaknesses, and your opportunities. Where do you have advantage, and how can you exploit that advantage? Very rarely do people actually take the time and energy to do this in a meaningful way. The likelihood for a business plan or career plan to create any success depends on how well and diligently this step is carried out.

Step 3. Documenting the Plan
Writing the business/career plan is the process that actualizes the strategic thinking. During the planning process, your mission is crystallized into specific goal categories. These categories are used to help breakdown goals to identify action steps. In an organization with multiple departments, each will have a mission and business plan which is their contribution to the organization's mission. The progressive achievement of the mission or all of the departmental missions will propel the entire organization toward the realization of its vision.

Step 4. Implementing the Plan
The real key to the success of this process is action. Vision alone does not ensure success. Even the most well conceived plan will not ensure success without action steps and measurement. Without action steps, time frames, and accountability the process is just a mental exercise that does little to create progress, much less success. How many times have you heard of a formal, elaborate business plan sitting on a shelf gathering dust? How about the executive resume that has not been updated for years? Without action, nothing happens, and nothing improves.

Step 5. Review and Continuous Improvement
Be sure that you are measuring your results. Peter Drucker has told us that "you cannot manage what is not measured." Success relies on careful execution and progress needs to be measured and quantified on a regular basis. Success relies on continued learning and improvement of the plan and adjusting the action steps accordingly.

During this step, there will be mistakes and setbacks. But that is not the same as failure! Missteps are an inevitability when innovating and testing new approaches. Challenging the comfort zones and stretching the performance envelope means a little risk, and some lessons learned. History has shown this to be true even for gurus like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Turn these setbacks into a positive experience by focusing on the lessons learned and using them going forward. These lessons are a business advantage if you use them that way. Your success will depend on you staying positive and motivated and focused.

Remember: A successful business or career must have a focus on the long term vision. Dwelling on the present, or the next paycheck, or the next quarterly financial statement will only deliver mediocre or unsustainable results. Growth opportunities are difficult to recognize when you lack clarity on your future vision. Planning your vision is not an option. You can take control of your destiny and the destiny of your business, but you must make a conscious decision to assume that control.

Who is in control of YOUR destiny?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Three Things Leaders Do Better Than Anyone

The worlds most successful entrepreneurs and executives use fundamental leadership qualities to achieve success. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that leadership is not about having command and control over people. Successful people focus on having command and control over themselves. By taking a very honest look at their vision and capabilities, successful leaders take more control of their destiny than most of us even think about exercising.

1. Leaders have strong self awareness.
Success is closely tied to an ability to practically and objectively identify their own strengths and weaknesses. They have a strong awareness as it relates to their performance, their passions, and their perspectives. They evaluate themselves in a brutally honest way and with clarity. That clarity allows them to manage their strengths and weaknesses very effectively. They will adjust their goals and approaches to match. They will seek assistance or self improvement in order to achieve success. They know what they can do, what they can’t do, what they should delegate, and when to seek help. Tied into this self awareness is having strong self esteem, which is not the same as ego.

2. Making the most of mistakes.
We all make mistakes. We are all human. However, some of us do more with our mistakes than others. Mistakes are the most important aspect of the life experience. These are the experiences where we glean our most important lessons. Sure, success is more fun, but we do not learn the most important lessons from success. Mistakes are also a strong indicator that we pushed an envelope somewhere, either in a process, or in people. Pushing and moving boundaries are how we create exceptional results, and ultimately success. Leaders use mistakes to learn and grow and motivate.

3. Adaptable and amenable.
Leaders are never emotionally attached to anything. Everything and anything can be changed and turned upside down when the need calls for it. Comfort zones usually don’t last long enough to actually bring comfort. A leader has an open mind and questions everything, including themselves. This is especially true when things are not working as planned or delivering the expected results. This aspect of leadership makes it possible for individuals and organizations to reinvent themselves as needed. Given the pace of change in the world today (socially, politically, economic, etc), reinventing oneself has almost become an essential function. Success is closely tied to being able to quickly respond to the changing realities in the business and market landscapes.

