Skip-Level Meetings: Mining for Feedback

Skip-level meetings are conducted by an organization leader to get to know people and obtain information from people who are one or more levels removed from him or her in the organization hierarchy.  The “skipped” level of management is NEVER invited to skip-level meetings.   One-on-one Skip-level meetings are great ways to get to know people in your organization, but can also be time-consuming and create the potential for meeting with some people and not others, which can create negative feelings throughout the organization.  Instead, you can choose round-table skip-levels, where you invite everyone from a targeted group – not including immediate managers, of course.

The first, and most important, rule of thumb is that if you cannot be open to feedback, honest about your intentions, and willing to hear any comments without getting defensive or retaliatory – it is better to avoid skip-levels completely.  Doing them poorly is worse than not doing them at all.  Follow the general guidelines below to plan and follow-through on your skip-level group meetings.

  • Planning: Decide on logistics – length of meeting, questions you plan to ask, statements you might make (keep them brief; this is not about you).  Define the schedule for the meetings – making sure to schedule when most of the target team is likely to be present – and when your schedule is less likely to be subject to change.  Rescheduling skip-levels without really good reasons reflects badly on you.
  • Invitations:  Prepare a written invitation to your proposed attendees.  The invitation should identify the purpose of the meeting, general commitment to confidentiality, request the invitee’s participation, and request an R.S.V.P (attending this meeting should not be mandatory).
  • Notify “Skipped” Managers:  While immediate managers are NEVER invited to skip-levels, they should know that the meeting is taking place.  Make sure you instruct the “skipped” managers to avoid questioning their team members about the skip-level meeting before or after it takes place.  You may need to be very clear that they are not to create any situation that would cause a team member any degree of discomfort or fear as a result of participating in the meeting.
  • Conduct the Meeting:
    • At the beginning of the meeting, state the expectations of confidentiality.  Make a promise to keep the discussion “in the room” and ask for the same promise from all participants.
    • If notes are allowed, set the rules about that at the beginning (see information about sharing notes, later in this list).
    • State the purpose of the meeting (even if it was in the invitation): For example, to identify issues, collect feedback, get to know people, provide a venue for members to ask you questions, create a conversation around organizational goals, get a better understanding of day-to-day activities, get a better understanding of the perceptions of team members, etc.
    • If anyone else is in the room besides yourself and the invited participants (e.g., HR, secretary, etc.), define their role (e.g, taking notes, etc.) and obtain the confidentiality promise from them also.
    • Be an extraordinary listener – Do not attempt to justify, explain, or defend yourself or any member of your leadership team during this meeting.  When a participant is talking, ask questions for clarification only.  If an issue comes up that you have no intention of changing or correcting, be open and direct about that.
    • If you take notes during the meeting, or allow anyone to take notes during the meeting – put all the notes on the table and give all participants a chance to look at them.  This engages some trust from the participants and gives everyone a chance to comment if notes appear to identify a speaker.  If any notes are identified as inappropriate (e.g., identify or make it clear who said what) confiscate the notes.  Have the notes summarized by someone outside the organization or someone who can be trusted to keeps specifics out.
    • About five minutes before the meeting is to end, thank everyone for their participation.  To let everyone know you were listening, summarize what you heard and took from the comments (do not explain or defend).  Tell the group that you will review your notes and your thoughts and report back to the participants with additional comments and action plans by a specific date, which should be within a few days following the meeting.
    • Give participants an anonymous feedback form at the end of the meeting. On that form, ask them if they felt the meeting was effective, if your behaviors were respectful, if they believe anything will happen as a result of the meeting, if they would be interested in attending similar sessions, how often they would like these meetings, etc.  Most importantly, ask them for any additional comments or feedback.  These meetings can be intimidating, especially if trust is already an issue in the organization.  Ask for the feedback forms to be collected by one member of the participant team and returned to you by the end of the business day or by noon the next day, so you can include that information in your review.
    • Review: Go over the information you collected.  Spend time immediately after the meeting jotting down your thoughts.  Be sure to avoid identifying anyone with their comments in your notes.  Analyze the information, including the feedback forms, and identify potential actions you might take to create improvements.  Also, write responses to clarify or explain things that cannot change.  Remember, it is not always improvements employees want to see – it may be that they just need more communication.
    • Action Planning:  Define and document your action items (this should include what you will do differently, what practices you will put in place, and what policies will be amended, etc., along with time lines).  Put that and your additional comments in a memo and share it with the meeting participants and the “skipped” managers.  Be sure invite on-going feedback and comments.  This will help create a culture of trust and open communication in your organization.
    • Follow Up:  Check in with employees periodically to review the action items and see if improvements were made and had the expected impact.

