Are You Surrounding Yourself With The Right People? – 2

One of my mentors, Sigi Brauer, frequently said, “Surround yourself with people who will make you successful.” You need to think beyond whether a candidate has the potential to excel in their role, you need to think about who’s the best fit for the culture, and who’s the best fit for you? In this post, I’ll focus on the latter: “How do you know who’s the best fit for you?”

First, you have to be aware of your leadership style. How would you describe it? See if you can write it down. It might be more difficult than you think. Go to associates you trust. Ask them to describe your style, and to describe the ideal direct report for you. Remember, there’s often a difference between whom you want and whom you really need.

Next, think about current and former direct reports who were (or are) a great fit for you. What are the first things that come to mind? What were they like? Why did they add so much value? Why did you look forward to working with them?

When you’ve done all this, see what themes emerge from these diverse perspectives. What did you learn? Have you refined your understanding of your style, and of your ideal direct report?

To make this more concrete, here are some random examples of possible insights. Do you want a person who constantly challenges the status quo? One who wants to execute established processes with excellence? Do you want a person who is highly collaborative? Intensely competitive? Relationship oriented? Thick skinned? Humble? Comfortable with confrontation?

If your style is aggressive and confrontational, the ideal direct report should be comfortable with confrontation and have a thick skin. If organization and attention to detail is not your long suit, seek someone who is strong in those areas.

During employment interviews, ask candidates to describe their style and their strengths. How close is the match to what you seek? Ask them to describe the best boss they’ve ever had. To what degree are they describing you?

You can also use scientific assessments to improve your ability to predict the degree to which a candidate matches your ideal fit.

As you think more about this, I believe you’ll come to the conclusion that your ideal direct reports will share certain values and character traits, AND will bring strengths that are complimentary to yours.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Improve A Relationship When Trust Is Low?

A client recently asked me this question. As usual, I don’t think I have the answer, but I do have some thoughts.

Let’s think about a hypothetical situation that, sadly, is all too common. Suppose you have to work with someone you believe (perhaps for very good reasons) intentionally does things to undermine you. Trust is low. In the normal course of business, he calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. Before reading further, take a moment to answer the following questions: How does that make you feel? What do you do?

Now, let’s alter that hypothetical slightly. Suppose a close friend at work calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. How does that make you feel? What do you do?

There’s a good chance that your answers for the first hypothetical were very different than your answers for the second one.

In the first hypothetical, you might be upset or even angry. Depending on your style, you might confront that person in an adversarial manner. Or you might not discuss it directly with this person but instead discuss it with others, as more evidence that this person is trying to undermine you. Neither response is constructive.

In the second hypothetical you might well be somewhat upset, but your response wouldn’t be adversarial, and you certainly wouldn’t badmouth your close friend. You’d be more likely to have a non-confrontational conversation about why you weren’t invited, and you’d readily believe it was an oversight. Your response would be constructive.

Our interpretation of someone’s behavior depends on our relationship with that person. When trust is low we automatically attribute bad motives, but when trust is high we refuse to believe that bad motives account for the behavior.

So here’s what you can do to improve a relationship when trust is low.

First, recognize that your feelings do not have to dictate your behavior, and ask yourself, “Suppose the person who did this (whatever “this” is) were my best friend. How would I respond? What would I do?” CHOOSE THAT BEHAVIOR, no matter what you feel like doing. In the case of being excluded from a meeting, for instance, start with the assumption it was an oversight (even if you don’t believe it!) and choose your behavior based on that assumption.

Second, remember that your assumptions about a person’s motives might be mistaken. It’s almost always constructive to ask why… if you ask the way you’d ask your close friend.

I’m not suggesting that this strategy is easy to implement. On the contrary, repairing relationships is really difficult, but it can be done. It involves risk, it takes time, and it almost always requires you to be the bigger person.

My friend Carol Ott Schacht sums up this strategy quite eloquently: “Love ‘em to goodness.”

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Find The Growth Opportunities During Tough Times?

Nobody looks forward to tough times. But let’s face it. Tough times are inevitable. They’re part of life’s journey. They cause a range of negative emotions and behaviors, including frustration, anger, blaming, finger pointing, and despair – just to name a few. But it’s during tough times that people most need great leadership. And like any life experience, they present growth opportunities for everyone involved. By no means do I think I have the best wisdom on this topic. But I do have some thoughts.

My first thought is something my friend Doug Rath says frequently, “This too will pass.” Great leaders, I think, know this. They know that hanging in there is a necessary strategy. Sometimes a situation calls for unglamorously soldiering on.

But how do you get people to soldier on? Most fundamentally, you must give them hope. Hope is the antidote to despair. And the belief that we can make things better, that we will make things better is a powerful motivator. In my opinion, it’s not about getting people to believe in you, it’s about getting them to believe in themselves.

