Leading with Trust

Five Benefits of Losing Your Star Players

Top PerformersMy team is undergoing a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players are moving on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team has remained relatively stable but now we’re entering a new phase of growth, which is both scary and exciting. It seems like each day I’m having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we try to sort out who’s going, who’s staying, and how we’re getting our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I’m energized and looking forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take a little pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

Build Trust Today or Lose Talent Tomorrow – 3 Tips to Keep Your Top People

dear-boss-i-quitIf you ask organizational leaders to name their top five challenges, there’s a good chance that retaining key talent will be on the list. Every person and role in your organization is important, but there are mission critical jobs and high performers that contribute substantially more to your bottom line success and it’s those people you can least afford to lose.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an increasing trend in voluntary turnover and the rate of unemployment for people with college degrees is about half the national unemployment rate and is decreasing. There is expected to be an ongoing talent shortage well into the next decade as Baby Boomers retire, technology and job specialization increase, global competition for talent rises, and education systems struggle to keep up with the demands of business.

Not only is competition for talent going to increase, the Hay Group reports that 20% of employees plan to look for a new job in the next two years and another 20% plan to leave within the next five years. The reasons cited for jumping ship? Of course the chance to make more money somewhere else is always high on the list, but there is a growing discontent among the workforce after years of low to no pay increases, increased pressure to “do more with less,” and low levels of trust with organizational leaders who have shown little to no regard for their employees.

Building and nurturing high-trust relationships with key talent is essential for keeping them on your team. Here’s three tips to help you build trust and retain talent:

1. Learn the skill of building trust – Yes, you can learn to build trust. Most people don’t give much thought to building trust. They think it “just happens” over time like some sort of relationship osmosis. The fact is that trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors and if you incorporate those behaviors into your leadership practices you will have high-trust relationships.

2. Foster a culture of engagement – High performers are more willing to stay in jobs and organizations where their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are being met. All people, especially your top talent, thrive on being in control of achieving their goals. They want to continue to develop their competence and expertise and establish meaningful relationships with team members.

3. Ask them to stay – Unfortunately, most leaders don’t ask their top performers to stay until they’ve submitted their resignation and are walking out the door. You can build trust with your key talent by engaging in courageous career conversations. Ask your top people what it will take to keep them in your organization and try to find creative ways to provide them opportunities for growth, learning, or expanded responsibilities.

Managing high performers can be just as challenging, if not more so, than managing poor performers. In most cases of poor performance, you can identify specific job skills or personal attributes that need to be improved and put a plan in place to work on those specific issues. When it comes to high performers, you’re constantly having to be creative and find new ways to keep them engaged and growing which can be absolutely exhausting!

Regardless of whatever talent management and retention strategies you employ, building a foundation of trust is critical to the success of keeping your best performers. You can choose to build trust today or lose talent tomorrow.

Three Critical Skills for Managing the Overextended Workforce

DoingMoreWithLess“Doing more with less.” I cringe whenever I hear that phrase because it feels so punitive and unsupportive, and if you’re a leader, I suggest you completely eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary. Whenever you utter those words to your team, your people feel like you don’t understand their circumstances and it erodes trust and confidence in your leadership. They think you just don’t get it.

I’ve found three strategies helpful in dealing with the challenge of doing more with less:

1. Communicate the reality to your team – Share all the information you have about your business, including the good, bad, and ugly. Let people know what’s going on. Information is viewed as power, and if you withhold it from your people, they view you with suspicion and think you’re untrustworthy and power-hungry. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act in the best interests of your organization.

2. Create a high-involvement strategy – If you’re sharing information with your team, the next step is to solicit their involvement in helping solve your business challenges. Ask for their ideas and gather their input. Who knows better how to solve your pressing business issues than the people who are doing the work on the frontlines? There is an old saying that goes “People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” Get your people working with you, not against you.

3. Dial up support for your people – Listening is a great first step in letting people know you care. Take time to understand their frustrations and challenges so you can make better informed decisions. Another way to support your people is to jump in the trenches with them and help them get the work done. Why do you think the President always tours disaster areas, picks up a shovel, and helps workers for a period of time? He does that to send the message that we’re all in this together and he’s not too busy to lend a hand. Being visible and present is key to supporting your team. There’s no way your team is going to follow you if you’re missing in action when the bullets are flying.

