Would you recognize an esox lucius if you saw one? Commonly called the Northern Pike, it is a 25-40 pound freshwater game fish. If you observe it in an aquarium, you realize quickly that this animal is the consummate carnivore. Its predatory style is to suspend itself very still in the water until a potential target gets close. Then the pike snatches it and devours it in the blink of an eye. It can literally empty out a fish tank in minutes.
But what happens if the environment is altered and obstacles are added? Researchers experimented with just that by lowering a glass barrier into the aquarium separating the pike on one side from food fish on the other. When the pike goes after a nearby minnow, it runs into the invisible divider. And after a while, the pike stops trying.
But this gets even more interesting. The observers next remove the glass, and the pike continues to avoid going after its natural food. The learned behavior is so strong that some pike have actually died of starvation during the experiment even while minnows continue to brush up against them.
This same type of learned behavior can sometimes be seen at work. It’s a learned helplessness that occurs when you, or someone with influence over you, decides that something can’t be done, or perhaps in the case of business, can’t be done right. In short, the Pike Syndrome is a debilitating situation.
For example, if someone approaches you for feedback on a project or job they’ve been working on, and rather than emphasizing what was done well, you point out what could have been done better. Even if you were right in your critique, almost inevitably there are potential negative consequences.
Or, possibly you are the type of manager who tells people, “If you’re doing your job, you’ll never see me.” When that’s the case, good work goes unrecognized and it is only shortcomings that draw a response from the supervisor.
When good performers experience that type of environment, they learn to avoid their leader’s dissatisfaction rather than risking new behavior that might lead to better results. In the longer term, it may be difficult for them to unlearn that.
So avoid being part of the problem. Give your people their best chance to succeed by removing barriers to performance. Next, acknowledge them when they are making progress. One more thing … it’s critical to get your own behavior in line, before you can help others to do the same.
About the author
Dr. Dick Ruhe is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read his posts here on LeaderChat the fourth Saturday of each month.
John Stahl-Wert, best-selling author and founder of The SHIP Company believes that challenging economic times provide an opportunity for individuals, teams, and companies to get better and to understand things more deeply. Yet, in his experience, “Many leaders and managers see times of restraint as a time to pressure people and provide less in terms of the human side and support.”
This is so foolish, he explains. Instead, Stahl-Wert recommends that leaders “Look at ways to raise up the people capability, not try to pressure productivity.”
Stahl-Wert is one of 40 thought leaders who will be joining Ken Blanchard for a Doing Still More With Less Leadership Livecast on April 24. A free event, this online webcast will bring together thought leaders, via video, to look at ways to engage and support people while meeting the increased performance demands of the current business environment.
Charlene Li, author, consultant, and founder of Altimeter Group who will be joining Stahl-Wert as a part of the webcast says that identifying the vital, critical work that will get you and your organization the results you are looking for is the first step.
“In order to get more done, you actually have to do fewer things, but very crucially, the most important things—and just as essential, make sure all the people around you understand what it is you will do and also what you won’t do.”
Jane Perdue, a principal with Braithwaite Innovation Group suggests that leaders begin by asking themselves some key questions.
“Are we doing the right work, with the right people, in the right way, at the right time, in the right pursuit of company initiatives, and are we using the right information and the right tools to make it so?”
Find a minute to reflect
For leaders looking to reexamine their own work, Ken Blanchard recommends taking a minute to reflect and get organized.
“The reality today is that leaders have to find quiet time to think through what’s really important to do. Today more than ever, you have to identify the 20 percent that is going to give you the 80 percent. You have to find out what is vital when you’re looking at everything you have to accomplish. In order to do more with less, you have to focus your energy on the work that is the most important.
“The next step is to prioritize that work and turn it into measureable goals. Identify three to five things you can get done on a consistent basis. Get your life organized so you can focus and help others organize their lives.”
“Doing more with less means that managers and their people have to be partners. It can’t be ‘my way or the highway,’” says Blanchard. “You have to empower your people. Micromanaging is a thing of the past. Managers can’t be on top of everything.”
There is a silver lining though, explains Blanchard.
“The good news is that if handled correctly, these tough times can actually lead to increased employee motivation. If leaders can create more autonomy by giving their people what they need when they need it, building competency and stronger relationships along the way, they will increase employees’ sense of well-being and overall performance.”
