As a Baby Boomer, my high school years in the 1970’s consisted of listening to the best rock and roll bands of all time. The classic music of numerous groups has survived a couple of generations and many Millennials (including my kids) are fans of some of the great ones. I never thought I would use one of these groups and one of the greatest songs in an article about talent management. But after conversations with my wife and several friends this past week, it just popped into my head. The first two lines of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Ah, I hear you singing it now! I am hopeful that my little explanation will make sense when I am finished.
My entire business life is focused on talent management. The tag line for my business is “We help companies bring out the BEST in their employees”. It might seem kind of weird to some, but it is a passion of mine. I dream of business cultures and environments where we wake up in the morning excited to come to work. Not that we don’t want to spend time with family and chill from time to time, but we are inspired everyday by our co-workers, supervisors, managers, and business leaders. Those with whom we work make us better people and we are motivated to work as hard as we can toward success of ourselves, those with whom we work, and the company. Every day we work toward our PIPability-Peak Individual Performance™.
My wife and I talked about my dream for the worker world and she commented that she does not think it is possible. She opined that the work itself creates a myriad of obstacles that impacts how we think about our work regardless of the nature of the work environment. She said “it is nice to think about and a good goal to pursue, but in reality, it will never be like that”.
Then, in a weekly social gathering with college classmates, we discussed the work environment in which they spend their time. They talked about leaders who don’t lead, work that doesn’t get done, and behaviors toward other people that are negative and punitive. After providing me numerous examples of what I call “management maleficence”, the bottom line was stated bluntly; “people just don’t care”.
So, I find myself wondering, “do I live in a dream world?” Can a work environment be created where everyone is inspired, motivated, happy, encouraged, driven, and working toward the good of all and not just themselves? I still say “YES!!”
A business owner I met a few months ago, said that their daily goal is to “delight and surprise their internal and external customers”. I believe the environment and culture at his company is close to my perspective of what is possible. When expectations are clearly communicated; when supervisors, managers, and leaders are providing all the tools and resources to help all be successful; when feedback is constant; when all understand that accountability must exist for success; and when consequences are fair, consistent, and transparent, a business will thrive. I guess I will leave it up to you. “Is this the real life” or “Is this just fantasy”?
To Your Success!
Richard Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
The Princess Bride is an entertaining fairy tale for young and old that was directed by Rob Reiner and released in 1987 by Twentieth Century Fox. If you have not seen it, you are missing a very fun and funny movie. The production featured a giant, a fire swamp, lightning sand, rodents of unusual size (R.O.U.S.’s), and The Cliffs of Insanity. Throw in a six finger man and a priest with a lisp and you have the makings of a classic.
In the movie, Princess Buttercup is amazed that her sweet Westley is still alive after being captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts on the open seas; “And the Dread Pirate Roberts never takes prisoners”. Westley later explains that he is now the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) and that the previous DPR was not the original one either. As a way of keeping the name DPR alive, each DPR would choose an understudy, replace the entire crew, and begin a new voyage as the first mate of the new DPR. If that is not clear, watch the movie.
Since I am a talent management consultant, I guess I need to tie The Princess Bride into some kind of management lesson. Well, in working with many business owners, leaders, and managers, I have heard the expression often “Gosh, it would be so much easier if I could just replace everyone and start all over”. It might work for the DPR, but it certainly would not work for most business operations.
Recently, I was at a swim meet for my youngest son and had the opportunity to speak with a couple of fathers who happen to be business owners. We were taking a break from the action in the pool and catching each other up on what was happening in our individual business worlds. One of the dads was expressing gratitude for being busy, but began talking about some employee issues. Specifically, he mentioned a former business owner who was on his team. He talked about how this individual was alienating other employees and was a negative element in the business environment. After detailing some of the employee’s performance and behavior issues, he said “I just don’t think he is going to make it”. I could not let it go and asked “have you sat down with the gentleman, reviewed the specific performance and behavior issues, and developed a plan to help him improve?” The response was what I hear often. “No, I have not”. I then asked if he was aware of any personal issues in this gentleman’s life that could be impacting his performance or behavior. The response was “No, I do not”.