On Wednesday, May 8th, 9:00-10:30 a.m. PST, I’ll be one of three speakers conducting an online workshop on this topic of “doing more with less” and managing the overextended workforce. Motivation expert Susan Fowler will be speaking on “Motivating Yourself and Your Team During Stressful Times” while leadership speaker Ann Phillips will address “What Leaders Can Do To Recognize and Head-Off Employee Meltdowns.” I’ll share “How to Become the Kind of Leader that Others Trust.” I hope you’ll be able to join us!


Six Ways You’re a Workplace Bully Without Even Realizing It

Mike RiceBullying has been on primetime display this week as basketball coach Mike Rice was fired from his head coaching job at Rutgers after a leaked practice video showed him pushing, grabbing, throwing balls at players, and cursing them with gay slurs. As a youth sports coach for over 15 years and the father of a 20 year-old college student, I was sickened at Rice’s conduct. There is absolutely no room for that kind of behavior in sports, school, or the workplace. Leaders have to be held to a higher standard.

Bullying is not just verbal or physical intimidation of someone. Especially in the workplace, bullying can manifest itself in many subtle ways. Any behavior you use to intimidate, dominate, embarrass, harass, or purposely make someone feel inferior could be considered bullying.

Here are six subtle ways you may be acting like a workplace bully without even realizing it:

1. You are condescending – When you act in a condescending manner, whether it’s patronizing someone, being dismissive of a person’s contributions, or minimizing someone’s accomplishments in order to highlight yours, you are sending a message that you believe you are superior to the other person.

2. Wounding with sarcasm – I like sarcastic humor as much as the next guy, but there is a huge difference between sarcasm that highlights the irony of a situation and is self-deprecating, versus sarcasm that is intended to belittle and injure another person. Next time you’re ready to drop that witty, sarcastic joke, pause and consider if it will build up the other person or tear her down.

3. Being cliquish – Cliques aren’t only for high school. Unfortunately, many adults carry that same behavior into the workplace. Purposely excluding people from activities is a bullying behavior intended to send the message that “you’re not one of us” and “we’re better than you are.” Trusted leaders look for opportunities to include people so they feel valued and appreciated.

4. Thinking you know it all – Have you ever worked with a person who thinks she knows it all? How annoying is that?! Much like behaving in a condescending manner, acting like you are the all-knowing expert is a way to intimidate others to go along with your ideas or wishes. Just stop it! No one really believes you anyway.

5. Being passive-aggressive – Perhaps one of the most subtle forms of bullying and manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior poisons teams, departments, and organizations. A common trait of bullies is expressing aggression in order to intimidate another person. Passive-aggressive people are bullies who express aggression in indirect ways such as disguising hostility in jokes, stubbornness, procrastination, resentment, or giving just the minimum effort required. I perceive passive-aggressive people as double-agent bullies disguised as victims. Watch out for them!

6. Gossipping – Have you ever considered gossipping as a form of bullying? Probably not, but it easily could be considered bullying, and some experts even consider it a form of workplace violence because it’s intended to harm another individual or group. Why do people gossip? It’s to make themselves feel powerful. The gossipper believes she knows something that other people don’t and she uses that information as leverage to elevate herself above others.

Leaders are charged with bringing out the best in their people and I don’t understand how some leaders, particularly sports coaches, believe that bullying is an acceptable form of motivation. It’s not. It’s belittling, destructive, demeaning, dehumanizing, and does nothing but feed the power-hungry ego of the bullying leader.

If you’re a leader in the workplace, whether it’s in an office, factory, warehouse, construction site, or any other place, make sure you’re not being a bully without even realizing it. You’re better than that and your people deserve your best.

Building Trust in Performance Reviews – Four Ways to “Meet Expectations”

Performance ReviewWhen it comes to building trust through performance evaluations, do you “meet expectations?” The beginning of the year finds many leaders busy preparing and conducting annual performance reviews for their employees. I don’t know of many leaders who are overjoyed at the prospect of spending hours compiling data, completing forms, and writing evaluations for their team members. Most leaders I speak to look at performance reviews as a tedious and mandatory chore they’re obligated to complete and they can’t wait to have the review meeting, deliver the feedback quickly and painlessly, and get on with their “real” work.