There are other factors and characteristics necessary for success, but I often find these three are among the most common weaknesses in entrepreneurs and business leadership.
How strong are you in these areas?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Team Building is not Rocket Science

It is amazing what people can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.   –Harry S. Truman

Team building is a critical part of organizational success. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that would disagree with this notion. Regardless, it seems that most organizations have yet to figure out what it takes to successfully build great teams. The good news is that it is really not very difficult. The bad news is that it does require a sustained commitment of leadership.

Get Feedback as if they Were Customers: Think of your employees as customers, albeit internal customers. You need to get feedback from them in order to proactively identify issues and disconnects. Employee surveys and feedback are also a great way of encouraging contributions and innovative thinking. Finally, it reinforces the notion that employees are important to the success of the organization.

Relax the Formal Communication: Try to step away from the formal employee-boss interaction to foster a little free speech. Giving employees reassurance that they can speak frankly about issues that might be interfering with success creates opportunity to be proactive. Encouraging open workplace communication will develop healthy and productive work relationships.

Organize Team Building Events: Taking a day trip out for "R and R" can do wonders for breaking through the ice and developing relationships. Some great places to visit are the local Paintball field, or a sports/entertainment complex. Those centers that have the rock-climbing wall are magnificent. End a day of great team building activities with a late lunch. Give out one or two awards at lunch. I have seen this type of endeavor work wonders for a team. The inroads made at these events translate immediately over to the workplace.

The Team’s Success is Everyone’s Success: Make a habit of vocally and publicly appreciating and acknowledging each other’s efforts. Even small celebrations of jobs well done or projects delivered ahead of schedule build powerful relationships and reinforce motivation. Team members are more incented to stay engaged on the vision, and each other.

Successful team building in the workplace translates into success for everyone, including the organization. But remember, it all begins and ends with leadership.
How is your organization building great teams?


Monday, January 31, 2011

Managers Need to Be Leaders, Not Managers.

One does not "manage" people. The task is to lead people.
–Peter Drucker

How many times have we seen comparisons between "management" and "leadership"? Warren Bennis, one of my favorite leadership authors, tells us that "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing." But are "doings things right", and "doing the right thing" mutually exclusive? Can’t we have both? Of course we can. More importantly, we need both in order for our "service and knowledge" based economy to be successful. Research already shows organizations will flounder under management, but will thrive under leadership.

Many of the concepts of modern management were first created back during the Industrial Revolution, when we first developed industry and manufacturing and factories. Foremen were in charge of managing those factories, including the machines, equipment, resources, schedules, and the factory laborers. The foremen would soon find out that the factory workers did not like being managed as if they were machines, and so the workers resisted. The results were labor strikes and the creation of labor unions. Well that is no surprise. And it’s no surprise that unions still exist today.

It's now the year 2011, almost 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, and far too many managers still have an Industrial Revolution mentality in carrying out their duties. Yet our economy no longer depends on machines and manual labor for production. Service and knowledge is what our economy produces, with 80% of our Gross Domestic Product coming from people. Production comes from workers who provide services and expertise, as opposed to machines and factories. But our management mentality has not progressed with the times. Instead of adapting to a different economy, management behaviors reflect the thinking of the 19th century. We have not made the leap towards leadership.

Here are some simple realities:
Machines and operations are managed.
Projects and resources are managed.
Objectives and goals are managed.
Tasks and deadlines are managed.
Time is managed.
Finances are managed.
A business is managed.
Things are managed.
But people? People must be led.

Leadership is what we respond to. People do not want to be managed. This is especially so with the modern-day workforce. We are not wired to respond to management. People are far more complicated than a factory machine, and require much more maintenance. People have needs, as Abraham Maslow articulated way back in 1943. People need job satisfaction, challenge, belief in a mission and an opportunity to contribute to that mission. We want continuous training, development and mentoring. We want opportunity to grow and advance. We want to be inspired and motivated. We want to trust our manager and be led by them. Salary and benefits are secondary priorities to us. There are enough HR surveys that tell us the same thing. In these surveys, workers indicate that work environment and job satisfaction are just as important, if not more important, than salary.