For assistance with facilitating skip-level meetings or coaching you on the process and follow-though, please contact Doreen Petty Coaching through www.coachingtheboss.com, via e-mail to info@coachingtheboss.com, or by phone to 630-995-0317.

The Importance of Self-Audits in Your Business

This should be a no-brainer:  Surprises are great at birthday parties but not so much in a business situation.  In fact, the wrong kind of surprise can ring a death knoll for a small business.  As a business owner or manager, how much of your time do you spend making sure you know enough about what’s going on around you to be sure surprises are few and far between?

Even good surprises in business flag potential problems.  Sales are up 30% quarter over quarter!!  Yay!!  Wait a minute, how did we not see that coming?  What’s wrong with our planning, metrics, and market analysis that we missed the signs?  Is this growth sustainable?  Aren’t these the questions you would be asking after such a nice surprise?

Bad surprises are even worse.  Sales are down.  We just lost our best employee to a competitor.  The employee we fired is suing us for wrongful termination.  We are being audited by the EEOC, or the IRS, or (and this can be the most painful) our state’s Unemployment Insurance Division!!!!  What do we do now?  Did we actually do something wrong?  What might this cost? How could we have avoided this?

While you cannot avoid every problem and you cannot prevent every surprise, you can hedge your bets and be sure that you are the first one to find out about any problematic issues.  And amazingly enough, it is not that difficult.  Take a tip from large corporations: Conduct your own internal audits on processes, policies, and programs.  If you don’t have the properly trained staff or the expertise to do this, contract it out.

What should you be auditing?  Start with the employee handbook – this is the foundation document defining the relationship between your company and your employees.  It is how your employees know what to expect from their entire employee experience.  From there you can look at staffing, compensation, program administration, benefits, state & federal compliance policies, performance management, training, and so on.  Where there is a process, policy, or program, there is an audit waiting to happen.

Identifying potential problems internally means you get to fix them internally.  This article is not entirely altruistic – my company conducts these audits, primarily in support of small businesses in the United States.  However, there are plenty of other mechanisms and consulting firms in your local arena to help you – if you don’t know how to find them, check in with me and I will help direct you (yes, it is that important).  This doesn’t have to be expensive.  Self-audits can take less than a day or several weeks, depending on the size and scope of the business.  You should be able to negotiate a price for the project rather than a by-the-hour price, once your consultant reviews your situation (and that initial review should be free and come with a confidentiality agreement).

One fundamental truism about the human condition is that we don’t know what we don’t know.  As a business owner or manager, if you find yourself explaining your processes and actions to a court of law, you will find that it is ‘what you should have known’ that matters.  Conducting self-audits of your business processes, policies, and programs helps you grow what you know and shrink your chances for unpleasant surprises.

Basic Truisms about People and Work

Let me preface this article by writing that none of what you will read here should come as an epiphany to anyone.  The interaction of humans and work throughout time is embedded with basic truisms, facts that exist on their own merit, without regard to any characteristics of the worker or the work.  The truisms are not listed in any order of importance, except in terms of when they popped up in my mind as I began writing this article.

  1. People work to achieve some purpose.
  2. People need to know that they are valued for the work they do.
  3. There is always something about their work that people like.
  4. There is always something about their work that people dislike.

