Executive Effectiveness

  • Bill Gates and the Power of Feedback

    Bill Gates observed, “You have to be careful, if you’re good at something, to make sure you don’t think you’re good at other things that you aren’t necessarily so good at.”

    How do you confirm your sense of what you’re good at? Feedback, of course.

    We all feel great when others – colleagues, bosses, friends, and competitors too – remark on our intelligence, skills, or performance. But as Gates noted, therein lies a trap, for we can overestimate or over-generalize our capabilities.

    How do we get honest, balanced feedback about areas where we’re not as good as we think we are? Or where we might need to improve or change?

  • Supercharging Change in Complex Times

    Five Questions Your Direct Reports Have (But May Not Ask)

    By Susan Battley

    The increased complexity that leaders face today means that mastering major change is even more challenging than it was a few years ago.  Whether it’s strategy change, management change, operational change, or product change, or some combination thereof, desired results need to occur faster than ever to maintain business health and competitive advantage.

    How can leaders supercharge their change initiatives?  For starters, they can address up front the questions, fears, and concerns that their people, including their immediate direct reports, have about the change.  If this can be done in advance of the change actions, all the better.  However, in many cases this needs to be done after the fact, as in situations involving management restructuring or workforce reduction.

    In the course of driving major organizational change, leaders can lose sight of the fact that they have to establish a new psychological contract with their people. (The term “psychological contract” refers to expectations of the employment relationship, such as mutual obligations, values, and expectations that operate over and above any formal contract.)

    In the vortex of change, leaders can make erroneous assumptions.  For example, they can overlook – or minimize – the emotional impact that layoffs have on the survivors.  Sadness and anxiety are common reactions.

    Leaders can assume that the messages they send are precisely the messages that are received. They can assume that stating key messages once is enough for motivated people to reconnect and re-engage. They can forget that people one and two levels below them may also be one and two stages behind them in the change process.

    The Five “P” Questions Everyone Has

    Here are five questions leaders should be prepared to address proactively as part of supercharging change in their organizations.  These are questions their direct reports – and everyone else – will undoubtedly have, but may not always ask.  Because they deal with performance, partnership, priorities, politics, and promotion, I often refer to them as the “Five P-Questions of Change.”

    #1 Performance.   How will I be evaluated?

    • Action Step: Describe as specifically as possible what success now looks like for the business, the boss, the team, and the individual employee. Review these metrics frequently to reinforce priorities and targets.

    #2 Partnership.  How can I survive (and thrive) during these turbulent times?

    • Action Step: Leaders must demonstrate strong team and culture-building skills. When leaders are accessible, consistent, transparent, and fair, less second-guessing and in-fighting occur behind office doors. Trust, the essential building block of peak execution, is established or re-established quickly.

    #3 Priorities:  How do I choose between competing options?

    • Action Step: Let team members and staff know which activities or relationships have the greatest value now. Even loyal, hard-working contributors will make subpar decisions if they don’t have all the facts.

    #4 Politics.  Who can make things happen for me, either positively or negatively?

    • Action Step: Help your key people understand the new power structure, both formal and informal. Brief them on protocol and any sensitive issues that could compromise their success. They will be more comfortable with the demands on them once they have the lay of the land.

    #5 Promotion.  How can I gain recognition?

    • Action Step: Model norms for appropriate self-promotion in these tough times. (Yes, they do want to know.)  Given the very real concerns with job security, your best people want guidance on how outstanding work will be recognized. Otherwise, they may have little impetus to take calculated risks or put in extra effort.

    Summary

    Robust, updated psychological contracts with employees from senior management to the front-line are essential to supercharging results in the midst of major change.

    By addressing these five questions, leaders will get at the issues that those responsible for day-to-day implementation and oversight need to know to quickly re-engage and commit.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Emotions and Effective Leadership: 13 Success Tactics

    When does emotion help a leader transcend to a higher level of effectiveness, and when does it undermine credibility and stature? Now that we’re firmly planted in the second decade of the 21st century, have the rules about leaders showing emotions changed?