Leaders recognize and develop other people’s abilities, and capitalize on those abilities. They ultimately inspire exceptional performance and results. Success, for any organization of any size, is tied to leadership, not management. Managers need to let go of their Industrial Revolution mentality, and start adopting the leadership attitude. Managers need to stop acting like managers and start leading people.

So are you managing people? Or are you leading people?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Leaders Should Ignore the Generalizations of Generation-Y

Leaders need to ignore the articles that make generalizations about Generation-Y and the other generations within the current workforce. The articles I refer to use research and surveys in making generalizations about Gen-Y, and seem to focus the perceived shortcomings in the younger generations. The majority of the articles suggest that Gen-Y is prone to entitlement, outspoken, not able or willing to focus, and dislikes criticism. Leaders must look past these articles if they are to remain effective as leaders.

The irony is that I have met and worked with many Boomers and Gen-Xers who share the same qualities as Gen Y. I have observed plenty of entitlement in Boomers and Gen-Xers who are living in their own reality of status quo. Many of them are unwilling to listen to new ideas, much less challenge existing comfort zones. And they do not take criticism very well.

Let me offer a blunt and harsh reality that we should keep in mind. The vast majority of corporate leaders that brought us to the financial crisis a few years ago were Boomers. Bernie Madoff was a Boomer. Some of our country’s political leaders that have been recently found guilty of ethics violations and breaking laws were Boomers. Those CEOs of fallen organizations, the same CEOs who were earning huge salaries and benefited from golden parachutes as their organizations collapsed, were Boomers.

Another reality: the ADD dysfunction is not something that only affects Gen-Yers, as I have read often enough. I’ve worked with many Boomer executives who were not able to focus on any one thing for more than 2 minutes. Perhaps modern society is just more educated on recognizing the indicators of ADD. But there seems to be plenty of ADD to go around for all generations.

Here is a safe generalization:
No matter what generation we belong to, or how old we are, we are all very similar creatures. People are people, and no matter what year they were born, they will have simular behaviors and needs and wants. Yes, some of our lives have been influenced by very different events and realities in history. But we all suffer from many of the same inadequacies that are in our "wiring".

My own observation of the Gen-Yers that have crossed my path:
- Many crave positive feedback and respond incredibly well to coaching and mentoring. They are not just open to coaching, but thrive on it.

- They want the vision and values of their organization to be noble and responsible.
- Making a difference is important to many of them, and so they will respond when told how their work contributes to the vision.
- Being well-plugged into technology, they research everything, and they want to devour new knowledge at a blinding pace.
- Their upbringing with technology has made them adept at multi-tasking, and they can be immensely efficient and productive.
- Gen-Y seems to have more of an open mind and is far more likely to innovate and think outside the box than their older counterparts.
- Plenty of Gen-Yers demand work-life balance. (I could stand to have a little more balance myself.)
- Most importantly, Gen-Yers raise the bar on leaders. They expect a higher quality of leadership, and they want their leaders to be socially responsible.
Leaders will need to continue adapting their styles to fit what individuals respond to and what motivates them. Leaders do this already. They foster dialogue and build trust. They develop cultures and teams. They identify talent and potential. Leaders create connections to those individuals so that they can be developed. They inspire and motivate, and they are change agents. All of these qualities are necessary for leaders to get the best out of any generation. This same approach will be equally successful with members of Gen-Y, maybe even more successful.

The younger generations represent our up and coming leaders, and my first-hand observations have me believing that Gen-Y will make fine leaders. Gen-Y’s talent potential is as strong as any of the preceding generations, and they might be more responsible and open-minded as well. They just need to be developed, and developing the next crop of leaders is our responsibility. It is up to the leaders from the older generations to ignore the generalizations, focus on the strengths of Generation-Y, and develop a better generation of leaders.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Teamwork Comes From Conflict

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas.
 -Donatella Versace

Humans dislike conflict. Some of us go to great lengths to avoid conflict at all costs. Too often we think it is destructive, or at least counter-productive. We often assume that disagreement means that there is discord. But the reality is that conflict is vital toward creating exceptional solutions and performance. Effective conflict also creates understanding and mutual cooperation along the way. Conflict is vital in business, as well as life. Conflict is the most important phase of communication, and it is when communication can be most productive. It is when resolutions occur and solutions are created.