With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder why performance reviews are a dreaded event, both from the supervisor’s and employee’s perspective! The reality is that performance reviews are one-of-a-kind opportunities for leaders to build trust and commitment with their followers. Having the right supporting processes and systems in place are helpful, but regardless of your organization’s approach to performance management, you can build trust with your team members by doing these four things:

1. Deliver candid feedback with care – One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to sugarcoat your feedback to an employee. Your employees deserve honest and sincere feedback about how they’re performing so that they have the opportunity to improve, otherwise you are handicapping them and limiting the capabilities of your organization by accepting sub-par performance. Unfortunately, many employees don’t hear about their poor performance until the situation has become critical and they’re put on a performance improvement plan. A look back through their personnel file reveals a series of performance reviews where they’ve met standards and suddenly they’re surprised with this bad news. There shouldn’t be any surprises in a performance review. Through regular conversations during the year, the employee should have received regular feedback about how they’re performing relative to their goals and competencies of their role. I think most people know if they aren’t performing up to snuff. Your people will trust and respect you more if you’re honest with them about their performance.

2. Listen – Don’t do all the talking during the performance review. Yes, you have to review their performance and deliver feedback, but you should also take the time to ask your employees how they felt about their performance. Ask open-ended questions like: “What did you learn this year?” “What would you do differently?” “What did you feel were your biggest successes?” Soliciting the thoughts and opinions of your employees sends the message that you care about what they think and that you don’t assume you have all the answers. You’ll learn valuable insights about what makes your people tick and you can use that information to help plan their future performance. Lending a listening ear is a great way to build trust.

3. Focus on the future – Wait…aren’t performance reviews about reviewing the past? Yes, they are, but in my opinion the real bang for the buck is using that information to focus on growth and development opportunities for your people. Learning from the past is essential, but it’s only valuable if we apply it to the future. What training or education is needed? What are some new stretch goals that can be established? In what ways can the employee leverage his/her strengths with new opportunities? Demonstrating to your employees that you are committed to their career growth builds trust in your leadership and commitment to the organization. Don’t miss this valuable opportunity by solely focusing on the past!

4. Ask for feedback on your leadership – I’m not suggesting you shift the spotlight from your employees to yourself and hijack their review in order to feed your ego, but I am suggesting you ask them two simple questions: “Am I providing you the right amount of direction and support on your goals/tasks?” and “Is there anything I should do more or less of next year to help you succeed?” One of your primary goals as a leader is to accomplish work through others. Their performance is a reflection of your skill as a leader so it’s only appropriate that you use this time to recalibrate the leadership style(s) you’ve been using. It may come as a surprise, but have you thought that the reason why your people aren’t achieving their goals is because you’re not leading them properly? Make sure that’s not the case and get feedback on how you’re doing. Asking for (and graciously receiving) feedback from others is a trust-boosting behavior.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a painful, tedious, mundane task. If you approach them with the right mindset, they can be prime opportunities to build trust with your followers which in turn will help them, and you, to not only meet expectations but exceed them!

So You Want to Be a Manager? Part II – Five Wrong Reasons for Becoming a Manager

Wrong WayIt’s important to be motivated by the right reasons if you’re considering a move into management. As I wrote about last week, the nature of managerial work is vastly different from that of an individual contributor, and if you’re motivated to become a manager by the wrong reasons, you’ll find that you’re either ill-equipped for the role or you simply don’t enjoy it.

Now let me preface my comments with the following disclaimer: The reasons I list below aren’t wrong (or right) in and of themselves. They will certainly be factors under consideration when making the decision to become a manager, but what’s important is your motivation behind why these are factors in your decision.

With that being said, here are five wrong reasons for wanting to become a manager:

1. Money – Most of us wouldn’t turn down a raise if offered one, but it’s important to remember that money is an extrinsic motivator. It will motivate and satisfy us in the short-term, but it won’t sustain our performance over the long run. More importantly, money won’t stoke the internal passion that’s necessary to thrive in a leadership role. The demands of the role will quickly make you feel like you’re underpaid (and you probably are underpaid which makes the dissatisfaction even worse!).

2. Title – Some personalities could care less about their job title. To others a title represents status, importance, significance, or achievement in their work. Whatever your view, titles are ultimately just words on your business card, name tag, or office door. A title may represent a position you hold, but it doesn’t equal the respect and trust you have to earn as a manager. If you’re in it for only the title, your people will see through the facade of your leadership.

3. Advancement – If becoming a manager is just a temporary way station on your journey to total corporate domination, I would suggest you find an alternate route. The people you would be leading deserve a manager who is truly committed to helping them perform their best and not one who is only biding time until his/her next crowning achievement. There are other ways to grow and advance in an organization besides moving into a management role.

4. Benefits or Perks – Managers get extra benefits or perks? I must have missed that memo. Granted, being in a leadership role sometimes allows you to hobnob with other leaders and executives in the company, and it certainly puts you closer to being “in the know” about certain things, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Every role has its advantages and disadvantages, and the perceived perks of being a manager come with many other responsibilities that aren’t very glamorous.