Discuss your organization’s mission and remind people how your organization is making a difference in the world. Make it eminently clear that you will never give up on the mission and you will never give up on them. Give very clear direction about what the priorities are, what your plan is, and what each person’s role is in executing the plan.

Understand that success is highly motivational, and that even during tough times people are achieving successes. But they often don’t even notice their successes due to the overall situation. Don’t let people focus only on what’s going wrong. Some things are going right. Be intentional about calling out successes. Start every meeting by asking each person to name a recent success. This injects perspective and positivity into the situation.

The next point is most meaningful to me, personally. Use this situation to deepen relationships, including mutual support and loyalty. People who go through tough times together often form a deep and lasting bond. Your organization has the opportunity to become stronger due to this situation. You must nurture this outcome intentionally.

During tough times, people can become crabby and harsh with each other. Finger pointing and blaming can increase. Use your power to disallow this kind of behavior. Deliver this message (in your own words), “We’re better than this!” State your expectation that people choose mutually supportive behaviors. And, of course, you must model this behavior yourself. You all have the opportunity to grow as people.

This final point I learned from Dr. William E. Hall. During difficult, challenging times, talents emerge that would otherwise remain dormant. Be alert to spot these emerging talents. Once that good genie comes out of the box, find ways to use it. Find ways to celebrate these talents and nurture them into the future.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Larry Sternberg

How Can I Help?

That question is a deeply ingrained part of the culture of my organization. I take no credit for it. It arises from the character of our founders, who care deeply for each and every associate. Because of their model, when any associate experiences a challenge in their professional or personal life, the immediate response from everyone is, “How can I help?”

It’s not just about asking the question. It’s about the commitment to extend ourselves to help each other. In our culture caring is not just a feeling. In our culture, caring demands action. We go to extra-ordinary lengths to support each other. We make sure the associate’s job responsibilities are covered. We ensure they know they can take the time they need to deal with this challenge. On the personal side, I’ve seen associates cook meals, baby sit children, give rides to the doctor, mow lawns and clean houses – just to cite a few examples.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this practice. Some years ago I had a family emergency that required my wife and I to start driving immediately from Lincoln, Nebraska to Tucson, Arizona. It’s a 24-hour drive. After we started driving (at 9:00 PM) I left messages with several people about what was going on. About 12 hours later my boss (one of the founders) called me. She didn’t ask how long I’d be gone. She didn’t ask about the status of my work responsibilities. She just asked, “How can I help?”

In these times thought leaders are focusing on engagement. We’re investing huge resources in surveys and action plans. But we should not overlook simple, effective strategies that demonstrate to people that they’re significant as human beings, and that we truly care.

I’ve come to understand that those four words, when asked sincerely, have enormous power. It’s one of the things I value most about our culture.

If you’re in a culture that lives this value, I hope you appreciate it. If you’re not in that type of culture, you can start a positive change. You can start asking this question with the people who report to you, and you can teach them to ask the question as well. You’ll increase your positive influence in their lives and in your organization. That’s one of the things leadership is about.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Does The Board Take You (and your strategies) Seriously?

Many readers of this blog are human resources professionals. As I peruse various HR publications, I notice frequent articles on this topic. So I thought I’d chime in with my point of view. Although this post is directed at HR leaders, it really applies to leaders in any discipline.

Very early in my career I was one of several Hyatt Hotels’ HR Directors who were asked to review the HR operations of other hotels in their region. As part of my review I asked the HR Director what his/her most important priorities were. What did they do that added the most value to their hotel? There was a surprising amount of consistency. Almost all said availability to employees, employee relations, confidentiality, and resolving employee complaints.

I also asked the hotel General Manager how HR contributed to the success of the hotel. What did HR do that added the most value? In this case there was 100% consistency in their answers. “Find me good people.” Not one HR director said that.

Things might well have evolved way beyond that by now. For instance, I think I’d hear a lot about engagement these days. But the story still illustrates my point.

Value is in the eye of the beholder.

I suspect that too many HR professionals decide what they think adds the most value, and then they try to sell it to the Board, or even worse, simply hope the Board values those things, too.

But you have to meet the Board, the GM, or the customer where they are. Find out what they value and design your initiatives to address those areas. I know that over recent years more HR leaders have learned to design initiatives that clearly support the organization’s business plans and goals. We need more of that, and we need one more thing.

You must quantify the value of your initiatives in metrics meaningful to the Board.

You must be able to state what you intend to achieve and how you’ll measure success in terms of money, customer loyalty, productivity, or other metrics known to be meaningful to the Board (known because you asked).

I’m fortunate to know a handful of HR VP’s who work this way. For example, one HR VP invested about two years collecting data to establish the cost of turning over a department head and also a rank and file employee. At the same time he collected better data about why employees left voluntarily. It turned out that the top reasons for rank and file turnover could be addressed by targeted training for supervisors.