Ideally speaking, conflict within a team arises when there is a difference in ideas. This is certainly ideal because a team with a balanced member culture will have varying or even conflicting ideas on how to approach and solve challenges. What is not ideal is when all team members always initially agree on all issues. That suggests that the team is not fully considering and testing all available scenarios, options and approaches.

Below is a great YouTube video called “The Secrets to High Performing Teams”, summarizing research performed by Assistant Professor Kristin Behfar at the University of California, Irvine. The video was produced by and hosted at It is a magnificent piece for anyone that is a part of a team or leads a team in life or business (that means most of us).


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Top 6 Drivers for Personal Success

These can be called drivers, or they might be better described as values. As you engage your business or career to achieve your vision, you need "rules of the road" to guide your behaviors and priorities throughout the journey.

6. Keep all of your promises:
The promises you make to customers and staff must be sacred. Nothing kills a business or career faster than a broken promise. Integrity is all the more important these days, because the public perception is that there is an enormous lack of it. This integrity-gap perception exists predominantly with corporate executives, politicians and lawmakers, and Wall Street. Anyone that has managed to build their "leadership capital" with those around them will gain followers and customers. There is substantial research indicating that customers are willing to pay more for products they trust.

5. Follow your passion and play hard:
There are numerous surveys that show the majority of the workforce are working in jobs they dislike. This applies to all types of workers, including accountants, lawyers, and engineers. Why would anyone want to work at succeeding at something they are not passionate about? In short, your best and most motivated effort will always be when you are following your passions. This is when you give your best effort without even trying.

4. Know where you're going, and where you're starting from:
Baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra once said "If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else." Your business or career has to have a vision in order to have direction. By considering the long view and the entire journey, your steps will be easier to identify and prioritize, and you will make better progress. Spinning your wheels in reactive mode will never get you very far.

3. Be prepared to accept risks and learn from setbacks:
There is an old saying "Without obstacles how would you ever know what you are capable of?" Having an open mind so you can challenge your comfort zones is how people achieve great things in their lives. If you push those comfort zones hard enough, there will be setbacks. It makes sense, because you are in uncharted territory when you leave your comfort zones. Remember that you learn more from setbacks than you do from success. Learn from those disappointments, and put those lessons to good use.

2. Build lasting relationships:
This is especially important for both entrepreneurs and for professionals. Entrepreneurs need to focus on customer relationships to convert those into customer loyalty. But loyal relationships with staff is important as well, because staff is also involved in the development of customer loyalty. Professionals need to create strong relationships with peers, but also subordinates and superiors. Developing credibility in those relationships allows the professional to be far more effective at what they do. That being said, the professionals must also develop relationships with their colleagues outside of their own organization. This is the network that professionals will be tapping into if something should befall their position.

1. Being prepared to articulate your value creates opportunity:
And the number one driver/value for success is: the good old "elevator speech".

No matter who you are, or what you do, you will occasionally and unexpectedly cross paths with that one individual that can catapult your business or career. Will you be ready for that chance meeting in the elevator, or supermarket, or charity ball?

The first few seconds of any meeting is your initial contact and first impression, and if you do not get past this step, you will not get anywhere. And so, this is a critical step. Will you be able to convey your unique value in 15 seconds or less? Will you have a compelling message that will provoke a great dialogue? Everyone needs to have their elevator speech down pat. Your 15 second talk must be very relevant, unique, and persuasive. You must also be able to deliver that speech with comfort and confidence, which means that you should rehearse it until you have it mastered. Remember that if you cannot effectively market yourself, someone else will get the opportunity. So you must be ready.

Are you achieving the success you've always wanted? Are all 6 of these values part of your "rules of the road"? Take an honest look at your results, your behaviors, and your habits.
What will you do to make the right changes?


