Connect with Us

Discover the Extraordinary Leader in You! Free Leadership Assessment

BLOG: Extraordinary Leadership and High Functioning Teams

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Thorns to Roses Inspires a Book about Difficult Conversations

"We complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."- Abraham Lincoln

cc_tough_talk_bookLast November, we had the pleasure of delivering a keynote and panel discussion at the WAVE annual event for trailblazing women in corporate America. WAVE stands for Women Adding Value & Excellence. This three-year-old volunteer organization is the brainchild of Susan Baxley of Teradata and Christine Tombelesi of GE. The title for the event: The Conversation - From Thorns to Roses: How People Deal with Critical Conversations was a regular request from leaders in the organization. The event was held at the UPS headquarters, with the keynote immediately followed by a lively panel discussion with four spectacular women representing UPS, W.W. Grainger, GE Capital, and Google.

These four leaders shared personal stories and insights the audience found both practical and revealing. One of them confessed that, in fact, early in her career, she was terrible at this skill but gained confidence in tackling the most difficult of conversations through practice and preparation.

After the event, we shared our Difficult Conversation prep sheet and were surprised by the number of people who downloaded the form and wrote us notes or emails thanking us for the tool. 

Realizing we were onto to something, we began to ask about the most common conversations people struggle with at work. After collecting the data from the poll and having several subsequent interviews with clients around their angst with difficult conversations, we sat down to craft a practical book that offered solutions to both individuals and organizations struggling to disarm difficult conversations at work.

In April 2014, we published our first book, Tough Talk: 10 Tips for Disarming Difficult Conversations.

We are off to a terrific start with our first book, with several companies and organizations asking us to keynote or deliver a workshop on difficult conversations in the workplace. We are delighted we listened to the wisdom of our clients. There are too many difficult conversations in today's work environments and we are hoping to do our part to change that for the better.

Download Free Chapter

3 Reasons Your Company Needs a 360 Feedback Program to Develop Leaders


cc_360_feedback_programsIt is no secret that well over 90% of all Fortune 500 companies use a 360° survey or multi-rater assessment to determine the effectiveness of their key leaders. The key objective usually focuses on the hope that the executive has improved his/her rankings. However, not all companies recognize how easy it is to take the 360 degree feedback process and turn it into a highly effective streamlined leadership development program. So, why should your company have a 360 degree feedback program to develop talent?

#1: All leaders can develop

The #1 reason to have a 360 Degree Feedback Program in your organization is thisEveryone throughout your company can and should continue to develop at a higher level, even senior leaders. For example, we were called in to a large organization about a failed 360 feedback program. Our first question to the VP of HR was, “Are your senior leaders modeling the behaviors you want to see in leaders who have had 360 feedback given to them?” Her response told us all we needed to know about why the program had failed. She replied, “Oh, our senior leaders aren’t going through this program because they aren’t the ones who need to change.” Senior leaders should set high expectations for their team members and the organization and then lead by example.

#2: A culture of leaders who give and receive feedback fosters trust

Instilling the notion in your talent that they should ask for feedback and be comfortable giving feedback builds resilience in your leaders. One CEO we have had the pleasure of working with for several years models this by asking after every major company event or milestone, “What did we learn today?” and “How will this make our company better?” His organization doesn’t fear feedback. Instead, they relish the opportunity to share their opinions in order to build an even better organization.cc_360_feedback_programs

#3: Blind spots can trip up key talent and derail their careers

All leaders have strengths that, when overused or in new stressful situations, may become distorted, overused and turn into weaknesses. When disruptive change occurs such as a new boss, new direction, or poor results that need to be turned around, leaders can become stressed and overly dependent on past success. For example, we worked with a VP of Operations who struggled with new ideas his boss gave him regarding process improvements. The VP would openly resist the new changes in team meetings. His intensity and desire to protect his past success blinded him to the knowledge that he was a bully to many people in the team meetings. His 360 feedback report offered him the opportunity to learn his team members' perspectives and combined with our Executive Coaching for Derailing Leaders, it allowed him the opportunity to improve his blind spots and change his direction as a leader.

All leaders, whether senior executives, managers or high potential talent, can benefit from a comprehensive 360 feedback program which includes the assessment, feedback, training, and coaching. It will increase employee engagement, improve team success, and create a supportive culture for everyone.

Does your company use a 360 process to develop leaders?

