Dear Corporate—Why We Hate Your Business Reviews

hearnoevilIn my considerable time working for and around large firms, I’ve been on the receiving end of exactly one good, constructive business review with a team from corporate. That makes the score approximately 119 lousy experiences to 1 that was worth a damn.

I’ll rail at the lopsided majority in a moment, but first the one good meeting. This singular event was the visit from a high-ranking member of this global electronics manufacturer to evaluate our progress. He had been involved in helping start us a number of years earlier and now he was overseeing the broader organization and needed to assess where to invest or cut.

For two weeks ahead of the review session, the general manager of our unit went into hyper-panic, driving his troops to produce a seemingly endless stream of reports and presentations. All of the data was assembled, bound and carefully positioned on the table in the spot designated for our visiting dignitary.

The day arrived and the big man, all 5’3” of him, along with his entourage took their seats and the process began. After opening words from our GM, the big man asked about the stack of bound reports practically blocking his view to the rest of us. The GM explained what had been prepared and for a few moments, the big man was silent. Finally, in what shocked everyone in the room, he looked at the stack, pounded his fist down on top of it and exclaimed, “Excuses! Get rid of this paper and let’s talk about your business.”

For the balance of the day, we engaged in a thoughtful overview of the business, outlining our challenges and opportunities. The tone was respectful and the questions were tough, and the responses honest. A form of swift trust developed that allowed for open discussion on difficult topics. When it came time to talk about the need for critical investments in infrastructure and new product development, we received approval for most of our needs on the spot.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsFascinating. Priceless!

This meeting was in accounting vernacular, accretive. I’ll go so far to say that it energized our team to push harder. After all, we didn’t want to let down someone who had both respected us and provided support.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of these corporate reviews are the exact opposite of motivational events. Here’s why:

6 Ways the Team from Corporate Destroys Value During Business Reviews:

1. You’re approach suggests we’re guilty until proven innocent. Most business reviews by corporate staff assume that the division company is guilty of crimes ranging from gross mismanagement to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. These sessions are extended trials where the goal of one side is to convice and the goal of the other is to escape the hangman’s noose, at least until the next review. Great for morale!

2. You assume we are morons. And why wouldn’t you? We’re running this little tiny business and you oversee a giant megalopolis with hundreds of minions doing your bidding. Clearly, you’re smarter than the rest of us who have invested decades of learning our industries and vocations.

3. Every line of inquiry compels us to justify why we are drawing air and taking up space on this planet and in your company. These meetings are often nothing more than a requirement that we re-justify our existence in your corporate universe. Instead of transparency, these events turn into something resembling a farce at best or a bad tragi-comedy at worst.

4. You preoccupy on cells in spreadsheets without context for the numbers. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard you beat us over the head with that particular number, it’s not going to change in this meeting. We promise to work on it for the future, and we’ll tell you how, but make your case, set your expectations and let it go. That cell is not a crime against humanity or a personal affront to your very existence.

5. You don’t make an effort to understand our business. You critique our strategy without context for our markets, clients, prospects and competitors. And you suggest where we’re weak on talent and process, without having spent any time working in the business. You’re ignorance is showing, and it isn’t flattering to you.

6. You’re tone is exclusively, “what have you done for me lately.” It should be, “how can we better support your strategy?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve attended, participated in and led productive and positive business reviews in a variety of settings. It’s the ones in the global conglomerates or highly divisionalized organizations with disconnected staffers or senior executives that seem to take on the personality of the sessions described above. For everyone involved in leading these reviews, start with showing respect and work towards establishing trust. After trust comes transparency about the opportunities, challenges and tough topics. If it never reaches this level, it’s just a waste of the precious time in our professional lives.

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Check out the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Leadership Caffeine™—Refueling as a Leader

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThis would be easy if it weren’t for the people. -from my first book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership.

From about the six-month mark out of college and for all but eighteen months of the next twenty-two years, I supervised, managed and cultivated my leadership skills in a variety of different technology and software firms. While I loved and still do love the challenge and responsibility for guiding and developing others, the work (including the actual running of the business) was and is demanding and draining. I learned over time that I could only be at my best for others if I took care of my own refueling needs first.

Leaders might eat last, but care and feeding of the leader’s spirit must come first or everyone suffers.

9 Ideas to Help You Refuel Your Leadership Spirit:

1. Tune-in to the real purpose of your role. Like the radios I grew up listening to, the signal on why we lead occasionally drifts. In my case, it took a long time to gain any real clarity around my actual purpose in the role. As it was described, I was like an automaton, watching, pushing, driving and likely annoying everyone in my wake. I suspect I was the classic “Type A” manager with a hint of the micro-manager mixed in for bad measure. I was also exhausting myself and I am sure, everyone around me. Once I refocused on just three items: talent, professional development and working environment, I found more energy and interestingly, so did everyone else. And you never forget when your boss says, “It’s great to show everyone that you’re not just a machine.”

