Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

What’s Your Performance Strategy?

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I suspect your organization has a strategic plan, the plan of how it’s going to get from here to where it wants to be. If you’re like many organizations, it also has a marketing strategy, a sales strategy, a pricing strategy, a product development strategy, a human resources strategy, an R&D strategy… all of which rolls up into your overall strategic plan.

But does your organization have a performance strategy? You know, a strategy for ensuring that each and every individual and team performs at their best?

A number of years ago a study (“Public Agenda Report on Restoring America’s Competitive Vitality,” Yankelovich and Immerwahr, 1983) reported that only 23 percent of the workforce in America felt they were performing at their best. That means that 77 percent felt they could do more, and be more productive. In fact, 44 percent admitted that they do just enough to keep their job. And those were just the ones that admitted it!

While the study was conducted decades ago, it is consistent with my own informal surveys where I ask employees to rate their current performance on a scale of 1 to 10. At least 90 percent of the people I’ve surveyed rate their performance at no more than a 7.

Imagine if these employees were in your organization. Imagine if 90 percent of the people in your organization stepped up their performance from a 7 to a 9. What impact would that have on the overall performance of your organization?

One thing I know for sure is that hope is not a very effective strategy! Hoping that the individuals on your team and in your organization will improve their performance is really just wishful thinking. Unless there is a strategy implemented to make improvements, things will carry on just as they have in the past, no matter how much you or anyone hopes they will improve.

Oh, this applies to you, too. If you want to improve your performance, you need a strategy and a plan to implement it.

In these economic times, performance is more important than ever. It used to be that improving your performance was necessary only if you wanted to see some kind of promotion. Today, performance improvement may be the only thing between you and the long unemployment line.

From an overall corporate perspective, performance improvement may be what keeps your organization alive.

So, what’s your performance strategy?

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Corporate Values & Culture

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

A company’s values and its culture are interlinked. Some would say they are the same thing, but I disagree. Values are what you begin with; culture is what you end up with.

For example, honesty may be a core value to you and your company, but if enough people in an organization act in a dishonest way, eventually the company’s culture will be one of dishonesty.

A company’s culture should be the enactment of the core values. While values typically come from the top, the culture will develop through the actions of the people within the company. The only way to control these actions is through a process of communicating and reinforcing the values.

One can state what the values of the company should be, but if enough people – and key people – do not act in alignment with the stated values, the culture will be driven by these actions. Action and behavior drive culture more than words.

This is why it is critical that a company define, communicate and consistently reinforce its values. If not, don’t be surprised if the company’s actual culture is not what you want – and not in alignment with the desired values.

The process that best enables an organization to control and develop its values and culture is as follows:

  1. Identify – List the company’s values – what is important to the leader(s) and key people in the organization.
  2. Communicate – Tell employees what the values are… often. An organization cannot over-communicate their values.
  3. Hire – Hire people that best fit the stated values – that have personal values that are in alignment with the company’s.
  4. Train – As part of the onboarding process for new employees, and ongoing training for existing employees, explain why the company’s values are what they are, and why they are important.
  5. Model – Act in ways that support and demonstrate the stated values. Actions are more powerful than words, so back up the verbal communication with behavior that supports the values.
  6. Reinforce – Positively reinforce employees for acting inline with the company values.

When an organization follows these six steps, it will develop a culture in alignment with the desired values.

Why are Values and Culture Important? Values drive decisions, from who to hire to strategic business decisions.

An employee whose personal values are not in alignment with the organization’s will eventually make decisions incongruent with these values. They will do something that is not in alignment with the company’s strategic plan, and/or hire the wrong person. Hiring the wrong person – someone else that does not have the same core values as the company, and often the same as the person doing the hiring – will reinforce a value that does not match the company’s. This will develop the wrong culture – one not in alignment with the organization’s desired and stated values. A critical mass of people with values incongruent with the company’s will impact the culture more than any amount of communication.

When hiring, it is best to hire for values fit before skills, experience or knowledge. Skills and knowledge can be trained and experience acquired. A person’s core values are something deep inside them, and not something that changes over time, if ever. A person with core values that do not match the company’s they work in will ultimately be unhappy, and less than highly-productive. And those are the least of the company’s worries. This person will eventually do things that are not in alignment with the company’s values, likely causing a negative situation.

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The Learning Formula

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

A number of years ago I came across a very interesting factor in the learning process. I was coaching a young race driver who, no matter how many times I told him what to do, he just couldn’t get it. So, relying on my knowledge of the “mental game” and on my study of sports psychology tactics, I felt he must not have a strong and clear mental image of what he was supposed to do.

