Open Assessments

The “ABC” process I’m going to tell you about is designed to give your company both a people and a performance edge. During my clients’ strategic planning meetings, 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 an A, B, or C Player.  The group has to be mature, sophisticated, and responsible enough for this type of activity. I ask managers to read several articles about the process in advance, so everyone already understands the process. Once the manager ranks employees and has explained his/her rationale, others at the table can give their views. Only those who have real work-related experience with that person state their rankings and justifications. I’ve seen very positive results from the dialogue that managers hold with the leadership team about key employees. Managers realize how others perceive their direct reports. Below the surface issues are brought to light. The team can then design actions to deal with those issues. Another disclaimer: This exercise is not about hearsay and gossip. Participants must have adult sophistication. For example, absolute confidentiality is a must. What goes on in the meeting room stays in the meeting room; all participants need to understand and honor this. To take the discussion out of context and share with anyone outside of the room is a fireable offense. Next week I’ll define what each type of player...

ABC’s Oh Baby Now

A lot of factors impact the long-term success of a business entity, and achieving success is complex. As businesspeople, we cannot control the economy, our competition, taxes, healthcare plans, or national events. However, I think we can agree that the quality of employees within an organization directly affects that organization’s performance. Even with unions, executives and managers do ultimately control who works in the company. Leveraging the “people piece” is essential to enhance a company’s performance advantage. People are one of your most important business assets. By calling people “assets,” I do not mean to objectify them — but maximizing resources is one of the responsibilities of business leadership. The “ABC” process I’m going to tell you about is designed to give your company both a people and a performance edge. An article called “A New Game Plan for C Players,” by Beth Axelrod, Helen Hadfield-Jones, and Ed Michaels helped crystallize my ideas about working with management teams. The article also reinforced solutions that I am successfully implementing with my clients — namely, improving companies by driving out mediocrity. By raising the bottom of a company, you automatically raise the top. Before we go on, let me make a disclaimer. 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!  If...

Let’s Take the Family Out of Business – Part 6

Rules for Relatives Business Leaders and Executives will slow and potentially destroy the growth and development of their companies if they have lower standards or different rules for family members than they have for their other employees. If you have family members in your business, and you truly love and support them, do the following: 1. Set the highest possible standards for family member behavior. Make sure they know their responsibility is to exemplify the company values beyond what any other employee does. Make it clear to family members that because they are family, more will be expected from them. For family members to remain at the company, they will be expected to work harder and longer hours. 2. Only place family members in roles where it is obvious they have the essential abilities and talent to excel and bring real results to the company. 3. Actively encourage family members not to work at the company; if they decide to do so, reinforce that it is a choice they are making. 4. If you have any unresolved issues with your siblings, cousins, children, spouse, etc., and you hope to figure them out by working together, forget about it. Go see a therapist and leave the business completely out of the equation. Taking the “family” out of “family business” is a rich topic. Not managing family relationships in a business can have disastrous results, not just for the business but also—especially—for the family. In my view, the destruction of family relationships is tragic. Use the principles within this article to stay within the light to promote family and business harmony...

Let’s Take the Family Out of Business – Part 5

Why You may not be the best choice… Often the best move for family business owners is to replace themselves as President. They need to bring in someone else with more leadership skills, ability, and talent who can build and develop their biggest, most important asset:  the company. Family membership is not a necessary qualification. Johnny is a case in point. For years, he complained of the burden of running the $250 million company that he had grown from scratch with his dad. He did not like having to teach and support everybody. Finally, he made Laura—his Operations VP and a very talented woman who was not a family member—the President. She proceeded to work with the company’s great leadership group and grow the organization despite a poor economy. The company achieved all their financial targets and opened a new plant. Johnny is still Chairman of the Board and is semi-retired. “I exercise and do a lot of fishing,” he recently told me. “I like the Green River, but sometimes I go fishing in Colorado.” I spent several days with him on a trip overseas and had never seen him so relaxed and emotionally available; all because he recognized he was not the right person for the job and replaced himself in the role. For more information about family business coaching click...

Let’s Take the Family out of Business – Part 4

Choosing your work Whenever possible, parents owe their children food, shelter, love, medical care, education, guidance, and coaching to become independent adults. However, they do not owe their children a job. Families and businesses have distinct and very different dynamics. When these different systems compete with each other, prepare for catastrophe. Ernest, the Chairman of the Board for a Manufacturing company, died. He left a series of directives in his will dictating how the company should be run: one son would be CEO and one daughter would be Senior Vice President of Manufacturing. However the directives were not fulfilled. Instead, elderly Mom, who historically had little to do with the business, was now the majority owner and the one in charge. Mom as business owner turned into a disaster. She made wrong business decisions in a changing environment and put the company at financial risk. Meanwhile, the son and daughter did not get control or ownership of the company they have spent their lives building. Turning this company around would be a lot easier if it were not so encumbered with family issues. The point is that the leadership in your company should be based on talent and ability. If it turns out that family members actually qualify, consider it a dividend and karmic reward. For more information about family business coaching click...

