Warren Buffett Says …

performance_managementI reviewed an article that was written by Stephen Lynch, wherein he shared some significant thoughts from Warren Buffett. The subject matter revolved around goal setting, prioritization and performance. Here is my take.

Stephen made the following points:

  • A long list of ‘things to do’ is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do.
  • A long list is most often erroneously called a strategic plan.
  • A successful strategy is based on a careful and thorough analysis of the challenges facing your industry, organization or team. Then you must determine the moves you must take to counter the negative effects and chart a successful course.
  • You will be more successful by focusing on three (3) critical projects or goals at a time.

Stephen cited a story attributed to Warren Buffett to illustrate his point:

A story attributed to Warren Buffett highlights these critical points. The theme of the story is that a person approached Warren with a list of their personal goals, which contained some 25 items that they wanted to accomplish in the next year and beyond. Warren suggested that they highlight the top 5 items that they considered most important and only focus on those 5. “What about the other goals?” the person asked, “Should I do some work on them as well?”

Warren Buffett advised:

“No, you don’t understand. Everything that is not in your top 5 becomes your ‘avoid at all costs’ list. The difference between successful people and very successful people is that, very successful people say ‘NO’ to almost everything.”

OK, you probably can’t tell your team leader that you are given too many goals and that the list must be trimmed to the top five. But the point is that if you have too many goals or priorities at any one time, you have “NO” goals or priorities.

Furthermore, these goals must have a direct correlation to the overall corporate strategy. It would be helpful during any goal setting situation to have a copy of the organizational goals and ask the question: How does this goal support the organizational goal?

Related Article(s)Motivation… and Managing Your Team

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Could it be a Lack of Motivation?

Motivating AssociatesEveryone or every team has probably experienced a period of lower than average or expected performance.

In sports, a slump is a period where a player or team is not performing well or up to expectations. Even our car may, at times, seem to have sluggish performance. It could be as simple as a clogged fuel filter or some contaminates in the fuel or the line.  However, in this article, we will keep it in the human domain. So, let’s say that from time to time a team leader or member may need performance “Wheaties.”

However, if we personally or as a part of a team need a “jolt,” we should attempt to determine the root causes. I am sure that each of us have worked through periods when there was project after project and new initiatives that seemed to be coming from a two foot diameter fire hose at fifty miler per hour. Well, heck! It is nearly impossible to always react with enormous enthusiasm, although we may attempt to do so. We may even find ourselves unable to focus during meetings and feel reluctant to volunteer for new projects or assignments.

The Decline in Motivation

At times, it will be difficult to maintain maximum motivation. The tasks, projects or assignments, when new to us may seem and feel exciting. So we get “up” for them. But, after a number of experience with these tasks or projects, we may begin to feel a sense of futility.  We may even suspect that we are approaching “burnout.” But the reality is that, our industry and organization is, like everyone else, is facing fierce competition from numerous competitors and from all directions. Survival and prosperity requires fast and effective action.

Some Considerations

There are a number of considerations that may need to be addressed from the team leader perspective or the team member. Here are a few of them:

  • In a counseling, coaching or mentor-ship role, show empathy and use active listening techniques to build understanding and trust. Your team member will more likely be open and honest with you, and it will be easier to collaborate as you move forward.
  • The prominence of you role may have declined along with the associated appreciation, recognition and compensation.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You may need to ask for mentoring, coaching, additional training or just a discussion with the right person to offer some feedback regarding your concerns.
  • Write down some of your most pressing concerns and the specific events or situations that caused you to have that experience. This will help to obtain more specific and targeted feedback.
  • You may not have a clear overview of why the various projects and changes are occurring. Seek clarification to determine the importance of the role that you play.
  • Try to determine if the decreased motivational level is due to some sources outside of work or by others who are not directly involved?

In situations like this, it is best not to try and “go it alone.” Seek out a mentor whom you believe to be encouraging, empathetic and understanding. It may even be appropriate to seek a change in roles, departments, responsibilities or organizations. The hope is that a caring organization would seek to retain talented human resources rather than lose them to a competitor.

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Leading the Right Way … by influence

LeadershipLeading is getting others to follow. You can use authority or influence. The concept of influencing others will require you to evaluate your ideas about power. Today’s workforce want team leaders who are willing to lead, not just manage. The most effective leaders seek to “influence” or use their power in constructive ways.