    Whether male or female, it’s all about consistently projecting control, compassion and confidence.

    Perceived loss of emotional control erodes a leader’s credibility, as does tentativeness or indecision. Similarly, a perceived lack of compassion is likely to be interpreted negatively as insensitivity. In public situations, the range of emotions expressed needs to be modulated and appropriate to the occasion.

  • The Power of Specificity

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    By Susan Battley

    If you want winning results, get specific.

    When Terry, a managing partner and client, was looking to hire a new Human Resources director, we reviewed the relative strengths of the three short-list candidates.

    Like many seasoned decision makers, he focused on their relevant work experience, professional accomplishments and personal traits.

    Still, he confessed that he and the search committee were stumped making the final selection. On the basis of their resumes and interviews, the candidates appeared evenly weighted.

    “What makes a senior executive successful here?” I asked him.

    “You know what a cast of characters we have here,” Terry replied, smiling.

    He went on to answer my question thoughtfully and thoroughly. At the end, more to himself than to me, he said, “Well, I know who’s the clear choice now.”

    Two years later, the person Terry hired is now the firm’s Chief Talent Officer and a member of his executive committee.

    Getting very specific up front helped Terry to make the best choice.  And one that has paid dividends ever since for him and his firm.

    Specificity Supercharges Results: A Case Study

    Specificity improves more than decision quality. It can also be a powerful tool for inspiring, motivating, and managing people. In fact, specificity can motivate people to do what they might not otherwise be inclined to do.

    Consider the results of a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined how people respond to differently worded appeals.

    The study involved hotel guests and how they reacted to the plastic cards in their rooms urging them to forgo daily laundering of their towels. Some guests had a room card urging them to “save the environment” by putting their towels back on the rack.

    Other guests had highly customized cards, such as “75 percent of the guests who stayed in this room (room 313) had reused their towels.”

    The results? The towel reuse rate was 49.3 percent in the rooms where the request was highly specific. This compared to a towel reuse rate of 37.2 percent in rooms with the generic card.

    The lesson here for managers? To guide and inspire your people most effectively, opt for specific, “close-to-home” messages over universal, abstract or fuzzy language.

    This is especially important in today’s turbulent business and management environment. When people are anxious, specificity – and repetition of key messages – helps to keep everyone focused on what needs to be done and why.

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    1. Keep it local. Make your points as targeted and personal as possible to your audience. For example, “Here’s what [fill in the blank] means to you and the team.”

    2. Keep it clear. Provide concrete examples, or metrics, or desired outcomes. A phrase like “Do your best” is not nearly as actionable as “Your division needs to increase revenues by four percent to make your numbers.”

    3. Keep it simple. Distill your message to its essence: no more than three points. And don’t undo the power of specificity with a data-dump of statistics. (Dense PowerPoint presentations are the surest way to lose minds and hearts.)

    4. Keep it real. You want precisely defined targets and goals to inspire and challenge your people, not de-motivate them. So be sure what you ask or describe is actually attainable.

    5. Keep the focus on “what,” not “how.” When you’re specific about the former, you’re an effective leader. When you’re overly specific about the latter, you’re a micro-manager!

    As John Dewey reminded us, “We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, justice or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, individualized, unique.”

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Stunningly Simple Ways to Give Effective Performance Feedback

    Ten Deadly Manager Mistakes and Solutions

    I speak to thousands of executives and managers every year. When the topic of giving performance feedback comes up, as it frequently does, I hear the truth from managers about their uncertainties and anxieties in doing this critical task effectively.

    This is especially the case when sensitive or negative feedback needs to be conveyed. The all-too-human temptation in these cases is either to avoid the issue, hoping it will go away, or to spend as little time as possible on the unpleasant matter. However, neither approach typically works well in achieving sustained on-the-job performance improvement.