Thursday, February 25, 2021

Measuring Performance Is Not Enough

There is much hype about using K.P.I. (Key Performance Indicators) as a way to track the successful accomplishment of tasks and projects; but think about it - what is it that causes you frustration? Usually, it is not just about the performance which frustrates you but the accompanying behaviors and attitudes which churns you from within!

If someone under-performs, it can be fixed by re-skilling or re-tooling competencies but if the under-performance comes with a character deficiency, then the whole scenario has become more complicated. 

Here's the principle:
In addition to measures for performance, you need to be on the lookout for right behavioral indicators as well.

Interested to discover the three steps to strengthen both your performance and behavioral indicators? Check out this week's video on "Measuring Performance Is Not Enough".

Let me know what you think.

Your fellow traveler,

Joseph Tan

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

3 Words to Change Your Leadership

We are familiar with the saying that leaders need to "walk the talk" but if the talk is not right in the first place, then the walking will stray off in the wrong direction! Do you notice what are the often repeated words which fall from the tip of your tongue on a daily basis? You might be surprised to note just how much of our attitude and outlook is affected by certain habitual words we utter.

There are three words, if carelessly used leads to an atmosphere of blame, misunderstanding and disengagement.

Interested to find out the corresponding three words which will turn the situation around and contribute positively to your leadership influence? Check out this week's video on "3 Words to Change Your Leadership".

Let me know what you think.

Your fellow traveler,
Joseph Tan

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How to Set Clear Goals that Inspire

Setting goals is straightforward but making it inspirational is quite a different matter altogether.

You may have a grand vision for yourself or for your team but if that grandeur is not translated to inspirational goals that people can own, then what you have is just a set of day dreaming cliches. You may know how to measure the performance but if you do not know how to motivate the passion, then you have only scratched the surface of what the human potential is capable of.

The degree of inspiration depends significantly on your heartfelt belief in the "rightness" of your cause. If you lose sight of what you stood for in the first place, then do not be surprised, if your begin to lose the fight.

Here are three considerations for making sure your goals are inspirational:
  1. Are my goals clear enough?
    Above all else, a leader must be clear. Clarity is not synonymous with charisma. If your vision keeps shifting, it creates instability and uncertainty.
  2. Are my goals communicated enough?
    Setting goals do not happen over a two-day-one-night strategic retreat. The issue is not with the awareness of the goals but the alignment of it. Begin your team meetings by articulating the goals before diving into the issues of the day.
  3. Are my goals convicting enough?
    As a leader, people "feel" you more than they "see" you. Before the results are achieved, do the reason behind the results resonate deep within you? 
We are inclined to play the "numbers game" - stretching the goals for the sake of just stretching without taking into consideration the input and opinion of others. Numbers alone numb. If you do not learn the art of inspiring (and not just instructing), people will follow your orders but will not take ownership of it.

Your fellow traveler,
Joseph Tan

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Recognizing Parenting Seasons

This is the third part of a five-part interview series I did in 2009 on the subject of parenting. Felt nostalgic listening to it as this series marked the start on a regular interviewing schedule with BFM covering topics on character, culture and leadership.

So, here's part three on "recognizing parenting seasons":

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Raising Socially Responsible Kids

This is the second part of a five-part interview series I did in 2009 on the subject of parenting. Felt nostalgic listening to it as this series marked the start on a regular interviewing schedule with BFM covering topics on character, culture and leadership.

So, here's part two on "raising socially responsible kids":

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Effective Parenting and Discipline

This is the first part of a five-part interview series I did in 2009 on the subject of parenting. Felt nostalgic listening to it as this series marked the start on a regular interviewing schedule with BFM covering topics on character, culture and leadership.