Influencing others means expressing one’s intention to persuade, convince, or impress others in order to gain their support. Influencing others also implies a desire to have an impact or effect on others. The effective use of influence allows you to build support, share values, include team members, and use reason and logic.

Let’s examine four (4) influence styles that may be used separately or combined to formulate a more complex strategy:

Building Support is a style that uses networks and coalitions to enlist the support of others to build acceptance of ideas. This includes finding out who is most likely to influence a decision and working behind the scenes to build support. This style is most effective when it is necessary to in influence a number of people from different departments and when there are key people in the organization who can influence a decision favorably or unfavorably. Under conditions when the organization is a highly politicized, and you do not have direct authority, or there is an imbalance of power (with supervisors) this style may work for you.

This style is least effective when those you seek to influence are outside your organization or when the decision is to be made on the basis of objective criteria such as cost and when those you want to influence are not concerned with the reaction of others.

 Appealing to Shared Values involves drawing on shared values or principles, or showing others how your idea is important to the broader goals of the organization. The key to this style is being able to identify common ground shared by you and those you are seeking to influence. This style is most effective when you can identify a common goal and there is agreement on shared values, strategy or vision or if your personal credibility is high and others trust you.

This style is least effective when the organization’s goals and values are about to change in unpredictable ways, you lack credibility and the people you are trying to influence are cynical about the organization.

Involving Others is a style that seeks to gain the support of others through involvement, a willingness to adapt ideas to meet the needs of others, or an acceptance of the suggestions of others. This style looks for win-win solutions. It is most effective when people whose support you need have a high level of knowledge or expertise and maintaining positive relationships is important. This is all effective when you need to have high levels of acceptance and commitment and others must show exercise their own initiative.

This style is least effective when decisions must be made quickly, a crisis exists, and people are not empowered. If there is disagreement about the goal, desired result, or agenda, this style is inappropriate.

 Using Reason or Logic relies on facts to persuade, influence and convince others. This includes offering reasons to support views, pointing out comparative advantages and disadvantages of other approaches, and preparing well-planned arguments to support ideas. This style is most effective when dealing with people who rely principally on logic and reason in making decisions or when the other people are systematically comparing several alternatives and if there are clear, compelling reasons for pursuing a course of action. If personal, subjective preferences are being expressed and there is a need to make an objective, fact-based decision, try this style.

However, this style is least effective when those who support you are strongly influenced by personal relationships, or strong personal feelings are expressed. If the people you are trying to influence are very concerned with personal goals, hopes, and concerns, or there are disagreements about facts, this style may not be very effective.

 The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

Related Articles:   Insight + Rapport   and  15 Attributes of a Great Workplace

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Misleading and Misguided Job Descriptions … or BS?

Hiring and InterviewingTell the truth! Do job descriptions really help you to hire the right candidates?

I pose this question, because during my career, I made it a habit to visit with the “hiring manager” to review the job description before beginning the search for potential candidates. This raises a question: If the job descriptions have been approved by the organization, why aren’t they accurate and reliable? I believe that there are two contributors to this dilemma; the “Average Man” theory and the concept of Position Evaluation.

Average ManThis concept emerged from the studies conducted by a Belgian mathematician that led to the practice of “type casting” by averaging the qualities of various professions such “soldiers” or “iron-workers.” The problem with type casting, is that it diverts attention away from what is relevant and informative about an individual candidate.

Position EvaluationPosition evaluation systems typically are performed and controlled by the Human Resources function. Essentially they evaluate and award a point value to each qualification such as education, experience, outside contacts, people responsibility and scope of influence. There is some value in these systems because they generally prevent less valuable jobs to be rated higher than more valuable jobs. The value of the job is the primary rationale for establishing a salary range that the organization is willing to pay for that job.

Context PrincipleIn the context of hiring, performance depends on the interaction of a specific individual, in a specific situation. So, the candidates that performed successfully in an environment, related product line and regulatory environment similar to yours, may have more potential than a “Type-casted” candidate. The context principle suggests it is better to focus on the particular performance a job demands and the particular contexts where the employee will be performing, and then look for candidates who have successfully executed similar performances in similar contexts.

None of these requirements provide insight into the actual constellation of a candidate’s abilities. More importantly, fulfilling them provides almost no useful information about whether the candidate can execute the specific performance you need in the specific job contexts.

