Four ways vision and strategy improve leader performance

Many factors go into keeping leaders happy and healthy in their job, but one often-overlooked reality is how the organization’s vision and strategy impact well-being. A well articulated vision and an agreed upon approach will provide a framework for increased satisfaction and productivity.

Here are four things that happen when an organization that is clear about its vision and strategy uses that clarity as a tool to help manage its leaders.  

1. An articulated vision and approach will help determine the scope of responsibility for the leader, and show how workloads are shared throughout a team and organization. The goals for the organization need to translate into specific steps and activities for getting the work done, and the strategies should be used to make assignments to work groups and individuals. Distributing the labor and providing accountability for that shared work helps everyone know that the load is being shared.

2. A good plan will provide the tools that a leader needs to say “yes” and “no.” Too often organizations continue to add responsibilities without taking things off the back side. The cumulative effect is overwork, lack of focus, and burnout. Organizations need to help leaders understand that “no” is as important as “yes,” and that they have permission to say “no.” Leaders then need to  learn both what they can say “no” to and learn how to say “no.” Being able to connect the “yes” or “no” to a specific plan provides a degree of separation for the leader, an objective standard on which to base their decision.

3. Leaders want to see how their work supports a greater purpose. While compensation, work environment, and colleagues are not insignificant motivational factors, conscientious and committed leaders will first be motivated by a clear sense of how their work is contributing to significant outcomes. Tasks that are disconnected from the vision will be demotivating. Activities that clearly connect to the mission and impact of the organization will motivate and inspire a leader.

4. A well-articulated vision and plan provides a template to assist in evaluation and feedback. Good leaders want to know how they’re doing relative to an established standard. Any review process should reflect the vision and expected outcomes of the organization. Keeping leaders engaged with their work is strongly aided by feedback loops that connect directly to the organization’s vision and plan. Critiquing leaders on anything but predetermined expectations is unfair and isolating.

Healthy leaders are nurtured in organizations that intentionally share labor, give the leader tools to say “yes” and “no,” help the leader see their work as meaningful, and provide fair standards for critical feedback.

Your vision and strategy are key ingredients in shaping and supporting leader performance.

DWYSYWD and other simple customer relations commitments

Most business owners will repeat the mantra that customer service is critical to their success.

Lately, though, I've had some personal experiences that make me realize that many businesses still don't get "it." An encounter with my HVAC contractor and an exchange with my insurance agent both left me dissatisfied.

On the flip side, I received great customer service while working out some details of a project with the staff at CreateSpace.

All of these got me thinking about how businesses might best relate to their customers.

Whatever your field, whether in the trades or retail or customer service or professional services, here are five commitments to keep in mind in order to keep your customers and clients happy and coming back.

  1. Do what you say you'll do. Often referred to as the DWYSYWD principle, it means exactly what it suggests. If you tell a customer that you will deliver a particular good at a specified time, deliver it. If you promise a client a phone call, make it. If you say you'll send an email, send it. 
  2. Communicate. If for some reason you cannot deliver what you said you would when you said you would, then let the customer/client know that's the case, and tell them why. Make sure it's a "good why" and a legitimate explanation. 
  3. Answer questions. If you have billing formula that doesn't show up on your invoice and your customer/client asks how you arrived at the charges, be prepared to tell them. Always be ready with a solid rationale and offer it without defensiveness. 
  4. Be respectful and pleasant. It's not always easy to maintain your composure with customers/clients if they are asking questions, being critical, or are upset about something, but it's your responsibility to take the high road. Respect and pleasantness will more often than not diffuse a tense situation, leave an opening for a productive resolution, and/or allow the customer/client to leave the encounter with understanding even if they're not in agreement. 
  5. Know the difference between your value and your pride. Good businesses should expect a good price. But carrying your fees around as an entitlement doesn't make anyone feel good about what you're charging. It's one thing to show value in the product and service; it's quite another to lead with an attitude that says "we'll take what we want from you because we're so good."

Consistently practicing these five commitments with customers and clients will strengthen your reputation and keep them coming back. 

To-do lists, plans, and strategy

The tyranny of the urgent catches up with all of us at times. And so does the deception of the slow times. If our work were steady and predictable, all would be right with the world. But we know that's not the case.

Our methods of organizing our work vary, but I've found that it's important to consistently keep three horizons of work in sight: 1) to-do lists; 2) plans; 3) strategy. 