So, here's part one on "effective parenting and discipline":

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Insecure CEO

Much is expected of the CEO today and he or she is under tremendous pressure “to look the part” and to “have it all” – from delivering expected results to being a charismatic and motivating leader. However, in today’s networked environment, the CEO’s effectiveness goes beyond just individual influence, there is also the added dimension of his or her “networking” influence i.e. does the CEO have the clout for collaboration and buy-in beyond his or her formal jurisdiction in the organization. It is relatively easy to lead when you are working within the confinements of assigned authority but when it comes to collaborating with multiple stakeholders, partners, clients and associates in the industry, the CEO will then discover that not every of these relationships are obliged to treat him or her like the all-powerful and all-knowing leader.

Here is where the CEO could possibly feel insecure – “I need to collaborate. However, the collaboration which yields the greatest return are often with those who are not naturally inclined to comply with my demands”. It is easy for the CEO to demand for collaboration within his or her organization because of his positional authority but when it comes to expanding the scope and reach of collaboration, it is the influencing authority which comes into play. And here is the tricky part - the effectiveness of your influence comes from your ability to persuade those who are outside of your conventional chain of command.

Collaborating within the Network of Incompatibilities
While it is true that great minds think alike, the truly collaborative mind intentionally seek out those who think differently. In fact, the collaborative CEO seeks for those in his or her network that are able to stir up the thinking in a direction which stretches the comfort zone of the organization.  This sense of incompatibility does not apply to the vision of the organization i.e. everyone in the organization should align behind the overall vision. However, when it comes to strategies – there can be a variety of flavour and approaches. An organization should be wise to recognize that while the vision is non-negotiable, the strategies and business model ought to be dynamically adjusted to accommodate the changing landscape.

Case in point: Nokia’s vision was –“Connecting People”- this is a statement which is timeless. However, the strategy of sticking to the Symbian OS proved to be fatal for the company as it stuck to its decision to stay compatible within its familiar architecture rather than embrace the changing mobile OS landscape. Companies like Samsung for example had no issues with taking on diverse platforms for growth. While it is comfortable for the CEO to work with familiar environments, it is the ability to not feel secure with familiar surroundings which drives the organization to the next level of breakthrough success.

From this perspective, the forward-thinking CEO should consider the following sources of “incompatibility” in his or network in order to stimulate breakthrough results:
·         Vendors or even competitors with emerging technologies.
·         Existing partnerships in different fields to create cross-fertilization of ideas.
·         Clients who could end up being potential stakeholders.

Collaborating within the Network of “Intimidation”
When it comes to collaboration, the easier tendency is to work with those of whom I can control and command. But what about other organizations and partners that are bigger and more “intimidating”?

Case in point: When Wendy Kopp started Teach for America, she had to collaborate with all sorts of intimidating parties – the school principals, the corporate leaders, the college heads – in the quest of getting graduating seniors to commit their first two years to teach in poor community schools. Along the way, she was laughed at and made fun of but she persevered and remained humble. Eventually those who were her challenging intimidators are now her biggest supporters and collaborators. What caused the shift?

Of course, we do not go out of our way to look for intimidating people. However, life is such that when you have a worthwhile quest, you will definitely have your share of naysayers and those will impose their negativity on your ideas and plans. However, these intimidating parties may turn out to be your strongest supporters later on. The key is your ability to stay committed and resolute to your vision. In a way, your vision has to be bigger than your ego – this is the key to inner resolve that will help you weather through your dealings with intimidating collaborators.

From this perspective, the forward-thinking CEO should consider the following sources of “incompatibility” in his or network in order to stimulate breakthrough results:
·         Fund managers or investors who may be interested in the next “big thing” from your organization.
·         Competitors who could be gobbling up your market share – why not make a deal with them first?
·         Subject matter experts who are antagonistic to your mission – talking to them might just reveal certain blind spots that could lead to your downfall if left unaddressed.

