In ‘Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail’ I’d like to cover some common failures of leaders and managers. We all make mistakes, and that’s actually a good thing, as long as you learn from them…and learn quickly. I’m going to draw from my experiences and those of people I’ve met along the way and hopefully save you some time and some pain.
1) Waiting too long to address under-performance
I’ve seen this so many times in my career and have been guilty of it myself in the past. Many of us like to think the best of people and think that with encouragement, coaching and focussed objectives everyone can make the grade or better. Not so, certainly not all the time. There comes a point when you have to take decisive action.
These situations almost always get worse if left alone. They never get better on their own. Understanding the real issues and taking action quickly leads to faster improvement and reduces the risk of unrecoverable failure for your team members and yourself.
You need to ask yourself the following questions?
a) Does your team member know what is expected of them? Have they got SMART Objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound)?
b) Does your team member have the capability and skills to do what you need of them? Do you and they know what needs to be changed? Have you got time to get there?
c) Are they passionate about what they do? Maybe they’re ‘a square peg in a round hole’ i.e. they’re in the wrong role for their skills.
d) Have you ensured that they are receiving feedback? Don’t trust that just because you’ve discussed it with their manager, it’s happened…Follow up. Don’t trust that just because the words have come out of your mouth, they’ve got it. Get them to play back what they’ve heard and let them tell you what they’re doing about it.
e) Is their performance impacting other members of the team negatively? Are you hearing this from more than one or two people?
Once you’ve got the answers to these questions, make a decision to act and then act. Stick to a plan. Set objectives, measure performance, give feedback, coach, give more feedback and if the person’s performance or behaviour doesn’t change, make a decision, and yes follow process, but move the person; either to a different role, or out of your business. It will be hard, but it is the right thing to do – Right for you, for the team, and in my experience, right for the individual.
2) Not linking Strategy to Objectives or Pay
If you pay your sales team only on winning new business and you’re not setting objectives to any of your teams on retention or great customer service….you will fail.
If you incentivise your people on revenue, they won’t focus on profitability and you will fail.
If you want the best customer service in your industry and you pay people on lowest call times…you will fail.
If you want your executive team, or your management team to change the culture of the business for the long term, make sure that they are compensated on it, or you will fail.
You get the picture, but many don’t. If you want to shift the momentum of a department or a function or a full business, you need to align how people are compensated behind that vision.
3) It’s ‘their’ fault
Let’s get something straight. If you take ownership for delivering something, big or small, it’s no-one else’s fault but your own. True ownership means, tenacity – not taking ‘no’ as an answer, not taking ‘it can’t be done’ as an answer. You keep going, keep pushing, you fight for resource, you fight for priority, you fight for your goals. You make yourself unpopular. Yes…but. No buts. If you agree to take ownership of something, you deliver it or you face the consequences. Stand by your goals!
4) I thought they knew what they had to deliver
This is a big one. Communicating top priorities creates the basis of focus for an organisation, team or individual. However, without clear definitions of success, management and employees can be aiming for very different levels of performance. This creates significant risk in execution to committed operating plans and strategic projects.
Leaders need to be very precise in defining how they are going to measure success. What indicators are going to be used? What weight will be put on different measures? And what are the specific target levels for each of those measures that are expected?
Highly visionary leaders struggle with this more than most. They tend to be heavy on pitching big ideas, but very light on communicating priority and specific expectations.
a) What’s the big idea?
Visionaries get this. They have the idea. They have the passion. They feel they have communicated it. But your team may not.
b) What are the under-pinning principles?
What guiding principles underpin the big idea? No more than 5 – In priority order if possible. These principles will help your people define the boundaries of the big idea. Make sure that your people, especially your influencers understand the big idea AND the principles.
c) Get your people to shape the plan
Ok, so your key players understand the big idea, they’ve thrashed out principles and priorities with your help. Let them build the plan. You sign it off. But let them ‘own’ the plan…and the targets.
d) Review and feedback
Keep on top of the plan, regularly. Give feedback, but don’t take over. If you’ve got the wrong people on the team, change them. If the numbers aren’t coming, evaluate what you’re doing and either change your course or focus extra energy on results.
5) Accepting the status quo
I’ve spent my whole career being frustrated by the status quo. No system is perfect. If it was, the animal kingdom would not have evolved. Competition would not exist. Siblings would not try to out-do each other. There would be no Olympic Games or Premier League. Business is no different.
I’m amazed at the lack of attention to detail in business. We get feedback every day from our customers – directly or indirectly. Do ‘we’ listen to the news, surveys, research, phone calls, letters of complaint….?
Only the best businesses truly listen to feedback and act upon it. And by business I mean, every part, every person in the business listens and more importantly ACT on feedback.
Companies that stick with the status quo, fail.
6) Stop communicating – Engage, Enrol, Involve
People are not stupid. They have lives, they have mortgages, they have complicated relationships, they have children, they have debts, they have secrets, they have dreams. Don’t give them a mouse mat or a piece of paper and expect them to ‘vote’ for your strategy. Talk to them, listen to them, find out what they care about, let them help you with your strategy. Listen to their ideas. Morph your strategy to the best ideas. Bring the most enthusiastic into your inner circle, no matter what their grade.
Forget emails, slides, videos, intranets and 3 minutes at a team briefing in isolation. If you only use these methods without truly engaging with your people and getting their buy-in and belief, you will fail.
7) I won’t tell them, it’s in their best interests.
Rightly or wrongly, businesses often hide the truth from their people and often for the ‘right’ reasons. The days of mass union action have gone. Some will disagree.
Everyone that has an element of commercial awareness, knows that sometimes, tough decisions have to be made. One day that could impact you.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather know. I would then have time to make plans.
My advice, some would say naively, tell people the truth. Give them enough time to make plans or change direction.
I hope this post provoked some thought and hopefully some ideas to help you reflect on past failures and how you may improve, going forward.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.