That’s it.  You might have expected more of a list of Basic Truisms about work – but it is these four factors that define the foundation of what a manager needs to know about the people he or she supports.   The key is to understand that the Basic Truisms are unique for every individual.  As a leader, your job is to make other people more successful (another Basic Truism, but for a different list).  A worker’s job is to contribute to the success of the organization or system within which he or she works.   As a leader or manager of people, if you can answer the questions posed by the Basic Truisms, you can help people achieve happiness at work – and you will benefit through greater productivity and less heartburn.  So, make a list for everyone on your team and answer the following questions.  Let’s start with Joe:

  1. What is Joe’s purpose for working here?  What does he want to achieve?
  2. How do I make sure that Joe feels valued for who he is and the work he does?
  3. What does Joe like about his work?
  4. What does Joe dislike about his work?

Understand that questions 3 and 4 are NOT about performance, but rather about functions, tasks, environment, etc.  Joe may not like that he has a long commute to work.  He may love that he gets to work with fun people.   Be careful to avoid assumptions.  Not everyone with a long commute dislikes that part of work.  Some people actually like spending time on a train to get their thoughts in order or catch up on work – or maybe just unwind and talk with other passengers.  As a manager of people, you can choose to help maximize what a person likes about his or her job – and minimize what he or she dislikes.  However, you can’t help anyone find options to balance likes and dislikes, if you don’t know what they are.  The same is true for purpose.

Joe’s purpose for working may be simply to pay the bills – to finance his family’s needs and wants.  Or, Joe’s true purpose might be about ambition and climbing a corporate ladder.    He may want to achieve a degree of mastery on his job.  Or, he may just want his job to demand nothing more than he can comfortably give in his 8-hour shift.  The ambitious Joe will need opportunities for development and goals that stretch his learning.  The “let me do my job and go home” Joe just wants enough resources to do his job well and no overwhelming amount of work that causes undue stress.  Joe’s desired achievements or purpose for work will dictate your actions as a manager, which brings us to the value portion of our Basic Truisms.

What are you doing to make sure everyone on your team feels valued?  How do you know whether or not they feel valued?  Regular positive feedback and recognition helps: If you catch people doing good things often enough, and tell them about it – good things will soon become great things.  Be careful here also, because people differ in terms of what kinds of recognition they want (and it doesn’t have to be about money).  A good skill to develop is making sure you separate your constructive comments from your positive feedback.  Corrective feedback and positive feedback are like two sides of the same coin – you cannot look at both at the same time.  A comment like, “great job on that report, too bad you didn’t do last week’s report the same way” will ensure that the “great job” comment becomes completely worthless.  Think about people walking around with a container that shows how valued they feel that day. Imagine that every interaction provides you with another opportunity to fill that container.  Can you fill that container every day?

As a manager, you directly contribute to the experience people have at work.  By answering the questions posed by the Basic Truisms for each individual in your organization, you begin a process of choosing behaviors that contribute to each person’s happiness at work.   Happy people tend to be more productive, and are certainly easier and more fun to work with.  By now, you are probably wondering how you can answer these questions and understand the individual needs and wants of people in your workplace.  There is one more Basic Truism:  If you want to know something, ask.  Sit down with each person and create a discussion around these questions.  Let your team members know why you are asking and how you will use the information.  Finally, don’t let it stop there – follow through.

“Us” and “Them” – Memories of 9/11

I hope I can be forgiven for using this blog to reminisce about where I was and what I was thinking about on 9/11/2001.  Too many people across the world live with terrorism as a constant possibility in their day-to-day lives.  Most people in the U.S. did not understand that reality until 9/11.  I was working on a graduate degree in Psychology in 2001 during the attacks.  It was an on-line program, with lots of written communication in a virtual, 24/7 classroom.  You won’t be surprised, I expect, when I say that the events of the day were utmost in every student’s mind, regardless of where in the world they happened to be.  The following is something I wrote on the evening of 9/11, part of which I used in my on-line classroom.

