The “Pareto Rule” suggests we derive 80% of our outcomes from 20% of our efforts. I suggest a similar “rule” that permeates our organizations—that 10% of our employees cause mayhem and drama in our organizations and dominate 80 to 90% of our time as leaders. I suggest that we need to reassess our process and our assumptions in dealing with this category of employee.
Jim Collins in Good to Great suggests that a leader has three very important roles. He utilizes the metaphor of the “bus” to represent the organization in illustrating these roles. The most critical functions of a leader are to get the right people on the bus, get those people in the right places on the bus, and most importantly, get the wrong people off the bus. It is the third role that causes us the most stress and most harm if not done when necessary.
Imagine the organization chart as a diamond rather than a tree with the tips pointing up and down. Located at the top of the diamond are the “stars”, usually consisting of the top 10% of employees. These employees are the mature, competent and self-starters who need no supervision. These are your “go to” people. Your job with these co-workers is to see that the “rule of stars” does not happen—stars tend to burn twice as bright, half as long.
The second group, composed of 80% of our employees and spread out in the girth of the diamond, is the “work horse” of the organization. This group works steady and dependably. They need directing, mentoring, coaching, and leadership. This group gets way too little of our attention because we are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the bottom 10% of the organization—the whining, sniveling, malcontents (WSMs).
The WSMs constantly make drama in the organization. Our job is to get these people off the bus. I suggest three steps to address these people so that you can focus on the people who actually need you. First, confront this person with facts and give them an opportunity to change. A person can go from a “WSM” to a “star”—give him or her that chance. Second, tell this person that if he or she does not change, the next time he or she comes to see you for this reason, you will terminate them—period. Third, monitor this WSM’s performance, and if he or she does not change, terminate with expediency.
My experience tells me you will have some initial face-to-face meetings, but few, if any, second meetings. We need to stop giving these people a pass because we are concerned with the legality of terminating an employee. Now, lead on.
Recently, I was teaching a class to a group of local government supervisors. One of the participants noted at the end of the session, “Did you know you used the word ‘unpack’ over 20 times?” I laughed and asked, “Really?” Apparently, I used the word so much he decided to make a game of it and keep score!
Here’s the thing—I totally appreciated his honesty. Most presenters will go through seasons when tics or words become invisible to them, but highly visible to those who are paying attention. If no one brings those tics to the speaker’s attention, they may become even more engrained and ultimately hurt the message.
So, when someone offers criticism, instead of getting defensive, be thankful! Actually, it is important when you are receiving feedback to ask a very important follow-up question, “Is there anything else you noticed that would be good for me to know?”
When you take that follow-up step, you are positioning yourself to turn your critic into your coach.
Not only will practicing this feedback loop make you better at what you do, it will affirm those who offer feedback, and model coachability as a key part of your organization’s culture.
Though there are circumstances when a speaker needs to use very few gestures (imagine a spokesperson after a tragedy), in most instances, gestures greatly enhance a speaker’s effectiveness.
We know that much of communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions, body movement, and gestures all contribute to more effective communication.
Yes, it is possible to have too many gestures; but for every speaker with too many gestures, there are many, many more with too few gestures.
There are plenty of “guidelines”. Vary your gestures (don’t make every gesture the same gesture); gesture above the waist; and if you are speaking behind a stand (commonly called a podium, but more accurately called a lectern), gesture above the stand. In other words, people have to see your gestures for the gestures to have the desired effect.
Here are two tips for improving your gestures.
- Tip #1 – Watch yourself on video with the sound turned off.
This is such an easy “this will help me improve” step to take. Turn the sound completely off, and watch yourself move and gesture. When you do so, check the following:
- Eye contact: Are you looking directly into the eyes of your audience members? Are you looking at audience members in each part of the room, in a fairly balanced way?
- Facial Expressions: Do you let some of your personality out in your facial expressions? The more you express yourself through good facial expressions, the more effective you will be.
- Gestures: Are you using plenty of gestures? Do you use different gestures, or are they too much the same? Watching yourself speak with the sound off reveals so much, and provides an agenda to work on.
- Tip #2 – Unvelcro your elbows.