Friday, January 14, 2011

Four Barriers to Team Success:

The following are four frequent barriers to high performing teams. Make sure these are not affecting your teams.

1. Unclear definition of success.
Teams need direction. Professional sports team have crystal clear direction in the form of the World Series, or Super Bowl, etc. However, business teams often have only a moderate clue of what their ultimate goal is. Often, they form their own assumptions based on opinion and conjecture. If a team is to perform well, they need direction, and they must be clear on what success looks like. And success must be specific and measureable, i.e., reducing waste or errors by x%, or increasing level of service by x%.

2. Unproductive conflict or non-conflict.
The best teams thrive on conflict, and have adapted to make conflict work for them. A lack of conflict suggests that ideas may represent path of least resistance, or lack of creativity and innovation. Lack of conflict may also suggest that the team is in a comfort zone, or worse, apathetic. If the ideas and approaches within a team are never coming under challenge or scrutiny, it could very well be a safe assumption that there a significant lack of contemplation and due diligence in the team’s decision making. Again, conflict needs to be healthy, and team members must focus on the messages in the conflict, and NOT the emotions.

3. Lack of culture.
Challenging the entrenched and outdated approaches usually entails some sort of risk. And it requires commitment. Innovation means challenging the comfort zone of the team, and possibly those outside the team. If the culture of the team and of the organization is not one to support any risk-taking, status quo wins out. The culture must be comfortable with and even committed to changes, and making the appropriate changes that increases likelihood for team success. The culture must also be focused on the common agenda, rather than any individual agendas.

4. Lack of leadership.
Every team needs leadership, and not just from the manager on the org chart. In every successful team, leaders emerge by default. A leader that gains the trust of the other members will lead through their own personal power, and does not need authority to lead successfully. Think of a team captain of a sports team. A team captain is designated by his/her peers after demonstrating a trustworthy commitment to the team and its members. Without leadership, the team flounders like a ship without a captain.

Great teams are not impossible to build. How great is your team?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mastering Excellence

Being in the midst of the NFL playoffs reminds me of the importance of excellence, and the mastery of excellence. Achieving success in sports, as well as life and business is all about mastering excellence. Excellence is not just about skills, or talent, or even execution. It’s also about having the right attitude, specifically commitment, confidence and persistence.

Vince Lombardi, the Brooklyn-born legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers, and the person for whom the NFL Super Bowl trophy is named after, said this: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field or endeavor.”

So the question becomes, no matter what your chosen field or endeavor, how do you master excellence? Ask any genuine leader how they achieved exceptional success, and they will agree to the following three ingredients for excellence:

1. Taking the Right Attitude.
The right attitude is a decision you need to make every day. Your attitude not only affects you, but it affects the people around you. There are two ways you can look at virtually everything in your life. A pessimist focuses on the difficulty in the opportunity, and the optimist focuses on the opportunity in difficulty. Frederick Langbridge reinforces the different views of an optimist and a pessimist in the following quote, “Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”

Your attitude affects your body language and your behavior. People who are optimists come across as strong, confident and motivated. People who are pessimistic appear weak, or unwilling, and they often do not appear to have their "act together". A positive attitude creates self motivation, and that motivation is very contagious. It helps build your leadership capital with those around you. Having a strong positive attitude reinforces your capability to  face any challenge and create the right outcome for yourself. Your attitude is a direct factor in your ability to master excellence in whatever you choose to pursue. And here is something all leaders know: Only one person is in charge of your attitude, and that’s you.

2. Being Goal Oriented.
Know what you want, why you want it, and define how to achieve it. Defining personal and professional goals will create a road map for your success. It is not enough to have a dream. In order to bring dreams to reality you must have goals with defined action steps. Action is what makes things happen and being goal oriented is an empowering process. As you achieve things from your list, you get that great feeling of accomplishment, and that starts to build a powerful momentum. That momentum adds to your motivation and attitude and to your capabilities.