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“Us” and “Them” – these two small words are responsible for mayhem throughout history.  “Us,” represents all that is good and worthwhile, and “Them,” all that is evil and deviant.  Somehow in the human psyche, we must find a way to evolve the “Them” into a bigger “Us.”  Eradication is not the answer – genocide is a part of history that we were supposed to learn from and avoid.  That is a lesson that we have yet to learn.  It’s all in the perspective.  Everyone in the world is part of an “Us” and everyone in the world is part of a “Them.”  We can’t ask all the “Them’s” to become “Us’s” – to their perspective, they already are!  Maybe the answer is to find a way to get everyone committed to creating a new “Us” one person at a time if needs be.

Things like today’s tragedy at the World Trade Center happen because one group of people cannot accept another group of people. Throughout history, belief systems coupled with intolerance (and a general unwillingness to learn) have made war possible.  Someone on the news today said that the US must learn why some Muslim cultures have such a bad opinion of us.  That may be true – but no amount of bad opinions provides an excuse for today’s attack.  I want to learn, but the price is pretty steep.

I am more cynical than many of my friends, I think.  I believe that the instincts the human race has developed over the millennia are designed to protect us and our ability to propagate.   As a species, we are instinctively aggressive and perfectly willing to break whatever rule of law or God that we can rationalize or get away with.  If you think this is untrue, think about it the next time you or someone you know speeds on the expressway.  Yes, I know everyone does it and it’s safer to move with the traffic, and as long as I’m careful I can watch out for the idiots.  Recognize the rationalization?  If we disagree with a law or a rule of ethics, does that mean we can violate it without regard to the beliefs or rights of others?

We have to fight with ourselves, peer-pressure, and society to be good.  Fortunately, most of us end up choosing “good” and develop a capacity for love, affection, and altruism.  Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who will readily blow up buildings, take advantage of others for a profit, steal from others, hurt people who they perceive as weaker, and do any number of other nasty things.  Some people will do anything for a cause or a profit – even when the result is the deliberate destruction of people (e.g., tobacco companies, drug lords, terrorists) or the environment (e.g., ozone depletion, rainforest deforestation).  Sometimes, people use their religion to justify a perception of superiority, a higher order of being, in ways that are not supported by any religious text I’ve ever read.  War is a kind of mob action – it might start with the actions of individuals, but it cannot sustain itself without a powerful in-group mentality.  War and other destructive behaviors happen because everyone who is part of an “us” points fingers at everyone who is part of a “them.”  What we need to learn is that when we point one finger at someone else, three fingers point back.

Most of the time, I can see in people more good than bad.  Most of the time, I see that there are more similarities than differences in people, no matter where they are from.  However, I find myself unable to see past what some people were willing and able to do today – and in the name of their God.   I understand the psychology of it, but I can’t fathom the humanity of it.   What will be the eventual outcome of the tragic events of September 11, 2001?  I can’t imagine, but I expect it will be decades before we can truly understand where these events will lead the world.  I hope I am still around to find out if we finally find a way for everyone to be an “Us.”

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Now we are ten years past 9/11.  Some of the people involved in planning and funding the attacks are dead and others have taken their place.  We still send our soldiers to war and the reasons are sources of debate still.  In commemoration of the events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks suffered by people throughout the world, I wish for a different reality for everyone.  I wish for a world where comparisons amongst people are only about what our differences can do to enhance our relationships and our futures.  A reality where our similarities are recognized as links to each other and our differences are no more than a reason to get to know someone better.  I wish for a world where everyone realizes that our globe is populated only by “us.”

Doreen Petty

As a Leader, What’s Your Job?

Over the years, I’ve asked my leadership clients this question in various forms, “What’s your job?”  I’ve gotten lots of different answers, from “What do you mean?” to a litany of functional or operational responses that related more to the work of the people they led than to themselves.  Several clients cut right to the chase and said, “My job is to go to meetings” – tongue in cheek, but real none the less.