2. Develop a daily refueling habit. Mine is reading for 15-minutes before things kick into gear. Every single morning, I learn one item or generate one new idea because of the reading. I keep a log in Evernote and draw upon the ideas as needed. Today’s buzzword is mindfulness, which seems an awful like focus and meditation. If it works for you, the label doesn’t matter. Whatever you have to do, find a way to give yourself a daily jolt of context about what’s really important.

3. Improve your physical fitness. The mind and body are inextricably linked. Too many of us sacrifice our physical conditioning and development on the altar of work. Fortunately, many organizations are starting to recognize the hard and soft benefits of a fit workforce and helping out with this challenge. The mental dividends from physical exertion are priceless, and you’ll look great too!

4. Attend a course. As I advanced in my career, I started to hang out in Executive Education programs at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I’ve never left a short or long program without my brain boiling over with ideas and inspiration and my energy level for my work as a leader and manager locked on high. Find your equivalent education refueling station, whether it’s an online course, something at the community college or a professional development program that interests you. Rinse and repeat.

5. Pursue a hobby. There’s some great feedback on the benefits of immersing yourself in something completely unrelated to your work. The shift in focus gives your brain a chance to recover and open up new connections in the process.

6. Spend more time with your team members. I learned over time that the one-on-one or group time was energizing. From development and coaching discussions to participating in idea generation and problem-solving, this very real work stimulates the gray matter and turbocharges the spirit. Of course, there can be complications from the boss diving in with the team, so be careful.

7. Connect disparate networks in your life. Develop as a network broker. Long before the studies on social networks began emerging, I had learned the potential benefits of connecting different people from different groups in pursuit of generating ideas or solving problems. I became a defacto network broker, and the benefits of connecting smart people from different spheres of business and life paid tremendous dividends in the form of innovation and creative problem-solving.

8. Ask your team how you’re doing. Better yet, ask them, “At the end of my time with you, what will you say that I did?” While this might best be handled in a way to insure anonymity, the feedback will either exhilarate you to do more of the same or encourage you to refocus your efforts.

9. Take an extended leadership break. Navigate your way into a role that emphasizes your individual contributions. If you love the freedom and solo focus of your daily work, great, make it permanent. If you’re like me, you’ll recognize how much you truly love leading, not for the glory (there is none), but for the psychic rewards of helping others achieve their goals.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

During the twenty-some years I served as a manager and executive, I took one 18-month leadership break and served as a staff member to the CEO of a big industrial firm. While the environment and work were great, I was miserable. That little break served as rocket fuel for what became the most productive and exhilarating part of my leadership life. Nonetheless, I had to take care of myself first before I could focus on the good work of guiding and developing others.

How’s your energy level for the work ahead? Is it time for you to refuel?

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—5 Signs You’re Heading for a Meltdown

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveMost senior leaders lack any form of an honest, effective and timely feedback loop, and when they succumb to the pressures of the role and begin to flail, things can go bad in a hurry. While I’m a huge fan of adapting the “Swim Buddy” technique used by Navy SEALS to ensure someone is always there to save your skin, you should be on the lookout for these five warning signs suggesting that it’s time to hit the pause button before you suffer a leadership meltdown.

5 Warning Signs that You’re Approaching a Leadership Meltdown:

1. When you’re feeling isolated. There are times when leading others is one of the loneliest jobs in the world, however, when you’re beginning to feel like it’s you against the world, you’re on the brink of some bad moves. You might be on the hook for the final call on tough decisions, but it’s essential to draw people in to the dialog and gain their help with the vexing issues in front of the firm. Resist succumbing to a siege mentality or withdrawing to your bunker.

2. When you quit trusting your team members. The sense that you can no longer trust your key people often contributes to the creeping sense of isolation referenced above. Poor numbers, some negative surprises or project disasters can make you question the people you’ve tapped for leadership roles. Your instinct says, “I can’t trust him (or them) anymore.” Reality is that unless something deeply unethical or offensive has happened to genuinely tear a hole in the trust you’ve established with others, a one-time surprise or even a major misfire are not reasons to suddenly distrust. Repeated misfires are another issue.

The proper question is: do you trust yourself to have put the right people in roles around you? Don’t let your sudden doubt poison the well of trust on your team.

3. When you keep changing your mind on key decisions. Decisions are the fuel for actions, and when the senior leader flails and frequently reverses course on major decisions—the firm is in danger of crashing. Your inability to stick to a decision broadcasts that you aren’t sure what to do, inviting frustration and fear into the broader environment.