The Power of Resilient Leaders

The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic. - Peter Drucker

cc_resilient_leadersSome of today’s seasoned executives have managed through difficult times. Change, it would seem, has never been more dynamic or present. Engagement scores are dismally disappointing. Organizations are struggling to create cultures where leaders can thrive and change can be mastered. As we partner with HR leaders inside organizations, we see how resiliency has become an important leadership skill to develop. Do your leaders have the resiliency necessary to weather the unpredictable, changing landscape we face today and lead your company to higher ground?

What does it mean to be resilient? Think of bridges and office buildings that have gaps built in to the architecture so they sway in a strong wind. Think of the interplay between rigid cell walls and pliable centers that allow a stem to fully bend in flood waters and fully spring back upright the next day after the waters recede. Resilience is a balance of heavy duty architecture and pliability.

Resiliency is a key part of one's leadership skills management. This important skill can be developed and leaders who exhibit resiliency help prepare your organization respond to a rapidly changing and unpredictable business environment.

Through our work with top executives, Clearwater Consulting has identified five key qualities of resilient leaders.

1. Comfortable with unresolved ambiguities as they navigate change

When presenting their plan for transition, resilient leaders are open about the fact that not everything has worked out as intended and then they discuss changes to the plan. Leaders who do not communicate the strategic plan during difficult times, leaves their team and employees wondering what is going on and how the company is going to get through it. Leaders need to accept that changes are necessary, be open to new ideas and then be able to pivot in another direction if something doesn't work as planned.

2. Inspire and lead through good and bad times

While Emotional intelligence is considered valuable, top producers are often given some leeway in an organization to behave badly. However, star power is less effective in a stressful down cycle when a leader also needs better relationships and a greater ability to inspire his or her team to move through it.cc_resilient_leaders

Resilient leaders demonstrate flexibility, durability, an attitude of optimism and a mindset that is open to learning, according to the Center for Creative Leadership. Cynicism, defensiveness, or burnout signal a lack of resilience.

When organizations tolerate derailing behavior in their executives until it becomes intolerable, they risk losing key talent and a major institutional investment over issues that are readily resolved with early recognition and intervention. For example, a high potential executive at an international food and beverage manufacturer had abrasive and ambitious style issues that were impacting his career. We coached him to better understand how his leadership style impacted others while also developing an action plan of acknowledgment, repair and accountability over the course of a year. With a focus on results through immediate action, this high achiever soon became comfortable with taking responsibility for his behaviors when he noticed his peers, subordinates, boss and HR stakeholders were perceiving him differently and reacting better to him. As a result, he was promoted to VP in a key marketing position and continued to produce top line business results for the company. Recent studies repeatedly bear out the value of emotional and relational skills to bottom line performance.

3. Understand diverse leadership styles

A new style of leadership is needed today. It is not as edgy. It utilizes highly developed influencing and collaborating skills. Effective, resilient leaders today understand that there are varying, yet equally, effective leadership styles and often they complement one another to create a productive synergy where 1 + 1 is more than 2.

cc_disc_team_assessmentsDuring a recent engagement at a large energy company, a new team leader needed to quickly learn how to lead and collaborate with a group comprised of silo’d individuals & mindsets. We focused with them on the fundamentals of a team assessment: who am I, who are you, and who can we be as a team, overtly recognizing the diverse styles and approaches to work and communication in the group. The results? Immediate and positive feedback was received from the team to the team leader. Coordination of projects became immediately smoother and results returned faster.

High functioning teams are motivated by a clear purpose and clear communications. The Clearwater Consulting process for teams begins with helping team members make that mental shift from “me” to “we”. Without that perspective, commitment to shared purpose and goals is fraught with challenges. Essential to moving forward is clearly defining purpose with a two-pronged strategy based on corporate mandate and appreciative inquiry which asks – what does the team do effectively and how can we build on that? Once teams have clearly identified their purpose, then goals are established, accountabilities defined and the team is on track to achieve results. Results reinforce, motivate and build resiliency.

4. Communicate transparently

One challenge we faced at a technology company was to help the culture become adept at giving and receiving feedback. Their brand new CEO felt leaders exchanging ideas and challenging one another would stimulate better solutions faster for adapting to the changing realities of the market. A combination of assessments, listening to top managers’ requests, cross-team courses and discussions as well as individual and group coaching helped them retain top talent and begin the realignment of their business with the market even in the face of unparalleled economic stress. By being as transparent as possible with both employees and stockholders, the CEO was able to gain trust, retain top talent and has seen a remarkable rise in share prices.