The theory states that an athlete should do visualization of the technique in order to develop the mental image of the goal, and in doing so, he or she will perform it. I’ve used this process since I first read about it in an athletic coaching journal that I got from my phys ed teacher in grade 9, and I knew it worked. I can’t begin to tell you the number of hours I’ve spent since that time with my eyes closed, in a relaxed mental state, vividly imagining every last detail of what it was I was trying to perform.

Working with this young driver this day, it seemed that no matter how many times I told him to let the car drive out to the edge of the track and within a few inches of the concrete wall lining the track, he would not do it.

So, I knew that it was critical that he have a strong mental image of what he was trying to do, and therefore encouraged him to do mental imagery. He sat in the trailer with his eyes closed, imagining having the car come within inches of the wall. After a couple of 15-minute sessions, I could tell that he could see in his mind exactly where he needed the car to be. He had a very strong mental image of what he needed to do.

Back on track, guess what happened? He drove exactly where he had earlier. I was a little confused. After all, everything I had ever studied within the mental game and sports psychology said that all an athlete needed to do was visualize what he wanted, and his mind would take him there. And while all the research proves that this is true, it wasn’t happening this day. But why?

Well, maybe it was. It just wasn’t happening fast enough for me or my driver. Sure, racers are not the most patient people in the world, but neither are other athletes… and business people, and…

As soon as I asked him where his car was on the track, I knew that I was onto something. His reply was something along the lines of, “I’m not sure.” It was that moment where I realized that simply having a mental image of what you want to do is not enough, at least if you want relatively fast improvement or change. In addition to having the mental image, one also needs awareness of where you are right now in relationship to this goal.

That’s when I developed what I call the Learning Formula: MI + A = G. MI stands for Mental Image, A stands for Awareness, and G is the Goal you’re trying to achieve. (Sure, I know from a pure math perspective MI means M times I, but in this case I’m just using it to represent two words – my apologies to all the math-fanatics out there). What I’ve discovered since that time is that this may just be the most natural way of learning humans do. Definitely, it is the most effective.

By having the young driver tell me how far from his ideal image of where the car should be on the track, he immediately became aware, and within minutes he changed his technique to what I had spent hours telling him to do. Within minutes, he fixed the problem – the problem that I couldn’t fix by telling him what to do – by simply having a clear Mental Image of what he wanted to achieve, and Awareness of where he was in relationship to that image. It was as if his brain looked at the two – the image of the ideal, and what the current situation was – and said, “Okay, body, I guess he wants these two things to come together – do what it takes to make that happen.”

The Learning Formula applies to much more than just racing, or just sports. It applies to just about everything, and certainly to business.

MI is much like a business’s long-term strategy or business plan. It provides the goal, it provides the direction. A is much like a business’s short-term measurements: metrics, reports, key performance indicators. Without both the long-term strategy and plan – the Mental Image of where the company is going – and the short-term measurements providing an awareness of how on-target the company is in relation, it is doubtful the company will perform as well as it could. I will go as far as saying that the company has a very good chance of failing if it doesn’t have both.

When I suggest to business people that they need to have a strong mental image of where they are going, and of their long-terms goals, they often point to a strategic plan document and say, “We’ve got it.” The problem with most strategic plans are that they are fact-based. I’m not suggesting that is wrong. In fact, you need to have the facts and the details. But without the feel behind the facts, without the emotions, and without the behaviors, that’s all they are – facts. When a person, a team, and an entire company can truly feel what the future looks like, they can imagine the emotions, and imagine how they would behave when the strategic plan is being played out, big things happen. For example, a goal of $20 million in revenue is a fact. It’s could be a great goal for a company, but it doesn’t necessarily provide what people and teams need to perform at their best. Help them imagine how they would behave, how they would feel, how the company would act… when the revenues are at $20 million. If everyone in the company can imagine that, the chances of reaching that goal is ten times what it would be if your employees only saw the numbers – the facts – presented in a spreadsheet or strategic plan document.

And then be sure to build awareness of where the company is in relation to that goal. Use metrics, reports, whatever to ensure everyone is aware of where you are now.

Let me know when you have as much success with MI + A = G as I’ve had.

Are You At-Stake, or At-Risk?

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Organizations are either in an at-stake or an at-risk state. Which is your organization in?

Being in an at-stake state, the focus – and even the culture – within the organization is on what’s at stake to be gained. It’s forward-focused. It’s on the offensive.

When in an at-risk state, organizations are in defensive mode, they’re playing it safe, they’re covering their you-know-what, and are more focused on protecting what they can lose – what’s at risk – then they are on what they can gain.

