Front Line Heroes – Chapter Six…..High-Performance Work Teams/Part Three

A Developmental Process High-performance teams develop in stages. It is good to be aware of these stages, because they normalize the experience of growing and developing into a high-performance team. The model I’ll be discussing is part of the “forming, storming, forming, and performing” model from Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, which was developed in the 1960’s.  You could also use the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory, which is very similar and created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, authors of The One Minute Manager.  I’m tweaking these models and giving them spice. By teaching these stages, groups can be asked to identify which stage they are in.  Then have the group design the necessary steps for reaching the next stage. Again, this exercise is great for allowing the team to focus on growing, developing, and normalizing their struggles and challenges. The stages are as follows: Stage A – The exciting “first date” stage.  This is the birth of the team that is still a group, and there is typically excitement and anticipation about the team’s potential and possibility.  There is an uncertainty, but there is also optimism. Stage B – The “poop hits the fan” stage is when reality sets in about how group life can be hard and demanding work.  It is no longer fun, and there is finger pointing between employees.  Mutual accountability is seen, by most, as an empty concept.  Team members look at whom to blame for their results.  This stage, it should be noted, is where most teams die.  There is the need for the manager’s and coach’s support and focus.  The team...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Six…..High-Performance Work Teams/Part Two

Inside the Bowl Imagine a fish bowl where you are the observer watching a group of executives at a strategic planning retreat. Many of these executives are wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans, which makes sense because we are in the wilds of northern Wisconsin.  That is what you wear to blend in with the locals. In a paneled meeting room, complete with flip charts and no internet, the divisional leadership group is looking at how to make its sales numbers.  The group runs the division for a North American food manufacturer.  The division is significantly behind on its numbers for the year.  However, instead of seeing this as a departmental issue, with sales not making its budget, the group takes on mutual accountability for the division’s results. What you do not know is that this type of approach is a huge breakthrough for the group.  It had five years of not making its sales numbers and not being profitable.  Five years of operating as supposedly independent departments, with members competing against one another.  In the past, this kind of strategizing would not have been a group session at all.  Instead, Rob, the division president, would have called Andy and Nick, the sales VP’s, and said “Meet me at five p.m. in my office.”  In panic, they would have grappled with the question of how they were going to survive.  In essence, the sales vice presidents and their boss would have dealt with the issue in secret, behind closed doors.  Not making sales numbers certainly would not have been an issue for marketing or finance to solve or contribute budget...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Six….High-Performance Work Teams/Part One

Without first improving the inner organization through an adaptive culture, updated management skills, and cooperative team effort, any changes in the formal systems would be cosmetic.”  Ralph H. Kilmann, PHD Many business leaders are dunderheads.  Why?  They routinely miss a huge improvement opportunity.  Business organizations and companies, when they are enlightened and awake, are interested in high-performance teams.  When internal business groups can collaborate, business problems can be solved efficiently and solutions implemented quickly.  This give the business a strategic advantage. Team Practice:  Not just for Football Improving group performance as a way of enhancing overall outcomes is a concept commonly understood by sports teams, theater groups and the military.  These types of groups clearly see the need to better group performance:  In sports, you are part of a team; in theater, you are part of a cast; and in the military, you are part of a squad.  Each of these groups has a process designed to build connection and teamwork.  In sports, this group improvement process is called practice, and in theater, rehearsal.  In the military, it begins with boot camp.  Then you graduate to training and war games. In corporations, while the talk is about teams and working together, there is actually a focus on individual performance.  For the most part, there is no formal practice designed to enhance or improve group performance.  Oh, my….could we be missing something here?  This is where being a business dunderhead comes in. A Group is not a Team In my 30 years as a business coach, I’ve heard business leaders refer to many groups of individuals as “teams”.  This term is used...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter 5….It’s All About the Middle/Part Two

The Third Strategy Another way to support the growth and development of the middle is to form a group of middle managers from various companies. Participants are leaders from different departments: sales executives give input to production and human resource department heads, and so on.  There is learning and sharing of different views that goes on during the group sessions, which I also recommend being led by an outside facilitator. I have led such a middle manager key-employee group. We met for each session at different companies, which allowed participants to see the different facets of participating organizations.  On a recent meeting, members saw an electronic IT dashboard showing the key metrics of the organization’s initiatives.  You could see what was being made and shipped for the day, as well as the sales that had been booked and the number of quality issues on the plant floor.  In addition, major customer visits and internal meetings were easy to view.  Who was working that day and who was out of the office was information that was also easily accessible. This tool’s breadth and easy access made a major impression on the key-employee group. Many of these employees had never seen anything like this.  Impacted by what they had learned, they all returned to their respective companies excited to engage their IT departments in doing something similar. In addition to meeting at different locations, this key middle management group also gained perspective by reading a different book for each session.  Members coached one another on issues and concerns brought to the meetings.  The coaching model we followed goes like this: A...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter 5….It’s all about the Middle/Part One