Embracing Insecurity
Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction.”
― Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

Success is a funny thing – once you have it, then it becomes your greatest source of complacency, your source of security. That is the reason why, according to Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel – a healthy dose of paranoid is needful to keep you and your organization on its toes. The best type of destruction to your business is the type which you impose upon yourself – rather than allowing competitors to obsolete your products and services, why not you act from a position of “insecurity” and destroy your own business in favour of a better one? Not many CEOs have this drive of “insecurity” to make that happen because we are naturally creatures of comfort and predicatability.

The insecure CEO is one who lives on the edge of paranoia – constantly looking for ways to collaborate and network with those who are seemingly incompatible and intimidating and yet, as iron sharpens iron – the result is unmistakably clear – working from a position of security and comfort does not push us over the edge of excellence, innovation and breakthrough performance.  It is not the “sameness” of your network of collaborators that will provide the competitive advantage, rather it is the diversity of your network which will reap a harvest of significant results. Only the paranoid survive – embrace your insecurities because it will keep you humble and hungry.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Seeing is Behaving

All things are created twice.

Every leader is supposed to have a vision of where the organization should go but what if the going gets tough? Does the toughness of reality invalidate the vision? On the contrary, the present challenges accentuates the seriousness of your vision and reveal the depth of your leadership commitment. It’s no great surprise that visioning is one the key demands of executive leadership. Successful leaders are able to look at, across, and beyond the organization, even beyond the clear and present dangers to the clear and future rewards for those they lead.

The simple fact is this – the future is worth visioning because this is where we will eventually live. The creation of tomorrow must begin today. Although Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before the opening of Disney World, it was reported that the vision of the project was so vivid in his mind that when he described the future, he speaks as if he had already been there! It was his clear depiction of the future that gave life to the project and rallied the entire design and construction team together even before the first brick was laid.

Leaders like Walt Disney have a talent for seeing the future and making it happen. They use highly visual language that paints pictures of the future for their followers. As a result, they seem to attain bigger goals because they create a collective mindset that propels people to help them make their vision a reality.

The best leaders talk often about the future and how it will be better than the present. Their forward-looking approach engages and excites their audiences and elicits commitment. There are five steps to consider whether if you are able to engage your audience with your “visioning enthusiasm”:

(1) Articulate Consistently
The message of the leader is not about novelty, rather it is be about consistency. If a leader articulates a different message or vision every time he or she speaks, then it is difficult for employees to follow because a shifting vision inevitably leads to unstable priorities. Eventually, this results in unclear and even conflicting expectations. When you talk about the future, can your team members expect the same story or does the plot changes with your mood of the day?

(2) Establish Long-term Partnerships
The strength of your vision is dependent on the strength of your relationship with people whom you trust, with team members who share the same worldview and perspective. The saying is true – If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Without an intentional effort to forge long-term partnerships, the pang of loneliness can often set in and dilute the leader’s moral courage to carry on the fight. Most successful organizations are usually founded by two persons with complementary talents – this is the power of two at work. Do you have this this power of leadership at work personally for yourself?

(3) Communicate as a Team
The future can be envisioned by one person. However, it takes a team to translate that vision into reality. Hence, even though your message may be consistent but if you are singing the vision as a soloist, chances are you may run out of breath eventually. The metaphor then is one of conducting an orchestra rather than belting out the tunes entirely on your own breath. This principle is even more needful when an organization goes through challenging times because unity in the leadership team provides the thrust required for the realization of the dream. Communicate your dream as a team, not as an individual.

(4) Be Open to Feedback
You can gain great insight from frequent, regular, and ongoing feedback from other people. Although it can cause a great deal of discomfort, honest input helps create the accurate picture of reality and provide opportunities for adjustments so that elements of impracticality can be weeded out. Since no one individual can mandate a perfectly accurate description of reality, you must draw from many other people’s perceptions to imbue your reality with the deepest possible understanding of its many hues and shades. Remember, other people’s perception of reality, whether you agree with them or not, always add important nuances to your own perception.

