Almost 25 years ago, an article in ‘Business’ magazine described the ten qualities employees most wanted their bosses to possess. A lot has changed in the world since then, but these (with some updating by me) still look good.
1. Establishing organization clarity
a. Establishing clear goals and standards
b. Communicating group (not just individual) goals
c. Involving people in setting goals (not just dictating them)
d. Delegate responsibility clearly
2. Encouraging open, two-way communication
a. Open and candid when dealing with people
b. Honest, direct and to the point
c. Establishing a climate of openness and trust
3. Willingness to coach and support people
a. Supportive and helpful
b. Working constructively (and decisively) to correct performance problems
c. Going to bat for subordinates
4. Providing ‘objective’ recognition
a. Recognize good performance more often than criticizing performance problems
b. Tying rewards to excellence of job performance (vs seniority or personal relationships)
5. Establishing ongoing controls
a. Following up in a timely manner
b. Giving ‘real-time’ feedback on how subordinates are doing
6. Selecting (and keeping) the right people
a. Both bringing the ‘right’ people on and exiting those who don’t fit
7. Understanding the financial implications of decisions
8. Encouraging innovation and new ideas
a. Surprisingly, this was seen as important regardless of how conservative or traditional the company
9. Making decisions and ensuring the organization executes successfully
10. Demonstrating high levels of integrity
a. Doing the ‘right’ thing, both internally an externally
Anything you would add or omit? Which one is the most important to you?
I’m the guest author in the June edition of the STRe Solutions Newsletter. You can find the entire newsletter here, or read my article below.
What’s your secret for keeping your best employees engaged and motivated?
In the classic business book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins states that to be effective, organizations need to first get “the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive.” In essence, who you have on your team, is more important for the organization’s success than where you are headed and how you get there.
While I agree that getting the right people on the bus is as critical today as it was back in 2001 when “Good to Great” was first published, today’s leaders are faced with more complicated challenges.
Most companies have done a good job hiring highly talented, super-smart people. Especially in today’s economy, finding the “who” is not the problem. Where they struggle is keeping them engaged and focused on the “where” and the “how”. To say it another way, you can have strong individual players, but unless there is an overarching purpose that requires them to become a team, little will be accomplished.
For this to happen, organizations need to be two things.
First, they need to be smart. Smart organizations have the basics: Sales, Finance, HR, R&D, Product Development, IT, Services, Support, etc… — all the bits and pieces that keep a company running. The truth is most companies are plenty smart. In today’s world though, that’s not enough.
Organizations have to be more than smart — they have to be healthy as well.
Healthy organizations have low politics (not no politics — but politics that don’t get in the way). They have high morale, engaged employees, and no surprise, they have high productivity. Another thing I see in a healthy organization is a lack of confusion about where the company is going and how what every employee is doing fits.
I saw this time and time again in my 13 years with Federal Express where employees would regularly do amazing things to ensure that our customers were getting the service they expected — delivering critical payroll checks in a blizzard and completing customer pick-ups during the Loma Prieta earthquake are just two of many examples.
The trap that many companies fall into is that you can’t do one without the other and you can’t think about them separately. For organizations to be effective, you must embed the smart stuff with the healthy stuff, keeping the right people engaged and productive.
Employee engagement happens when four things occur:
* The Leadership Team is aligned and cohesive
* There is absolute clarity about the organization’s direction (strategy)
* Every person in the organization understands how what they do fits with the strategy
* Organization policies and practices support the above (this does not happen nearly enough)
One of my favorite quotes is from General Norman Schwarzkopf, who I heard speak not long after Desert Storm. He said: “Great leaders never tell people how to do their jobs. They set the goals and establish the framework. Lousy leaders think they know it all, and all the while, their organizations sit there, aquiver with potential.”
What are some of your best practices for keeping the right people on the bus? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Once a month, I have the opportunity to spend a half day with about 10 CEO’s from a variety of different businesses, talking about issues they are facing and sharing perspectives. It’s a great group who really care about each other and offer thoughtful, insightful advice. Last month, on a whim, I asked them to share the best business advice they had ever received. Here’s what they had to say:
“Don’t do Retail”
“Don’t take it personally”
“Hire slow, fire fast”
“Hire people with good judgment”
“Don’t try to do everything”
“Make sure you know your cash position on Friday”
“You’ve got to do what’s right”
“Keep the ‘main thing’ the main thing”
That’s the question posed to Jim Collins (best-selling author of ‘Good to Great’, ‘Built to Last’, etc.) that became the inspiration for his latest book, How the Mighty Fall.