I’ve  looked at quotes about and definitions of leadership from management theory, psychology research, and philosophy.  Humans have studied leadership a great deal and have done so for centuries if you count back to the ancient writings of Sun-Tzu and Lao-Tzu, among others.  It was Lao-Tzu who said, and I paraphrase, that the best leaders are those who others don’t notice too much – so, when the leader’s work is done, employees can say they accomplished the goal themselves.  The implication being that the leader seeks accolades for the team rather than for herself or himself.  A quote from Sun-tzu implies a similar strategy, “A leader leads by example, not by force.”  Leading by force, which implies a negative energy, is more overtly noticeable than leading by example.  By leading in such a way, it is the employees’ actions and accomplishments that are noticed.

More recent definitions of leadership are more practical and arguably less philosophical.  Some of my favorite pithy quotes are from author Peter Drucker.  Drucker wrote that, “the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers,” which sounds more like a criteria than a definition.  However, he also wrote that, “. . . leadership is defined by results, not attributes.”    Ralph Stogdill, in his Handbook of Leadership (originally published in 1974 and updated several times with a second author), wrote that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are people trying to define it.  The definition requires consideration of the perspective and the context. An effective leader in a military boot camp may not be as effective a leader for a community center, at least if you ask the people being led.

Peter Northouse, in his book “Leadership: Theory and Practice,” discussed some fundamental truths about leadership, which he defined as, “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”   It requires influence – something has to be different with a leader than without, or leadership doesn’t exist.  It occurs in groups.  It requires attention to goals – leadership facilitates progress towards a desired future, as defined by goals.  If we espouse Drucker’s definition, then we should add that leadership requires something to lead (but, by itself, that can apply to Border Collies leading sheep, also).

This all comes down to one point, really – do we need to define leadership in order to know what it is?  If leadership is about the impact, or influence, one person has on other people,  isn’t it about the results of that influence?  So leadership is really about how followers feel about the influence of leadership and whether or not the results benefit them, the followers, in significant ways.  So, as a leader – Will you lead from your own perspective or from the perspective of those you lead? 

To conclude, let me offer my own perspective on the job of leadership.  The job of a leader is to make other people more successful.  You can quote me on that.

Doreen Petty

Bonus question:  It’s all over the internet, but who said it first?  “A leader without any followers is just a person out for a walk?”

Thinking Outside The Box? Think Again.

Someone said to me today that I was “thinking outside the box.”  The context doesn’t matter, but it brought up in my mind an old discussion with myself.  The first time I heard that phrase, I laughed because I thought it was a play on words about someone with a square brain.  Actually, it had something to do with a puzzle called the “Nine Dots.”The idea of the puzzle was to draw no more than four straight lines through nine dots on a page without lifting your pencil and without passing through any given dot more than once.  The only solution was to draw the lines so they extended beyond the “box” created by the Nine-Dot structure, like so:

According to Wikipedia, the Nine-Dots puzzle showed up as a learning tool in 1969 and may have originated within the Disney Institute.  The concept of “thinking outside the box,” as most everyone probably knows, means to think differently, in ways that challenge current expectations and assumptions.  The puzzle itself , by the way, was first published in 1914, which means it took approximately 55 years for someone to “think outside the box” enough to make the connection between the puzzle’s most likely solution and the conception of lateral or creative thinking.  This is now in the toolkit of most every coach and management consultant – as it is a great illustration of how to see beyond what you  are programmed to see by your own experiences, memories, assumptions, culture, and expectations about your environment and your future.  All of these components that make up what you believe can be like a fortress of thought in your brain because your strongest beliefs are those you don’t remember learning.

Which brings me to my point.  The solution to the puzzle was not really to simply draw lines outside the “box.”  In my opinion, the solution was to ignore the fact that the box existed at all – and look at the problem presented in the puzzle as simply nine dots on a page.  People who can ignore the shape of a given reality are really taking a pass on giving a label to anything just because it happens to look like something else.  It is a direct challenge to practically subconscious thought processes. These people are the creative, free-form thinkers.