4. When you feel compelled to mislead your employees. I’ve observed this one on multiple occasions and the only one being fooled when the senior leader pumps sunshine or denies troubles is the senior leader.

5. When your primary emotion is anger. Stress and frustration manifest in different ways for all of us, however, it’s common for senior leaders under fire to respond like tyrants, barking commands, shooting messengers and railing at the incompetence they see in front of them. If you find yourself navigating your days with a growing sense of anger and frustration with everyone and everything around you, watch out.

An Ounce of Self-Reflection is Worth a Pound of Cure:

If we ignore the symptoms that tell us something is wrong physically, we jeopardize our long-term health and even short-term survival. The same goes for a leader who ignores the warning signs outlined above.

It’s difficult to get honest feedback when you’re in charge. While I encourage you to ask and survey others about your performance, the person looking back at you in the mirror is the last line of defense against a meltdown.

I’ve coached a number of senior leaders and executives back from the brink by helping them introduce a daily period of personal reflection on their performance and their impact on others.

Armed with a journal (analog or digital), these leaders jot down notes about their daily interactions and the outcomes from those interactions. A few minutes at the end of the day to review the notes and roll-up one or two key “commitments to improve” tomorrow helps plant the seeds for near-future strengthening. Spending a few moments chronicling victories or what-worked serves to cap off the day on a positive note. A quick review of the positives and commitments the next morning helps the leader enter the day in the right frame of mind to navigate the challenges. Rinse and repeat.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy for stressful circumstances to send a leader’s attitude careening towards the rocks. While it’s great to believe you have people who will tell you you’re acting like a jerk, you cannot count on it. Instead, build in the discipline and presence of mind to review your own performance daily and identify those activities and behaviors that must be strengthened or eliminated. While you need feedback to grow, you’re your own last line of defense against disaster.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—Aligning Your Efforts to Results Ratio

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveIf you’ve ever worked incredibly hard only to have something run off the rails or just not generate the results you were after, you understand what an imbalance in the Efforts-to-Results ratio feels like.

I recall rankling at a college writing instructor who gave me a B on what in my mind was clearly an A-paper. I visited her during office hours and naively made my pitch for a better grade based on the amount of effort I had put into researching and redrafting the paper. She commended me for my effort and then proceeded to leave an indelible print on my professional and personal soul with these words: “I understand, but effort doesn’t count, results do, and this isn’t an A paper. However, the good news is that your hard work kept it from being a C paper.”

Ouch. That hurt, but she was right. My values were out of whack when it came to the Efforts to Results ratio. I equated hard work with success and naively expected the recognition of that effort to be rewarded. In a sense, it was with the B versus the C, but that’s not what I expected. Great lesson!

In the workplace, I often see situations at the individual, managerial and systemic levels that signal an imbalance in the efforts to results ratio.

Consider:

  • There are the average performers who expect above average compensation. Much like my younger self, their value-set on the efforts to results ratio is out of whack. Many never internalize the lesson and move through their career in a perpetual state of outrage over the compensation injustice they endure. Robust, behavioral feedback and dialog and crystal clear goal/objective setting are essential for dealing with these characters. Beware however, most never move beyond their outrage and will actively work their managers in an attempt to extort additional compensation. You cannot build high performance with perpetually dissatisfied employees, so, after due diligence and appropriate effort, if the behaviors remain the same, vote these employees off your team or out of your organization. And yes, I just suggested getting rid of average, disgruntled performers.
  • There are the timekeepers who burn the proverbial midnight and weekend oil, mostly marking time but not really making visible or measurable forward progress. They believe they are working harder than everyone around them and are bitter when time invested doesn’t translate into extraordinary compensation. Training and coaching on time and priority management plus careful observation and feedback (especially positive) may help these individuals move beyond their time invested = personal outcomes equation imbalance.
  • And of course, we have the micromanaging managers who examine the minutiae of everyone’s work or, the managers who expect everyone around them to be on call 24/7.  They definitely have a warped sense of the efforts to results ratio. They’re frantically and frenetically trying to improve their own lot by making your lot miserable and by overloading you on the efforts side of the equation. If you’re in charge of someone who operates like this, get them off your ship. If you work for this manager, transfer departments or go somewhere else. Life is too short and these people are typically beyond repair.

While the situations above are all manageable, it’s the systemic imbalance in the efforts to results ratio that is the most troublesome and the most difficult to fix. I see this in organizations that manifest the following two characteristics:

1. Procedures and policies beget more procedures and policies in an ever-expanding from of bureaucracy that serves the bureaucrats but smothers those striving to serve customers and push initiatives in the right direction. The daily drill becomes compliance with the policies and procedures and employees are effectively taught that this takes priority over innovation, problem-solving or customer service.