Over time, we have discovered that assessing and addressing current challenges in the individual, teams and the culture allows team members to develop more openness to change, and focus on building skills and resiliency to respond to the next challenge that arises.

If you don’t tell people what is going on, they will make it up, often imagining the worst, says Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School and director of its Center for Human Resources. But remember that communicating the change is different from selling it, and top performers prefer to make up their own minds, says Pat Zigarmi, vice president of business development for the Ken Blanchard Companies in Escondido, Calif. You want to give them enough data about the organization as it is and as it needs to be so that they can come to the same conclusions you have. You must make a compelling business case for the change. cc_resilient_leaders

5. Anticipate the next wave of change

Research shows that executives close their minds to new ideas when they are under stress. They tend to reach for the same levers they have pulled in the past, even if those levers don't work in the new conditions. - Harvard Business Review

Excellent leadership is sometimes counterintuitive – where management may be inclined to hunker down in a crisis and become less communicative thinking to leave themselves more flexibility, the resilient leader devises a courageous plan of action balanced between current realities and a vision of the future, and communicates that plan realistically. There is no question that in turbulent times, effective executives are key for the company to survive and thrive.

The natural tendency is to become myopic and withdraw the organization to perceived safety —a posture that stifles the very things that cause the organization to thrive. The savvy executive champions future success, connects people to the future and engenders confidence that the organization is in capable hands and that the best decisions are being made. While leaders can never provide a message of unequivocal safety, in times of great uncertainty they must reassure staff, customers and suppliers or risk losing precious, hard-fought-for ground.

The ability to bounce back from adversity—and to navigate during hard times—is not innate. It has a lot to do with how you think about the challenges you face, and it is a set of skills that can be developed, say Mary Lynn Pulley and Michael Wakefield, authors of Building Resiliency: How to Thrive in Times of Change.

Resilient leaders accept change as constant and inevitable, become comfortable with change and are open to learning, they say. This doesn't necessarily mean going back to school or retraining. But it is about trying new approaches, being open to new skills, and adapting their behavior. Many managers resist learning new ways, even when it's obvious that the old ways don't work anymore, say Pulley and Wakefield. Resilient leaders are constantly improving.

What are you doing to distinguish yourself as a resilient, adaptable leader?
Get Your Free Leadership Assessment

Leadership Coaching is a Business Solution


Leadership Coaching Positively Impacts the Individual, the Team and the Culture 

cc_leadership_coachingIn the relatively short span of time since leadership coaching hit the business world ten to fifteen years ago, the field has exploded. But exactly what is leadership coaching?

In a business setting, leadership coaching focuses on helping the individual achieve business objectives by better understanding themselves and their environment and exploring options available to accelerate movement toward both professional and organizational goals.

The leadership coach, unlike a consultant with specific methods and agendas, engages with the participant to explore what is and what could be. The coach helps map a strategy to get there and helps hold the individual accountable for the outcomes. Leadership coaches have excellent listening skills and use powerful questions to help the client. 

Coaching is a skill set, a perspective and a process; it's collaborative in nature. It differs from mentoring in which the individual has walked this path before and can provide expert advice and insight. Leadership coaching skills include:

  • Active listening
  • Nonjudgmental reflection
  • Processes that engage the client in new perspectives 
  • Action plan development and accountability

A managerial role is traditionally hierarchical and directive. The role coaching plays is supportive and developmental. While coaching for potential derailers (when a manager is in trouble) is a component of the mix, organizations are finding important ways to apply coaching even more positively and strategically. The initiatives we see are those focused on leadership development, especially for high potentials (rising stars) or the executive team, developing high functioning teams, and career development for talent throughout the organization. This represents a huge mindset shift, from fixing what is wrong, to supporting, encouraging and rewarding professional development. Studies clearly show the positive impact of talent development on acquisition, retention, employee and customer satisfaction and ultimately the bottom line. cc_benefits_of_leadership_coaching

So, how is your company effectively using leadership coaching? Consider the following checklist: How many of these applications are present at your company and which ones are missing? 

  • We provide executive coaching for the CEO and high level executives to enhance their leadership skills

  • We offer leadership coaching to a targeted group of high potentials to develop their managerial and leadership skills

  • We include coaching at the back end of a training program, adding time one-on-one with a leadership coach to anchor in the content and practice the information

  • We offer coaching for onboarding new leaders, assimilation of new employees and those recently promoted

  • We teach coaching skills to our managers

  • We build high functioning teams through coaching and a thorough assessment process of our teams' strengths and weaknesses

  • We measure our results and recognize the positive and sustainable impact leadership coaching has on the organization 

Integrating leadership coaching programs into your organization may be easier than you believe. With the help of expert leadership coaches, any business can begin to improve their individuals, teams and culture through the following key areas.