To-do lists, plans, and strategies help address immediate priorities, structure broader responsibilities, and keep end-goals in focus.

We've all seen it. Maybe it's in front of you right now. It's the legal pad filled from top to bottom with itemized items requiring your immediate attention. These lists are specific tasks that, when intentionally prioritized, help us determine how to use the hours and minutes of our day. When scratched off the list, they give us a feeling of satisfaction, indicate progress, and prove our capability. To-do lists are the small steps we take. But do those small steps lead to bigger impacts?

Completing the to-do list may or may not actually contribute to achieving the plan. I have often encountered people with detailed to-do lists but with no idea what all those tasks will add up to. Effective time management is not simply completing a to-do list; that to-do list must contribute toward a greater collective outcome. 

Plans are the larger outcomes that our to-do lists feed into. The greater collective outcome might be called a project, and the plan is the intentional set of steps required to reach a particular objective. When the to-do list and the plan are in sync, synergistic outcomes emerge.

The strategy provides the overarching direction for the organization. Strategy keeps vision and mission in focus. It's the framework for keeping the overall purpose of the organization front and center. The plan reflects the strategy, and the to-do list ensures discreet steps for executing the plan.

One of the most common derailers in organizations is the to-do list syndrome. Because the immediate needs are so numerous and the to-do list so long, the plan gets lost and the strategy is neglected. You might be doing a thousand things, but in the end what do they contribute to?

A simple exercise to keep the plan and strategy in focus while plowing through the to-do list is to build a simple coding system. Keep the strategy in front of you and make sure you have a written plan. Then, for each task on the to-do list, be sure you can assign it to both the plan and the strategy. 

Not everything will fit perfectly in the plan or strategy; if that's the case, you'll want to ask whether or not it still needs to be done.

If a task fits the strategy but not the plan, perhaps the plan needs adaptation.

If the task fits the plan but not the strategy, check to make sure the plan is actually supporting the strategy. If not, change it.

Instead of being consumed by the to-do list, take a few minutes and allow it to work for you and the organization to prevent mission creep and keep progress toward the larger vision and mission of your organization. 

Then when you've crossed the items off your to-do list you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that each activity, and you, made a difference!

Five Mental Barriers to Cross When Engaging a Consulting Coach

Consulting coaches are an essential resource for leaders and managers at all levels of an organization, including executive staff, rising middle managers, boards, and frankly anyone interested in improving their leadership capacity.

But too often leaders and organizations misread their own needs and flat-out miss opportunities to get valuable help at a crucial moment. Here are five reasons why we might not get the type of help we need when we need it.

1 - Seeing help as a sign of weakness. You’ve been given responsibility in your organization because you are smart, skilled, and respected. These things are all true. What is not true is that you are expected to have all the answers. Seeking counsel from others within and from outside your organization is another quality of strength to your leadership. Utilizing a consulting coach is not a sign that you aren’t good enough. Rather, it is proof that you are wise enough to know your limits and to trust that you CAN do the job with someone helping you continue to grow.

2 - Waiting too long to ask. A natural tendency for many of us is to push ourselves to the limits of our capacity, and then a little bit over. Unfortunately, pressing into that new or difficult territory alone can be devastating for you and/or your organization. Once the situation moves from challenging to problematic, the energy and resources needed to correct the situation are exponentially higher than the energy that would have originally been expended to meet the challenge. A consulting coach provides extra energy and resources to address the challenge before it becomes a problem, and gives you the support you need before you burn out.

3 - Expecting the consulting coach to fix “it”. In the end, it is your organization, and it is you as a leader who will need to implement the changes highlighted in the consulting process. The consulting coach doesn’t actually change anything, but rather gives you perspective, tools, and accountability to pursue the change you envision for yourself and your organization.

4 - Being in too much of a hurry. There are many situations in business and in life that require immediate and quick responses. But the reality is that most leadership development and organizational change takes time. A one-session consulting session is really just a red herring unless it's part of a broader strategy of development. A few coaching sessions might get you through a specific decision, but long-term change requires long-term commitment to a process of accompaniment. Typically six months is a minimum. Most leaders learn that they benefit from having a consulting coach, counselor, mentor, and/or guide consistently available to them. Organizations learn that consulting is a process, not an event.

