Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

High-Performer or High-Potential?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

This week we have a guest blog by Kyle Lagunas, HR Analyst at Software Advice. Enjoy!

In a time when the workforce is increasingly transient, your ability to identify high-performing and high-potential employees—and that of your managers—is critical. And yet, many struggle to distinguish one from the other, negatively impacting their ability to develop and retain top talent. In many organizations, performance is the primary measure of an employee’s value in the organization. Star performers are promoted and rewarded, while diamonds in the rough become disengaged and move on.

Don’t get me wrong–you should definitely value performance. But if your end goal is to build a more robust talent pipeline (and it should be), performance can’t be the only point of entry. To that end, there are strategies that any manager can apply to develop high-potentials and high-performers effectively.

Step One: Identify

High-performers stand out in any organization. They consistently exceed expectations, and are management’s go-to for difficult projects. They take pride in their accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role.

High potentials can be more difficult to identify, especially for line managers. That’s because most valuable attributes (e.g. stress management, adaptability, business sense) aren’t catalytic in entry-to-mid-level roles. Potential is subjective to what a company values, of course, but there are innate attributes that distinguish them from high-performers.

Line managers’ observations are often limited to the most obvious traits (time management, communication skills, attention to detail). By working with leadership, however, managers can profile the skills that ensure success in key roles—and be on the lookout for examples of both high performers and high potentials from day one.

Step Two: Assess

An established standard of the attributes and competencies of model employees is also an essential part of objective assessment. And though there’s a distinct difference between potential and performance, experts agree that employees should be assessed on competency in both.

Each category requires a different development strategy. With a clearer picture of who falls where, managers can make more informed decisions in how to effectively develop them. For example: High Po/ Low Per employees may need to improve their ability to perform consistently, or may be moved into roles better aligned with their natural abilities. And High Per/Low Po employees would be ideal candidates for soft skill development–or for roles that require more technical skill.

Step Three: Engage and Develop

The important thing about development and engagement strategies (especially for high-potential vs. high-performance employees) is to tailor your efforts to drive the results you want. Typical engagement strategies could look something like this:

Recognition is key for High Per/Low Po employees. They need constant encouragement and challenging assignments. Rather than promoting them to roles they don’t want (or aren’t ready for), give them the independence and engage them with projects that they can take full ownership of.

Alternately, while High Po/Low Per employees are hungry for more high-impact work, they need seasoning. On the job training is a great way to accomplish this, especially when pairing them with high performers. As they develop a stronger understanding of the organization and their role in it, give them projects to manage, new hires to train, and offer cross-training opportunities.

Set Your Line Managers Up for Success

Your line managers are the gatekeepers to your talent pipeline, and they’ve got their work cut out for them. While most will have some natural ability in identifying, assessing, and engaging performers and potentials, few will be adept at all three. If you want to improve your ability to retain top talent, it starts with your line managers. Set them up for success, and invest in their development.


About the Author: Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice—an online resource for HR software comparisions. He reports on trends, technology, and best practices in talent management, with work featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Information Weekly, and the NY Times.


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Feedback Leads to Happiness – Happiness Leads to Performance

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

For a long time I’ve been preaching about how important it is to give people confirming feedback, and that what you reward someone for will be repeated.

But there’s even more to positive or confirming feedback that helps improve performance. Study after study has proven that happy people perform better. And one way to help someone be happy is to have them replay successes. So, by telling someone what they did right, they will replay this and are more likely to feel positive and happy… and therefore perform even better.

Confirming feedback, therefore, has a double whammy effect:

  1. A person is more likely to repeat what he or she has been rewarded for.
  2. By hearing about the successful behavior again, the person will feel more happy (any time a person replays a past success they tend to feel happier), and happy people perform better.

Read The Happiness Advantage or watch the TED Talk by Shawn Achor. It’s an excellent book about the positive impact of happiness (well, duh), and I love the TED Talk.

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Outsource Inspiration: Use End-Users to Motivate Employees

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

As a manager or leader you’re expected to inspire and motivate your staff. But here’s an idea: delegate or outsource inspiration.