You can read more about what Blanchard and other key thought leaders have to say in this new article from Blanchard’s Ignite newsletter. To learn more specifically about the free April 24 webcast, Doing Still More With Less, check out this link.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, is being scrutinized and second-guessed for her decision to not allow employees to work from home starting in June. It’s easy for pundits to take pot shots from afar, but speaking as a manager who has struggled to find the right balance with this same issue, I’ve learned there isn’t a one size fits all policy that works for every employee in every organization.
One thing is certain – trust is at the heart of a successful work from home policy. If your work from home policy isn’t based on the premise that your employees are trustworthy, and if the boundaries of the policy don’t nurture and protect trust, you’ll find that allowing employees to work from home will be an ongoing source of suspicion, resentment, and irritation.
Working from home can provide tremendous benefits to both the employer and the employee. Studies have shown that working from home can increase motivation, productivity, efficiency, and allow for better work/life balance. I know that when I work from home I often work longer, harder, and accomplish more than when I’m in the office.
Based on my experience in managing a large team composed of a mixture of office-based and home-based associates, here are some tips I’d pass along:
1. Have a written policy. The policy should include who is eligible to work from home, technology requirements, communication norms, etc.
2. Be clear on performance expectations. It’s easy for people to fly under the radar when working from home. Make sure goals are clear, regular one-on-one meetings are scheduled to stay in touch, and performance evaluation standards are clear.
3. Deal with performance issues. Don’t let poor performance slide. It’s easy to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy with remote workers but you should treat them the same as you do associates in the office. If you noticed an employee arriving to work 40 minutes late every day you’d have a discussion with him/her, right? Do the same with your telecommuters.
4. Evaluate people on results. It’s critical to have some sort of performance metrics in place to gauge an employee’s effectiveness. Whether you adopt a Results Oriented Work Environment philosophy, have employees keep time sheets, or audit work samples, it’s important that you have a method of evaluating a remote worker’s productivity and effectiveness.
5. Be transparent and fair. Publish your policy. Talk about it with your team. Let everyone know exactly where they stand when it comes to working from home. Vague or inconsistent telecommuting policies breed suspicion and resentment in teams.
6. Set people up to succeed. Make sure your remote workers have all the tools they need to succeed such as the right training, technology, and equipment. Remote workers need to be high performers in their role and be technologically savvy in order to operate independently.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Not every employee has the home work environment, personality type, or work ethic to be a successful telecommuter. Working from home can provide just as many distractions as those found in the office so it’s important to have clear boundaries in place and be consistent in how you apply the policy within your team or organization.
What is your experience in working from home or managing those who do? Feel free to share your expertise by posting a comment.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Last week, I was invited to Orlando to deliver a speech at one of the Disney resorts. I had been working and traveling all week and showed up at 11:00 p.m. I was greeted at the car by Loren, a uniformed man with a welcoming smile and a genuine interest in how long and how far I had traveled to arrive at their establishment.
Loren passed me to a gentleman with an electronic tablet, Tom, who walked me to reception (probably so I wouldn’t get lost) and introduced me to a desk clerk named Jenna. She gave me my room key, directions for the quarter-mile walk to my room, and a schedule of nearby events that would be taking place during my stay.
Upon completion of her tasks, Jenna called over a bellman, Travis, and asked if he could show me to my room since it was so late. Not only did Travis walk me there, he found out what I was doing at the resort, chatted about my speech and, upon learning that I had forgotten to make some copies, offered to get them made for me and leave them at the front desk. He absolutely radiated care and concern.
What did all of these interactions have in common? Service providers who:
- were genuine;
- desired to help me;
- had the ability to act on what they knew to be true;
- knew what their job was and how well they were doing; and
- were confident in their ability to make a difference.
We need to ask ourselves five questions to effectively serve our internal customers (our people) so they can deliver on the promise we share with our external customers:
- Am I genuine with my people?
- Do I clarify my expectations about how to serve customers?
- Do I build competence by sharing information and teaching skills for success?
- Do I value the unique contributions made by each person?
- When people are competent in a task, do I build confidence by asking them for their ideas before sharing mine?
Customer service is an inside-out issue. Wowing external customers begins by wowing internal customers. What can you do to build competence, confidence, and energy in your people? Model the behavior you want to see to create a positive work environment that drives praise from customers like me, who so appreciated the kindness and care I was shown.
About the author:
Vicki Halsey is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read Vicki’s posts as a part of our customer service series which appears on the first and third Thursday of each month.