(5) Be the Vision Yourself
Nothing communicates a vision of the future more effectively than someone who walks the talk and demonstrates the attitude and behaviour of what it takes to get there. Crafting the vision is the easy part, communicating the compelling case for the vision requires that a leader summon the moral courage to present the story for why the vision should be fulfilled in the first place. It is one thing to craft a vision but quite another to cast it. With the rising aspiration of the younger and talented workforce, employees are now looking for more meaning in their contribution and their loyalty is determined by the integrity of the company’s vision and mission. In other words, employees need to put a face to the vision. Without that personal association between the message and the messenger,  the vision remains as a legalistic reminder, not a motivated energizer.

The Seeing Comes Before the Behaving
Emotions drive attention. Visioning taps on to the hidden potential within the human spirit to rise up above the mundane of daily grind. Adding vision brings meaning and purpose to any activity – the danger to successful leadership is not busyness, rather it is a sense of mindless and routine activities which do not add up to a motivating future. To be busy is not the same as being purposeful. Purpose needs vision and vision can only be birth by leaders who see beyond. Beyond the issues and even beyond themselves.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Unity Comes with Divisiveness

Authentic unity comes with a measure of divisiveness.

When we celebrate Malaysia Day on 16th Sept, we are reminded of our national pride of being a multi-cultural society. Slogans and depictions of different races living in harmony with each other represents the utopia of integration and cohesiveness. While these are all worthwhile images of how things could be, there is a lack of understanding of how to get there. Unity is a look like body building - we all aspire to have that "body" but unwilling to go through the process, effort and sacrifice of "building". Cohesiveness is the structure of what you see, however there is a more fundamental precursor which forms the foundation.

Does tolerance form the foundation of cohesiveness? I beg to humbly differ. In fact, tolerance by itself leads to an accumulated state of unresolved, unspoken grievances and misunderstanding which can be triggered some time in the future. Tolerance will only makes sense if there is something pre-existing which is deeper. What about love? Surely, love makes the world go round. Yes, love is important - however, love comes in many shapes an sizes - what is the basis and foundation by which you define love? What is loving to one person might not be loving to the other.

Foundation 1: The Courage to Face the Truth
Superficiality is the curse of our age - Richard Foster.

The can be no unity without first taking a real hard look at our current situation of disunity. The courage to face the truth can be summed up in one word - honesty. With so many policies being in place by government leaders around the world to rein in elements of disunity, there is the tendency to neglect the foundational truth about integrity - honesty is the best policy. In this age of open communication, the constituents of any nation cannot be easily fooled by superficial policies or slogans. There is a fundamental need to first come clean on the elements of disunity, then we can begin the task or rebuilding.   

The obstacle of "coming clean" often lies not with the mind-set of the followers - it usually resides in the thinking of the leaders. There is the blind spot of thinking that all is well when the grassroots are feeling otherwise. It is no wonder then that companies are now churning up their efforts to survey their employees for the state of engagement and connectedness. In Gallup's worldwide study of the state of engagement in 2013, it is revealed that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged. The state of cohesiveness (or the lack of it) is a serious issue which requires the first step of honest reflection. When leaders humbly reflect on the real state of the union, then there is hope.

The false sense of security - thinking that all is well when it is actually not - is produced when the leaders surround themselves with advisors who are more concerned with guarding their personal agenda rather than addressing the real needs of the followers. To put it figuratively, leaders who are disconnected from their followers seek advisors who tickle their ears with affirming feedback rather than truthful messages.

If you are committed to face the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Seek feedback from your followers – especially the influential ones. Look beyond personality differences and be open to receive honest comments (knowing that the truth often hurts but if dealt with objectively, it will have a healing effect).
2.       Sincerely apologize – people are inspired by authenticity. Although charisma gets your message across, it is sincerity that moves people towards cohesiveness. In other words, be humble.

Foundation 2: The Courage to Forge the Truth
Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.
-  Horace Greeley.