Team Coaching

cc_leadership_coachingLeadership coaching to develop high functioning teams artfully establishes a powerful framework for exploring the team as its own entity, a system unto itself which benefits from a coach who treats the team as greater than the sum of its individual parts. “Effective team coaching focuses on the whole as a system and the interrelationships among the team members.” 

Case in Point

An experienced business coach in Canada, facilitated the merger of two executive teams as their respective non-profit associations merged into one organization. Using a team assessment for productivity and positivity, she coached them as a team to explore the dynamics they were grappling with: bringing together people with varying skills, struggling with inconsistent communication, an inefficient reporting structure and variable management practices. While helping the individuals identify their personal strengths and talents, emphasis was placed on creating awareness among the group as a team, with its own values, its own profile and dynamics and its purpose. Through the team coaching program, the participants designed a new alliance, embraced a shared vision and created processes to support that vision.  

Integrating Coaching Into Strategic Programs

In addition to very targeted programs such as one-on-one executive coaching of the C-suite or executive leader to strengthen performance or work on specific kills, we find pioneering companies incorporating leadership coaching as a key component of broader business solution strategies. These programs target managers and high potentials in addition to the executive team and include leadership development, succession planning, career development, and talent retention

Case In Point

A technology client introduced coaching in its executive ranks several years ago resulting in powerful success – a more focused leadership and more effective executive team interactions. When a new leadership training program for high potentials was designed by the HR department, leadership coaching was added as a component. Following each workshop, the participants were given several one-hour sessions with a specially trained internal coach. These sessions were designed to help the high potential employee target specific skills for development, skills identified in a benchmark assessment. This customized coaching model – helping each high potential participant target and focus on specific skills he or she wants to develop - resulted in an increase of promotions from within, positive increases in 360 assessments of participants, and significantly less turnover.

Accelerated Learning and Sustainable Inspiration

Companies spend millions of dollars on training. The question has always been, to what effect? Leadership coaching is increasingly perceived as an essential bridge from the classroom to the office, from concept to practice, and a potent way to customize learnings that creates a meaningful and sustainable impact. Using a leadership coach to work with a program/class participant after the class (or during) helps anchor information from workshops or training, sustain the learnings with specific plans of action, and increases likelihood of application by holding the individual accountable through a coaching relationship. Ken Blanchard, management guru and visionary, incorporates coaching in his Executive MBA program, acknowledging its potency for anchoring new information otherwise lost once the class is complete.

Case in Point

A colleague teaches a well known coaches training program, which gets high marks for content from participants. However, the majority were not completing requirements for certification. By coaching participants for two months after the classes end, our firm helped them establish an action plan for completing their certification. We coached them before and after their practice sessions with their own clients, we held them accountable for their commitments and helped them develop their own style of coaching. In less than a year, completion of the certification program rose from 50% to 90%.

The Next Frontier: Creating a Coaching Culture  cc_benefits_of_leadership_coaching

Leadership coaching can thrive in all types of business environments. However, when we talk about creating a coaching culture, we are pointing to behaviors and perspectives that infiltrate the organization in which we see the fundamentals of leadership coaching – great respect for the individual and the team, excellent listening, artful feedback – cascading through the system and producing business results. Not only is this behavior present and rewarded, but there is a structured programmatic approach which deploys coaching best practices in an integrated manner. 

Several markers identify an organization’s embrace of leadership coaching such that it becomes part of the cultural norm. Here are just a few indications the organization is moving in that direction:

  1. When coaching skills become a competency on the 360 assessment of managers,
  2. When training programs include coaching skills workshops for managers (powerful questions, radical listening, nonjudgmental reflection, talent development plans, etc)
  3. When the application of coaching is included in more than one strategic initiative, and applied to more than one set of individuals, for depth and breadth across the company,
  4. When the leadership team starts to refer to themselves as coaches and, more important, when they are described by their employees as leadership coaches. 

So, where are you and where is your company in its application of leadership coaching as a business solution? 