In study after study, it’s been demonstrated that employees are not ultimately inspired or motivated by bonuses or rewards. In fact, one of the most motivational factors is employees knowing what impact their work is having on the end user.

Note: Read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, for more information on what motivates employees. It’s awesome.

So, have end-users connect with your employees. Have them tell your employees how their work impacts them.

I’m not a great believer in focus groups. I think you get “safe” information from them. You often get group think. You don’t get real honest, out of the box thinking.

But if you were to use a focus group, have your employees sit down with your end-users, asking them what your product or service means to them. Don’t bother asking for feedback on what the end-users would do to improve the product or service – that’s not what you’re looking for. Just get the end-users to motivate your employees by talking about what your product or service means to them. Get to the emotions behind what your business represents to the end-user.

That will motivate your employees more than anything.

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Do You Need A Coach?

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Listen to what former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt thinks about whether you should have a coach.

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Leadership: What Is It Good For?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Actually, my real question is, “Leadership: What is it?” But every time I tried to type that question, the Edwin Starr song, War: What Is It Good For? came to mind.

So, what is leadership? That’s a big question. No, it’s a huge question. How about management – how does it differ? These are not questions I expect to fully answer here. What I am expecting to do is stir up some thinking.

And to start that thinking, here’s a couple of quotes:

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

John Holt, the renowned educational reformer in his excellent book, Teach Your Own, said, “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. ‘Leadership qualities’ are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? I have my own thoughts in this, but I really want yours. So I’m pleading for everyone reading this blog to post a comment below, answering the question of what the difference is between a leader and a manager. I know for a fact that the comments will mean a lot more than my opinion or any definition found in a business book or course.

Take a few minutes to click on the comment button below and write whatever you want about my question.

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A Culture-Developing Book

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Why? Because it’s all about what I believe may be the most important factor in the success of a business. Oh, and I like the way it’s written.

For years I’ve been asking successful business owners, executives, managers, and founders one question: What do you hire for, fit or skill? In all but one time, the answer I’ve gotten from the most successful leaders is “hire for fit.” In other words, hire people who fit the company’s culture, who will fit in with co-workers, because anyone can learn skills – they can’t learn to fit a culture.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had many managers, owners, executives, and founders claim to hire for skill. Quite a few, actually, answer that way. But I can’t recall a single one that would be considered successful by many on the outside. In fact, there’s been a direct correlation between mediocre managers who claim to focus on a potential employee’s skill, and successful ones who hire for fit. Okay, it’s not a scientific study, but my anecdotal surveys are many enough to demonstrate more than a trend.

If you know much about Zappos, you know that the company is all about providing an incredible customer experience. They’ve built a culture focused on customer service. They hire people who will go out of their way to give customers an experience they will rave about. That’s not a skill that people either have or don’t have; it’s an attitude, it’s part of a person’s values. The skills to do so are developed.

What’s interesting is what inspired Hsieh to build a company so focused and committed to building the company’s culture. It was a personal experience at a company he founded. One day, he awoke and realized his company had changed, and it wasn’t pretty. The culture – the collective values – of the business had turned into something he didn’t like. The business had turned into something ugly. He couldn’t say exactly who, what or when it changed, but it had.

I’ve experienced the exact same thing. That’s probably one reason I enjoyed Delivering Happiness so much. Read it. I bet you’ll get more than you expected from it.

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Changing The Organization

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Awhile back, I wrote a post about change, specifically about how individuals can change their mental programming with the use of mental imagery. But I posed the question, “How does an entire organization change – how can an entire company do mental programming?”

So, do you have the answer?

I’m waiting…

Okay, maybe I’ll take a stab at it – although I’d still like to hear your answer. You can always post a comment below.

Mental models… That’s really what we’re talking about. And that’s one of the many things that great leaders do: they paint a picture of the future, helping everyone in the organization to develop a mental model of what the changed future looks like.