Nothing disperses cohesiveness as quickly as a hypocritical leader. Most organizations spend tremendous effort in crafting their vision and mission, hoping that correct copywriting would translate into passionate responses from their employees. Yet, this is not balanced with an equal emphasis on ensuring that leaders are constantly held accountable to demonstrate the mission. How can leaders expect the cohesiveness of walking in common direction if they themselves do not walk the talk?

In my many client engagements, the most common request I get is to provide teambuilding solutions. A factory manager once requested that I produce a two day teambuilding program to “fix” the morale and cohesiveness of the production team and yet when I inquired about the participation from the teams’ supervisors – the response was that the supervisors are too busy to attend, he wanted me as an external consultant to fix the problem on behalf of the supervisors. In other words, please babysit my people and “turn them around” in my absence. Leadership is more caught than taught. Please do not expect integration and cohesiveness from your team members if you don’t even regularly show up. In fact, research from Gallup indicates that as far as engagement is concern, a negative manager performs better than an absent manager.

If you are committed to forge the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Stand up for your team – it is common practice that we stand up for our clients and advocate their needs. Why not we demonstrate the same commitment to protect and advance the needs of our employees as well?
2.       Speak up against corruption – not just on issues of bribery or monetary malpractices but also on matters of injustice and deviations from agreed standards. Cohesiveness is determined not by  soliciting popularity but by standing on right principles.

Conclusion – The Divisiveness of Unity

The uncomfortable truth is this – in order to build unity, there must be a clear division between right and wrong. Unless leaders provides clarity about the current situation (facing the truth, acknowledging the deviations from right standards) and commitment to lead by example (forging the truth, demonstrating right behaviour and attitudes), then we only have an appearance of integration and cohesiveness because it is unity that is built on shaky grounds. John Maxwell is right – everything rises and falls on leadership.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How is your ESR (Employee Sustainability Rituals) score?

High performance is a simple equation – make sure that the expectations set are always increasing, never stagnant or decreasing. In all of my coaching and consulting assignments to date, I have yet to meet a leader who would welcome in the new year with lower expectation of performing indicators! On the contrary, the projected performance is almost always on the uptrend, moving further from the past and rallying everyone to up their game to the next level.

But do employees really want to or even feel that they are up to it?  

Setting the key performance indicators is the easy job for managers but firing up the motivational level of the troops to scale the wall of ever increasing expectations is quite another challenge. In fact, this is what distinguishes the good manager from the great manager – the good manager creates the measurement while the great manager creates the motivation. While the organization is busy thinking about CSR activities, it will be to its advantage to be considering ESR initiatives as well – Employee Sustainability Rituals.

Unlike CSR projects, employee sustainability is more of a ritual rather than just a set of loosely crafted activities. The saying is true – if you take care for your employees, they will then take care of the customers. Your investment into your clients and even into the community begin by first investing in your employees. There are two principles all managers need to keep in mind to ensure a respectable “ESR score”.

ESR Principle 1: Fit Before Performance
According to Gallup, workers who believe they're a poor fit for their jobs are unlikely to agree that they have opportunities to do what they do best every day. Hence, the matter of employee sustainability, whether if they are have that extra reserve to go the second mile and to remain loyal despite challenging circumstances really depends on the health of their job fit.   

Job fit is a function of how an employee respond to this question – “In my job, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” Last year, Gallup released the latest result of their worldwide employee engagement survey which stated that only 15% of employees are engaged. Think about it – 85% of employees come to work, just to work. When these employees are asked to meet rising expectations, will they come to work not only with their hands and feet but with their hearts and minds intact as well? When it comes to sustainability, you need more than just the job description to keep the employee engaged – think about it – when was the last time you heard of someone being tremendously motivated just by reading his or her job description?