2. Poorly designed, tyrannical matrix report-to structures. I witnessed a scenario where the helpless middle manager reported to the local G.M, the regional engineering manager, the corporate safety officer and the labor relations director. There was no coordination between those he reported to and as you might imagine, each “boss” had a nearly full-time workload for the manager. It was a brutal experience for this manager that generated sub-par results. The approach was designed to fail.

It’s a gross failure of top leadership when the system determines that massive efforts will equate at best to middling results. The late, great quality and management guru, W. Edwards Deming railed at the poorly designed systems emanating from top management where the workers were blamed for poor results. His famous Red Bead experiment is a simple but powerful illustration of this systemic breakdown. The best cure in this situation is a profound crisis brought on by poor results and encroaching competition combined with defecting customers, all leading to a transfusion of leadership at the top.

Getting the Ratio Right as a Leader:

Effective leaders focus on building an environment for success to flourish. They don’t judge people by effort or inputs, they measure and evaluate output per unit of input. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked on that project if it failed to meet customer needs. While you might learn something from the failure, eventually, you are accountable for positive results.

My guidance: always be on the lookout for for ways to simplify complexity, eradicate systemic barriers and obstacles and extract yourself from the wrong side of this efforts/results equation. Listen to and observe your team members. If big efforts are yielding small results, something is wrong. And don’t forget to look in the mirror. You may have your own equation out of alignment here, and as a result, you may be adversely impacting the broader efforts to results ratio.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m proud of my ability to work hard and I know many others who feel the same way about their tenacity and stick-to-itiveness. Tenacious people drive great outcomes, often through experimentation, failure and learning. I admire anyone willing to put in the hard work, however, in the final analysis, you will be evaluated based on your results. Get the balance in the efforts to results ratio right and your life and the lives of your team members will improve dramatically.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Yahoo Misfires—Don’t Let this Happen to Your Firm

Cartoon image of a business meetingYahoo—a name left over from the boom and bust period of the dot.com world—has somehow managed to limp along in a world where many struggle to understand its value proposition. The financial markets vote with their valuations, and have recently concluded that the firm is worth no more than its holdings in the high-flying stock, Alibaba. Stated another way, the financial markets view the core Yahoo business as effectively worthless. (Note: as of this writing, there’s a good deal of swirl but little clarity surrounding the potential disposition of the Alibaba holding.)

The December 2015 issue of Forbes includes an interesting article, entitled: “The Last Days of Marissa Mayer?” Mayer is the firm’s CEO, and a former high-flying and early-stage Google Executive who has served as the face of Yahoo and the firm’s turn-around efforts for the past three years. If the article and sources are accurate, Mayer is failing as a manager and as a leader, and a big part of that failure is around the hard work of strategy.

In my recent post on strategy, I focused on the importance of the heavy lifting necessary to develop a clear, accurate diagnosis as a critical first step in building a coherent plan. The subsequent step, what strategy expert Richard Rumelt describes as, defining the “guiding philosophy,” builds on the diagnosis to frame the general approach to the situation. It’s the combination of the diagnosis and guiding philosophy that give coherence to the subsequent actions designed to seize opportunities and blunt threats. Anything short of clarity around both of these, and the prediction is in the immortal words of Mr. T, “Pain.”

The article in Forbes highlights in a very visual form the departure of key leadership and technical experts, and it reports (albeit from mostly anonymous sources) the growing frustration, tension and emotional responses to the lack of strategic clarity for the firm. The firm is in pain, and perhaps it is in its death throes. While creative destruction is inevitable in our world of change, one wonders whether a firm with the name and eyeballs of a Yahoo is aggressively striving to snatch defeat from what could be a victory.

In my work as a strategy adviser and facilitator, I see the impact of firms avoiding the hard work, introspection and experimentation that should surround an on-gong strategy process, all too often. Almost without exception, the issue is that top management has failed to take the time and put forth the effort to properly diagnose its situation. I listen to top executives and hear disparate views on the challenges and opportunities. I listen to them for clarity and unity on how they propose to move forward, and what I hear ranges from silence to cacophony.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The failure of any business is a sad affair. There are people and families and careers and dreams attached to our businesses, and when those are squandered due to ego and pride and unhealthy politics or worse yet, due to managerial laziness, it’s reprehensible. You owe it to your team and your firm to be a positive voice and catalyst in pursuit of strategic clarity, coherent actions and healthy, constant communication.

Read more in the Art of Managing Series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.