Examine YourCoaching Ability

Five Steps to Effective, High-Functioning Teams

Teams share the burden, and divide the grief." - Doug Smith

The corporate world’s answer to the growing challenges of business seems to be a whole room full of partners -- that’s a Team. Although there have always been workplace teams, since the 1980’s their role in corporations has vastly increased. And although they can be highly effective, teams are not the panacea for inefficient organizations. Frustrated members and managers abound, because by all logic their teams should work, but they often don’t. The good news is that the solutions for effective, high-functioning teams are within your reach.

What is a Team?

Katzenbach & Smith in Wisdom of Teams gave this definition of a high functioning team:

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and working approach for which they hold themselves accountable” 

Work groups that are a collection of individuals, are not a team. Even a group attempting tocc_high_functioning_teams collaborate on a joint project, Katzenback and Smith would call a “potential” team.  A real team has a common purpose, goals and approach. When the team becomes committed to each others’ personal growth, then it can evolve to a true high performance team.

The norm in the workplace is the antithesis of the team: usually each individual must look out for their own interests, which makes team-building difficult.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of Teams, points out another hurdle typical in corporations. Managers and leaders often leave team issues untreated, hoping they will work themselves out without any heavy lifting, and now you’ve got a recipe for dysfunction. 

Whether you are the manager charged with forming and supervising a team, or a member of the group, you can increase the performance of your team and your own job satisfaction by adhering to these five steps.

Learn 5 steps to building high functioning teams

The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams: What gets in the way of accountability and results

In this popular corporate fable, Patrick Lencioni identified why teams don’t work, how to recognize dysfunction and what to do about it. Teams work, he said, when they have: effective transparency, open conversation, and collaboration. Teams fail when there is:

  • an absence of trust 
  • fear of conflict
  • lack of commitment
  • avoidance of accountability 
  • inattention to results 

One good indicator of team dysfunction, for example, is a boring team meeting, said Lencioni. When people don’t challenge one another in discussions about the business, and when people go to meetings unmotivated, you can be pretty confident that they’re not collectively engaged.

In a high-functioning team, people enjoy their work; obstacles become challenges that are fun to take on, rather than annoyances to be endured during the work day.

Do people reserve their complaints for hallway conversations instead of voicing them during meetings? If so, that’s a sign of both a lack of trust and absence healthy conflict.

And what about individuals who are not following through? Lencioni’s first piece of advice to a manager is: tell the team member he is under performing. So many times people are not aware of their situation because managers shy away from giving them direct feedback, especially if it’s negative.

The Role of Team Leader is vital, according to Wisdom of Teams. The leader’s job is to:

  1. Keep the team’s purpose, goals and approach meaningful.
  2. Build commitment and confidence among the group.
  3. Strengthen the mix and level of skills by assessing and choosing members carefully, then bringing in balancing talents when they are needed.
  4. Manage external relationships and remove obstacles so the team can quickly create successes.
  5. Create opportunities for others on the team to develop and grow their expertise and influence.
  6. Do real work. Teamwork is quickly destroyed when work that is creative and well-conceived vaporizes in the black hole of corporate inaction. The effect is to erect a high hurdle of distrust and cynicism for future team participation.

Celebration and Recognition Matter


Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. Genuine praise from a peer or a manager can be very gratifying to an individual who is trying on new ideas or behaviors. The organization needs to develop the habit of recognizing the team rather than the team leader. Performance standards have to reward team performance more than individual performance.

Success does not result from motivation, we are told by Shinichi Suzuki, the famed inventor of the worldwide phenomenon of Suzuki music training, motivation is the result of success. You can transform your team through:

  1. Defining a purpose and goals through careful inquiry into what is working 
  2. Demanding accountability that requires high performance involvement by all the members 
  3. Doing real work that achieves results 
  4. Recognizing and celebrating success when it is achieved 

While it takes commitment, patience and insight to get there, high performance teams become self-motivating because receiving the support of peers to perform at your best is so satisfying that it makes work highly desirable.

What have you done to help your team perform at a higher level?

Onboarding New Leaders: Success vs. Failure

"Lead, follow or get out of the way." - Laurence J. Peter

cc_onboarding_new_leadersIt's a well known story. A valued senior leader gets promoted. He was promoted based on a track record of success. But a funny (albeit not really funny) thing happened to this leader after he was promoted, he failed. He never thought it could happen, after all he knew the company really well and he was well liked. His performance had always been strong, so where did he go wrong?

He wasn't set up for success. All the risk and all the work fell to him. He was put in a difficult position, he took the place of the newly appointed president. And, the president had been in his old role a long time and his direct reports loved him, so much so that they were in mourning about the new boss--even though they knew the new leader and liked him. He found himself walking on eggshells when team members would say "that's not the way our old leader would do it." Red flag #1. There's no team support for the promotion.