 Great organizations look beyond job descriptions to consider the matter of job fit. Fit is a more delicate and personal ingredient of employee sustainability because it deals not with what the employee does but who the employee is. In other words, what motivates you as a person (not as an employee)? Gallup reports that an employee who is giving the opportunity to focus on what he or she does best every day is six times more engaged (Source: Gallup Worldwide Engagement Survey, 2012). In other words, leaders and managers today need to create a work environment whereby there is flexibility in adjusting the job description around a person’s personal talent and strength. Employees become a mis-fit when they are forced to squeeze their personal strengths into a job function that they cannot own and resonate with. In other words, the job is laden with measurements that not integrated with personal motivation.

Here are the two diagnostic questions to ascertain job fit in your company:
1.       Do I have a method to identity my employees’ talents?
2.       Do I have a team of managers who can coach and develop others according to personal strengths?

ESR Principle 2: Consistency After Commitment
It is easy to commit. It is easy to produce a rah-rah speech and cajole everyone to sign up for a certain level of commitment. But what will maintain the momentum of that commitment? Just because the commitment is visible does not mean that it will be valued.

Here is where the practice of consistency comes in. Consistency has to do with the fundamental response to two basic scenarios that will send a clear message as to whether we are serious about the commitments which were made. The two scenarios are:

1.       When people do what is right, are they recognized?
2.       When people do what is wrong, are they reprimanded?

According to Gallup, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they will leave their company in the next year (Source: 12 Elements of Great Managing, Gallup). The matter of recognition is such a basic human need that it has become a major blind-spot for managers as the fast-paced and gruelling work environment create a tunnel-vision where meeting the bottom line supercede the human factor of being attentive to the emotional need for recognition.

One of the most effective ways of improving recognition of employees is to discover how they would like to receive feedback. Here is where an individualized approach is key to a manager’s role is ensuring sustainability. Not everyone is excited about receiving a certificate of achievement. A shopping voucher given in an insincere manner might not motivate consistent performance. Hence, before a manager becomes too quick to hand out the rewards, he or she need to spend some time to study the personality and preferences of every individual employee. The great manager is someone who would first study his team members well before studying the scope of the performance required. We all have a fundamental desire to be known and appreciated as unique individuals. When employees do what is right and they meet expectations of performance or go the extra mile, take effort to recognize them consistently in a way that matters to them.

While recognition sends out a clear, motivating message, we also need the other aspect of consistency as well – that is the practice of reprimanding when things go wrong. Human nature is such that people need to see a sense of fairness and justice in the way that leadership actions are taken in the organization. If an organization consistently closes a blind eye to wrong doing and ignores warnings of standards not met, then it is headed towards being a corrupted culture. History affirms that a corrupted culture is not a sustainable culture. The right thing to do then is to create a culture of accountability. Herein lies the challenge – accountability cannot be created in the absence of justified reprimanding of those who do wrong. When actions are not taken against those who defy the commitment the team, then it sends a de-motivating message to those who do.

Effective leadership requires that we be comfortable not only in dishing out the rewards but also in demanding accountability and compliance to what is agreed upon. Your ability to convey the truth with a genuine attitude of care and concern is key. Having accountability conversations is never easy but it is more manageable if we take the following practices into consideration:
·         Deal with the wrong doing as soon as it arises. The longer you wait, the offender will interpret your silence as leniency and acceptance of his or her misbehaviour.
·         Obtain the testimony of witnesses. Do not take any rash or harsh actions on your own. Talk to others and get verification and supporting evidences because you cannot be perceived as being partial or vindictive in your approach.

Conclusion: Energy and Expectations

Employee Sustainability Rituals (ESR) is about ensuring that the energy level of every employee rises in tandem with the expectations of high performance. If there are no rituals within your organization that looks into the issue of job fit and consistent recognition and reprimanding, then you might be unconsciously moving in the direction of having a disengaged culture. As you implement measurements to keep track of performance, you would do well to consider the matter of employee sustainability by integrating practices and habits of motivation as well because first and foremost, we are in the people business.