“A good leader inspires other people with confidence in the leader.  A great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.”    From A Partial Journey Toward Metamagical Leadership   I have never been a lover of the sandwich.  I know this sounds most un-American and un-guy like.  However, my lack of interest comes from the bread that forms the sandwich’s top and bottom.  It does not do a lot for me, and I never saw the purpose of it – the bread, that is.  I like, in fact, I am wildly attracted to – the middle of the sandwich.  We are talking about the juicy stuff here, the deliciousness that exists between the bread.  Whether the sandwich is ham and provolone, chicken and mustard, or peanut butter and jelly, for me it is always the middle that dictates how much a sandwich is enjoyed and appreciated. I can imagine that you think an ode to the middle of sandwiches cannot in any way be related to a book about successfully growing an organization.  Stay put and hang in there, as I am truly a genius; here comes the transition. Not the Top, not the Bottom In privately held companies after a certain size, it is the middle – as in management – that is a critical element of a company.  We are talking about the layer of leadership and coordination between the top strategic leadership and the front line.  It is this middle that will help dictate the firm’s long-term success. This assertion flies in the face of what most business commentators offer.  These talking heads focus on the...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Four: The Lucky Sperm and Egg Club/Part Two

My Mother the Boss In the case of a CEO who was confused about her role, the CEO and her daughter, Sally, were both living and working together. Sally was making $40,000 a year and complaining about not making enough.  The CEO – or simply “Mom” – was trying to find something for the 25-year-old marketing major to do.  The CEO admitted that if her daughter were just an employee and not a member of The Lucky Sperm and Egg Club, she would let her move on. “She should look for another job”, the CEO told me.  “If I change her from hourly to salary, I will not get forty hours out of her.  What do I do with this kid?” The CEO was in pain because she was operating from a “mothering” state and applying it to business.  Mothers do not fire their youngest daughters.  It can’t be done – though it is, however, acceptable for Moms to complain about their daughters’ behavior. Looking at situations like this as a parent is difficult. The little darling, also known as “your baby”, is born with limitations and gifts. You have the rest of your lifetime to deal with those, and deal you must; connected by birth, blood, and genetics, you are family.  As a parent, there is no choice other than dealing with the child you have. But if this woman put on her “CEO hat” and looked at the situation from that point of view, a pathway would open up.  As CEO of a small company, the decision about who belongs in the company is of primary concern....

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Four…The Lucky Sperm and Egg Club – Part One

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Aristotle Consider this question:  If you were chartering a private plane, would you rather it was flown by a competent pilot or by a member of the business owner’s family?  In this scenario, who really cares about family affiliations?  You most likely want the best person for the job of getting you in one piece from Point A to Point B. By thinking about this question, you are beginning to grapple with the issue of families in business.  “The Lucky Sperm and Egg Club” is a way to refer to people who share a genetic pool and work at the same company.  If you have family members in your company, you need to proceed with caution:  Along with potential benefits, there are clear pitfalls that the savvy business owner and executive should guard against. What do Owners and CEO’s want? What business owners and CEO’s want is for their companies to be run in the best possible way.  The next question is:  Who can best provide this direction for your organization?  Could the best candidate be a member of The Lucky Sperm and Egg Club? (I do like the sound of that!).  After all, these employees may have grown up in the business and been schooled by the founder.  They may be steeped in specialized knowledge, fit into the company culture, and understand the company’s winning formula.  They could know and love the business and its customers.  It is possible that a family member really is the best candidate. The Head of the Pack...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Three: ABC’s Oh Baby Now…. Part Two

Most Valuable Players B-Players are great employees, real keepers, and absolutely worth their weight in gold.  They are in alignment with the organization’s mission and values.  As corporate citizens, they care deeply about their internal and external operations.  They are probably not being promoted, but that is fine because they are doing great right where they are. A-Players have all the attributes of B-Players.  They also have the talent, desire, and ability to be promotable.  They are interested in professional growth and development.  These players, with development, could be moved to leadership either within or outside their current departments. Warning!  Pitfall A pitfall I’ve often seen with classifying employees in this way is that managers want shades of gray.  They want to rate employees as C+ or B-.  They want to make excuses and dance around the issue.  It is important that they stick to the A, B, and C buckets.  In this process, there are no minuses or pluses allowed.  Do not permit gray.  Managers need to make choices and deal with the consequences.  Employees are either making it as credible A or B-Players or not.  Managers need to be responsible for whom they are allowing to play in their sandbox; there are no “maybes” on the invitation. Open Assessments From time to time when consulting with small to mid-sized clients, and certainly during strategic planning, I have each manager stand in front of the room.  The managers are then asked to rank – one at a time – their direct reports as A, B, or C-Players. Now, the group has to be mature, sophisticated and responsible enough for...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Three: ABC’s Oh Baby Now…. Part One

The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way we use them”  Anonymous If you will, please picture Michael Jackson at eight years old, singing his heart out with this refrain.  It is one of the first rock songs I remember loving.  Now, what could possibly connect this with a real business breakthrough?  The ABC’s, silly. D’s and F’s will sink your Company Management’s ranking of employees is controversial.  Forced ranking is something that many large, publicly traded companies do.  I am not endorsing this methodology or that of Jack Welch, who supposedly advocated culling the bottom 10 percent of the GE herd each year.  What I am endorsing, and heartily proposing, is that you only have truly outstanding and incredible employees in your company.  Now there is a radical thought. Before we go on, let me set some parameters I consider business to be performance oriented.  The companies I know play on a highly competitive field.  A lot of factors impact the long-term success of a business entity, and achieving success is complex.  However, I think we can agree that the quality of employees within an organization directly affects that organization’s performance. As business people, we do not directly control terrorist plots, the economy, our competition, taxes, healthcare plans, or national events.  But even with unions, executives and managers do ultimately control who works in the company. We should make the most of this opportunity and leverage the “people piece” to enhance our companies’ performance advantage.  The “ABC” process I’m going to tell you about is designed to give your company both a people and a...