Some people are born that way – but everyone can train their brains to identify assumptions as they make them and challenge them on the spot.  It is not easy, but it is quite simple.  Making any kind of change, and especially when changing the way we think, the process needs to be simple so it is easily recalled and brought forth.  When we practice long enough, we can do it seemingly without conscious thought – like any habit.

How do you do it? The next time you have a conscious opinion of something – stop and ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation?” (a person, a TV show, a politician, the driver in the car in front of you, etc.).  To make it even simpler, you can ask “What do I believe about this?”  When you can answer the question (and you may not be able to do it right away), go on to ask, “What could be different if I did not believe this or if I did not have these assumptions?”

When you get better at challenging your beliefs and assumptions of everyday situations, try it with decisions.  When you are faced with a decision and have a set of options, ask yourself, “what assumptions am I making about this option?” or “what do I believe about this option?”  This works regardless of the decision making process you use, because every decision making process involves identifying solution options.  When you can honestly identify your assumptions and beliefs, you move on to consider what could be true if you did not have these assumptions and beliefs.  Can you imagine how you might see those options differently?

I think by now, you realize that by challenging your assumptions and beliefs, you are acknowledging that some of these thoughts may not be accurate or valid.  When you can do that, you begin to realize that the whole concept of creative thought is not about “thinking outside the box” but about learning how to ignore the assumption of a box at all.  Only then do all things become possible.

 

Preminiscing: The Art of Seeing the Future like a Memory

In my previous blog, I talked about building a sense of your values before you get serious about  creating goals for your desired future.  Allowing your values to inform the future you choose, helps you avoid disconnect between your internal beliefs, your behaviors, and your future choices.  As I mentioned last time, I believe that goal achievement requires an authentic vision of a desired future – a vision that is real for you, that engages your heart and mind through an emotional connection.  I put forth the analogy with reminiscing as a way to consider seeing the future more distinctly.

Reminiscing is the process of remembering and talking about what has happened in the past, especially related to events such as a child’s first day of school, an exciting vacation, weddings, special birthdays, and even the bittersweet remembering of a lost loved one, etc.  Reminiscing generally involves talking about an event with other people who have experienced that event.  What makes the process special is often the emotional connection to the memories, where talking about them and sharing perceptions re-creates the emotions felt during the original event.

It follows then that there should be a way to create a similar experience of emotionally connecting to an event that hasn’t yet happened – as a way to strengthen one’s commitment to that event as part of a planning and goal setting process. The Urban Dictionary defines preminiscing colloquially as a process of, “collecting your thoughts for your plans for the future and enjoying the thought of them” (see http://bit.ly/kQ75yc).  For our purposes, preminiscing takes on a more active definition. It is the process of thinking and talking about a future state; exploring details about that future in specific ways so as to create an experience similar to the memory of a previous event.  The more distinct and real your future feels to you, the better you will be in setting goals and committing to the actions necessary to get you there.

I have found over the years that the simplest way to preminisce for planning, is to pretend that you are traveling in time to some future date. Generally this would be one year, three years, five years, or more into the future, depending on what you are trying to achieve.  In my experience, goal setting does not start with a blank slate. Instead, we usually have some idea of what we want, either because it’s tied to company expectations or our own needs and wishes. So picking your future timeline simply depends on the complexity of your expectations or wishes.  This process should be fun so start with a light heart and an open mind.  It always helps also to preminisce with at least one other person, keeping in mind that it is the verbal sharing that facilitates an emotional connection.  You may even choose a facilitator for the exercise, someone who will play an external role, such as a reporter come to interview you about your success.