Many speakers seem to gesture–even with fairly wide gestures–with their elbows “velcroed” to their side. It’s like he elbows are stuck to the side of the body and can’t break free.This looks unnatural—what my wife calls “floppy”. It looks inhibited and constrained. So, unvelcro your elbows. Stand in front of a mirror and practice gestures, with your elbows fully disconnected from your torso. Watch the best speakers, and they are not constrained or not inhibited. Their gestures and body movements are energetic and large. A way to practice getting better at this is to unvelcro your elbows. Making this one change can make a big, big difference.
Gestures, facial expressions, and body movements: these can all greatly enhance your effectiveness. And we can all improve our gestures.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
“No matter how flat you make a pancake, it still has two sides.”
– Dr. Phil McGraw, Psychologist
A conflict in the workplace can be difficult enough to solve when there are only two parties involved, but the situation gets much more complicated when outside parties start having influence.
This can be seen in the recent harassment scandal concerning two teammates on the Miami Dolphins team. Jonathan Martin came out telling his side of the story, and the media ran with it, causing the Miami Dolphins to take immediate action. Before the end of the day, Richie Incognito was a villain to the whole nation. When Incognito finally spoke up about the situation, a different side of the story could be seen, but the damage had already been done.
This isn’t a pass for any of the parties involved. The alleged actions are still disgusting and deplorable. However, there is a lesson for your organization to learn as the story continues to unfold.
- When problems arise in your organization, take a step back and listen to both sides of the story.
You’d think it’d be a no-brainer, but a lot of people feel pressure to take action immediately once the incident gains attention by the media or the public. These third parties want actions and reprimands—and they want it now. And that burden may make it difficult for those in charge to make a just decision. Speaking of fairness…
- Make sure everything is being conducted fairly.
If it’s protocol to place the alleged offender on leave while an investigation is being handled, do so. Don’t feel the need to cut corners and skip steps because you want to hurry up and reach a conclusion.
- While the situation is being investigated, don’t give out too many details to outsiders.
You’re still examining the situation, so you don’t have many facts on the case anyways. Get familiar with the phrase, “We can’t release any further details on this case as it is still being investigated.” It won’t be what third parties want to hear, but you also don’t want to give any information where others can jump to their own conclusions.
When trouble rocks your organization, it’s better to stick to your guns when so many different opinions are coming from every way, rather than jumping the gun and making a bad conclusion because you succumbed to outside pressure.
Anyway you look at it, it’s kind of a mess. I’m talking about the bullying/harassment story coming out of the Miami Dolphins locker room.
I’ve read the competing narratives:
- Narrative #1: Richie Incognito is a really bad guy, in every sense of the word.
- Narrative #2: Jonathan Martin needed to be toughened up, and Richie Incognito was just the guy to do it (and the coaches gave him the task of leading that effort).
I think this story raises a broader workplace dilemma. How do we bring out the best a person has to offer?
We have to be tough, don’t we? From every book on physical conditioning, to the provocative and seemingly wise counsel of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile, we have to become “antifragile” so that we can face the actual test when it arrives. And, for sure, that test will likely be a tough, demanding, more-than-we-can-imagine test.
And one way to “toughen folks up” is the use of words. Books like Crucial Conversations and Fierce Conversations teach us that there is a time for something close to an in-your-face confrontation.
But surely there is a right way and wrong way to tackle that kind of toughness. And the NFL may have developed, nurtured, reinforced, and turned a blind eye to the wrong way to pursue this. In a Business Insider article by Cork Gaines, Chicago Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall speaks out about this particular issue:
“A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up. Shake it off. You will be OK. Don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we are teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions. It’s that times a hundred with football players. You can’t show that you’re hurt. You can’t show any pain. So, for a guy that comes into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, you know, that’s a problem. So that’s what I mean by ‘The Culture of the NFL,’ and that’s what we have to change.”
One of the real tests of a good workplace is this: do the people enjoy working together, and are they effective/productive in their work together? One way to ask this, especially in the hiring process, is to ask (and be able to discern the true answer to) this question:
Do you play well with others?
