Tag Archives: hal johnson

Death by Meeting? Nope. Here’s How Meetings Can Be a Game Changer

Although there is a backlash against meetings in some quarters—Intel used to order executives to calculate before a meeting how many processors would have to be sold to cover the portion of participants’ salary being spent in the meeting—there is a system of meetings that can produce remarkable results. The system involves regular, planned meetings that leaders have one-on-one with subordinates that support seven important processes:

  • Communications
  • Effective, supportive relationships
  • Targeted management development
  • Solid delegation
  • Strong accountability
  • A high-performance culture
  • Continuous improvement

A disciplined One-on-One Meeting System will not only increase productivity but will help your direct reports become better leader-managers. Your employees will see what great leadership looks and feels like, and the experience will be a game changer.

Unfortunately, leaders in most fast-paced, mid-market companies typically become caught up in the wave of day-to-day work and devote little thought to one of their most significant leadership opportunities: growing performance capacity.  A business keeps growing, but the people don’t.

There are three common adversaries that hold companies back in their quest to stay competitive:

  1. Keep doing the same thing
    “It’s still working, so why should we change?” is something we hear in businesses that do not actively look for ways to improve performance. A surprising number of mid-market companies have that exact mind-set. The problem is generally that leaders don’t know what they don’t know and won’t venture into areas where they have no knowledge. Change has not become an ally.
  2. Superficiality
    This means not digging deeper into understanding people and systems, and their impact on business results. Spending time with direct reports addressing performance opportunities usually only occurs when a problem arises. Even then, there is often little preparatory work.
  3. Inconsistency
    In our humanity, we struggle to keep our good habits going—the bad ones. . . not so much. What is good for us often loses to competing demands that are easier to deal with. (I often cite exercise and diet as examples of difficulty in staying the course.) We often embrace a new process for several months until some crisis throws us off course, then go back to old patterns.

As with just about anything in life, the quality of the outcome of the One-on-One Meetings depends on the quality of the preparation. In this system, the direct report is charged with preparing the agenda and providing it to the boss in advance of the meeting. (You should assist your direct reports; over time, you will all get better at creating agendas that support high-impact meetings.)  We suggest regular consideration of the following kinds of subjects:

  • Budget status
  • Action plan progress – status of key projects
  • Growth and development
  • Issues of concern
  • Developing people. Who are the stars? Who needs coaching?
  • How you are developing your successor?
  • Systems improvement initiatives
  • How you feel about your job and our working relationship – what could be better? Am I giving you enough support?
  • What can I be doing to support your growth and development?

Authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman reported some jarring information about managers in their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, for which they interviewed more than 80,000 managers in 400 companies:

First, on the down side, managers were usually the reason someone left an organization. It wasn’t compensation or benefits that, as a rule, caused people to leave their companies. It was the kind of manager they worked for. People generally stay in their jobs if they like or get along with their managers. A poor manager will usually cause good people to leave. The big downside is that poor managers allow poor performers to keep them company.

Second, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were those who excelled at turning each employee’s talent into performance. And performance is usually dependent on three critical factors – talent, knowledge and skill.

Accordingly, we believe that mid-market companies have a significant opportunity to improve performance by developing their managers.

As a CEO, I was often satisfied with good performance because I had not yet gained the knowledge about what would turn good performance into great performance. To achieve the best outcomes, leadership issues need to be addressed, and One-on-One Meetings will help you do that.

The Five Keys to Building a ‘High-Reliability’ Organization

Think about the challenges that face those in charge of a nuclear aircraft carrier. It:

  • Is manned by a bunch of 20-year olds.
  • Has jets with engines that can suck a person into the intake if the person is too close.
  • Has planes whose exhaust can severely burn a man or blow him overboard.
  • Deploys jet fighters that reach 150 mph in 2 seconds during takeoff.
  • Executes landings that essentially are controlled crashes.
  • Must fuel aircraft with engines running.
  • Handles all manner of explosive materials.