Developing a mental model is really mental imagery, otherwise known as visualization. When a leader designs a picture of what the future looks like, change and all, others develop a clear mental model of that future. And, for whatever reason, our minds tend to follow the image we put in it. In other words, if you help create a mental image of what the future will look like, and I get a very strong, clear picture of it, my mind will do everything it can to ensure it happens as you’ve represented it.

“Change comes from within.” Sounds very Zen-like, doesn’t it? But it fits organizational change. Until the people within the organization change their model of the business, nothing you do to the organization will change. Think of this change as being an inside-out approach, instead of an outside-in one. You can change procedures, you can change processes, you can even change the people in the organization, but until a majority of people have a clear mental model of what the change looks like, feels like, and sounds like, nothing will transform.

But that’s just my mental model of change. What’s yours? How do you think organizations can create change?

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The Advantage of Being Naïve

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Be stupid.

Not knowing what you’re doing and not knowing what you “should” know, and being just a little bit dumb or naïve is sometimes a good thing. Knowing too much can be a bad thing.

Whether it’s in sports, business, or whatever, knowledge often limits what you do.

The examples are many: Entrepreneurs who jump in and make new ventures work despite many people with much more knowledge and experience saying it won’t work. Athletes who accomplish things because they didn’t know they shouldn’t be able to. Scientists not listening to what others have said and coming up with breakthroughs.

I love coaching young race drivers. Why? Because they don’t know what they can’t do; they think they can do anything. And so often, they can. They do things that many drivers with more experience would say can’t or should not be done. Things like driving through a corner with their right foot flat to the floor on the gas pedal, when others with more experience would tell you “that can’t be done.”

Many young drivers get sponsors to pay for their racing program for one reason: They ask for it. More experienced and knowledgeable drivers wouldn’t ask because they’d “know” they had nothing to offer. But being naïve meant these new racers weren’t limited to what they should or shouldn’t ask for.

I know a salesperson who doesn’t always do things “by the book.” But he makes things happen. And that’s because he isn’t limited by what others think. I’m not saying he’s dumb. In fact, he’s very smart. But he doesn’t let the rules, what others think is the right way, get in the way of getting things done.

So, how do you use what you know without that knowledge getting in the way? Without it limiting you? The trick, of course, is knowing when to trust your knowledge and experience, and when to turn your brain off and just go for it.

Try it. Turn off your brain; stop thinking about what can and can’t be done; stop thinking about what the “right” way is to do or think about something; stop listening to people that say you can’t do that… and just do it. Try it for a while. The problem is that you – and most everyone else – have been programmed to think in a certain way. So, until you consciously change the way you think, you’ll keep thinking the way you’ve always thought.

Consciously and deliberately act naïve. Expect to do the unexpected. Just do.

By the way, one of the most naïve businesspeople, in terms of not following what others say or what the norm is, is Sir Richard Branson. Did he do what others thought was the smart thing to do? No. And look where it got him.

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Multitasking Your Way To Mediocrity

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Would you rather be good at many things, or the best at one thing? A generalist, or a specialist? Consider this: Specialists make the most headlines, the most money, the most difference in the world. Trying to be good at everything usually results in being mediocre.

For many years, all-season car tires were a perfect example of this: okay on dry pavement, okay in the rain, okay in snow, okay on ice; but not great at anything. They were a good compromise.

Some employees and teammates are like this. They’re good at many things, but not great at any one thing. Some would say that’s good, as a company and team needs people who just get things done.

But what if? What if a company had no employees who were just okay at things, but had an entire team of people who were specialists, who were superstars in their own area of expertise?

Some would say that’s utopian thinking and too idealistic. Is it? And even if it is a little idealistic, is it possible for a company to be made up of people who are great at what they do; people who are so confident and appreciated for what they contribute that they don’t bother trying to be more than what they are? In other words, they’re comfortable being the best at one simple thing. They have no need to try to impress others with all of things they know and can do. (This is a key point: Often, the reason people try to be good at everything is because they don’t receive enough recognition for what they’re really good at).

But, “What about sports teams made up of superstars, who under-perform as a team?”, you ask. All-star and some Olympic teams come to mind, right? I’m not suggesting that these superstars don’t need to work together as a team. In fact, as proven by some Olympic and All-star teams, teamwork is a must for peak performance. Lack of teamwork can rarely be made up for by a group of superstars.

