1 Minute Leadership Test…Will You Pass?

The role of the leader is a difficult one, to be certain. Done well, it is one of the most rewarding professional and personal experiences for the leader and those they lead. Done poorly, and at best, your team may achieve incidental success from time to time…despite their leader.

After two decades of working in leadership and developing leaders, I continually see one common area in which leaders often fall short. This one minute video clip sums it up as King Leonidas asks Daxos’ men one simple question. After playing the clip, see how quickly you can spot the problem?

Leadership Test: If those you lead are asked about the organization’s or team’s top priority, would your team answer like the Spartans or more like the Arcadians?

How did you do? May I suggest that if your first thought was to evaluate the person who leads you, you’ve already failed. This is not a message just for CEOs or only leaders with teams. The message is to the leader within us all…to rise up and paint a better, more clear picture than what others can see for themselves.

If your team is lacking a “WAR! WAR! WAR!” response, time for the mirror test. How they respond is your responsibility. For additional tips on how to create more intentional, predictable and repeatable results, see this post on Vision.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Leadership Lesson from X Games

Tucker HibbertTalent Alone is not Enough

January 27, 2013 marks the first time an athlete has ever achieved a six-peat…six consecutive gold medal performances…in the winter X Games. Tucker Hibbert did so in remarkable fashion in the Snowmobile Sno-Cross event Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t his talent alone that won the finals for him. The X Game analysts were quick to point out that this was one of the most experienced and capable field of champions they have ever seen.

What they did point to as the differentiator, rightfully so, was his preparation. You see, in between the semi-finals and finals, Tucker chose to spend his time walking the course to evaluate how the snow conditions had changed. He also spent time evaluating where the shadows were falling on the course along with identifying the intended lines he would take. It turns out that he was the only competitor that did so.

Assimilating all of that information resulted in his selection of starting lane (afforded to him because of his semi-final finish), which was counter-intuitive to where most others wanted to start from. By the time they all completed the first lap, Tucker was in the lead and on his game plan. More than half way through the race, conditions continued to change as the shadows continued to shift and the snow conditions on the track worsened.

Lap 9, Tucker was jolted by hitting a rough patch in his originally chosen line. He adjusted his line to his plan B approach by the time he reached that same rough section on lap 10 and continued to put distance between himself and the second place competitor. Six laps later, he had finished the race creating a phenomenal 13 seconds of distance between his next closest competitor.

The Mark of Effective Leadership is Reflected in Their Preparation

Tucker prepared in a way that his competitors failed to do. In fact, all things being equal, each of the competitors had the opportunity to win with similar experience, equipment and conditions. Yet, it came down to Tucker’s preparation that enabled him to respond asymmetrically to an otherwise, equal playing field. Tucker clearly had an advantage over his competition. An advantage also available to each of his competitors, but they declined, instead relying upon their own experience to see them through.

For leaders, you can certainly attest to the pressure to perform while leading your team to do the same. With the level of responsibilities a leader typically carries, the tendency can be to approach business as just another day. merely showing up and reacting to whatever the next day has in store. This is certainly no way to lead, and definitely not a recipe for intentional, predictable and repeatable success.

So how can you tell if you have fallen into this trap? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do today’s actions reflect about your preparation to lead your team to success?
  • Specifically, what have you done today to ensure your team’s success?
  • Does your to-do list focus more on tasks than it does in leading your team to success?

If these questions have exposed some vulnerabilities in your daily approach, you are not alone. Be encouraged as you have taken the first step to acknowledge complacency. Complacency threatens all of us if we don’t intentionally disrupt our own status quo. Here are three steps to help you prepare differently, much like Tucker had done for his record performance. After all, wouldn’t we all like to succeed in intentional, predictable, repeatable ways as Tucker did?

