For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Jeffrey A. Fox is a management and executive consultant, and a great leadership author. I enjoy reading his books for a number of reasons, some of which are because he succinctly gets to the core point of what he’s saying. Each chapter is a precious nugget of richness, solid in truth and invaluable to those yearning to grow.
While not his latest book, “How To Be A Great Boss” is a read that I have thoroughly enjoyed every page of the way. One of the chapters hits the nail on the head about where your time should be spent among your people. It’s entitled “Spend 90% of Your Time With Your Best People”.
It seems that so much of leaders’ time that they spend on their staff is consumed with the so-called “high maintenance” employees. They are the ones that literally cost the company precious time and money due to their lack of performance, disruptive behavior, or both. A few years back I reported to a C-level executive who confided in me that 80% of their time was lost constantly on 20% of their “problem children”. While they didn’t know how to swing that around (and couldn’t see how they themselves had created this culture that they were drowning in), I used my personal experience to shed some light and help them understand what Jeffrey Fox layed out for the rest of us.
Years ago I knew a manager who was charged with creating a new department for an entertainment company. This department was an offshoot of an existing one, yet it was to run co-dependently at first then become self-sufficient within 60 days. It was an on-the-fly task that was literally dumped on him; part of his benefit package for being promoted.
The staff that he and his supervisory team were given were the employees that none of the other supervisors wanted to invest time in. They were deemed “unproductive” and by jettisoning them to this new area, they were relieved of any further obligation to work with these employees. So this manager had a staff of about 50 untrained and unmotivated employees to start a department with.
He immediately started to recognize three types of employees: those that worked hard no matter what, those that worked well but not always consistent, and those that were never motivated and failed to do the job at all. Unconsciously, he started investing the bulk of his time with the hard workers, as he needed them to anchor the day to day tasks. He then spend most of the rest of his time with the second group, realizing that they had potential but were never properly trained or shown they had value. He did spend time with the unmotivated group, mostly in corrective action, but never let them consume his valuable time.
Well, a peculiar trend started to happen in this manager’s new department. He noticed that the hard workers dug in and worked harder, and set a great attitude and pace for the entire team. He then saw that the middle group felt needed because they were given attention finally, and, seeing the first group energized, started to perform on a pace close to the hard workers. But what the manager saw in the unmotivated group literally shocked him. He noted that many of these workers, previously deemed problematic, started to perk up and step up their game. Their attitude and performance improved remarkably. When asked, they generally said that they had never been a part of such a team before, and didn’t want to be left out, or left behind. Granted, there were a few dissenters that needed to be groomed out, but the vast majority clicked with the team dynamic and their first year brought incredible sales success and profitability that they did not forecast they would attain for at least 3 years.
By focusing on your 90%, Fox states, you invest in the biggest return in your company. If you invested in those underperforming stocks, you would most certainly look for better returns in higher potential stocks. Why should it be any different with your staff? Invest where it counts, and you’ll be surprised at the results. And so will your team.
Today’s post is courtesy of Alison Eyring, author of the new book “Pacing For Growth”. Alison, Founder and CEO of Organisation Solutions, is a global thought leader with a focus on organizational growth. We welcome and thank Alison for her contribution today.
One Secret for Growth: It Takes More Than Vision
Loads of case studies have been written about companies that had great ideas and amazing visions but failed in the execution. Kodak’s vision was a world in which cameras could be carried in a shirt pocket. Motorola envisioned a day when the world would be connected without wires. Nortel’s vision was that everyone and every device could access voice, data, and images. They all had a great vision, happy customers, great brand names, and strong balance sheets. These visions weren’t wrong; they just didn’t matter because they weren’t executed before time ran out. The companies couldn’t build growth capacity fast enough to endure.
In the research my company conducted to understand the difference between leaders in high-growth businesses compared to slow- or no-growth businesses, we saw some remarkable differences in how the Growth Leaders focused their time and attention compared to the other leaders in the study.
Whereas every company in the study had a clear statement of vision and most leaders had either translated this for their business or had articulated their own growth vision or goals, the Growth Leaders invested far more of their time and energy creating focus and aligning resources to deliver growth. They helped others say no to non-priority projects or work, and they made tough choices about when and where to allocate resources. The other leaders seldom spoke about focus. Unlike the Growth Leaders, they invested their energy communicating the company’s vision and motivating employees to align themselves with it. Moreover, they always seemed to want to do more when, in my opinion, they might have achieved more by doing less.
Like my early vision to run a marathon, companies have vague visions of growth. Often these are found in investor reports and printed on posters hanging around office reception areas. “Double the business in 5 years,” “grow faster than the industry average,” and “profitably grow our business” are what they often sound like. Over the past 25 years, nearly every leader I’ve worked with has had goals about growth. Investors expect them. Bonuses are tied to them. Employees are motivated to deliver on them, especially when they, too, get to share in the benefits.
While some visions are motivating and many are translated into specific goals, too many become empty exhortations. Broad statements of hope—whether they are called a vision, growth goals, or aspirations—often mean little to employees and fail to drive growth.
We know from decades of academic research that too many growth efforts fail. Less than half of all acquisitions actually improve shareholder value. As many as 95 percent of new products introduced each year fail, according to Cincinnati research agency AcuPOLL. Nine out of 10 start-ups fail. Too often, we create a great vision for growth and then allow ourselves and others to get distracted. We fail to build the capabilities needed to achieve the vision because we don’t know where to focus or don’t have the discipline to follow through on the focus.
Excerpted from Ch. 5 of Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-term Success, by Alison Eyring (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017)
Alison Eyring is a global thought leader on building organizational capacity for growth. Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Organisation Solutions, Alison has 25 years of experience in large-scale organization design and change and executive development. She works closely with global leaders and their organizations, including Royal/Dutch Shell, BHP Billiton, Chubb Group of Companies, NEC, and Thomson Reuters. She also serves as an adjunct Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore. Her book, Pacing for Growth, is launching this week.
If many leaders took the time to be self-aware and accountable, they would discover so much about how they hamper their credibility and effectiveness in their role.
In today’s world of shifting blame, wanting immediate (though unrealistic) results, and rushing from task to task without deep thought, many leader’s today run into traps that an honest self-assessment and shoring up can avoid. Here are some ways that leaders, and perhaps yourself, may be destroying our credibility as an effective and respected leader:
- Blaming others for a ball dropped on our end
- Not listening to instructions, expectations, feedback, or requests
- Pushing through to get results, or other subtle or overt ways of bullying
- Making hyperbolic claims to generate an emotional response and get a desired outcome
- Having an unrealistic time frame or expectation
- Being frustrated at other’s inefficiency or incompetence when they were not properly trained
- Not communication expectations and being frustrated when they are not met
- Being late, short in tone, or barely engaged in any personal interaction
- Calling others to account for failed performance without having all the facts
For any leader to have any success, they must be able to understand their thoughts and communicate them to everyone in their sphere. They must also come to grips with realism, both within themselves and with others, to ensure they know processes and improvement measures. Great leaders speak plainly, with facts, and take the heat for any missteps on their end. Overall, the best leaders are astute at gathering information, communicating if to everyone involved, and processing the feedback to improve performance, expectations, and processes with maximum engagement and minimal disconnect and confusion.
Determine to build these skills within yourself and watch the impact and turnaround your organization will reap from having a credible and capable leader who can properly process what goes on around them.