The difference between the aforementioned superstar teams  and what I’m talking about is teamwork. Just because you have a group of superstars, doesn’t mean that they can’t work together as a team. In fact, if you have people who are great in their specific area, they complement each other, and build a stronger team (especially if each team member is appreciated and acknowledged for their contribution).

What often hurts teams is the lack of specialists. A team of good players, all trying to do a good job in the same area, will rarely be a strong team. And they’ll step on one another. Great teams have specialists in each critical area, and these specialists are comfortable knowing they’re doing their job, are respected and appreciated for it, and trust others on the team to do what they specialize in.

As Calvin Newport, author of How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out, says, “Being the best in a field makes you disproportionately impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known… Employers don’t mind upsetting hard workers, but they fear losing stars.”

Focus on being the best in one area, being a specialist, being a superstar performer.

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Story Time: The Courage to be an Exceptional Leader

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night… Okay, not exactly. But it is story time about an executive coaching client, one of the most courageous leaders I’ve ever met.

This is the story about a CEO who had never had a boss before, and so he didn’t have a model to base his leadership style on. Most leaders have had years of working for others, managing at lower levels, learning through trial and error, and having numerous role models to learn from. Not Sam (and also not his real name).

Sam came from a different world, one unlike corporate America. He developed his expertise in areas other than management, leadership, strategic planning, finance, and all those other things it takes to build a company. But that’s just what he did – built a company from the ground up. While he did not have experience in starting a business, he did have a unique knowledge that provided the perfect jumping off point to found and launch a company, plus provide a much-needed product to the public.

A few years after starting the company, he made the decision that he needed to be an exceptional leader. Not just a good leader, not just a great leader, but an exceptional leader. That’s just the way Sam is. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of coaching him on his journey towards exceptionality.

What made Sam different than many leaders was his willingness to hear what others said about him, to take feedback in stride, and to not feel threatened by criticism. He was incredibly open and accepting, and this lead to improvements. It took courage to listen to what others said about him, to hear the criticism aimed his way. Where many in his position would have stamped his feet and said, “That’s the way I am, so get used to it,” Sam listened.

Sam did not take every criticism to heart and bend to every one, although it did seem that way to some. In fact, he was accused of following the “management trick of the week.” But this was part of the process, part of him finding his style, part of his journey. Much like painters copy the works of the masters for a period of time until they develop their own style, Sam did try a few different approaches. Some were uncomfortable at times for him.

At one time we talked about the charismatic, strong (some would say dictatorial) leadership styles of Jack Welch, Steve Balmer, Steve Jobs, and others. Sam wondered if he needed to be more that way. We also talked about the many leaders reported on by Jim Collins in his Good To Great book, and how they were often near-opposite of those just mentioned. He wondered if he needed to be more like them.

Eventually, Sam found that he needed to be authentic. He needed to be himself, and have the courage to trust that he could be the exceptional leader he wanted to be without having to act like someone he wasn’t. Eventually, Sam discovered his leadership style.

With little to no experience in various situations, Sam had to trust someone or something. In time, he learned to trust the only thing he could: himself and his gut. At the same time, many people were pulling him in differing directions to make decisions that suited them. Time and time again, when Sam listened to his intuition, he made the best decision. But it wasn’t easy to do that when he had so little to base these tough decisions on; it would have been easier to follow the advice of others.

Sam is an exceptional leader. Does that mean he’s reached his goal? He would be the first to reply, “Absolutely not!” Why? Because Sam knows that being an exceptional leader means never settling for where you are today. He knows that to be an exceptional leader, he must constantly look to be even better tomorrow than he was today; to listen and learn from others; to trust his instinct, and drive himself and his team to levels unseen in the past; to be open to criticism; to look inward and question his own abilities; and to be courageous.

Had Sam not been courageous enough to listen to what others said about him, he would not be the exceptional leader he is today. He’s not perfect, but he is exceptional.

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