Posts Tagged ‘performance improvement’

Problem Identifiers vs. Problem Solvers

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Which do you want to be, a problem identifier or a problem solver?

I’ve been reading No Magic Bullet by Joe Willmore, and it’s a good book… if you want to be a problem identifier. But if you you’re looking for a book that will actually help you improve the performance of your organization, or the people in it – if you want to solve a problem – look elsewhere. With a subtitle like “7 Steps to Better Performance” I eagerly dug into this book looking to take away specific tools and techniques that I could use. I was disappointed.

The book does do a good job of describing what the author claims “most companies and managers” do wrong. In fact, he spends most of the first 170 pages or so being a problem identifier. And he repeats himself, then repeats himself, and then repeats himself again. Finally, in the last chapter he outlines the “7 steps.”

So, to avoid only being a problem identifier myself, here’s my suggestion: If you’re looking to learn something from this book, just read the last fifteen pages – the last chapter. If you’re the author and you have a chance to do it over again, just sell the last chapter as a white paper.

It’s ironic that this book – all about improving performance – does what some managers do. It points out the problem, but doesn’t focus enough on the solution.

There is one quote from the book that I love: Some companies focus on fixing the blame, rather than fixing the problem. Again, ironically, the book tends to do that.

The next time you’re faced with a problem, ask yourself if you’re focusing more on identifying it and looking for someone or something to blame than you are on solving it. As humans, we seem to find it easier to identify the problems than to fix them.

While I’ve beat up the No Magic Bullet book, there is always something to learn from every book. In addition to a few ideas introduced in the book, I must admit that it reinforced the importance of focusing on the solution to problems, even if it did so in a rather backwards approach.

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The Problem with Performance Improvement Plans

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Changing habits and behaviors is tough enough on its own, but when you throw in the hurdles that others provide, it can be a huge challenge.

A big part of my coaching within the business world is helping individuals change or fine-tune various behaviors. Some of these behaviors are seen as good, and the objective is to enhance them. Others are seen as problems, and my job is to either end them or change them enough to where they are no longer a problem. These are part of the dreaded “performance improvement plan.”

I look at behaviors as simply a program running inside the person’s brain, much like a computer program runs. Behaviors are our software.

With this in mind, my objective is to either delete and replace the program, or update it. Understand that eliminating a behavior is no guarantee that it will be replaced with better behavior. Simply stopping someone from doing something does not mean they’re going to do what you want them to. That’s why replacing the program with another is critical to actually making a change.

But guess what is often the biggest hurdle to changing someone’s workplace behavior? Not the individual that I’m working with, but it’s the perceptions of those around him or her. Let me give you a quick example.

“Ronnie” had a role in administration of a small company. Generally, she did her job fairly well, but she had one big weakness – her ability to work with others. Hardly a week would go by without at least one major blow up with a co-worker. And it had gotten to the point where something had to be done.

I worked with Ronnie to help her understand the issue, what was expected of her, what kind of behavior was and wasn’t acceptable, and then gave her a plan to change some of her “automatic” behaviors – the programs that kicked in at inappropriate times, places and ways. Ronnie took responsibility for the change, and working with the program that I developed for her, she made significant changes.

But as long as others around Ronnie saw her as she was in the past, the big change was not going to happen. I had to do as much to change her co-worker’s perceptions as I did directly with Ronnie.

For weeks, even though Ronnie was behaving in a totally acceptable way, every time anyone had a disagreement, she would get the blame for it. It even went so far as Ronnie being blamed for something that happened on a day where she wasn’t present. That’s the negative impact that labels and reputations can have on a person.

Over a period of a couple of months I had to implement a very deliberate plan to change people’s perceptions of Ronnie. As it turned out, Ronnie had made the changes well before others had.

This is the very reason that so many performance improvement plans that employees are put on do not work. There are always two sides to a story, and this applies to people as well. A person changing his or her behavior alone may not make the difference without those around him or her seeing these changes.

They say perception is reality. Well, it is as long as perception is in alignment with the truth, and that sometimes needs a plan to make that alignment occur.

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Limits & Labels

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Have I told you how much I hate limitations, especially the ones that are put on people? And I hate labels! When someone is limited by a label, it makes me crazy.

It drives me nuts when I hear someone label a kid. People, and especially kids, usually live up to expectations, and labels are a form of expectations. If a teen is labeled with “hyperactive and impulsive,” his subconscious will do what it can to make this expectation come true. If someone is “not so bright,” you can bet he or she will try to live up to that expectation. No, not consciously, but subconsciously…

Have I told you how much I hate limitations, especially the ones that are put on people? And I hate labels! When someone is limited by a label, it makes me crazy.

It drives me nuts when I hear someone label a kid. People, and especially kids, usually live up to expectations, and labels are a form of expectations. If a teen is labeled with “hyperactive and impulsive,” his subconscious will do what it can to make this expectation come true. If someone is “not so bright,” you can bet he or she will try to live up to that expectation. No, not consciously, but subconsciously. That’s just the way our brains work.

I’ve trained and coached a lot of teens – thousands of them. And the one thing that I’ve had to do more often than you can imagine is undo what labels and limits they’ve had put on them. The real sad cases involved comments from the teen such as, “My dad says I’ll never be able to do this” or, “I’m never patient enough – my mom tells me that all the time. I guess she’s right.”

Often, before I can do any training or coaching, I’ve got to spend time opening the teen’s mind to the possibility that they are not what they’ve been told they are. I’ve got to help them see the possibilities, again.

I believe we are all born with limitless possibilities, but as we age, more and more limits are put on us. Think about it. When kids are 3 or 5 years old, they dream about being astronauts, fire fighters, dragon-slayers, and even race car drivers (I had to throw that in – that was my dream at age 5). They don’t know there are limits to what they can do. It’s only through being told over and over again “you can’t do that” that they start to put limits on their dreams. The labels limit their creativity, and they limit their imagination.

Fortunately, I’ve also worked with some teens who have not had limits placed on their dreams, or who they are. One of them became the youngest driver in history to win a major professional auto race, and has gone on to sign a long-term contract (with substantial financial rewards) with one of the top NASCAR teams. Another was accepted into the leading journalism school in the country at the age of 16, with the largest scholarship the school offers. He did this without ever going to a public school (he was homeschooled), and after publishing his first novel at age 14. At 17, he’s had numerous articles published by major publications throughout the world.

But, even positive labels can be limiting. For example, someone labeled as an “expert” in one field is rarely seen as being able to be great in some other area. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but usually the person had to break through a barrier – a limiting label – to get there.

I’ve experienced this myself. Since I had been labeled as somewhat of an “expert” in the field of driving and driver training, people put limits on me in other areas: “How could Ross be great at _____? That’s not his expertise – he’s an expert in driving, coaching and training, but not in _____.”

Have you ever experienced the negative impact of a label? If so, comments are welcome.

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