5. Power – Henry Kissinger said that “power is the great aphrodisiac.” The power that comes along with being the boss, no matter how limited and inconsequential it may be, is attractive to many people. Used in the right way, managerial power can be a potent force for positively influencing those you lead. But there is also a dark side to that force. (Can’t help but throw in a Darth Vader quote: “You underestimate the power of the Dark Side.”) If you view power as a means to satisfy your own needs (like Darth Vader), rather than a tool to be used in the service of others (like Yoda), it’s the wrong reason to become a manager. Ok, enough of the nerdy Star Wars references.

Like I said, there is nothing inherently wrong with these reasons, and in many cases, they could be factors in an honorably motivated desire for becoming a manager. But if they are primary reasons for you to pursue a leadership role, you might want to consider whether these motivations will be enough to drive your success, engagement, and satisfaction as a manager.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with these reasons? Give me some feedback by leaving a comment.

So You Want to be a Manager? Six Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

Juggling TimeEarly in my career I didn’t set out to be a manager. Like most people, I considered moving into a supervisory or managerial position the natural next step in being able to earn more money, gain responsibility, and add valuable experience to my resume. Obviously I knew there was a difference between being a manager and an individual contributor, but I didn’t fully understand and appreciate the difference in the type of work I would be doing day in and day out.

Boy, I wish I had known.

Not that it would have changed the arc of my career path, but I would have performed better and developed faster as a leader if I had better understood the nature of managerial work. There is a big difference between managing people and managing tasks, activities, or projects. Drawing from Henry Mintzberg’s The Nature of Managerial Work, here’s six characteristics of the life of a manager. If you’re considering the pursuit of a leadership position, or even if you’re a newly promoted manager, understanding these characteristics will help you form the right mindset and approach to what it means to be a manager.

1. Managers work hard, often at an unrelenting pace – A manager’s work never seems to be done. They often arrive early, leave late, and even lunch seems to be used for meetings and the opportunity to connect with others. Working across global time zones and the pervasiveness of technology in our lives means it’s easy for managers to always be “on” and connected to work.

2. The work is characterized by brevity, variety, and fragmentation – There’s no pattern to a manager’s work. It can be discontinuous and random, and the significance of the activities in a single day can range from serious (disciplining or terminating someone) to trivial (scheduling the next office potluck). Research has shown that most manager’s activities are completed in less than 9 minutes and only 10% of the activities take more than an hour. Meetings, emails, voicemails, reports, performance management, coaching, making decisions…the list goes on and on.

No matter what managers are doing,
they are plagued by what they might do
and what they must do.

3. Work can be an activity trap – Managers often become expert firefighters, always reacting to the latest emergency or hot topic. They work in a stimulus-response environment that encourages them to prefer live action rather than quiet reflection. This causes managers to become adaptive information manipulators rather than reflective, future-oriented planners, an essential skill to master in order to lead teams, other managers, and the organization.

4. Meeting, meetings, and more meetings – Like it or not, managers spend an enormous amount of time in meetings for a variety of purposes. Meetings are used for ceremony, strategy making, and negotiation. They are often necessary for coordinating activities, people, and resources, and are often the primary way for getting work done through other people. Even more important than the formal meetings are the “hallway meetings” that managers conduct to negotiate, lobby, and align opinions of other colleagues.

5. Managers are “boundary” people – Managers are responsible for building relationships with not only their team, but also other levels of management, other groups in the company, and outsiders. They have to manage a complex set of relationships and sometimes spend as much as 30%-50% of their time with outsiders, 30%-50% with team members and other groups in the company dealing with requests, information exchanges, and making strategy, and often less than 10% with their own manager.

6. Managers often have little control over the use of their time – Managers have less autonomy than they think they have. Some studies have shown that managers spend as much as 50% of their time in a reactive mode, and in my experience, there have been days where it felt like 100%! Some days it feels like you are a slave to your schedule. Yet managers do have a lot of control when you consider it is often their decisions that define how their time, and the time of others, will be committed, and that they can use obligatory activities in their workday for more than one purpose (e.g. scheduled meetings can be used for negotiation, gathering information, coaching, giving feedback, etc.).

I’m not trying to scare anyone away from being a leader, but it’s wise to count the cost before you jump into a supervisory or managerial role. Being a manager requires a different skill set than what it takes to be an expert, high-performer in your role as an individual contributor. But if you do decide to take the plunge, there can be a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction in helping other people achieve goals and higher levels of performance than they would have achieved without your help.

So, do you really want to be a manager?

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