His track record of success had been in sales and now he was being placed in a key marketing role. His direct reports were a well seasoned bunch used to dealing with the former leader and now president. They began to criticize the new leader's lack of knowledge, and rolled their eyes when he asked questions in meetings. To make matters worse, the new president still wanted to lead his old team. He came to meetings that should have been led by the new leader and undermined his authority when he didn't like the direction the new leader wanted to take things. Red flag #2. No support for a learning curve time line (short) and boundaries with others!

Things went from bad to worse when the business (which had reported 4 straight years of unprecedented success) took a tumble. The board got very nervous and requested the president take back the reins and get the business fixed, and fast! The new leader tried his best to make recommendations, rally the team and demonstrate the necessary actions needed to turn the business around. It was a losing battle as he began to hear things from HR and others about his need to "own an opinion and speak up". People began taking credit for his ideas even when he did make credible and innovative suggestions for how to fix the problems. Sadly, he realized too late that he had not detailed what he was up against, and rallied enough people to his vision for the future of the business. Red flag #3. A lack of vision and buy-in for direction. cc_onboarding_new_leaders

What sets a leader up for success?

Despite how often, we see the above scenario happen, this doesn't have to happen this way. Organizations that understand the need to set people up for success focus on the following things when promoting leaders to bigger roles:

  1. Set realistic expectations for success and establish small wins to build confidence. What can the leader impact in the first few months? How long is the learning curve? What will it take to build support from the team members? Creating alignment for goals and priorities of the first 90 days is crucial to building the "wins" that establish credibility for a leader. 
  2. Minimize the possible problems by illuminating what might happen. It wasn't a secret that the president was having some trouble letting go of his old role, or that the team was not behaving in a respectful way towards the new leader. What was surprising to the newly promoted leader was how little folks seemed to want to help him fix or deter the potential problems. 
  3. Encourage and accept differences in styles of leadership or approach. The new leader had ideas, and they might have worked. But, too many people wanted to do it the old way or the way they were most comfortable. 
  4. Demonstrate faith and belief in the new leader's capabilities. The biggest dagger in the new leader's back was the lack of confidence and support he felt from people he had believed had faith in him. 
What happens to newly promoted leaders at your company? Is there a new leader onboarding program to help them? Are they set up for success or failure? And, what does their failure do to your attitude towards the company?

Tough Talk With Your Boss: The Performance Review

"The thing about performance, even if it's only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities." - Sydney Smith, author

cc_difficult_conversationsYou never saw it coming. As a matter of fact, you thought you had a pretty good year, all things considered. Your results were strong and you made most of your goals for the year. So why do you feel so awful? You just had your performance review, and you were a "meets expectation", for the second year in a row.

Before coming to this company, you had always been a leader who receives an "exceeds expectation" and you really felt like this year things would be different. Instead, your boss is stressing something about you missing deadlines and not planning ahead. You ask him for some clarity and you realize, he's talking about something that happened 2 years ago when you first arrived at the company. You think to yourself, why am I here, doesn't he see how hard I've worked and the actual results I've produced. And, why is he talking about something that happened so long ago? You walk out, disillusioned and depressed, with a paltry 1.5% increase, which he tells you he fought hard to get for you. You begin to think about dusting off your resume and putting out feelers. You dread telling your spouse the news as you were both hoping for a bigger increase to help cover the cost of the kids' expenses that just went up again!

After you leave his office, your boss sits down at his desk and feels awful. He knows he was forced to change your rating from an "exceeds expectation" to a "meets expectation" because of the forced ranking system the company uses. Your boss already had one "exceeds" on the team and when he was forced to rank you or the other guy as #1 or #2, it changed the rating of your review. Your boss also knows that the company is only offering 2% increases to the highest performers, so he really did fight hard for your 1.5% raise. Your boss is puzzled by your questioning of his concern over you hitting deadlines though because he remembers clearly you blew that project 2 years ago. Tough Talk book cover

While the above scenario is fictional, it is created from the hundreds of actual stories we've heard from our clients on both sides of the table. Performance reviews remain one of the toughest conversations that most leaders dread having with others.

So what can one do to have a positive experience during a performance review? What can a person do to take the difficult conversation around performance, money or expectations and change it into a more engaging one where both parties--the manager and the direct report--walk out feeling good about things?