In the Dolphins locker room, they certainly weren’t all playing well with others. And sadly, that may be a snapshot of much of our culture. We are so busy “toughening each other up” or “showing our toughness” that we foment something close to a toxic workplace.
If narrative #1 is the correct one, I think that when the dust settles, the Miami coaches have to be considered as plenty responsible—especially if they “assigned” the task to Richie Incognito. A casual reading of Incognito’s “record” would indicate that he could be trouble in the making. They knew that. So blame Incognito some, and the coaches maybe more.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
When the Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network began planning its first conference, the all-volunteer planning committee was unanimous on one essential point: #ELGL13 would be a truly innovative conference experience. Therefore, we were thrilled when attendees evaluated it by saying things like it was “the best one-day conference” they had ever attended. Here’s an overview of three of the concepts that ELGL used to make the conference truly unique:
Using Social Media via “Twitterazzi”
We coined the hashtag “#ELGL13” for our conference day and encouraged everyone to use this hashtag to share information about the day on Twitter. Then, we formed the “Twitterazzi”, which consisted of 14 ELGL members who were each assigned a different session to “live tweet”. Live tweeting is simply a play-by-play of what is happening during the conference.
This initial team of 14 quickly multiplied once the conference began. A number of attendees created Twitter accounts during the conference so they could add their commentary or pose questions for the speakers. Intentionally using Twitter in this way allowed people who weren’t there to become interactive conference participants.
Creating New Connections
We’ve all been to professional conferences where we congregate with the same people we could see every day at the office or other work events. ELGL was determined to avoid this, so we played the role of matchmaker by assigning the 140 attendees to one of 16 different tables.
How did we assign tables? ELGL asked a number of questions during the registration process such as “Which ‘Parks & Recreation’ character do you best relate to?” or “Have you ever read a Jane Jacobs book?” This created a synergy that added to the value of the conference because people made friends that added to their understanding.
How do you gain experience when most positions require previous experience? Public speaking at a conference is a prime example of something that the next generation of local government leaders need to experience. So, we added “Lightning Rounds” to #ELGL13 to provide this valuable experience. Some participants were allowed to give the “Lightning Round” talks and were given these instructions: “five minutes… you… a microphone… a projector.” They could literally talk about anything they wanted. Topics ranged from finding workplace inspiration, to investment in electric vehicles, to organizational consolidation. It not only provided them with public speaking experience, it also helped create ownership in the conference.
Developing a conference that is innovative requires using social media in an effective way, creating new connections, and allowing participants to participate—not just observe. If you are intentional about it, you can create excitement that goes beyond the value of the formal presentations. Focus on implementing intentional innovations that will create synergy.
I was watching football this past weekend when a coach whose team had fallen behind in the first half said, “We just need to get back to fundamentals and we’ll be fine.” Some would argue, “If you don’t have the fundamentals down by game time, ‘fine’ is the last thing you’re going to be!”
The good news is the team did play better in the second half. My hunch is when they went into the locker room, coaches reminded players to not forget what they had learned in practice. Even though the team lost, the second half was much more interesting than the first. Getting back to the fundamentals did make a difference.
In the busy rhythms of business, it is important to make sure that we consistently remind our employees of the importance of practicing fundamentals. Here are a few ideas to help you do that:
- Schedule – Can you imagine how disastrous the outcome would be for a sports team that showed up for a game after having no scheduled practices? The same is true for businesses. Schedule times to get together for reviewing fundamentals and practicing customer interaction, service, troubleshooting, interpersonal skills, etc. To expect our people to just “get it” without intentionally getting together and practicing overlooks several fundamental principles of leadership.
- Get together – Pull your team together every Monday morning and relay a “Fundamental of the Week” that you want everyone to practice. It could be as simple as: “focus your full attention on customers” or “fix problems quickly but competently”. Tie these fundamentals back to your core values for an even more meaningful gathering.
- Practice – If you are experiencing a reoccurring issue, why not pull employees together and practice different approaches to solving the problem? Have one employee play the role of the customer and another the role of employee. Keep it real, observe, critique, and debrief. Practice interviews internally before you begin bringing in job candidates. Practice lockdowns. Practice dealing with a difficult customer. “Practice makes perfect” is not just a cute tagline.