5 - Underestimating the human element. Many of us like to think that the facts drive change in organizations: budget realities, sales quotas, program details. Certainly data-driven decisions are crucial to any organization’s success. But when dealing with the data it is important to keep in mind that the data does not come alive in a vacuum. It is interpreted by people. When data is applied it affects people. When data is reported, bias is inherent. What lies behind the data is a human element impacting outcomes. Failure to pay attention to the human element along with the data often results in outcomes that even the data didn’t predict. A consulting coach will help you pay attention to both the human element and the data.

A consulting coach is a valuable resource for individuals and organizations. Sooner rather than later is invaluable for tapping the best of your decision-making, planning, implementation, and accountability. 


It's Not Over When It's Over: Six simple post-interview practices for employers

 Recently I have been seeking employment. I've submitted dozens of resumes and applications. I do not expect to hear from the recipient of each submission. I understand the digital age and applicant screening well enough to know that such courtesy is a moot point.

I have been somewhat perplexed, however, at the arms-length responses from organizations that have actually given me an interview.

On several occasions I have been fortunate enough to be invited for a face-to-face interview. I've prepared myself by researching the job, company and individuals with whom I'm meeting. I've taken special care to dress appropriately. I've arrived early, sometimes traveling a good distance, and spent 60 - 90 minutes in thorough conversation with the company leaders. After the interview I've taken a few minutes to send a note of thanks for the opportunity.

I know the potential employers have also invested significant time into the process by developing job descriptions, researching candidates, holding interviews, and evaluating their prospects. They seem, however, to have given little thought to what happens once the interview is over.

After each interview, there have been long periods of undefined silence, silence during which I find myself singing over and over in my head that catchy little chorus by Indie pop artists A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera: Say something. I'm giving up on you.

I have also been on the other side of the interview process, hiring excellent employees and turning down other quality candidates. Here are six simple things I've learned that make the tail end of the process go better for the candidate and strengthen the candidate's perception of you as a potential employer, whether or not they ultimately end up working for you.

  1. Know your timeline and share it. When the interview concludes, say definitively to the candidate, "You will hear from me no later than the end of the day on .........". And then get back to them by then! Block out that afternoon to make those calls. If your process has become delayed, let the candidate know. If you still have questions or need more information from the candidate, schedule a time for additional conversation. But give them a timeline, and stick to it.
  2. Make the phone call. While email or text are convenient ways to contact your candidate, they are cheap and disrespectful. When a candidate has committed time and energy to a face-to-face interview, they deserve a live voice sharing the news of whether or not they will be offered the position. These calls aren't always easy for either party involved, but a quality manager will take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and do what's right. Then you can follow up with an official letter or summary email.
  3. Be prepared to offer feedback. Assuming you have interviewed quality, thoughtful candidates, be prepared to answer their questions. A candidate might ask: "Are there any specific areas of training or experience that could better prepare me for a job like this?" or "Was there anything during the interview itself that I could have done better which would have improved my candidacy?" or "What specific skills, experiences or knowledge are you looking forward to me bringing to this position?"  
  4. Be honest. When you're offering feedback, make sure you're telling the truth and being as forthcoming as you can be within non-discrimination practices. If the candidate asks for feedback on their interview and you felt they said something off-putting or exhibited an uncomfortable demeanor during the interview, tell them; perhaps they had no idea they came across in that way and would be able to correct it in the future. And don't make up excuses. You're interviewing smart people; they'll see right through your platitudes.
  5. Stay focused on who's in front of you: Your candidate, especially one that is being rejected, doesn't need to hear how good all of the other candidates and interviews were. Frankly, if you haven't selected me I assume that at least one other candidate must have been a rock star! They also don't need to hear how difficult the decision was for the employer. "We have chosen to go with another candidate" or "we are going in another direction at this time" or "we will not be moving forward with your application" are sufficient. If there are specific things you can say to the candidate about their candidacy, say them (points 3 & 4 above). Otherwise, reserve your process observations for conversations with your colleagues, coach, or counselor.
  6. Say "Thank you.": Saying "thank you" should be natural and heartfelt. Hopefully it is for you. Be sure to express your appreciation for the candidate's interest in your company/organization, the time that they have devoted to this process, and their willingness to undergo the scrutiny of an interview. Say it on the phone. Put it in writing when you follow up.

The last impression a candidate will have of you and your organization in the interview process is what will stick with them. Make sure their experience is professional and transparent the whole way through to the final "no" or the hallelujah "YES!"