3 Ways Effective Leaders Prepare Differently

  • Intentionality. Evaluating ever-changing conditions in the business environment requires being prepared for anything. This includes anticipating problems before they happen, and even planning how you will respond to the unanticipated. To have this ability, the leader will need to take intentional steps and set aside time to address these areas. Action: Schedule this into your calendar to address consistently and frequently. This needs to become an habitual routine.
  • Predictability. After you begin intentionally looking for ways to be better prepared, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns often come in the forms of team member behavior that leads to lesser performance, complacent reactions of competitors, or even economic rhythms that you can predict and address now that you see them. Action: Practice predicting outcomes privately. Start developing this capability and pay attention to predictions and what surprised you along the way before you go public.
  • Repeatability. When you have devoted the time to be intentional, others begin to notice your seemingly innate ability to predict outcomes and that you are well-prepared, you will find that repeatable successes happen with much greater frequency. This makes you an invaluable asset and resource to your team and your organization. Action: Look for ways to repeat your success without relying on repeating the same exact actions. Life usually doesn’t work that way. But for the effective leader that knows how to succeed repeatedly, do as Babe Ruth did and call your shots before they happen. Then make good on it by developing your intentionality and predictability muscles.

The most meaningful things in life take time to develop. Effective leadership is one of those meaningful areas worthy of pursuing. But it’s up to you. What will you choose? What will you do differently today, that will make a noticeable difference in what you and your teams do tomorrow?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

3 Steps to Cultivating Confidence

Keys to ConfidenceAfter two decades of working with individuals, managers and leaders at various levels, I have observed and identified 3 behaviors that lead to intentional, predictable and repeatable results.  Practicing these three simple behaviors will put you on the fast track to cultivating confidence.

The three behaviors are as follows:

1. Self-Reflection – We can all get caught up in the activities that our jobs and personal responsibilities require. The tendency during the busyness can be to ‘act’ or ‘react’ without paying attention to whether that was the best course of action to take. Furthermore, because the focus tends to be on the task at hand, one can fail to assess if the action taken is achieving the results originally intended. For this reason, setting some time for intentional, self-reflection can shift your focus back from results, to behaviors that create the results.

When a person is more intentional about changing their behaviors to best achieve the results, and evaluates their intention in comparison to the outcome, significant learning takes place that guides your future steps.

Self-Reflection = Intentionality. I call this ‘succeeding on purpose.’ When a person intentionally reflects upon behaviors that contributes to the result, and achieves their expected result, the byproduct is greater confidence.

2. Write it down. Documenting your observations…even in the briefest of forms…is the least fun, but most rewarding when you start to see patterns. For example, consider a recent example of a person on a new diet.

Everyday, around 2:30 pm, Steve eats a candy bar out of habit. Before documenting his eating habits, Steve was aware that he had a candy bar on many days, but not sure exactly when in the day, how often, or even why he ate candy for that matter. After reflecting on his behaviors and documenting his observations, he recognized that he snacks in between two meetings as a sort of distraction from the next meeting. It wasn’t that he was necessarily hungry after lunch, craving sweets or needing an afternoon pick-me-up. He simply needed a non-work related distraction before his next meeting.

Once the pattern was observed, he recognized steps he could take to improve his eating habits by keeping granola bars on hand at that time of day. Even better, he later realized that taking a 10-minute walk outside provided a more healthy distraction before stepping in to his next meeting.

You can improve or change that in which you are aware. Without awareness, you are just guessing, which is the number one killer of confidence. Self-reflection of your behaviors, followed by documenting your observations, allows you to start seeing patterns, which creates predictability.

Documenting = Predictability. Similar to the infrequent golfer who never knows where the ball is going with each swing, so it is with the manager that can’t predict outcomes based on their actions. Just as Babe Ruth used to do in pointing to where he would hit the ball, we too have the ability to accurately predict outcomes. Predictability contributes to confidence.

3. Debrief your actions. An important, and often over-looked, activity that benefits all who do so is to debrief each action taken. The Army refers to this as an After-Action Review (AAR). This process of debriefing includes all members of the team and asks questions such as:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What can be learned?
  • What should be done differently?
  • Who else could benefit from what was learned?

A thorough and proper debrief directly contributes to continuous learning and improved results, which enables a leader, individual and/or team to have, and repeat, success in the future.

Debriefing = Repeatability. Those that know how to repeat their successes are invaluable to organizations and to others. The ability to intentionally and predictably achieve a successful outcome at will…or repeatably…is an asset every organization would love to have.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

1 Easy Step to Shorter Meetings

Shorter MeetingsProblem: Habitual Thinking About Time
Think about a meeting you typically schedule for your team. How long do you schedule for the meeting? For sake of discussion, let’s assume it is an hour-long meeting. Is an hour really needed, or is scheduling an hour just a habit in thinking about time in 30-60 minute increments?

We have become accustomed to increments of time that are rounded off…and most often, rounded up to greater increments of time. For example, consider human behavior with New Year’s resolutions.

What is normally considered a goal, becomes a resolution because it was set on or around January 1. Then most people stick with it for as long as they can…typically a couple weeks…then say to themselves, “I will try harder next year.”

While we are accustomed to think habitually in terms of year-long resolutions, when what is really needed are week-long or even day-long resolutions. Why wait a whole year to make adjustments to what didn’t work after a few weeks.

Shorten your time increments. Similarly, when we schedule meetings, we tend to look in 60 minute blocks of time, when what really may be needed is 45 minutes or perhaps even 20.

Solution: Plan for Less

To Meeting Organizers – Reduce meeting time by 25% or more.Before scheduling your next meeting, first be a responsible organizer and do the following:

  • Ensure there are clear decision points
  • Communicate to all necessary attendees in advance of meeting
  • Determine how much time you think will be needed for the meeting
  • Then recognize you are thinking about time in traditional ways and reduce the time by at least 25%

This is counter-intuitive, but you will be amazed at how properly prepared attendees that know the meeting time is short, will focus in on the essential decision points. Longer meeting times suggest to the participants, that there is plenty of time, so settle in and pace yourself.

To meeting participants – Plan to leave early.
For your next scheduled meeting, let the meeting organizer know that you will have to step out [25% of the meeting] early (i.e., leave 45 minutes into an hour-long meeting).

  • Ask the meeting organizer to cover the key points while you are there
  • Identify a colleague to get a recap for the last 15 minutes missed
  • Congratulate yourself for taking intentional steps to reinvest valuable time
  • Recognize this is a short-term solution, so address it at the root by sharing these tips with others

I understand this is not possible for all meetings, particularly meetings that your supervisor called. In those instances, what you can do is share the concept you read here. Let them know these methods have increased staff productivity levels in excess of 25%. What supervisor would not be a fan of that?

“Less talking, more doing!”

This really works and puts valuable time back in your day, especially when you attend or hold multiple meetings each day. The result? Spend less time talking about what you will do and more time actually doing it.

Please share your successes in employing this technique. Also, if you have a favorite way to reduce meeting times…or meetings altogether, we’d love to hear about them.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Reorganization or Turnaround? (Part 2): Top-Line Temptation

Top Line TemptationLast week, I wrote about common mistakes made with an underperforming Division or Business Unit in my post titled Reorganization or Turnaround? (Part 1). Most notably, I spoke of the tendency to prescribe a reorganization to situations when a turnaround was really needed, by failing to recognize issues that are below the “waterline.”

If you are the leader of a struggling division, business unit or team that has solid sales, but have continued to underperform the profitability expectations for multiple periods, this post is for you.

The Top-Line Temptation
There is no doubt that top-line revenue covers a multitude of sins. The problem is that too often this is seen as a good thing…or at least acceptable. These ‘sins’ in business, so to speak, that detract from profitability are analogous to the roots of a young tree that later grows to disrupt the foundation. The foundation, in this case, represents the whole organization. Addressing the root of these problems is always better done earlier, for obvious reasons, as the picture of the tree below perfectly illustrates the implications of letting problems persist.

Unfortunately, what happens all too often is that with solid revenue comes the belief that things will correct themselves over time. That increasing the sales will begin to create economies of scale, eventually leading to profitability. Question – When was the last time you saw a profitability issue like this work itself out over time?

Getting at the Root of the Problem
There are a variety of reasons why a leader may be experiencing solid sales with poor profitability, but I want to address one of the more common reasons I see. This is the ‘sales at any cost’ approach. When this is the case, the inappropriate pursuit of revenue tends to come in one of two forms.

Root Cause

The Root of the Problem

The first way revenue is inappropriately pursued comes in the form of aggressive discounts, incentives, and promotions. Unprofitable discounting creates an inflated sense of demand, which bursts the minute the discounts stop. The more inherent problems with this approach, other than increased costs and false demand, is the longer term impact of discounts and incentives lowering the perceived value in your customer’s eyes.

The second way that revenue is inappropriately pursued is through disproportionate costs of acquisition and retention, beyond that which is profitable. In these situations, typical strategies include increased marketing campaigns, sales blitzes, additional staff or even the introduction of new products or services on top of an overly burdened cost structure.

In some cases, a division may inappropriately pursue both, discount strategies and increased activities. The compounded effect of having lower revenue at higher costs puts the business area on a fast track to what I call ‘divisional bankruptcy.’ Not only is this unsustainable, it is a terrible strategy in general for leading a division to profitability.

5 Questions to Determine if You Have a Profitability Problem
Now that we have a good handle on some of the problems and why they occur, it is important to determine whether these are your problems are somebody else’s problems. Also important to note is that the conditions described above are not the sole list, but rather representative of the type of conditions that lead to solid sales with poor profitability. Therefore, the following questions will help in determining if you are in a situation requiring a reorganization or turnaround.

  1. Were your most recent profit results intended? Comparing performance to plan (PTP) is an important measure. There are times when losses are planned. If so, did you meet the plan? If not, proceed to #2.
  2. If your PTP was not intended, do you know specifically what contributed to this? If you answered “no,” stop reading now. Enlist all necessary resources to figure this out. Without this, remediation is impossible.
  3. What specific steps do you have in place, to correct the problems? Assuming you answered ‘yes’ for #2, specific SMART goals should be in place with key staff that will correct the profitability shortfalls.
  4. How long will the plan take to restore profitability? Remediation should occur within 6 months or less. Be very careful about setting anything longer as too often you are delaying the inevitable. The time to act is now.
  5. What is your track record for accurately forecasting corrections? This is an important gut-check. Be honest. If you tend to be overly optimistic, best to confront that now as people are depending on you.

Reorganize or Turnaround?
After having assessed the cause of the problems and determined next steps, you should have a sense of clarity on whether or not you have a ‘waterline‘ issue or not. If you have diagnosed your problem to be below the waterline, this is a turnaround. You are now in a dead sprint to correct the problem before your CEO steps in on your behalf to correct the problem simultaneous with your exit.

Time to A.C.T.
Now that you have properly diagnosed your predicament and are committed to an expedient correction, it is time to act. I have put the steps in the form of an acronym to serve as a virtuous, or repeatable, cycle to follow throughout the recovery.

  • Assess. Pull out the financials along with your sales and marketing metrics to assess where the key profit detractors lie. Don’t fall for only cutting easy, non-essential areas. The allure is that it looks like you took action without disrupting anything too significantly. The problem is that it won’t disrupt anything too significantly. Cut the small stuff, but cut the big stuff first. Remember the tree picture above…address the root issues!
  • Correct. Having identified where to cut, commit to correction through decisive action. These times aren’t easy, so best to communicate lavishly before, during and after the turnaround. Before lets people know what to expect. During to give updates and demonstrate it’s working. After confirms that your actions were worth it.
  • Target. Cuts are important and necessary, but are not the entirety of your action. Time to target key start and stop activities that contribute more quickly to your division’s profitability. Examples include not pursuing unprofitable customers, or to stopping marketing activity that aims to discount its way to profitable growth.

As described above, this process is intended to be followed and repeated, assessing and adjusting as you go. If you are entering this process of a turnaround, I would like to offer encouragement as you have demonstrated the two characteristics I described last week – Humility in acknowledging your situation and Courage to address the problems head on. Once you successfully turnaround your division or business area, not only will you have the respect and admiration of your staff and CEO, but this will likely serve as one of the largest confidence booster’s in your career that will serve you well in years to come.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Reorganization or Turnaround? (Part 1)

Business TurnaroundsAs the end of the year approaches, CEOs all over the country have a laser-like focus on performance to ensure a strong year-end finish. While many organizations will achieve their financial objectives, many others will come up short of the results they expected.

There is yet a third group in which will not only fall short of expectations, but will turn in another consecutive period of underperformance, with no recovery in sight. While this isn’t indicative of the overall organization, but rather a division or business unit struggling to correct performance issues, this still remains problematic for the organization.

For those falling in the unenviable position of this latter group, the CEO’s focus will narrow in on changes that will restore overall organizational health in order to start the New Year off right.

If this describes you, you are likely evaluating your next moves. Assuming this is the case, let’s take a closer look at what to do when you have experienced continued declines and are not seeing a recovery in the results. Is a reorganization of your division needed, or is an all out turnaround in order?

Reorganization or Turnaround?
How you diagnose the problem, and the remedy you prescribe, can either set you on the road to recovery, or lead to further entrenchment in missed results, often worse than before the correction.

Without oversimplifying an otherwise complex problem, there are three general conditions that lead an organization, division or business unit to consider a reorganization or turnaround plan. In the ensuing weeks, I will break down the three scenarios more thoroughly, but my primary aim is to provide an overview of the problem. Following are the three general scenarios most commonly experienced by business areas with ongoing, lackluster results.

The Three Business Performance Conditions:

1. Solid sales, but poor profitability

2. Solid profitability, but poor sales

3. Poor sales and poor profitability

A Common Mistake
When one of the aforementioned scenarios is experienced, the mistake most commonly made is to misdiagnose the problem and subsequently prescribe a reorganization to a turnaround situation. This usually has disastrous consequences as the characteristics of a turnaround differ significantly from that of a reorganization. In other words, a division in turnaround mode that has poor top and bottom line performance, operates much differently…much more expediently…than one that has been reorganized to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to the division. When a leader of a failing business area makes a recommendation to reorganize the division/business unit/department to improve the underperformance, failure to meet expectations is nearly inevitable.

A reorganization done under the pretense described above just doesn’t work, but you already know this. How? Imagine that you came to me and shared that one of your divisions has a consistent history of declining business performance. Now imagine I say to you, “No problem, simply restructure your division, and this will enable greater growth and profitability.” You would be quick to tell me that 1.) It isn’t that simple, and 2.) You may even tell me that you have already tried this approach, and it didn’t work. Of course, you would be right for both reasons.

A Better Approach
When dealing with prolonged performance issues in a business area, two leadership qualities are highly beneficial: Courage and Humility. Courage will be needed to make a decision that inevitably will depart from the status quo that you have grown comfortable with. This isn’t to say that you were comfortable with underperformance. Far from it, in fact. The comfort came more in the activity of feeling that you were doing something about the problems, and the ‘activity’ itself served as justification for not having to make the more difficult decisions you feared would be necessary.

Humility will also be needed, since the potential is high for you as the business area leader, to feel as if you are conceding defeat to the previous failed approach to correct the problems. This is often linked with a belief that your leadership may be questioned if you change directions. The reality is that your staff already knows something different is needed. Your leadership is already in question until you are willing to break from the status quo and make meaningful change.

A Tip from CEOs
Savvy CEOs that have been through this before will be quick to point out that if their division leader approached them with a plan to reorganize in order to solve business performance issues, their confidence in the leader would diminish significantly and likely result in their departure. Why? No matter how reasonable the cost efficiencies and productivity gains may be, this fails to address the root issues of why the division or unit was failing. Therefore, if they cannot accurately assess the root problems, then they are ill-suited to correct them.

When this goes unchallenged by the CEO, the result is that poor performance is excused for a period of time while people settle into the newly structured organization. This is short-lived, however as soon comes the day of reckoning where all patience has run out and results are expected. Most CEOs state that they don’t have the luxury of that kind of time and money to wait for better performance. Additionally, they know that this kind of decision puts other areas of the organization at risk, thus putting undue pressures on the stronger performing divisions.

Therefore, rather than looking to reorganize to address organizational performance deficiencies, look instead at using reorganizations to address better efficiencies. In other words, a reorganization should not be used to address performance problems, but rather to take good performance and make it great through better alignment.

Reorganizations when used appropriately are liberating to the business area as it allows them to achieve their goals more efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, reorgs have been used irresponsibly over the years for many organizations as cover for reducing headcount and other operating costs. No wonder why staff hate reorganizations.

General Rule of Thumb: The Waterline Principle
I have a general rule of thumb for whether a reorganization or a turnaround is Waterline Principlethe best approach. Every organization has a specific profitability level they need to maintain organizational health. Think of this as the waterline on a cargo ship. The waterline, or the red paint at the bottom of an otherwise black cargo ship, does two things:

  1. It provides a visual indication of the ship’s relative safety in that is not overly loaded down
  2. It also serves as a clear indicator that any damage below the waterline would be perilous to the ship

In either case, whether too much cargo is loaded on the ship, or damage happens below the waterline, the whole ship is put in jeopardy. No matter how healthy other areas of the ship may be, damage below the line risks the whole. For example, the ship can have state of the art electronics and navigational equipment in other parts of the ship, but all will be lost when the threat below the waterline isn’t properly handled. The same is true in business.

Therefore, when determining how to address a situation in a business area and the choice is between a reorganization or a turnaround, consider where the risks are happening – Are they above or below the waterline? This will bring clarity to your thinking in an instant.

Next Week…
Look for Part 2 of the Reorganization or Turnaround series as I address the approach for when a division, business unit or product has solid sales, but poor profitability.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Courageous Leadership: Done Right or Done Over

Courage in LeadershipThe Setting
It was during the announcements of Sunday’s service when I leaned over to my wife and asked, “Didn’t the Pastor give this same message last week?” After confirming the correct date on the bulletin, we both concluded he had indeed delivered the same message the week prior.

We anxiously awaited some sort of explanation from the front. What happened next, has stuck with me to this day.

The Pastor stepped forward to address the congregation and proceeded to explain that there was not a misprint in the bulletin, and said, “Yes, I do intend to preach the same message again.” He went on to explain that each week, after each message, the pastoral team does a debrief on the music, the message, and all aspects of the prior Sunday’s service.

During the debrief, one of the Associate Pastors shared with the Lead Pastor, that the message wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Some of the feedback given, suggested his message was too general in nature, and offered too few specifics or examples to effectively land the point. The associate pastor was right.

“The message wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t as memorable as the title.”

The Lesson
From the front, the Pastor asked to do a ‘do-over’ of last week’s message. What an example of humility…of accountability…of responsibility…of leadership! We all make mistakes, whether in roles as leaders, employees, parents, or other. Some mistakes, of course, have greater consequences than others, and ‘do-overs’ aren’t always possible or appropriate.

When a misstep has occurred, there are three lessons that can be learned from the example above.

Debrief: 3 Keys to Recovering from a Misstep

  1. Own your mistakes. Mistakes happen. When they do, be quick to accept responsibility. People are quick to follow a humble leader, but are merciless in reminding the leader of mistakes that they refuse to own.
  2. Heed wise counsel. The best leaders know to surround themselves with others that will speak truth and cover their blind spots. You don’t need to be a leader to employ this same approach with friends that care enough to hold you accountable.
  3. Always debrief. It is important to note that the Pastor’s realization only came as a result of the debrief. This is so important, that the military considers this aspect as critical to every completed operation regardless of result, in order to continually learn, adapt and improve future missions. If you are serious about making intentional, predictable, repeatable improvements in your results, conduct a thorough debrief of your actions among qualified peers.

The Rest of the Story
With great humility in having to do a ‘do-over,’ the Pastor delivered a powerful message that Sunday, presenting the case so effectively that I still remember the message 5 years later. More importantly, he demonstrated an uncommon act of courage in his leadership that was worthy of emulating. Well done, Pastor Bendinelli!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

A Leadership Horror Story

Every Saturday usually begins the same way for me. I get up, head to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee while reviewing the past week’s results and the next week’s goals. Debriefing the week and reflecting upon what changes I need to make is highly productive time for me. However, my regular routine this last Saturday was disrupted by a horrifying scenario playing out before me.

Leadership and TerminationTHE SCENARIO: “Good morning, you’re fired!”

I noticed a woman across from me that seemed to be waiting for someone, but otherwise enjoying her morning. Ten minutes later, the man wearing a tie arrives and motions for her to join him at a table rather than the more comfortable chairs in which she was already sitting. In an instant, I saw from his demeanor that something wasn’t right. I sensed a mismatch between her expectations and his actions.

With no coffee order of his own (Clue #1), he sat down across the table from this woman and spoke in a low voice (Clue #2), all the while averting eye contact with her (Clue #3). His questions were seemingly aimed at the table, since that was where he was looking. She gave explanations for each of the things he asked about. Explanations wouldn’t matter. His position was resolute. The outcome was predetermined. Her employment had just ended right in front of me at 7:43 am.

She did her best to hold it together in such a public setting, although a few defiant tears refused to be held captive. That first tear must have been the leader, because it led a number of others right down the side of her cheeks. She was completely caught off guard. Apart from her coffee, she had nothing to dab her eyes with. He continued to speak to the table to tell her no need to come back to work on Monday.

She was devastated. I was nauseated from the recklessness and thoughtlessness of this leader’s actions.

He grabbed his backpack and left without speaking another word. His job was done. It was at this point that I was able to articulate in my own mind my observations of his demeanor when he walked in. I concluded that what bothered him was not how the news would affect this woman. He appeared to be bothered more by how it affected his weekend.

As leaders, what can we learn from this example?

DEBRIEF: Lessons for Leaders Delivering Difficult Messages

  • Be Predictable. Staff members should never be surprised when it comes to their performance. Provide consistent feedback. Care enough to share.
  • Be Discrete. The old adage to ‘Praise in public and correct in private’ is good advice. With corrective actions or terminations, choose the location wisely as the discussion should never be on display for outsiders to observe.
  • Be Present. Regardless of circumstances, when having a conversation, be completely present and engaged in the conversation. Staff should expect that from leaders.
  • Be Professional. No matter how difficult the message is for you to deliver, it is worse for the person receiving the news. Don’t portray yourself as the victim.
  • Be Honoring. Treat people with dignity and look them squarely in the eyes when communicating. Averting eye contact is dishonoring and suggests there is something in which to be ashamed (e.g., Surprising a person with a termination for performance).
  • Be Thoughtful. When delivering any message that may evoke emotion, be thoughtful by being prepared. Have tissues on hand. You may also consider having your discussion in a different meeting room to avoid parading your upset staff member in front of their peers after the discussion.
  • Be Careful. Most of us are not immune to having our own leader, CEO, board members, etc. approach us with a difficult message. Therefore, remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Terminations and disciplinary actions happen for legitimate reasons. They can…and should always be…constructive in nature, never destructive. Practicing these characteristics in our daily demonstrations of Leadership can help to ensure we are constructive in our approach. Let’s all make sure we avoid creating this destructive horror for others.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Can you guarantee your next hire is an ‘A’ player?

Hiring A-PlayersYour down a person and need to ensure you bring in a top-notch person to replace your exiting staff member. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing absolute certainty, what is your confidence level that your next hire will be an ‘A’ player? Have a number in mind? Good, what is it?

After asking this question of hiring managers for years, the responses I hear most often usually come in one of two forms:

  • They respond by saying, “It depends on the hiring pool…position…economy…time of year, etc.,” or
  • They provide a number between 6 and 9

To be candid, I only see an answer of ‘1’ or ’10’ as being acceptable, not a number in between, as I don’t subscribe to varying levels of confidence. You are either confident or you’re not.

Nevertheless, I have continued to ask the question intentionally in scale form because the answers serve as good indicators on how a person sees their role in the process. What I have found is that answering in either of the two aforementioned ways can suggest that they are unintentionally relegating themselves to a victim of circumstance in the hiring process.

So back to the question, what was your gut response to your confidence level? If less than 10, do you understand what created that seed of doubt? Perhaps it’s a history of mixed results in your hiring. If that’s the case, it is certainly understandable. Consider the results of two significant studies that had been conducted on success rates in hiring.

One study by John Hunter, Ph.D., at Michigan State University, showed that the interview is only 14% accurate in predicting a successful hire. Another study conducted by Harvard University concludes that nearly 80% of turnover is due to mistakes made in hiring.

With the odds against you, it stands to reason that to beat the odds, we need to be intentional in how we go about the process of creating repeatable successes in the hiring process.

To be clear, there is a lot that goes into excellent hiring, and I do not intend to cover all facets. Instead, I want to provide one specific area that can give you a quick start to immediately beating the odds.

The Problem…

Following are the three areas I most commonly see at the root of the problem:

  1. You don’t have interview questions prepared in advance for the position to be filled
  2. You have questions prepared, but they are not tied into the business processes that lead to excellent results
  3. You have questions and they are tied to your processes, but you don’t have specific responses that you are looking for