Now you are ready – you have a sense of your values, so you understand what is most important in your life. You have a general sense of what you want to gain or to change in your life.  My favorite way to set up the time travel scenario is to sit in a room with your fellow travelers, close your eyes, and set the stage with some music.  YouTube makes this much easier these days.  I suggest playing some spooky music like the theme song to the Twilight Zone (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b5aW08ivHU) – or choose something more philosophical like ‘Any Road’ by George Harrison (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mePp1l299EE&feature=player_embedded).  When the music stops, open your eyes and begin brainstorming.  If you have a designated facilitator/reporter, that person should start asking questions and encouraging the participants to tell stories about what is true now that time has passed since your goals were set.

The questions should start broadly, defining a general picture, then get more and more specific.  Start with, “Tell me about yourself (or you company)” and “Describe for our readers what you have accomplished.”  Move on to something like, “What made you sure you could succeed when you started?” and “What was the philosophy that got you where you are today?”  As the questions tighten up, they should sound like, “How exactly would you describe the success you have today?” and “Tell me what is different today than when you started.”  More detailed questions get down to more quantitative perceptions, such as “How did you know that you had reached your goals?” and “What exactly did you expect to achieve when you started on this path?”  You can even reach further into creativity with, “What were the greatest surprises during this time?” and “what is next for you?”  Interspersed among these target queries should be explorations of emotional connections, such as “How do you feel about the journey you have taken?” and, when a piece of the conversation refers to something grand or picks up on a potential barrier, add “How did you deal with that emotionally?” or “Can you describe the emotional state of your team when that happened?”

To avoid disrupting the flow of conversation during the exercise, it is best to record the process and transcribe it later.  Once transcribed, the same group should review and revise – adding even more details, continuing with a creative view to that future state.  Keep everything as positive as possible – aim away from negativity, as there will be plenty of time to consider barriers to your plans when you actually start setting goals on paper and morphing them in to an action plan.  Preminiscing is about creating a vision of the future that feels right and that turns possibility into reality.  When you are happy with your vision, pick out specific factors and set goals around them.  Perhaps one item that came up in the conversation was that in the future state, your company profit margins were a sustainable 30%, for example.  Your next step would be to consider what would need to be true to achieve that 30% margin.  For every result defined in your vision, you need to ask, “What needs to be true to make this happen?”

There are lots of goal setting models – but generally the common factor is that you need to know what is true now and have a pretty good idea of what you want in the future.  As Stephen Covey says as one of his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” begin with the end in mind.  You can pick the goal setting tool that works best for you (and I am sure I will talk about some of them in the near future) – but the closer you get to defining an authentic, emotionally charged and detailed future state, the easier you will find it to build goals and set action plans in place.  Preminiscing is a group activity – make it fun and involve the people who are critical to the success you want to achieve.  Having done so, you will find it easier, more enjoyable, and more satisfying to engage these stakeholders in your goal setting process, which goes a long way to joining their commitment to yours as you execute on your vision.

Happy Preminiscing!

Values before Goals

The Center for Creative Leadership (www.ccl.org) is an organization whose primary purpose is to contribute education and research to further the evolution of creative leadership for the benefit of leaders and organizations worldwide.  And they do a really good job of it.  So, when CCL says you really need to address your values before you can set goals effectively, I tend to listen.  Actually, CCL said this a decade ago and continues to support the idea that a clear understanding of your values is critical to the development of goals that will engage your heart, your mind, and therefore, your commitment.  Now that sounds important considering we generally all recognize that goals are necessary to progress.

However, the important thing is, does that make sense to you?  If you are wondering what values really are, consider this:  Values are the things that are most important to you.  They come in different flavors – career values, family values, spiritual values, community values, and personal values.  Values manifest in statements like, “My job needs to leave me time for hobbies and if that means I turn down that next promotion, then so be it.”  If you resonate with that, then you value your free time over hierarchical growth on the job, for example.  Another value-deriving statement might be, “For as long as I can remember, family dinners after church always leave me with a feeling of contentment and love.  I don’t think I could be happy without frequent contact with my family.”  This statement indicates that the speaker values personal relationships and regular contact with family.  This person is unlikely to choose a career path that would take him or her significantly away from family.