You’ve likely heard the old sports saying, “The best defense is a good offence.” At-stake organizations are following this advice; at-risk organizations are not.

Companies in the start-up phase are mostly in the at-stake state. They’re focused on what they’re capable of. They’re focused on all the great things they’re going to accomplish. They’re focused on becoming successful.

For many companies, when they become successful – however they define successful – they switch from being at-stake to being at-risk. They want to protect their success. And, in doing so, they actually become more vulnerable, and often times become less successful.

The high-tech industry is a fascinating place to compare companies and the state they’re in. While there are so many start-ups in the at-stake mode, what about companies at the top? What about companies like Microsoft and Apple? What states do you think these two companies are in?

Just by watching the television ads from these two companies, you can get a feel for what state they’re in. Apple is all about being on the offence, while Microsoft’s ads show them in a reactionary mode, trying to protect what they have. The products coming out of Apple and Microsoft over the past few years also show their states. Apple has taken chances and introduced forward-thinking products, while Microsoft has either copied Apple (the Zune, for example) or done the same old thing again (Vista).

Of course, organizations are not alone. Individuals can be either at-stake or at-risk in how they operate on a daily basis. How about you? Are you at-stake, or at-risk? Are you focused on what you can accomplish, or on protecting what you’ve already accomplished? Are you going for it, or playing it safe? Are you playing offense, or defense?

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Performance versus Results

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Which is more important to you: how you perform, or the results you achieve? Tough question, isn’t it? Sure, at the end of the day, it’s the results that people remember, especially in business. But, what leads to the results? Performance, right? Without a great performance, great results are unlikely.

As a race driver, results have been a big part of my life for a long time. As a race driver coach, if my driver doesn’t achieve results, I may not have a job for long. Throughout my life, I’ve competed in many sports, and at a pretty high level in some. People describe me as a competitive person – I love to win. Results matter to me – especially great results. When I hear a competitor talk about being happy with a second-place finish, I cringe – second place sucks. At least most of the time. Let me explain.

The one thing I’d wished I’d learned earlier in my life is to focus on my own performance, and let the results come from that. I wish I’d learned earlier that I can’t control my competitors, and I can’t control the results. The only thing I can control is my own performance, and in doing so, I will influence my competitors and the results.

It’s ironic that when you focus on the results, you often don’t perform at your best, and therefore don’t get the result you’re looking for. But when you focus on your performance, you are much more likely to achieve the results.

So, why does focusing on the result not lead to achieving them? Pressure, anxiety, over-trying, fear of failure, fear of success, tension – that’s just a few of the reasons. For example, if your focus is on a specific sales goal, and you feel the pressure to deliver, you often become tense and don’t perform as well as you could. You may become a little desperate to reach the goal, and resort to tactics that are not in the best interest of your performance. You may fear the consequences of not reaching the goal. All of these things will lead to a lesser performance.

If, instead, you were to focus on maximizing your performance, you are more likely to reach your sales goal. If you can imagine what your performance would need to look, sound and feel like to achieve your goals, then you’ve got something tangible you can work on. On a daily basis, if you’re focused on the result, you don’t necessarily know what it is you need to do to make that goal a reality. Sure, the result – looked at as a goal – helps direct you, and it can motivate you. But it doesn’t tell you how to perform to achieve the goal. Focusing on your performance – the details of what you need to do, and how you need to do it – gives you a specific behavior to follow.

Focus on your performance, and let the results come from that performance. When you do, second place may not always suck. If you perform at your very best, and you still finish second, you can at least know you’ve put everything you had into it – the competition was just a little better than you today. But if you finish second, and you did not perform at your best, then that sucks!

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Performance Leads To Results

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Because of some work I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been thinking about how many executives, managers and business owners approach their careers. Or, specifically in the case of business owners, what their approach is to making their companies successful.

How many times have you seen someone with extraordinary technical skills get promoted to a management position, only to struggle? Why? Because technical skills do not necessarily make for good people-management skills.

Many employees have a personal goal of climbing the corporate ladder, and company founders have a goal of seeing their companies become successful.

The best way for individuals to climb the corporate ladder is to perform better than others around them. The best way for company founders to see their organizations become successful is to ensure the employees of their companies perform at a high level.

Some people have extraordinary technical skills. However, they may not have the people-management skills they need; they may not be able to bring out the best performance in others around them. That will limit the level they can achieve, or how successful a company will be.

As employees move up in an organization, they typically need to spend less time performing the technical skills that got them there, and more time performing people management. Often, founders of  companies have the technical knowledge to develop a “better mousetrap,” but not the skills to develop the people to ensure success.