Yet, for all the hazards, accidents on flight decks are surprisingly rare. Because so many things could go wrong but almost never do, experts consider an aircraft carrier a “high reliability organization.” The clarity about individual responsibility and about how to function as a team is astounding.

Many of us have been involved in projects where the stakes have been high and we have had to prepare to an exceptional level and pay attention to every detail. But think of what is needed to enable this level of performance every day!

I have to admit I have not seen the level of high reliability you find on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in very many mid-market businesses. Let’s face it. For businesses, the stakes are not as high as they are on a flight deck. But the principle is there for us to apply – clarity and preparedness escalates the predictability of success. And I’ve seen the principle work for units in a business that had really embraced continuous improvement.

Look at your business organization. Think about this outline of preparedness for each business unit (BU):

  1. Prepare the description of the 3-5 most important functions of each BU (that contribute to key results for success).
  2. What is necessary for each function to be performed optimally?
  3. What should the measured results be for each results area (success criteria)?
  4. What processes should be used to assure timely, accurate, high-quality performance?
  5. How will customer satisfaction (internal & external) and targeted results be measured and achieved?

How high do the stakes have to get for us to shift into a higher mode of clarity and preparedness? As business leaders, we are the ones who get to make that decision.

If this is an area of leadership you would like to read more about, email me and I will send you my white paper on PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT – Accountability Based Job Performance.

Am I Good Enough?

Interesting question, right? Actually, it’s probably the most asked question by top performers. Further, it’s a question a lot more managers should be asking themselves. It’s the kind of attitude that works well in any competitive environment — sports, business or the game of life itself. The heart of the issue is really not am I good enough, but have I done all I can do to be as good as I can be?We have just come through some of the toughest economic times most of us have ever experienced. And we know we are not all the way through them yet. Many of my business colleagues are still trying to decide what strategic approach to apply to 2011. So, I am offering up here some thoughts on one very strategic move for 2011 — keep getting better.

There are some stimulating thoughts to consider for our strategic thinking along this line that appear in an article in the current Harvard Business Review — “Are you a Good Boss or a Great One?” The authors point out that most managers stop working on themselves at some point in their career. They seldom ask themselves, “How good am I?” or “What do I need to do better?” unless they are shocked into it. When did you last ask those questions? It seems it does not occur to most managers to ask that question. I strongly urge my colleagues to take charge of this incredibly important responsibility and don’t wait for the shock stimulus — take the initiative.

Recently I was leading a workshop that included a discussion on forced ranking, a concept made popular by Jack Welch while he was at GE. The process involves ranking a group of employees into performance levels graded A, B or C. The concept carries with it the idea that we should be helping the B’s and C’s move up a performance grade and expand the opportunities for the A’s. In other words, keep getting better. Where I have seen the concept in practice — in business literature or in live business settings, I observe it is the direct reflection of the commitment of the organization’s leadership.

The concept of always getting better ought to be on the leadership team agenda pretty regularly — I suggest monthly. Why? Because unless the leaders of the business keep emphasizing it — and doing it — it is so easy to get lulled into a malaise of false comfort.

I cannot help but think of Coach John Wooden (UCLA basketball) when thinking about always getting better. It was one of the main elements of his coaching philosophy. Not surprising, most of his wisdom on the basketball court applies to everyday living. Here is one of his many maxims that not only resonates with always getting better but reinforces some of the most effective leadership thinking: Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming. That is one of the most critical ingredients for continued success on or off the court. Wooden coached his teams to be prepared and to focus on their performance capabilities. Then they would be prepared to face their opponents, regardless.

So, regardless of what the economy brings our way this year, I would argue our best strategy is to keep getting better. Here’s a closing John Wooden thought to support always getting better. Coach Wooden did not focus on winning. He focused on preparation. He taught that if his teams were better prepared than their competition, the right outcomes would be there. It’s tough to argue with ten national championships and 40 winning seasons.

Hal Johnson collaborated with Kurt Glassman in writing this article. Kurt Glassman is an executive consultant, founding partner and president of LeadershipOne.