In the cover story of the May 25th edition of Business Week, Collins identifies the FIVE STAGES of corporate decline, and how organizations at (almost) any stage can identify where they are and correct. In the article, Collins goes into these in greater depth, but here they are briefly:
• STAGE 1: HUBRIS BORN OF SUCCESS, or success borne from entitlement. In this stage, companies attribute their success to their knowledge and ‘smarts’, failing to understand the real reasons why they have done so well, including the acknowledgement of luck and chance.
• STAGE 2: UNDISCIPLINED PURSUIT OF MORE. Here companies begin to compromise on their values or lose sight of who they really are, in the pursuit of the latest ‘big’ thing. In this stage, expansion is undisciplined and few (if any) restrictions are put on adding more and more infrastructure and resources.
• STAGE 3: DENIAL OF RISK AND PERIL, which begins when warning signs begin to appear, but are discounted. Positive data is amplified and ambiguous data is either neutralized or looked at in its most positive light. The light at the end of the tunnel is daylight ahead for sure. Another sign of this stage is when leaders choose to blame external factors for failures versus accepting responsibility.
• STAGE 4: GRASPING FOR SALVATION, or grasping for the ‘silver bullet’ solution. By then the signals of decline are visible to all and the company jolts around reactively In some cases, they bring in a high profile CEO to turn things around; in others, a bold new product or ‘life-saving’ acquisition (think AOL/Times Warner). Here Collins believes the solution is not more but less – he says, “If you want to reverse decline, be rigorous about what not to do”.
• STAGE 5: CAPITULATION TO IRRELEVANCE OR DEATH, when the continuous setbacks and false starts become too much, and the organization loses its spirit, becomes irrelevant or, in the most extreme cases, is gone forever.
According to Collins, while it is possible to survive and even thrive from the depths of Stage 4 (“Our research indicates that organizational decline is largely self-inflicted, and recovery largely within our own control”), once an organization gets to Stage 5, there is no turning back.
When you think about the challenges/opportunities your organization is currently facing, how would you know…?
P.S. At the end of the article, Collins uses Ann Mulcahy as an example of a leader who pulled her company out of the depths of Stage 4, when most had given Xerox up as lost. See my previous blog for some additional perspectives on how she did it.
When Anne Mulcahy took over as head of Xerox in 2001, few believed that anyone could save the company, particularly an unknown ‘insider’ with limited financial acumen, who had joined the company right out of college. The company was facing bankruptcy, in the midst of a SEC investigation, and was staggered with a debt load of $19 billion. Despite all these obstacles, succeed she did, bringing Xerox back to profitability by 2005 and out of debt by 2006. In a speech Mulcahy gave at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, she had this to say about her success: “The best high-performing companies aren’t typically led by big name CEO’s, but by leaders who build great teams. When people ask me how this company made so much progress so quickly, I think they want to hear that there was something particularly brilliant about the strategy or the planning. The reality is: it was the alignment of the people around a common set of goals.”
Baxter International’s CEO, Robert Parkinson, who was named by Forbes as one of 2008’s ‘Best CEO’s You Don’t Know’, credited his company’s success to its clear focus and discipline. In the article, he was quoted as saying, “Too often organizations get distracted by competition, economic uncertainty or growth for growth’s sake. A successful leader is able to keep the organization focused on its priorities and relentless execution of its strategy.”
When I was Chief Administrative Officer at Hyperion during the height of the dot com implosion, we were able to course-correct only after the executive team aligned ourselves and the company around ‘1 – 3 – 5’; ONE clear vision of the future (Desired Future State), THREE ‘over-arching’ Business Priorities, and FIVE Strategic Assaults.
What are your experiences and/or learnings about successfully managing through crisis? I’d love to hear them. Cheers, Amelia
In 1991, Fortune magazine published a terrific article entitled, Secrets of Great Second Bananas. The article talks about the special chemistry some of the great COO’s have had with their CEO’s and in particular, how effectively they complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
What jumped out at me at the time, and why it is still one of my favorite leadership articles, is that in each example, both parties truly recognized and valued the contribution of the other as critical to their own success. As Frank Wells, former COO of Disney said about his boss Michael Eisner, ”It isn’t some boss presiding over everything. It’s just a fight to find the right idea. If we have any culture at Disney, it’s that the best idea wins.” Constructive conflict. Passion, not personal. Or perhaps, simply that two heads ARE better than one. Note: Updated to correct link – hopefully it now works