As a performance coach I specialize in helping “non-people people” become “people people.” In other words, helping individuals whose background and experience has been in technical matters become great managers of people and teams. I specialize in bringing out the best performance in individuals – executives, managers and business owners – their direct reports, and teams.

There are two attitudes or mindsets that I often see that frustrate me. First, it’s a person with all sorts of potential hoping that he or she will perform well enough to get noticed and promoted. I’ve always believed that hope is not a strategy. Without a plan for improvement, there is little chance of anything changing.

Second, it’s the business or individual who believes that what got them to where they are today will continue to make them successful. One of the only things we know for sure about tomorrow is that it will be different. A little success can lull a person or an entire company into thinking that it will continue to be successful. This is something that I see in the sport coaching that I do – superstars are never satisfied with where they are today, while the average athlete thinks that doing what’s made them successful to date is what they should continue doing. There is a reason superstars become superstars.

If you’re happy with where you’re at right now, do the same things you’ve being doing – don’t change anything. But if you want to be successful, if you want to move up the ladder, if you want your company to be successful… implement a plan – a strategy – for constant improvement.

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Commitment and Training

Monday, May 19th, 2008

I just returned from another trip to Australia where I was doing some coaching work. While I was there. I met and had dinner with a fascinating couple. He had won the US masters downhill ski championships a few years ago, so you can imagine how good a skier he must be. He and his wife had moved from their homeland of Austria to Australia in the 70’s to start a business, one focused on servicing the ski industry. Along the way, he has become one of the most knowledgeable people in the world regarding the biomechanics of skiers and their equipment (he has consulted to the Austrian national ski team for years).

Over a delightfully long dinner we talked about, amongst other things, what made some people superstars, why some people consistently perform at a very high level, and who the very best are and were in skiing and auto racing. In their opinion (with regard to skiers), Franz Klammer was probably the best of all time, but others like Ingemar Stenmark and Hermann Maier were right up there. Even though I have not seen the coverage of Klammer’s amazing downhill run to win the 1976 Olympic gold medal since that year, I can still picture most of it in my mind. I guess I’ve always been fascinated and drawn to peak performances, no matter what the discipline. Klammer’s gold medal run was one of the all-time great performances, in my opinion.

As this couple told me of their success in the business they created in Australia, building it up and then selling it a few years ago, I asked about some of the keys to their success (it was obvious they didn’t sell a business that was struggling!).

They told me of how they trained retailers about their products better than anyone else. They made sure sellers of their products didn’t just know about the features of their products, but they knew the intimate details of them. They knew the products inside and out. More importantly, the sellers used the product.

I wonder how many companies would be more successful if they made the level of commitment to training that this couple did with their business? It seems to me that many companies talk about training, and they even provide training. But I doubt many companies make the kind of commitment that my dinner hosts did, and to being successful.

As we sat overlooking Sydney Harbour in one of the nicest homes I’ve been in, I thought about Klammer and the training he committed to in order to win an Olympic gold medal… then I thought about what I was going to do next for personal training.

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Don’t Think About a Pink Elephant

Monday, May 5th, 2008

What image do you have in your mind right now? A pink elephant, right? But I told you not to think about a pink elephant!

The human brain cannot NOT think about something…

What image do you have in your mind right now? A pink elephant, right? But I told you not to think about a pink elephant!

The human brain cannot NOT think about something. When told, “Don’t pick on your sister,” what do you think the brain of the child is actually focused on? Because the brain doesn’t register the word “don’t” very well, the child’s mind tends to hear, “pick on sister.” And you wondered why Billy would continue to pick on his sister, even though you told him not to.

For you parents, try it. Rather than telling your child what not to do, tell them what to do. Instead of, “Don’t pick on your sister,” say, “Billy, please move into the other room.” Give Billy’s brain something positive to focus on, not something it shouldn’t do.

When managing people, tell them what you want them to do, and not what you don’t want them to do. Tell them what you expect of them, tell them what outcome you want, tell them how you want them to perform.

Now, don’t think about that pink elephant! Ooops… I mean think about a blue elephant.

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Does Education Lead to Learning?

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A good friend of mine makes the differentiation between education and training with a thought-provoking question: Would you like your daughter to attend a sex education or a sex training class? Points out the difference between education and training, doesn’t it?!

A good friend of mine makes the differentiation between education and training with a thought-provoking question: Would you like your daughter to attend a sex education or a sex training class? Points out the difference between education and training, doesn’t it?!