In addition to the boilerplate job description, what else can you use to help you select the right candidate? Lou Adler recommends: Instead of describing the person you want, describe the job you want done. He also suggests that team members may feel more connected and fulfilled by their jobs, which makes them more productive and loyal and possibly easier to recruit other outstanding candidates. Finally, organizations always complain about a shortage of skilled talent gap. But, if you focus on the contextual details of the job, you’re more likely to make a great hire and be rewarded.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can The Training Shelf Blog depending on your interest.

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Improve Decision-Making Skills

Decision-MakerSuccessful team leaders must make sound decisions. Some will say that effective decision-making is a talent, and others will say that it is a skill set that can be learned and improved. Also, problem solving and decision make are related. We have to make many decisions in our everyday lives. Who could argue that learning or improving our decision-making skills will offer the opportunity to increase positive outcomes while decreasing the consequences of failure in a business context?

Important Skills

In a business or organizational context, it is important to have a basic decision-making model or process. A simple decision-making model could consist of as few as five (5) steps. For example, you could agree with your team that before you make any consequential decisions, you will consistently observe and complete the following steps:

  1. Identify the important values of all stakeholders
  2. Assess the potential or known risk, determine the likely outcomes and discuss the possible options
  3. Collaborate, communicate, negotiate and actively listen to the needs and concerns of all affected groups
  4. Define the time and task management assignments to ensure successful decision implementation
  5. Agree upon a date to review the results of the implementation and make the necessary corrections

Improving Decision-Making Skills

One of the simplest ways to improve decision-making is to institutionalize the process of a “postmortem”review of most important decisions. By elevating the process to a routine practice enables and encourages evaluation, analysis, and self-reflection that can be used to incrementally improve future decisions.

Certainly, improved decision skills will also come from the learning gained from experiencing the consequences of making poor decisions. However, for high value decisions with significant consequences, we would like to have developed these skills in advance to avoid disastrous outcomes to the extent possible. The goal is to improve our decision-making skills in an environment where the risk of significant negative consequences of poor choice is reduced or eliminated.

Evaluating Improvement

The first step is to realize that positive or negative results from a particular decision does not imply that the process was flawed. Keep in mind that some of the decisions may extend to a few weeks, a few months or even a few years.  So, it is not always possible to evaluate the efficacy of a decision quickly.

However, here are ten (10) indications that can be used to measure improvement:

  1. Use of failures as opportunities to learn
  2. Increased objectivity and use of information and evidence
  3. Routine use and improvement of a decision-making process
  4. Ability to use different techniques for different decision situations
  5. Increased ability to imagine and project possible consequences
  6. Measurement of progress toward long-term goals
  7. Successful forecasting of results from tests of decision-making skills with lower risk choices
  8. Evidence of consistently better results despite occasional failures
  9. Use of multiple decision-making strategies
  10. Growing influence and collaboration

Continuous Improvement

Decision making skills affect all organizational functions and are useful in any capacity for any organization. So, even when making small decisions, we can practice some techniques that will be beneficial in a larger context.

The Training Shelf Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics that relate to leadership, management and small business, so you can refresh your skills as needed. Don’t forget that you can search the archives depending on your interest.

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Do you Interface with Customers … or clients?

Customer Problem ResolvedYou have probably read books, articles, attended seminars about providing excellent customer service. You can recite all of the buzz words and phrases such as “delight the customer, ” wow the customer,” ”customers are our number one priority.” Here is the problem: Buzz words and phrases do not actually accomplish anything.

A body of research suggests that exceeding customer expectations offers no more value than simply meeting expectations. That body of research seems to show that customers simply want to have an easy experience when they encounter your organization. Perhaps the next buzzword or phrase will be “just make it easy for the customer.”

The trend seems to be shifting toward self-service. They want their needs met immediately as intuitively and without having to jump through a series of hoops to do business with your organization. Research also shows that when a customer attempts to solve a problem through self-service, but has to be redirected to fill out a form, submit a support ticket, call someone else, they are likely to be dissatisfied.