When he went to the Board to request the funds to deliver the training (it was not cheap) he did not refer to general studies about the cost of turnover. He did not refer to general studies about the reasons for turnover. He went to the Board with credible studies about their company. He made a business case, and he set a goal for how much money they would save by implementing the training program. He received his funding.

Perhaps you’ve perceived that getting support from your Board or your boss is exactly the same as getting a commitment from an external customer. You must make it all about them. You must know what they value, what their goals are, and what their problems are. Then you must bring solutions to address those goals or problems, and you must be willing to be held accountable to metrics meaningful to them. That is how it is done.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your comments.

Larry Sternberg

You Could Fire The Person, But Should You?

This story occurred when I was General Manager of a luxury hotel.

It was Christmas season. Our hotel was elegantly decorated within an inch of its life. We had roaring fireplaces filling the atmosphere with warmth and that wonderful aroma you can only get from burning real wood. We had live Christmas music. Every function room was hosting a holiday party. Guests were dressed to the nines – tuxedos, evening gowns, minks and shminks. If you’re an hotelier, evenings like this are quite memorable.

One party, however, experienced a serious misfortune. Five mink coats were stolen from our coat check closet. Two of these coats were irreplaceable family heirlooms. Our investigation revealed that James, one of our banquet captains, pulled the coat check person from her post to help pour coffee for about 15 minutes. During that brief window of time, the coats were stolen. The thieves probably strolled right out the front door with them. On this evening no observer would have given it a second thought.

James’ poor judgment cost our hotel many thousands of dollars and damaged our brand. I could have fired him, and I was getting pressure from the corporate office to do just that. The HR people were concerned about consistency and precedent. PR and Branding people felt that firing him rapidly would send a positive message about the brand. Others wanted him fired just because they were pissed off.

I didn’t fire him. James was one of the most talented banquet captains I ever had the pleasure to work with. Leadership, people skills, professional knowledge, bearing – he had it all. He had worked for our hotel for many years. Over those years numerous guests told us they booked business with us because they knew James would take care of them with excellence. Yes, this was egregious, but James had never done anything like this before.

I had a rather stern discussion with James, who felt terrible and fully expected to be fired. I put a written warning in his file, and explained why I was not inclined to fire him when I balanced his overall value to the hotel against this one screw up. Tears surfaced. By the end of the conversation, I had re-hired him emotionally.

Decisions have consequences. Not firing him did in fact create some risks associated with consistency of discipline. In addition, many people felt that he needed to be held accountable. They disagreed quite vigorously with my decision, as many readers will, I’m sure. On the other hand, I retained a very valuable employee, I deepened his loyalty, and I demonstrated to all employees how they would be treated in a similar situation. They got a message about my loyalty. They knew I had their back.

I have several of these stories. One of them is about when my former boss. Phil Lombardi, didn’t accept my resignation for a screw up that wasted a lot of money, and caused him serious loss of face. That’s probably why I take this point of view. I learned and grew from that experience.

Sometimes, firing someone for egregiously poor judgment is the right thing to do. But I think there are too many times when a leader fires someone because it’s the easy way out. The extreme version of this is called “scapegoating”.

Do any of us think we go through life without occasionally exercising poor judgment, and sometimes very poor judgment? What I’m saying here is that some of these occasions present opportunities for learning and growth. I encourage you, as a leader, to look for them.

Thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Individualize Your Coaching Practices?

Many leaders used to do the job of the people they’re coaching. And those leaders often were very successful in that job, and they’ve developed the belief that they know THE way to achieve success. Many sales training programs are based on this sort of belief. The limitation of this belief is that trainer or coach is unaware of her own talent. It doesn’t occur to her that others might not be capable of demonstrating the behaviors she’s recommending.

If you’re coaching someone, in any position, remember this: just because you were (or are) capable of doing something, that doesn’t mean that the person you’re coaching possesses those same capabilities. Of course there are some behaviors you can teach. But leaders routinely overestimate their ability to help others demonstrate behaviors that are not aligned with their aptitudes or character traits. Here are some examples. Maybe you’re comfortable with confrontation and he (the coachee) simply is not. Maybe you’re extroverted and he’s introverted. Maybe you have an eye for detail and he simply doesn’t. Or maybe you’re remarkably well organized and he’s not.

Great coaches begin by understanding the individual strengths of each person, and they implement the following principle, which is attributed to Peter Drucker: Build the strengths and make the weaknesses irrelevant.

Don’t worry so much about how you did it. Each person creates success by using his or her unique configuration of strengths. As a coach, you must understand that there are many paths to success. If you want to be a great coach, you must grow beyond helping others understand how you achieved success. You must help them figure out how they are going to achieve success.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg