Marshall Goldsmith on the Value of saying “No”

MGpictureMarshall Goldsmith on..

…the value of saying ‘No’ and turning ideas and people down:

Say two no’s for every yes. You never want to turn down a chance to get involved in something good, but in my experience, dead ends outnumber opportunities in almost any walk of life. For every good idea, there are dozens of bad ones.
When someone asks for help, unless it’s inappropriate or thoughtless to say no, weigh every yes as if you were spending money. If it distracts you from your goal, don’t do it — no matter how tempting the upside seems. Check out Urs’ article on keeping a stop doing list. 

Stop Overdoing Your Strengths By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

strengthsweaknessroadsignI consider myself a pretty successful person. I am proud of what I have achieved academically, professionally, athletically and in my personal life.

While working towards my achievements over the last 40+ years I have displayed some of the following strengths:

  • Focused and highly goal oriented
  • Very structured
  • Single minded 

At times I also have been guilty of overdoing my strengths by showing up as

  • Too Rigid
  • Inflexible and loosing sight of the big picture

A lot of us have been told that we shouldn’t spend too much time on improving our weaknesses but rather get them to an acceptable level and then focus on perfecting our strengths. The logic behind this thinking goes something like this: you will never be really good at your weaknesses.  Get them to a good enough level and then surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak. Use your energy to move your strengths from excellent to world class. Become outstanding at one thing vs. being slightly above average at a few things.

While I agree with the notion of focus and becoming outstanding at a few select things, there is a key point missing in the above argument:

BallandchainBy relentlessly focusing on further enhancing our strengths we often neglect to realize that we can indeed (and very often do!) overdo our strengths! Remember my own example above. It is easy for me to go from being highly driven, goal oriented and focused to too single minded and inflexible!

So here is one of the few absolute truths I believe in and frequently quote in my leadership coaching:

Every weakness is a strength overdone.

I am focused and structured. When I overdo it, I am becoming inflexible and rigid.

Your boss might be highly empathetic and sensitive. When overdoing his strengths, he looses sight of the business agenda, or worse, becomes a pushover.

Your direct report is self confident and a strong presenter. She often overdoes her confidence and comes across as arrogant.

Ask yourself*:

  • What is my biggest strength both in my personal as well as my professional life? How might this strength overdone show up as a weakness?
  • What is the first step I can take today to address my ‘strength overdone’?
  • *And if you are as brave as our coaching clients are, you will also ask someone who knows you well and be willing to tell you the unvarnished truth.

Redpoint Sponsored Chris Ragsdale finishes Race Across America as top American

After a full year of race preparation, Chris finished the 2013 3,000 mile non stop bike Race Across America in 10 days, 23 hours and 20 minutes.

You will read more about the leadership lessons Chris learned from his adventure in our next ChangeAbiltiy. In the meantime read two excerpts from his race report (full version here: http://www.ragsdaleridesagain.com)

“The final days were dominated by the thoughts of seeing my family. They were at the finish line day’s before me, never before have I experienced time in this way. The beauty of the land around me and the caring support of the crew next to me were a muted back ground to the vision of being with my wife and kids again. It was all that mattered but I needed to take the slowest and most painful way to experience that vision. It had to be done that way and it was torturous and unlike anything I have experienced. I felt isolated and alone, there was nothing anyone else could do. The only thing that made a difference was the rotating speed of the wheels beneath me. And it felt as if there was tar in my hubs. I simply couldn’t go as fast as I needed to, the last days would take an eternity. Since finishing the race I have dreamed about it almost every night. Some times waking in the middle of the night ” did I finish? did I make it?” Are they nightmares or just reminders?”

“Often when looking into an Ultra race I will look at the record books. That is the frame work for possibility. It is the measuring stick upon which I judge my potential.  I’ll go on to train, plan, and visualize according to the best case scenario. I like that process, I feel inspired, motivated. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have created some records. On this occasion I was much closer to the back of the race then I was the front. But my process was the same. Dream big, do what I can in the here and now, focus my energy, believe, my thoughts and feelings matter but the only thing that makes a difference is what I do about it. The crew and I made it to Annapolis 10 days 23 hours and 20 minutes after taking off from Oceanside. Official finishers of the solo Race Across America.”

Congratulations Chris! Redpoint is proud to be your partner in your 2013 Race Across America adventure.

Marshall Goldsmith on the value of advertising your leadership coaching goal by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Marshall Goldsmith on the value of advertising your leadership coaching goal:

Those of you who are familiar with our leadership coaching (hotlink) know that we don’t coach behind close doors only but make the process of leadership coaching transparent by bringing it out into the organization. Here is what our teacher Marshall Goldsmith has to say about the value if advertising goals in his recent Leading News article :

“It pays to advertise. I know a playwright who never reveals what new work she’s writing. “When you talk about it,” she says, “you’re not writing it. You’re just talking.” That sort of secretiveness may apply to creative work, but it doesn’t apply to rebuilding your reputation. People have preconceptions about you. They not only filter everything you do through those preconceptions, but they are constantly looking for evidence that confirms them. Thus, if they believe you are perennially late, even when you’re only a few seconds late to a lunch date or a meeting they’ll quietly file that away as another example of your tardiness. However, if you tell them you’re making a serious effort to be on time from now on, that bit of “advertising” can change their perception. They’ll be on alert for evidence of your on-time behavior rather than confirmation that you’re always late. That little tweak in perception, created solely by telling people that you’re trying to change, can make all the difference.

 

No more Us vs. Them: How to Tear Down Departmental Silos by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA

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The same day Microsoft announced their huge reorganization this month, I was presenting a CEO client the findings of my interviews with his senior management team. The two main points of critical feedback the managers had for my client were:

 

  • We operate in a silo mentality
  • There is a lack of trust ands collaboration across departments. At its worst, we have a blame culture

On the way back from the meeting I got stuck in notoriously bad Seattle rush hour traffic and was listening to the reports of Microsoft’s reorg on National Public Radio. I learned that (my fellow Swiss countryman 🙂 Steve Ballmer’s goals for the reorg were tearing down of departmental silos and creating more cohesive teamwork; hence regaining the spark that has been missing from so many Microsoft products recently. Right there, stuck in traffic, less than 3 miles from Microsoft’s headquarters, it hit me once again how many similarities there are between running a $20m business (my client) and a multi-billion dollar business like Microsoft.

It’s the age old challenge every leaders faces: How do I get everyone to think ‘us’ vs. thinking of colleagues in other departments as ‘them’.

Adam Bryan, the New Yorks Times Corner Office columnist wrote a great piece on overcoming the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ challenge.

Here are the three themes that emerged from his interviews with more than 200 leaders for his column: 

  1. Create a One Company Culture
  2. Simplify the Scoreboard
  3. Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff 

Create a One Company Culture

Symbolism is important, in both the language that leaders use and the organizational chart they create. (Read my article on using the org structure as competitive tool.

Here’s how Kathleen L. Flanagan, the chief executive of Abt Associates, tackled the issue.

“We’ve grown from $180 million in annual revenue a few years ago to $425 million today. As the company grew, more business units were created, and so we had more silos in the organization. My objective two years ago in coming into this job was to take down the silos. So I reorganized the company. It used to be organized around lines of business — international, U.S.-based, data collection — and there used to be senior vice presidents who led each of those big businesses. I took those senior V.P. positions away and hired one executive vice president for global business who shared my vision for what I call One Global Abt.

(…) I now ask my managers to wear two hats. Everybody’s got their job in the big picture of the company, but they all have to wear an Abt hat. It’s really easy, given the time pressures and the pace of our work, to put blinders on and be very project-focused. It’s harder to take a step back and ask, “How does this apply to the whole company?”

Simplify the Scoreboard

A big part of a leader’s job is to establish a simple set of performance metrics so that everyone in the company can feel as if they’re part of a broader team, and can understand how the work they do contributes to the broader goals. Chief executives have to choose those metrics carefully because, as the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed.

A powerful example of this came from Shivan S. Subramaniam, the chief executive of FM Global, a commercial and industrial property insurer, who shared how his team worked hard to develop very simple goals.

“We call them key result areas, or K.R.A.’s. We’re multinational — we’ve got 5,100 people, 1,800 of whom are engineers. We’re very analytical. But we have three K.R.A.’s, nothing terribly fancy. And everybody focuses on them. One is on profitability. One is on retention of existing clients. And one is on attracting new clients. That’s it.

You can talk to people in San Francisco, Sydney or Singapore, and they’ll know what the three K.R.A.’s are. All of our incentive plans are designed around our K.R.A.’s, and every one of those K.R.A.’s is very transparent. Our employees know how we’re doing. And, most importantly, they understand them, whether they’re the most senior manager or a file clerk, so they know that ‘If I do this, it helps this K.R.A. in this manner.’”

Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff

There’s a reason that so many companies hold regular all-hands meetings (and with technology, it’s possible to do them in large and sprawling companies now). Again, it’s about tribal behavior. You have to bring everybody together and speak to everyone as a group for people to identify themselves with the broadest group. Leaders then have to take their simple plan and hammer it home, again and again, even if they feel like everybody has heard it before a hundred times.

It’s a lesson that Christopher J. Nassetta, the Hilton Worldwide chief, learned over time.

“You have to be careful as a leader, particularly of a big organization. You can find yourself communicating the same thing so many times that you get tired of hearing it. And so you might alter how you say it, or shorthand it, because you have literally said it so many times that you think nobody else on earth could want to hear this. But you can’t stop. In my case, there are 300,000 people who need to hear it, and I can’t say it enough. So what might sound mundane and like old news to me isn’t for a lot of other people. That is an important lesson I learned as I worked in bigger organizations.”

Ask yourself for your own organization:

One Company Culture:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate your organization as having a One Company Culture?
  • How does your org chart support/not support a one company culture? What changes do you need to make?
  • What language are you using to support a one company culture?

Simplify the Scoreboard

  • How clear are you personally on the performance metrics for your business? What about your senior managers? What about your front line people?
  • How can you simplify the metrics down to no more than three?
  • How will you make your people ‘care’ about those metrics?

Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff

  • How often do you communicate to your entire staff?
  • How can you make your message as simple as possible?
  • How often do you feel you have said the same thing 150 times, seven different ways?
  • Way too often? Great! Keep going!

To Hire the Best: Make Them Work! by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

jsw_job_interview_4One of the most important tasks you have as a leader is to build a great team. Building a great team, of course, means hiring right! You cannot spend too much time or effort on hiring wisely. The alternative to hiring wisely? Managing toughly, which is much more time consuming, costly, and emotionally draining.

I have always been intrigued by how so many of our clients and colleagues agree with this on paper but then keep doing the “same old, same old” when it comes to interviewing.

Interviews are often poor predictors for how the person will perform at their job. Some subpar candidates interview well while some great candidates simply don’t present themselves well at all during an interview.  What to do? Make each candidate perform actual work before you make your final hiring decision!

 Homework

The New York Times recently featured the CEO of Palo Alto Software, Sabrina Parson, who does it this way: “Everyone who interviews with us, no matter what the position, gets homework. We do an initial phone interview, and then they get homework before the in-person interview. It’s two hours of work. The purpose of it is not to find the correct answer, but more to see their thought process. But more than 50 percent of the people you send the homework to never contact you again. It’s great because we don’t want that person.”

So there you have it: Giving candidates homework weeds out half of the people; the half you don’t want to talk to anyway! The money and time you save with this approach needs to be invested into working with those who actually submit their homework.

Once you are further into the process and you are down to your top three candidates, have them spend a day in your business doing actual work.

Actual Work

Yes, you will have to be somewhat creative here and yes, of course it might feel a bit staged and artificial but being able to observe each candidate at work or – even better – working side by side with each candidate, beats the best interview hands down! Not only are you able to observe the candidate at his or her tasks, you are also getting insights on how the candidate show up in a somewhat stressful situation and – maybe most importantly – how the person interact with your team members.

But you ask: What about more managerial positions?

Remember: leaders and managers get stuff done through people. Most of the work any leader or manager does includes interacting with people (vs. doing stuff). How can you simulate the real work of a leader or a manager? Have them interact with our team! Not just by having a nice chat but by actually battling out some real business problems.

Again, you need to be somewhat creative here. Ask yourself: what are some of the most important things you expect them to do during their first six months in the job?

Developing and implementing a new product strategy?

Have them walk you and your team through their thinking on a white board. Engage them in a hard discussion and observe how they show up. How concisely do they communicate? How do they build on other people’s ideas? Are they able to explain their thinking without getting defensive?

Building a team?

Have them outline their hiring process to you. Have them conduct a meeting with your existing team. How about a one-on-one goal setting meeting with one of their potential direct reports?

Remember, no matter what job position you are interviewing for: by having the job candidate do real work in your business you will significantly increase your chances of hiring right vs. having to manage toughly.

 Ask yourself:

  • How much has it cost in the past to correct a hiring mistake – in training time, salary costs, and lost energy and opportunities?
  • How can my organization improve our hiring by making candidates do real work?
  • What is the one step I commit to implementing in order to make our hiring more effective?

For more leadership resources and tools, visit Redpoint Coaching.

How to Make Better Business Decisions: Avoid the Hidden Traps! (Part II), by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

jsw_sunk_cost_imageMaking decisions is one of the most important jobs of leaders. It is also the toughest and the riskiest. Bad decisions can ruin your business or career.

In a previous edition of ChangeAbility,  I examined two, well-documented psychological traps and told you what you can do about them in order to make better decisions.  These two traps were:

THE ANCHORING TRAP & THE STATUS-QUO TRAP

In this edition, I am discussing the following two traps:

THE SUNK-COST TRAP & THE CONFIRMING EVIDENCE TRAP

THE SUNK-COST TRAP

We all sometimes make choices in a way that justifies past choices, even when the past choices are no longer valid.

Imagine you have been standing in line at the post office for 15 minutes. You have a meeting with an important client coming up, and you run the risk of being late to the meeting if you keep standing in line. What do you do?

For many of us the thinking goes something like this, “Well, dam#$^%! I have already been standing in line for 15 minutes; it would be really stupid to give up my space now, so I will stand in line even if I end up being late to the important meeting.” We just fell into the sunk-cost trap.  How so?

It’s simple: we are justifying our decision to keep standing in line by what we have done in the past (i.e. standing in line for 15 minutes already) and not by what is best going forward. Even if you have been standing in line for hours, you need to leave the line if your client meeting is more important than mailing those packages. As economists would say: it’s all about maximizing your utility going forward!

Other examples of the sunk-cost trap include business owners who pour enormous effort into improving the performance of an employee whom they should not have hired in the first place. It is also very common in banking. When a borrower’s business runs into trouble, a lender often advances additional funds in the hope that the business can turn around. If the business does have a good chance to do that, this is wise; otherwise it’s just throwing good money after bad.

Why can we not free ourselves from past decisions? Frequently, it is because we are unwilling to admit mistakes. If you, for example, fire a poor performer who you hired, you are making a public admission of poor judgment. It seems psychologically safer to let him or her stay on, even though that choice only compounds the error.

Sometimes a corporate culture reinforces the sunk-cost trap. If the penalties for making a decision that leads to poor outcome are overly severe, managers will be motivated to let failed projects drag on forever – in the vain hope that they will somehow turn around.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THE SUNK-COST TRAP?

Make a conscious effort to set aside any sunk cost – whether psychological or economic – that will muddy your thinking about the choices at hand:

  • Seek out and listen carefully to the views of people who were uninvolved with the earlier decision
  • Examine why admitting earlier mistakes distresses you. If it’s your wounded self-esteem, deal with it head-on. Remind yourself that even smart choices can have bad consequences and that even the best and most experienced executives are not immune to errors in judgment
  • Don’t cultivate a failure-fearing culture that makes employees perpetuate their mistakes. Lead by example by admitting your own mistakes
  • Remember: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” – Warren Buffet 

THE CONFIRMING-EVIDENCE TRAP

Imagine you are the president of a successful, mid-size, Italian shoe manufacturer, considering whether to call off a planned plant expansion. For a while you have been concerned that your company won’t be able to sustain the rapid pace of growth of its exports. You fear that the value of the Euro will strengthen in coming months, making your goods more costly for overseas consumers. But before you put the brakes on the plant expansion, you decide to call up an old business school classmate, the CEO of a similar company that recently cancelled plans for a new factory, to check her reasoning. She presents a strong case that other currencies are about to weaken against the Euro. What do you do?

You’d better not let this conversation be the clincher because you’ve probably just fallen victim to the confirming-evidence trap. This bias leads us to seek out information that supports our existing instincts or points of view while avoiding information that contradicts it. What, after all, did you expect your acquaintance to give, other than a strong argument in favor of her decision?

Two fundamental psychological forces are at work here:

  • We subconsciously decide what we want to do before we figure out why we want to do it.
  • Our inclination is to be more engaged by things we like than by things we dislike – a tendency well documented even in babies. Naturally, we are drawn to information that supports our subconscious leanings.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT THE CONFIRMING EVIDENCE TRAP?

It’s not that you should not make the choice you are subconsciously drawn to. It’s just that you want to make sure it’s the smart choice. Here is how you put it to the test:

  • Get someone you respect to play the devil’s advocate to argue against the decision you are contemplating. Better yet, build the counter-argument yourself. What are the strongest reasons to do something else?
  • Be honest with yourself about your motives. Are you really gathering information to help you make a smart choice, or are you just looking for evidence confirming what you think you’d like to do?
  • In seeking the advice of others, don’t ask leading questions that invite confirming evidence. If you find that an advisor always seems to support your point of view, find a new advisor. Do not surround yourself with yes-men (and women).

Your Take-Away:

  • When facing major decisions in your business or life, be sure to use the above techniques to avoid falling into the Sunk-Cost Trap and the Confirming Evidence Trap.

This article is based on: “Hammond, Ralph & Raiffa: The Hidden Traps in Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, January 2006.