I believe the point CCL makes by asking us to understanding our values in order to set goals is that goal setting, by itself, doesn’t actually get anything done.  The goal’s purpose is to help define a desired future state.  The goal must engage our commitment to provide the effort necessary to reach that desired state.   If the goal is not fully backed by values, the goal is missing an emotional connection to our hearts and minds.  So, how do you define your values?  Consider these questions:

  • How do you spend most of your free time?
  • How do you spend most of your time at work?
  • About what are you passionate?
  • When are you the happiest?
  • What activities do you wish you had more time for?
  • What is missing from your life?  . . .  Your career?
  • What do you feel you cannot live without and still be happy?

This is a start.  When you have a sense of your values, in all the flavors mentioned above, then you can start thinking about how you serve those values in your personal and professional life.  Then, you can consider how those values can inform your desired future through goal setting.  However, there is another thing I think is just as important.  Goal achievement requires an authentic vision of your desired future in a way that is real for you, that engages your heart and mind through an emotional connection.  This is not unlike recalling and talking about a particularly happy event, a vacation or wedding for example.  When emotions are tied to the memory of an event, those emotions can be experienced anew by reminiscing about the event – e.g., the happiness of a wedding, the excitement of a fun vacation, etc.

You can use a technique I call, “Preminiscing,” to learn how to think and talk about a future state or event so it becomes real in your mind.  Building expectations for your future through preminiscing can help you define more distinct goals that can evoke a greater sense of commitment.  But, you will have to wait for next time to read about preminiscing.  Have a great time thinking about your values!

Who needs a coach?

Best Advice for Google’s CEO: “have a coach”

Here I am, in my very first blog post, jumping on a band wagon that coaches all over the world are talking and posting about.  Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google – when interviewed for a “Best Advice” video for CNN.Money.com back in December of 2009 – said the advice that stands out in his memory was to “have a coach.”  A board member told him some years back that he needed a coach.  Mr. Schmidt’s immediate response was the same as you might have if told the same thing – What?  Why?  Is something wrong?  The answer, of course, was no – nothing is wrong, but “everyone needs a coach.”

It comes down to a basic concept, if performance matters then coaching matters.  Just ask any athlete.  Coaching, after all, got its start in sports psychology.  A coach’s sole purpose is to make you better at what you do and who you are.  A coach doesn’t do for you, rather he or she helps you do for yourself what you need to do to reach your goals.  The good news is that you will reach your goals faster and more effectively with a coach than without.  As Eric Schmidt noted in his interview, he learned that no one can see themselves as other people see them.  A coach is the mirror that challenges your perceptions and helps you grow the self- and other-awareness necessary to be an even better you.

Interestingly, when clicking on the info button during the video playback (follow the link at the top of the blog), the descriptor reads, “A mentor is crucial to give perspective, says Google CEO.”  Recently, I was talking with a group of 8th graders about coaching.  One factor I discussed was the difference between coaching and other forms of one-on-one helping – including mentoring.  Mentoring is often confused with coaching in the workplace, even frequently used as interchangeable concepts.  Mentors and coaches are both helpers, but mentors are likely to be focused on career growth and can be directive with advice and counsel.  The best coaches are rarely directive.  A coach will push and prod with a smile and an iron will.  He or she will ask powerful questions to drive your understanding of your wants and needs to a new level.  If you want to be like Eric Schmidt and find out what that means for you, call a coach and get started!

My name is Doreen Petty and I am a professional coach.  I run a business that offers both leadership coaching and HR consulting, focusing primarily on business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs.  Combining coaching and HR consulting into one practice provides business owners with a holistic perspective on their own performance and that of their organization.  This blog seeks to provide insight to business owners from my perspective, having a business and psychology background, with experience spanning over 20 years in corporate HR and leadership coaching.  I hope you will enjoy reading my posts as much as I will enjoy writing them.