Further Diagnosis…

  1. No prepared questions in advance. This can suggest more of an ad hoc hiring process and approach and can leave hiring the right candidate to the luck of the draw. For people at this stage, you are likely to find that there is a lot of pressure and stress on you as you are not only scrambling to find a replacement for the exiting staff member, but you have a lot of administrative responsibilities added in addition to opening a job requisition, recruiting, screening, thinking up ‘good interview questions,’ etc.
  2. Questions not tied to known business processes.For the person in this second category, this most typically describes the hiring manager who has taken the time to prepare questions in advance. The problem that arises in this category is that while the questions are prepared in advance, they often times are developed with the filter of whatever the exiting person’s inadequacies were. For example, if the person that exited your organization was weak in reporting, the new interview questions will tend to be aimed at screening for reporting. This can distract from the larger issue of whether ‘reporting’ is central to the success of the role or a secondary issue. Another trait for this category is that questions are often crafted from the hiring manager’s perspective of what “good interview questions” are. You may like to ask, “What books have you read lately?” This may be interesting to know, but how does it tie to known processes that you are screening for to get the results you are after?
  3. Questions without answers. In this third category, this describes the person that has prepared questions in advance and has even drafted them in such a way that carefully asks about skills in areas known to contribute directly to the results you seek. So where is the problem? The most common problem I see for hiring managers in this area is that while they have specific questions they want to ask, they don’t have specific responses they are looking for. What ends up happening in an interview is a carefully scripted question gets asked of the candidate, and without knowing what a great response would be in advance, all you can do is decide based on a gut feel, if you like their answer and the way they answered. The problem with that is too often style trumps substance, since there was no sense of what the best answer should have been.

The Solution…

As you may have guessed, the answer to producing more intentional, repeatable hiring successes is to do the following:

  • Write down the business processes for the position that, when consistently followed, lead to excellent results
  • Identify the specific skills necessary for the position that map directly to the business processes
  • Develop situations or at a minimum, situational questions (e.g., “Tell about a specific time when…”) that provide you with direct demonstrations of the candidate’s level of competency in the skills you seek
  • Finally, predetermine what good responses would be to the questions asked, so you recognize a successful response when it comes

A final word of encouragement…While the process described above is simple, it is not easy to just whip this out if none of this has been identified. My encouragement is to invest the time now before it’s time to hire. Doing this process simultaneous with trying to rehire for a position is really tough. Perhaps that is the situation for some of you. Be diligent. Most opt out and just stick with the status quo of how they have always screened, interviewed and hired. I have seen this prove costly time and time again for many, highly competent leaders that didn’t invest the time up front to fortify their team with ‘A’ players.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Success in Sales Has an Expiration Date

Expired SuccessOne of life’s unfortunate realities is that succeeding once does not mean succeeding always. As we are all aware, “success” has a shelf life…or an expiration date, if you will.

We all want it, and most work hard to get it…often times with failures along the way, and when we finally achieve the success we were after, we are brought back to the reality that this will not last forever, nor ensure success with our next endeavor. For the repeatedly successful person, that means we have to replenish our successes. The more frequently, the better.

Given that this website is dedicated to the creation of intentional, repeatable successes, I am typically less concerned with or enamored by a person’s initial success. I am more curious about what creates repeatable successes.

I have listed below a few characteristics of those that have consistently demonstrated their ability to repeat success in all areas of their life:

  • Learner – They have huge appetites to take in as many points of meaningful data, philosophies, best practices as possible to better inform and guide their decisions
  • Distiller – They not only take in data, but assimilate and distill information in ways that can be dispensed at will
  • Distributor – With much collected wisdom…from both success and failure…they share freely with others
  • Conduit – They serve as a collection point for information, knowledge, wisdom
  • Filter – Despite seemingly endless supplies of wisdom & knowledge, they filter out noise for themselves & others
  • Reasoner – They have a unique ability to mentally process complex lines of thinking
  • Disciplined – Through constant practice and refinement, they rehearse the behaviors that produce the greatest benefits in their personal and professional lives
  • Curious – By nature…or practice, they have a genuine curiosity, tending to do more asking than talking
  • Decisive – Decisions are made more readily, not despite the many inputs, but because of the consistent practice of collecting inputs
  • Observer – One other key attribute is they careful observe why success does or does not occur, so they know with surgical precision, which behaviors to repeat and which to avoid

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of characteristics and traits, but rather some of the most common attributes I have observed over the years from all walks of life. This includes both those in which I have worked and consulted as well as those, whose stories have been shared in biographies, autobiographies, or other.

What have you observed from those in which you have worked or observed that are intentionally and repeatedly successful? Which attribute is your favorite?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.