In their latest post for Fast Company online, management experts Scott and Ken Blanchard share that, “One of the big mistakes we see among otherwise promising managers is the self-limiting belief that they have to choose between results and people, or between their own goals and the goals of others. We often hear these people say, ‘I’m not into relationships. I just like to get things done.’”
“Cutting yourself off, or choosing not to focus on the people side of the equation, can—and will—be a problem that will impact your development as a leader.”
Have you inadvertently cut yourself off from your people? Many leaders have. It’s usually because of time pressures, or a single-minded focus on results—but sometimes it’s also a conscious choice to create “professional distance” that allows you the emotional room to make tough choices.
That’s a mistake say the Blanchards. “The best working relationships are partnerships. For leaders, this means maintaining a focus on results along with high levels of demonstrated caring.”
They go on to caution that, “The relationship foundation has to be in place first. It’s only when leaders and managers take the time to build the foundation that they earn the permission to be aggressive in asking people to produce results. The best managers combine high support with high levels of focus, urgency, and criticality. As a result, they get more things done, more quickly, than managers who do not have this double skill base.”
Don’t limit yourself—or others
Don’t limit yourself, or others, by focusing on just one half of the leadership equation. You don’t have to choose. In this case you can have it all. Create strong relationships focused on jointly achieving results. To read the complete article—including some tips on getting started—be sure to check out Getting Your Team Emotionally Engaged Is Half The Leadership Battle. Here’s How To Do It
Performance expert John Hester identifies four common mistakes that managers make when they set goals for employees in the latest issue of Ignite! The negative result is poor or misaligned performance, accountability issues, blame and resentment—not to mention countless hours spent reviewing tasks and redoing work.
Wondering if you might be making some of these common mistakes in your own goal setting with employees? Here’s what Hester warns against.
- Goals are not realistic. Stretch goals are great, but if they are out of reach they become demotivating and can even cause some employees to engage in unethical behavior to achieve them. In addition to making sure a goal is attainable, goals should be monitored and adjusted as needed during the year.
- Setting too many goals. When employees have too many goals they can easily lose track of what is important and spend time on the ones they “want” to do or that are easier to accomplish whether or not they are the highest priority.
- Setting goals and then walking away. Goal setting is the beginning of the process, not an end in itself. Once goals are set, managers need to meet regularly to provide support and direction to help employees achieve their goals.
- Setting a “how” goal instead of a “what” goal. Goals should indicate “what” is to be accomplished—the end in mind—not “how” it should be accomplished.
3 Ways to Improve Goal Setting
For managers looking to make their goal setting and performance planning more effective, Hester recommends focusing on three key areas.
Approach goal-setting as a partnership. Recognize that performance planning is not something that you should do alone. This is something to be done in partnership with your team member. It’s a collaborative process. So the manager needs to know what the employee’s key areas of responsibility are, what is expected in the role, and what they want to see in terms of performance. The key is to have that discussion with the employee.
Make sure the goal is SMART (or SMMART). Anytime you set a goal, objective, or an assignment, you need to make sure that it meets the simple SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Hester also believes that there should be a second “M” in the SMART acronym to account for employee Motivation. This means the manager needs to additionally ask, “What is it about this goal that is motivating? What difference does it make in the organization, or to the team, or to the individual employee?”
Diagnose competence and commitment levels. Finally, managers need to consider an employee’s individual competence and commitment level for a task. It’s a common mistake to assume that because a person is a veteran employee, they will be experienced at any new task that might be set before them. This is often incorrect. It’s important that a manager find out about experience with a specific task and then partner with the employee to determine what they need in terms of direction and support to be successful with this particular assignment.
To learn more about Hester’s advice for improved goal setting and performance with your people, be sure to check out the article Goal Setting Needs to Be a Partnership. Also be sure to check out Hester’s January 23 webinar on Performance Planning: 5 ways to set your people up for success—it’s free courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
Accountability, accountability, accountability. It’s an issue that comes up time and again as leaders and HR professionals think about the one underlying challenge in their organizations that holds performance back. It’s a silent killer that operates below the surface in organizations and it’s tough to address.
A best-selling business book (and one that I had never heard of until earlier this month) addresses a key piece of the accountability issue. Leadership and Self-Deception was first published in 2000 and then re-issued as a second edition in 2010. The book has sold over 1,000,000 copies since it was published and sales have grown every year since it was first “discovered” by HR, OD, and change practitioners.