Ten (10) Suggestions:

  1. Reduce the number of steps the customer needs to take when using your product or service
  2. Provide simple, easy to find and complete answers to questions
  3. Group relevant information in an intuitive manner
  4. Use the language of the customer rather than company jargon
  5. Make it easy for customer to search for and find answers to their questions
  6. Try to anticipate the next problem that the customer may encounter
  7. Eliminate obstacles so they can resolve their issues rapidly
  8. Focus on eliminating reasons why customer would consider abandoning you or your services
  9. Recognize that customers want to move on to other endeavors and not spend time jumping through your hoops
  10. Ask your team to brainstorm five (5) ways to make it easier for your customers that are within your authority to implement

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Image Exchange … in Conflict Resolution

Conflict ResolutionOver the many years of my career, I have made many notes on scraps of paper about various aspects of human behavior. One particular note resurfaced recently, but I did not note the source and am unable to properly attribute the idea to the originator.  Never-the-less, I discuss my understanding and usage of this technique.

Image exchanging is a behavioral technique that is used to reveal the perceptions or images about those engaged in conflict. During interpersonal conflicts, people are very aware of what they dislike about each other. If asked to prove that the other person is at fault, they could probably specify the offending acts and when they occurred. Yet, these people are surprisingly unaware of their own contribution to the conflict.

How the Process Works

The individuals involved in the conflict describe their own image and that of the other person. Each person lists the behaviors that led the other to arrive at these images. The individuals exchange both sets of descriptions written as sentences or a list of adjectives. The individuals exchange lists and discuss the written responses to decide how they can reduce the discrepancies between self-image and the image held by the other person. Realistic goals are set to improve the relationship, reduce conflict and increase cooperation.

To illustrate how Image Exchange works, let’s use a fictional exchange of a team leader that required two subordinates, Charles and Gary, to describe themselves and each other.

Charles’s Self-image: Hard working, conscientious, dependable, quality-oriented, perfectionist, and good company orientation. Image of Gary: Loud, crude, hard-working, bad with people, ambitious, stubborn, careless, intelligent, and blames others for his mistakes.

Gary’s Self-image: Smart, tough, hard-working, ambitious, strong, “can-do” leader, self-reliant oriented toward high production, impatient, and a real fighter. Image of Charles: Slow, sneaky, mean, careful, excellent mechanic, loyal to the company and his team, stubborn, unwilling to change, has old ideas, wants quality above everything else, and not promotable.

When they finished their lists, Charles and Gary exchanged their perceptions. You can imagine the shock they received when each had read what the other had written.

Charles wrote: Gary’s image of me is not flattering. I agree that my department is slow, but that’s because I demand quality work and it bothers me that he thinks I’m sneaky and mean. He might think that because, I sometimes try to get even with him for embarrassing me in front of my team. When he embarrasses me, I do slow down and look for other problems with the machines. But that’s my only reaction to his yelling and I realize that I shouldn’t do that.

Gary wrote: Charles’ image of himself is too flattering. He makes himself sound like Rambo and The Red Baron. He’s confusing all the hot air he blows with results he thinks he’s producing for the company. Charles believes that he’s more important than anything else, and that’s just wrong. By pushing too hard, Charles not only hurts other people, but he hurts the company as well.

Now, here is what the team leader observed about the images that Charles and Gary had of each other:

Charles’s image of himself is not that far off from his behavior. He’s a slow and careful guy, but he neglected to mention some of his bad traits. Sometimes, one can be too slow and careful. Charles thinks these machines belong to him, but Gary wants him to repair the machines faster and be less of a perfectionist. Then, he’d really be the company man he thinks he is.

Gary feels that Charles’ image of him is all wrong. He feels that I’m selfish and would walk over my grandmother to get ahead. Gary admitted that he is stubborn and that he is tough with people who don’t do a good job. He also realizes that he “flies off the handle” sometimes, and that behavior is inappropriate. He realizes that Charles is right when he perceives that I “sound out of control.” But that’s not how I am most of the time.

Summary

Image exchanging is not designed to change personality or core values. Instead, it allows those involved to explore perceptions and interpretations of behavior, items that typically lie beneath the surface in the average work-place. When people know how others see them, they can begin to reduce some of their annoying behaviors and mitigate the possibility of at least some interpersonal conflicts.

However, we should be cautioned that Image exchanging can open up a “can of worms” or turn “mole hills” into mountains. If you decide to experiment with this technique, proceed cautiously. Try proposing the exercise to two team members with whom you have had long-standing relationships. Explain that you are evaluating this creative technique and would like them to participate. Ensure them that you will keep the results confidential. However, don’t worry if you can’t make it work the first time because it will take some practice to become fluent.

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