My friend’s responses are the equivalent of just replacing the whole crew. I am confident that this business owner wants to help this individual, but the business is booming and he is busy taking care of the tactical steps to success. It is not that he does not care. He has other employees that also need his time and attention. Taking the time to develop a performance management plan for someone who seems not to care does not seem like the top priority in the midst of just getting the job done and satisfying clients. But shouldn’t it be THE top priority?
Imagine for a moment a work force comprised of employees who come to work every day fully engaged, enthusiastic, excited, and motivated to do the best job they can and to reach their full potential….their full PIPability-Peak Individual Performance™. I am passionate about helping companies bring out the best in their employees and I do not think it is a Utopia that is out of reach. I mean, if the employees in an organization are the most important asset, then why is this asset not treated with the care and attention to maximize the potential?
It takes a willingness to discover the root cause of a specific behavior or performance issue and then develop a plan to help the employee improve. It requires us to show patience, have compassion, display empathy, and gain understanding. It requires a human approach to managing others, not a tactical approach.
Does it always work? No, we have all experienced employees who just don’t want to meet expectations. But if you have ever experienced working with an employee who is not meeting expectations and then helped them transform in to a top performer, the incredible feeling will never leave you. Human potential is amazing and it is just waiting to be unleashed. Once you tap the potential, great things happen and a business can soar. Wouldn’t that be fun….and you don’t have to worry about pirates!
To your success,
From 2010 to 2014 I had the joy and pleasure of spending a great deal of time in Annapolis, MD visiting my son while he was a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. As a graduate of The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, SC, I enjoyed the aura of “The Yard” at the Academy and all it represents toward protecting our freedoms. I also heard many speakers at different events and always gained a little nugget that has helped me in my own personal development as a husband, father, friend, and business owner. In preparing to write this missive, I decided to reflect on the goals, visions, and missions of those institutions that prepare our brave men and women to lead others in the military and in the business world.
The Statement of Vision at The Citadel is “Achieving excellence in the education and development of principled leaders.” The mission is to build on the core values of Honor, Duty, and Respect. The mission of the Naval Academy is “To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.” The mission of West Point is “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and to be prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.” The mission of the Air Force Academy “is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.” At the Virginia Military Institute, the mission is “to produce educated, honorable men and women, prepared for the varied work of civil life, imbued with love of learning, confident in the functions and attitudes of leadership, possessing a high sense of public service, advocates of the American democracy and free enterprise system, and ready as citizen-soldiers to defend their country in time of national peril.” The examples above are just a few and I don’t want to discount other excellent institutions that espouse similar missions and goals.
During one of my trips to the Naval Academy, I heard a speaker discuss the five ideals that are fundamental for success. The presentation was geared toward the development of successful military leaders in the Navy, but I took these ideals and “civilianized” them for a management training session I conducted a few years ago for a client. As with most things in the military, it is an acronym and represents a larger message. It was entitled “Be FIRST”.
We should approach each day with a burning desire to improve and strive to reach our full potential for excellence. I have trademarked the term PIPability. The PIP is Peak Individual Performance. That should be our daily goal. We should always try to be proactive in all our endeavors, not reactive. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Look at the goal and then take action within your area of control and expertise and move forward with excitement.
We should always demand honesty and forthrightness from ourselves and other people. This also includes never being afraid to admit when we make a mistake or when we don’t know how to do something. Don’t let pride get in the way. President Reagan once said “Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on. That’s the healthiest way to deal with a problem… You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes. And if you’ve lived your life properly — so, you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward.” The hardest thing sometimes is doing what is right rather than what is easy.
Developing a strong sense of self-respect can help us fulfill our potential and become the person we want and need to be. Respecting other people helps develop healthy relationships. How we respect ourselves is demonstrated in our appearance, our demeanor, and the environment we create. How we respect others is demonstrated in how we treat other people what we do and how we act. A true leader never has to ask for respect, it is given.