What makes the book so different (and hard to describe) is that it looks at work behavior as fundamentally an inside-out proposition. We basically act out externally what we are feeling inside. Bad behavior externally—doing just enough to get by, compliance instead of commitment, and putting self-interest ahead of team or department goals—are justified because of the way that that colleagues, managers, and senior leaders are acting in return.
The folks at The Arbinger Institute, the corporate authors of the book, call this “in the box thinking” and they believe it is the root cause of many of the problems being experienced at work today.
Is your organization stuck “in the box?”
Wondering if negative attitudes inside might be causing poor accountability on the outside in your organization? Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself.
- Where are the trouble spots in your organization? Where are people getting the job done but it seems to always be at minimum level of performance—and with a low sense of enthusiasm and morale?
- What are the possible attitudes and beliefs among members of that team or department that make them feel justified in their behaviors? Why do they feel it is okay to narrow the scope of their job, focus on their own agenda, and do only what’s required to stay out of trouble—but not much more?
- What can you do to break the cycle of negative thinking that keeps people “in the box?”
Climbing out of the box
Surprisingly, the answer to breaking out of the box starts with expecting more of yourself and others. People climb into the box when they decide to do less than their best. The folks at Arbinger describe this as “self-betrayal” and it sets in motion all sorts of coping strategies that end up with self-focused behaviors. Don’t let that happen in your organization. Here are two ways that you can help people see beyond their self interests.
- Constantly remind people of the bigger picture and their role in it. Set high standards and hold people accountable to them.
- Second, and just as important, provide high levels of support and encouragement for people to do the right thing. Make it easy for people to put the needs of the team, department, and organization ahead of their own. Look at reward, recognition, and compensation strategies. Look at growth and career planning. What can you do to free people up to focus on the needs of others instead of themselves?
Change behavior by changing beliefs
Accountability is a tough issue to address because most people feel justified in their actions and opinions. Don’t let your people self-justify their way into lower performance. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for your organization. Lead people to higher levels of performance. Help people find the best in themselves.
There was never a question of “if” it would happen. The only was question was “when?” Any NFL football fan knew that sooner or later a “replacement” referee would make an incorrect call that decided the outcome of a game. That time was this past Monday night when the Seattle Seahawks came away with an improbable victory over the Green Bay Packers due to the referees not calling a clear penalty on the last play of the game and making an error in judgment in the call they did make.
The way NFL leadership has handled the referee lockout and the use of replacement referees offers several interesting lessons for leaders in any industry or organization.
Talent trumps – The NFL underestimated the gap in skill levels between their regular referees and the replacement referees, most of whom have only worked low-level college games or even just high school games. The replacement referees have had excellent attitudes and a willingness to work hard, learn, and improve. Those are critical traits for any successful employee. However, the simple fact is that they are literally out of their league when it comes to having the skills and knowledge to work in the NFL.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins emphasizes the importance of “getting the right people on the bus” and then leveraging their strengths to “drive the bus” (your organization) to its destination. Because of the way the NFL managed the lockout, the most qualified college referees were already locked into their conference schedules, so the NFL had to utilize people who weren’t qualified for the job, and as a result, their performance has been sub par. The number one rule for a leader is to hire the right people for the job and the NFL clearly deserves a penalty flag for this violation.
Training is necessary, but it shouldn’t be used to “fix” people – The NFL invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in training the replacement refs on how to work in the NFL. They conducted rules clinics, refereed pre-season games, and have had weekly conference calls to evaluate their performance and work on improving their weaknesses. People can learn new skills and sharpen their existing abilities, but the purpose of training isn’t to “fix” people. Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller share a wonderful saying in their book The Secret – What Great Leaders Know and Do: “No matter how long the runway, that pig ain’t gonna fly.” Many leaders invest an incredible amount of time and resources into giving flying lessons to people who are never going to fly. Leaders have to be willing to accept the fact that there are some things that certain individuals will never learn to do well.
Your people are your brand – NFL leadership prides itself on managing its brand image. They are fond of talking about their efforts to “protect the shield” (the NFL logo) through efforts such as controlling illegal drug usage, player health and safety, and encouraging upstanding player conduct off the field. Yet they’ve willingly compromised their brand integrity by using under-qualified referees which has put player safety at risk and resulted in a sub-par product on the field. The individuals that operate your organizations and interact with your customers are the living embodiment of your company’s brand image. The focus must always be on serving the customer and delivering on your brand promise.