4 Ways to Improve Performance Reviews 

  • Break annual goals into quarterly milestones and meet quarterly to review them. Whether you are the manager calling the meeting or the direct report, be sure this step happens so there are no year-end surprises. Make sure the quarterly goals align with annual performance numbers. Also, make sure your results deliver more than just the numbers. If you are a sales manager, you will be looking at the numbers consistently. But what about the specific behaviors that led up to those results? Did you establish and meet your quota on cold calls, or set and get the number of appointments you wanted to? Did you convert at a higher rate than last year? The more specifically you can tie behaviors to your numerical goals the better the conversation will go on both sides with an appreciation for the work it takes to achieve success.
  • Ask for feedback on a regular consistent basis. As the employee, take responsibility for seeking feedback. Not just from your manager but from your peers, clients, direct reports. Learn to stand out in the crowd, by asking your manager for feedback before he gives it to you. After an important board meeting or sales call, circle back and invite him/her: "tell me a few things you think I did well and a few things I can do better next time". Thank your manger for the feedback!
  • Be bold and request a 360 degree feedback assessment. As the employee, show your commitment to professional development by requesting a 360 degree feedback assessment. This is a great way to get some feedback in a more formal way and it is a great developmental tool that can improve your performance going forward. Make sure you build a plan to constructively leverage the 2-3 things you want to work on for the year after receiving your report. And, go back and thank your raters. Sharing with them what you are working to improve is a great way to create support for your development. 
  • Be prepared for the annual review by doing your homework. Both manager and employee should heed this key. From the direct report perspective, this means really bringing to the review what worked well for the year, what could have gone better and what you will focus on in the future. From the manager perspective, this means doing your homework upfront as well. Going the extra mile in sharing all the data with the review committee and challenging assumptions around the ranking system will really pay off for both your people and yourself. DiSC Circle no descBeing mindful of what it takes to motivate each member of your team requires understanding who they are as individuals. If you are using the same approach with all your people, you are missing out on the ways to motivate their performance. Consider requesting each team member complete a DiSC profile to help you learn how to approach each person according to their style, create more trust, and communicate in a more positive manner.
So what's your experience been like with performance reviews? Have you had one you'd rather forget? And, if so what did you do to turn it around next year? 
Prepare for DifficultConversations Worksheet

What if your Company had a National Signing Day?


cc_leadership_trainingNational Signing Day is one of the most exciting days of the year for College Football Programs. This year the official day was February 5, 2014 and many colleges set up "war rooms" in preparation of signing day. The head football coach and assistant coaches have spent months, and sometimes years, scouting and building a relationship with these coveted recruits, his parents, relatives and just about anyone who exerts influence, in the hopes of landing them for their college team.

Recruits are ranked according to their position, skill set and performance in a system of 5-star, 4-star and 3-star rankings. Colleges certainly covet the game changing 5-star player who can turn a program completely around, but they also look for players based on the program's need - their own form of succession planning - by determining where they lack depth, who is graduating, and where they might need strong back-up.

After the day concludes, the caliber of each college program's talent is assessed and ranked, with sports analysts weighing in and debating who landed the top class. Of course, the class rankings are one thing and every program wants to rank in the top 10 or even 20 programs. But, after all the excitement dies down, there are 3 things that need to happen to get the most from the new players:

  • Accurate Talent Assessment  
Is the treasured offensive lineman, defensive back or red shirt quarterback ready to block, work on his footwork, and learn the new system? Or, is he a player to be developed based on the depth chart, age, weight issues etc.?
  • Commitment to Coaching by the Coaches
Are the coaches willing to do what's best for both the player and the program? Will they invest the time it takes to work with the new player?
  • Player Acceptance of Coaching
Will the player do what it takes to get better, seek feedback on where he needs to improve, be willing to take risks and even make mistakes in order to get better? Is he coachable? Or has the hype convinced him he knows all he needs to know?

This year's National Signing Day excitement got me thinking about how a company looks atcc_leadership_training talent. It's no secret that qualified, highly skilled labor that can stand out in a global, complex economy is in hot demand. In certain fields, these workers can call their own shots and are nurtured and wooed in a similar 5 star way. Companies have their own war rooms and approaches on how to land their top classes. They may invest in additional talent acquisition resources, increase the frequency of times they visit a college campus, or pull out all the stops when they have someone interview at the company headquarters. 

But like those coveted recruits, landing the top talent or the key skilled player is only half the battle. It takes the proper assessment, coaching and coach ability to really get the most of the people you hire. 