Let’s Take the Family Out of Business – Part 3

My mother the Boss In another situation, the CEO and her daughter, Sally, both lived and worked 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 family member she would let her move on. “She should look for another job,” the CEO told me. “If I change her from hourly to salary, she would not work forty hours. 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, your only choice is 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, the decision about who belongs in the company is of primary concern. In Good to Great, Jim Collins says it’s all about the right person being on the right seat of the bus. In other words,...

Let’s Take the Family Out of Business – Part 2

Pretending in order to please you Often, children join a company because they feel they owe it to a CEO-parent to carry on the family tradition….despite having little talent, passion, or ability to succeed in the business. The children spend their time attempting to hide this. Meanwhile, other employees go along with the pretense to protect their own jobs. You can imagine the problems that arise from this scenario. Here is an example. Roberto was an artist. All he really wanted to do was paint, be with his young son, and sell his artwork. Unfortunately, he inherited a failing company, which was co-owned by another family. Roberto became the head of marketing and web design, though he had little experience or education in either. His staff – both experienced and talented – did their best to cover for Roberto, fearing their jobs would be at stake if Roberto did not succeed. The staffs’ attempts at covering for Roberto only accomplished one thing: making the whole company look bad. Brochures were sent out with the wrong pricing. Total sales decreased. Employee morale and productivity suffered. The company continued to limp along, barely surviving. This is a situation in which a business directly suffered from everyone’s good intentions. For more information about family business coaching click...

Let’s Take the Family Out of Business – Part 1

The Head of the Pack Family members can lead businesses successfully. Take the case of Ralph and Samantha, a brother and sister team who are successfully running and growing their commercial laundry service. They are second-generation owners who grew up working at the business their parents started. They drove trucks, brought in clean uniforms, and took out used ones. They filled washers and hung pants. They answered phones. They have been cussed at and complimented and, in the process, have mastered both operations and customer service. Both Ralph and Samantha are capable business people who learned their industry from the ground up. They also gained experience outside of their industry and applied their experiences to their family firm. Ralph has an MBA from Harvard and worked as a financial analyst. Samantha has a Masters in education and taught special education in the public school system. Their ability to lead and develop their family business is obvious. If they were not top executives and owners of their company, they would be CEO’s and executives of someone else’s company. For more information about Family Business Coaching click...

Context is Decisive

  I was on a trip, surrounded by water. I slept in a room that was one sixth the size of my room at the Hampton. There was not even room for storage so my suitcase and I shared my bed. From our sleeping quarters, we had to go up ladders and then down ladders and that just got us to the dining room for meals! I also had to share a very, very small bathroom shower with no sink with seven other people. For all of this we paid several hundred dollars a day – sounds horrible – right?  Well horribleness depends on the context because context is critical. Context is the background conversation which surrounds circumstances and gives the circumstances meaning. What was the context here? I took a cruise in the Caribbean with my 87 year old dad. We did something that he loves, sailing. I had the best time ever; it was a great experience. My dad and I went on an adventure together – and given his age – that was so very precious.  What is the context of your day’s activities? Are you surviving and going through the day or are you up to something? What is the meaning of your work activities? The down side of being a human is that we create meaning automatically, without any conscious thought, just through reaction. However, the magic of being human is that we CAN create meaning consciously for the activities in our lives. Our activities can have meanings that light us up and excite us. We do not have to settle for our automatic...

Seven Rules of Strategic Guessing Part 8

Rule Number Seven Rule number siete is by far the coolest. This reglo says: It is critical that the team shows discipline and does the work. Remember the saying, “garbage in, garbage out”? It is important that the leadership team does complete work. In this endeavor, it is better to do less with better quality than to do a lot with mediocrity. Some companies have a heck of a time getting out of the firefighting mode. Others never do get out of that stage. Sometimes members of the leadership team are addicted to firefighting. They are addicted to the way things are and not to dreaming up ways the company could improve. To participate in a good breakthrough planning/guessing process, the planning team must commit time to this endeavor. Real thinking and dialogue must exist. Once you have created the plan, you need to make sure it is acted upon. Monthly meetings of one to three hours and spending time on objectives and action plans will ensure focus. Then, once a quarter, the planning team should meet offsite, preferably with a coaching resource like yours truly. (Bonus points if the coach is bald-headed…it makes the coach smarter and buffer—really!) At the session, the group will look at what happened in the quarter and then focus on what needs to happen in the next quarter. This will keep everyone aligned on what needs to take place to push the company forward. Well, there you have it – seven rules that will support you in establishing a successful planning process. Put another way, it is the plan to producing and implementing...