When people don’t perform, leaders need to look in the mirror – Whenever you have an employee who is failing in their job, you need to examine what you did or didn’t do to contribute to the situation. Referencing back to the previous points, did you hire the right person? Have you provided the correct amount and type of training? Have you clearly established the goals and performance standards and provided the specific direction and support needed? Too often we rely on our ability to make the right hiring choice and then just turn the person loose to do the job. People may have very relevant transferable skills, but there are always new things to learn or new ways of doing familiar tasks that have to be mastered. NFL leadership has no one to blame but themselves for the performance of the replacement referees.
The Monday night debacle ended up being the tipping point that drove the NFL and referees to reach a tentative agreement late last night that will end the lockout. The NFL may have succeeded in exerting their power and proving to the referee’s union who is really in charge, but in the process the league fumbled this leadership opportunity and damaged their brand integrity.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Why don’t employees do what they are supposed to do? Former Columbia Graduate School professor and consultant Ferdinand Fournies knows. Over the course of two decades, Fournies interviewed nearly 25,000 managers asking them why, in their experience, direct reports did not accomplish their work as assigned.
Here are the top reasons Fournies heard most often and which he described in his book, Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It. As you review the list, consider what you believe might be some of the root causes and solutions for each road block.
In Fournies’ experience, the root cause and solution in each case rests with the individual manager and employee. Fournies believes that managers can minimize the negative impact of each of these potential roadblocks by:
- Getting agreement that a problem exists
- Mutually discussing alternative solutions
- Mutually agreeing on action to be taken to solve the problem
- Following-up to ensure that agreed-upon action has been taken
- Reinforcing any achievement
Are your people doing what they are supposed to be doing?
What’s the level of purpose, alignment, and performance in your organization? Do people have a clear sense of where the organization is going and where their work fits in? Are they committed and passionate about the work? Are they performing at a high level? Take a look at the conversations and relationships happening at the manager-direct report level. If performance is not where it should be, chances are that one of these roadblocks in getting in the way.
PS: You can learn more about Ferdinand Fournies and his two books, Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It, and Coaching for Improved Work Performance here at Amazon. Both books are highly recommended for your business bookshelf.
It’s easy to lose sight of where you are going when you’ve had your nose to the grindstone for an extended period of time. You get focused on your task and you don’t take the time to lift your head and see where you are headed in the long term.
Sometimes it’s just the opposite. The long term looks so confusing and unclear you decide that maybe it’s best to just focus on something you know and can control.
Both of these approaches are damaging long term for individuals and the organizations they work in. When people become so task-oriented that they lose sight of the bigger picture the result is misaligned work, the creation of individual and departmental silos, and poor teamwork and collaboration.
This is especially true with long-time employees. Business authors Scott and Ken Blanchard highlight this in their most recent leadership post for Fast Company. As they explain, “Leaders and organizations generally do a good job of clarifying goals as they are getting new people up to speed. With long-time employees, however, leaders often assume that the employee instinctively knows what’s important. As a result, leaders generally don’t spend the same amount of time and energy communicating clear objectives to seasoned employees that they do with new hires.”
The result? A high level of misalignment in most organizations.
“We did a study a number of years ago with a large petroleum company in North America that shows how rarely this clarity occurs. We asked more than 2,000 employees and their managers to share their goal expectations with us. To begin, we asked the employees to rank the top five things they felt they were responsible for. Then we asked the managers to list and prioritize the five things they were actually holding each of their direct reports accountable for. We saw only a 19% agreement across the population of 2,000 people!”
Is misalignment holding you back? Here are three strategies for creating more alignment in your organization:
- Make sure clear agreements are in place. All good performance starts with clear goals. It’s a process of creating clarity about why we’re here, what we’re doing, and how we’re going to work together.
- Make sure everyone’s eyes stay on the ball. This includes regular one-on-one conversations with direct reports that include feedback and evaluation of how each person is doing against established targets.
- Catch people doing things right. Help people notice and experience the incremental successes they are having. It’s easy to slip back into old habits. Provide clarity and encouragement on a regular basis.
Don’t let a short term focus keep you—or your organization—from long-term success. Take a minute this week to lift your head, look around and check for clarity and alignment. Also, to learn more about the impact that misalignment can have on performance, be sure to check out Scott and Ken Blanchard’s post at Fast Company, If Your Employees Are Squabbling, Your Company’s Probably Standing Still.