It may seem common sense, but as leaders, we are responsible for maintaining a safe environment and creating a culture where it becomes second nature. Training is a crucial part of this ideal and it is a leader’s responsibility to ensure all are trained and procedural compliance is maintained. A leader never passes up an opportunity to mentor or teach.
No one person has all the answers and no one person can solve all the problems in a company or within any kind of organization. This is the time to be humble and encourage ideas from others. A true leader maintains a “questioning” attitude within their area of influence. We must have the courage to point out shortfalls in performance, behavior, and actions to ensure excellence is being pursued. Failing to hold others accountable can destroy the morale, engagement, and motivation of a team. In all we do, we have to preach the mantra of teamwork. Basically, we have to walk the walk and talk the talk.
Throughout the years I have heard comments made in jest that you should never volunteer for anything. The sad thing is too many people wait around their whole life for things to happen. That may be okay for them, but I would rather be FIRST!
To Your Success!
A house across the street from where we live was selected by a production company to be the home of a major character in an HBO series being filmed in Charleston, SC. Aside from the inconveniences of large trucks lined up on the street, dozens of crew members blocking any access to our driveway, and the huge crane parked in front of our house, we have had the opportunity to watch several outside scenes being filmed. We were able to stand right behind the director and watch the scene unfold and view the numerous screens showing what was being recorded from several angles. What amazed me is how many takes are required to get one little aspect of a scene completed to satisfy the director. For example, one scene required someone to punch the major actor in an altercation between neighbors. One little punch! We watched while it took at least 2 dozen takes to get it right. We watched lines being flubbed and retake after retake to get it right. We watched a scene where one actor stretches his foot across an invisible “line in the sand” that caused the altercation. That scene was filmed at least 20 times from different angles.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not taking anything away from talented actors we watch on the big screen or television. My main point is how wonderful it would be if I was able to have a retake in different areas of my life. I can think of numerous times during the 30+ years I have been married to my wonderful wife where a retake would have been very welcome. Or that moment when I did not say exactly what I wanted to one of my children in the heat of the moment. Or that missed layup at the buzzer in high school when we lost by 1 point. Fortunately I do not require a retake for that inappropriate joke to the TSA agent while going through security.
If I could market retakes to the business world, I would not be able to find a bank large enough to handle the deposits. Just in my little world of working with companies in talent management, I could fill chapters of a book on examples where a retake would have lessened or eliminated the pain.
Since a retake in most situations is not possible, it is even more imperative to do it right the first time. It is especially important to foster an environment within any business where a retake is not necessary. Increased and improved employee engagement hangs on those first chance opportunities and moments. How many great employees have left a company because of something that was said by a manager or a business decision that was made too quickly in response to something else? How many problems have we caused because we did not think before we spoke?
I would like to propose a simple list of actions that can be taken on a daily basis that will enhance the employee experience without the need for a retake.
Be Credible-Always do what you say you will do. If you do not, try and explain why.
Be Trustworthy-This is a hard one (it should not be), but tell the truth, even if it is painful to you.
Be Respectful-Always treat others the way you would want to be treated. Or, to really challenge yourself, always treat others the way you treat your mother and grandmother.
Be Consistent-Handle each situation in a similar fashion and do not play favorites.
Be Considerate-It does not take a lot of effort to put oneself in another’s shoes and show a little empathy.
Be Positive-Be that person who sees the good first in all situations.
Be Supportive-Provide the resources necessary for all to succeed and remove the obstacles that prevent expected performance.
Be Appreciative-It does not take a whole lot of effort to say “thank you” or to provide feedback on someone’s work in a constructive way.
Be Humble-Let employees know that you can identify with them. Have you made the same mistake before? Have you been in a similar situation? Being vulnerable is difficult, but extremely powerful.
The list could be a lot longer, but the actions listed, if done sincerely, will have a positive impact on morale, engagement, retention, and employee happiness in the workplace and with the company. And, as Abraham Lincoln said in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; “Be excellent to each other.” I wonder how many takes that took?
To Your Success,