3. Attention to Details.
Attention to detail is critical to mastering excellence and it will make you stand out in comparison to others (remember that you are always being compared to your peers). Attention to detail means nothing goes unnoticed. It means you do nothing less than 100 percent. It means paying attention to how you dress, how you behave, how you communicate, how you carry yourself, how you take care of your surroundings, how quickly and efficiently you follow up, and how you treat others. This is how leaders emerge from the rest of the group and how business owners separate themselves from the competition.

You have the ability to be excellent at whatever you pursue or endeavor, and being excellent is a choice that is completely within your control. Decide today to raise your level of success by taking the right attitude, by being goal oriented, and by paying attention to every detail. Excellence and success go hand in hand.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Difference Between Decision and Action

"When all is said and done, more is said than done."
- Lou Holtz, former coach of the Notre Dame University football team.

"Five frogs were sitting on a log. One decided to jump into the pond. How many were left?"

Did you think four? Think again. The age-old quote doesn’t say one jumped in; it says one decided to jump in. There is a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

Decisions are useless unless we follow up with action. Only action will bring us any likelihood for success. In fact, the etymological meaning of "succeed" is "that which follows", and success is what follows action.

In the military, soldiers learn "Ready, Aim, Fire". But in life and business, we see a good deal of "Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…" Once a decision is made, it is time for action.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." If we do the wrong thing, at least we can learn something from our mistake. But inaction teaches us nothing, other than regret. Sometimes the cause of inaction is the fear of failure. But the reality is that we learn more by trial and error than by sitting and doing nothing. Nothing risked, but nothing gained. Peter Drucker told us "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

The founder of Atari Computer, Nolan Bushnell, summarizes the importance of follow up: "The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It's as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer."

So, don't sit up and take notice, but get up and take action, for the secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Business Planning for 2011

"Economists say that the great recession, the longest and deepest since World War II, ended 18 months ago and the US economy is growing again. Growth is relative. That doesn’t mean sit and wait for things to improve. Rather retool for the economy that exists today.”
– Rosalind Resnick, Entrepreneur Magazine, December 2010

As you review your company’s strategic plan and forecast for 2011, what can you do to ensure that your company will meet those objectives and goals? Ms. Resnick’s comment is absolutely on target, you can sit around and react to your environment, or you can retool your business objectives and take a proactive approach to success for 2011. Instead of waiting for the economy to improve, take charge of your own economy.

There are a number of strategic areas that may be worth focusing more time and effort on in your business as you begin to think about retooling:

• First and foremost, revisit your strategic plan. It’s appropriate to focus on the 2-3 year horizon because you need to identify what you want to grow into. However, it is critical to focus on what your business needs to accomplish in the next 12 months. What are the critical success factors that your business needs to focus on in order to accomplish your forecast? Do your employees know what the 12-month plan looks like and do they know what they need to contribute in order for the plan to be successful? If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to any of these three questions, you are not ready for 2011.

• Second, identify what is really working and set a plan in motion to maximize it. Capitalize on your strengths. What product or service is your top seller, and how do you get customers to buy more of it? How do you grow your customer base for that product or service? Knowing your core business strengths allows your organization to maximize on existing opportunities where your company is already excellent.

• Third, try new and different things. After you have identified the core products and/or services of your business, look for new, out-of-the-box opportunities. Outside and uncontrollable distractions often cause us to pull the reins in and focus on what we have always done. Use these changing times to your benefit. Challenge yourself and your employees to look at every process, product line, service, and customer for new opportunities. You will be surprised what your team may find and suggest. At first blush an idea might seem outrageous, but outrageous could mean the difference between status quo and a new level of success.

The last thought to consider is leveraging your uniqueness. The business marketplace is becoming a sea of similarity. Your brand should communicate the value you bring to your customer from the eyes of the customer. Your brand is not really about what you think you do. The brand you should be leveraging is what value your customers say you bring to the table. Find out what your customers really think and start spreading that unique message.

If you did not like the results you generated in 2010, you have two choices. You can continue on your current path and hope for different results, or you can set your goals, maximize your strengths, honestly look for new opportunities, and incessantly market your brand with a voice that is meaningful to your customer.
Hope is never a successful strategy, but focused action is. Forget the talk on economy and focus on your economy. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the competition than now.