To me, learning is when there has been a change in a person’s mental programming. Education is often – but not always – the process of putting information into someone’s brain. Unfortunately, sometimes when you stuff that information in, it doesn’t stay there. How many times in your life have you studied for some type of exam, cramming your head full of information so you can regurgitate it for the exam, and then not be able to recall even 10% of it a month later?

Education, where information is simply given to the student, does not have a long-term effect on the person’s performance. If the student can’t even recall the information a month later, let alone use the information to change a behavior, then he or she truly has not learned it.

Learning is where the information has been internalized and has changed the student’s mental programming, and there is a change in behavior. Learning is programming, and programming is learning. Mental programming is when the synapses in our brain form a pattern, and we can then repeat the information, the skill, the behavior, or whatever, over and over again at the subconscious level. We know it. We do it. We act it. We perform it.

But, in the words of Harold Stolovitch, “training ain’t performance,” either (in fact, that’s the name of his excellent book, Training Ain’t Performance). Well, not necessarily. Sure, training can lead to a person performing what they were trained to do. But, how often have you sat through a training program and then not performed any differently than you did before the program? Happens all the time, doesn’t it?

If we want to change and/or improve a person’s performance – how they perform a certain activity – we need to change their mental programming. An educational program could do that. A training program could do that. But there is a good chance they won’t. Unless the education or training program does more than just provide information, theory, or knowledge, then any change in mental programming is more up to the individual than it is to anything else. In other words, if the individual doesn’t take the initiative to do something with the information, there will not be much change or improvement.

How many times have you read a book or an article and thought, “That’s good advice – I’m going to do that,” and then not changed? At least not any long-term change. Think of the millions of people who hear or read about a new weight loss diet, say they are committed to it, and are back to the same weight within 6 months. Until a person changes their mental programming of their self-image, and change their habits, it’s very unlikely there will be any long-term weight loss.

The same thing applies to performance in the workplace. Companies spend billions of dollars every year sending their employees to training programs. Unless there is some form of ongoing follow-through, such as coaching, performance improvements are typically small. The training has not resulted in a change in mental programming.

“Xerox Corporation carried out several studies on coaching. They determined that in the absence of follow-up coaching to their training classes, 87% of the skills change brought about by the program was lost. That’s 87 cents on the skills dollar. However good your skills training in the classroom, unless it’s followed up on the job, most of its effectiveness is lost without follow-up coaching.”
Business Wire, July 30, 2001

“A study featured in Public Personnel Management Journal reports that managers (31) that underwent a managerial training program showed an increased productivity of 22.4%. However, a second group was provided coaching following the training process and their productivity increased by 88%. Research does demonstrate that one-on-one executive coaching is of value.”
F. Turner, Ph.D. CEO Refresher

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Decision-making

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Many great performances, and great performers, are hurt by the inability to make a decision. I have a process for making decisions I’d like to share – one that can positively impact your ability to perform.

Many great performances, and great performers, are hurt by the inability to make a decision. I have a process for making decisions I’d like to share – one that can positively impact your ability to perform.

Step 1: Clearly define the situation that requires a decision. Make sure you’re very clear on what you’re having to decide upon.

Step 2: Collect as much information and learn as much as possible. There are situations in which you have lots of time to do this, and other situations in which you have next to no time. No worries – just collect and learn as much as you can in the time you have available.

Step 3: Gut-check time. What does your gut tell you? Step 2 was aimed at providing your logical mind with the tools to make a good decision; now’s the time to check in with your instinct.

Step 4: Play out the future. Make a decision (temporarily), then imagine what you would feel like in the future having made this decision. Does it feel like it worked? Do you have any regrets? Now, try the other option(s), and imagine what the future would be like.

Step 5: Make the decision. If you’ve gone through the first 4 steps, you will likely make the decision based on some combination of logic and instinct.

Step 6: Make your decision the right one. This is, by far, the most important step. Once you’ve made a decision, do everything possible to make it the right one. Don’t second-guess yourself – just get on with making the decision you’ve made the best it can possibly be.

Step 7: Learn. No matter how your decision turns out, there will be something to learn from it, and from the process. The more you learn, the better your future decisions will be.

Optional Step: Make adjustments. There is no way that every decision you ever make will be the right one, so be prepared to adjust if it becomes obvious it isn’t working. That doesn’t mean give up at the first sign of a challenge or problem (see Step 6); just be prepared to learn and adjust if absolutely necessary.

What do you think – is this a good process? Well, is it? Make a decision on whether it is or isn’t.

Oh yeah, while deciding to not make a decision at this time is okay (if the situation suits a delay); avoiding making it is not an option.

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