- Commit – It is easy to talk about scheduling, getting together, and practicing, but it is much harder to commit. As a leader, it is your responsibility to hold yourself and your team members accountable and prepare them to competently fulfill your organization’s business strategy. Hoping things get better is not leadership. Making things better is.
Get back to the fundamentals. Your team will be better off for it.
“For Jobs to make Apple’s strategy work—to grow the iOS platform vertically—he needed to hit it out of the park every time.
Only someone with the self-confidence of Jobs would have the guts to set such a high bar.
The biggest criticism, however, was the one Jobs thought he had answered in his presentation: What do I need it for?
…by 2009 the technology was ready…
The Android team at Google scrambled to keep up with the relentless pace of Apple’s innovations. But in 2011 they were being outflanked on almost every front.”
(Excerpted from Fred Vogelstein’s How Steve Jobs Made the iPad Succeed When All Other Tablets Failed)
I know a person who served in a leadership position in a major, well-known, long-successful company. She was very good at her job and had a career trajectory that was worthy of emulation.
She’s left the company (with a nice “buy-out” package).
The company is in trouble.
“Why?” you ask. Because in this company, at this moment, there is a little uncertainty on this question:
“What should we be working on with our best people right now?”
Get that right, and everything is possible. Get that wrong, and the future is gloomy indeed.
I thought of all this as I read this terrific article about Steve Jobs and the iPad. (See the excerpts from the article above). There were so many talented, hardworking, capable people put to work on developing the first version, and now subsequent versions, of the iPad. These people had a great work ethic, and they were highly capable. And they succeeded. But a big reason for their success is this: the iPad was the right bet and the right answer to the question, “What should we be working on now?”
I can assure you that there are other such folks with equally strong work ethics and significant capabilities put to work on the next generation of a Blackberry, or the next version of some laptop, etc. And sadly, for some of them, their work will be “wasted”. They are working on a project or a product that is the wrong answer to the question: “What should we be working on now?”
If the decision you make after you ask that question is the wrong one, the future is bleak. If the decision about this turns out to be the correct one, the profits can be breathtaking.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” —Winston Churchill
This quote reminds us that too many times we become enamored with the beauty of our plans, strategies, and ideas, yet fail to really accomplish anything. As Churchill suggested, we need to keep our eye on the end result.
How do you get things to happen? We have a tendency to rely on things that have been labeled “critical, but insufficient”. Sometimes organizations look to legal reasons. “This should be done because the legislature has said that it should be done.” However, as important as the law is, we don’t always abide by it. If someone doesn’t follow the law, we have the option of filing a complaint or creating a lawsuit, but that may not really result in something being accomplished in a timely manner.
Sometimes we rely on the power of position. A boss gives an order to an employee to do something and wants it done because, “I am the boss.” Sometimes that is a successful approach, but not always. A recent study on effective leadership identified this as one of the common traits of ineffective leaders. Ineffective leaders rely on “positional authority”. It would seem to make sense, but it doesn’t often work.
Sometimes we rely on the power of conscience and character. We hope that regardless of the contracts or the boss’ wishes, a person will execute his/her job because of pride. “How can he/she just not do the job?” we ask ourselves, incredulously. That’s a good question; that’s a sensible question, but we are not always sensible people. I asked my son, a recent college graduate, “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about ‘the real world workplace?’” His answer was simply, “Nothing gets done if a person does not want to do it.” He’s learned quickly that things don’t get done just because they are supposed to, no matter what the law, the boss, or the conscience says.
The same study that suggested that frustrated managers rely on the power of position, suggested that effective managers rely on the power of relationship. The truth is that people are not motivated by the law of the land, and they may or may not have a good work ethic (conscience), but relationships matter to everyone. It’s true within your organization, and it’s true outside of your organization. If you want to get things done, build strong relationships. Perhaps that sounds like a strategy that’s a bit too soft, but Churchill’s words still apply.
My guess is that the most logical, reasonable, and sensible strategy that you can create pales in comparison to the power of relationship to actually get things done.