One of our favorite clients in healthcare models this approach exceptionally well. They have a team of several recruiters who recruit for a specific role and expertise. They spend months scouting for the leaders they want at their company with multiple college campus visits. They are very specific about the people they are looking for and the qualifications they need to possess to be successful at their company.

And, after the initial hiring, they really get busy making sure their talent is successful. The newly acquired leaders take part in several rotational assignments of 4-6 months in length over the course of the 2-3 year training program. They involve the senior leaders in the plan to make them successful. They offer specific leadership training that helps the newly acuired person know that they believe in developing leaders for the future. The best part about it- they have a track record of success. Turnover is low and people end up in the roles that best suit them leading to greater success. 

Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte just themed 2014 as "The Year of the Employee". Are you ready for it? What does your vision of a national signing day look like? And, will it attract the leaders you need to stay competitive in the future?

January Blues: Re-energize at Work with Action Planning

"Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?" - Steven Wright

clearwater_consulting_developing_leadersIt's time, time to go back to work. The presents are all unwrapped and the dead Christmas trees line the curbs, looking like carcasses. Luckily, for some of us, the winter storm has delayed the inevitable thanks to a weather reprieve. 

So what's really going on here? Do we look around and wonder about our motivation or the way we're working? Is this feeling of dread just a natural state after the euphoria of the holidays? Research over the past 3 years suggests that January 6th (the date most of us return from the holiday) is actually the most depressing day of the year. 

Getting Our Work Mojo Back

Some of us may naturally look forward to the dawning of the new day at work, while others may drag themselves back in wondering about their commitment and their engagement levels. So what will help you get your work mojo back? Try action planning with these steps:

  1. Be Kind to Yourself - Go to bed earlier, take time to exercise before work and meditate 10 minutes in the morning prior to work. Set your alarm to get up at a reasonable time and don't continuously hit the snooze button!
  2. Take Stock of Your Work - What do you like about the work you do? Take time to find 3 things you can say are positive about your work. Remind yourself why you first decided to work at this organization. 
  3. If you can't find 3 positive things about your job, vow to changeclearwater_consulting_developing_leaders things - Consider leaving or talking with your boss/peers about a way to increase your commitment to the job. Gauge the level of support from your boss/peers and be willing to do your part to make things better. If you decide that you do want to leave, make sure you have a plan in place to land your next job or even start your own business. 
  4. Find a way to help others succeed at work - Be the one who raises the morale of the whole department or team. Assisting others with achieving their goals has a residual impact on ourselves and our moods. Look for what others are really good at and help them do more with their strengths. 
  5. Finally, look for a way to connect the work you do with the enterprise mission, vision and values. When we see how important our contributions are in the grand scheme of the company's overall performance, we feel better about how we impact the bottom line. 

What action planning steps are you taking to re-energize yourself at work this January?

"Employees are a company's greatest asset - they're your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company's mission." Anne M. Mulcahy

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Silos, Everywhere You Go

"In most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully...but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together."- Patrick Lencioni

cc_ways_to_change_organizational_cultureIn continuing our holiday series on what employees want in organizations and sometimes what they don't want, we thought we would talk about one of the biggest things we hear leaders complain about and that's silo mentality. There is an inability to get work done in organizations where silos live and thrive. Cultures of silos tends to demonstrate:

  • A lack of ability to solve problems- mostly because of functional supremacy and no appreciation for what other areas contribute to the organization. 
  • Backstabbing and finger pointing- people are always jockeying for power and blaming others when things go wrong.
  • A lack of peer to peer accountability- this also affects relationships and builds mistrust.
  • Hording of resources- best practices are not shared and efficiencies are not created because of a desire to compete, win at all costs, beat the inner competition. 

Employees want to work for leaders and companies where silos can be avoided and in environments where leaders will call out that negative behavior. They want to work for companies where the context of why working together matters is clearly conveyed.cc_corporate_culture

If you are the leader of your organization, what have you done to let others know about the how and why each function matters and contributes to the bottom line of the company? Have you made it obvious? Do each of your employees understand their role and the role of other functions?

So if you work in a company where silos are prevalent, what can you do? Have you tried working with your leader to create a clearer picture of the interdependencies between other departments? Are you the first one to try and solve problems across functions without finger pointing or defensiveness?

Tearing down silos takes courage and creativity. It takes a willingness to address the bad behavior and replace it with new ways to create a compelling purpose where all people feel part of the company's mission, vision, values and bottom line. 


All Posts

Subscribe to receive email alerts when a new blog post is published

Your email: