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When Getting Bigger Isn’t Better March 14, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems.
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A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal: Monster to Acquire HotJobs.  As soon as I read that headline, I knew it meant trouble.  Let me put this headline into context for you: When companies run into major challenges (aka trouble) and can find few answers to meet those challenges, they resort to buying another big competitor.  Remember when HP bought Compaq a few years ago?  HP was trying to find it’s way through a dismal personal computer market and groped for an answer by buying Compaq, which was also groping along.  Two gropes do not make for a good business strategy.  Result for HP?  The CEO was ousted after the HP board ran out of patience waiting for good to come out of that mega-merger.

On the surface, its very tempting to buy a rival who sometimes can be bought cheaply…sometimes not so.  The typical formula is this:  merge – cut costs wherever possible during the merger + instant market share = profits that flow from being bigger.  Well maybe.  In too many cases, buying another competitor to gain market share and profits means more of the same problems just in a bigger package now.

Sears buying Kmart is another great example of when getting bigger is not better.  Sears has been looking for a purpose for decades now and was already sickly.  At the time of the merger, Kmart was just about on a death watch from a retailing perspective.  The result?  The disease never went away.  Sears and Kmart are just as dismal performers than ever.

The giant job search database called Monster has seen it’s market strength zapped by low-cost players like LinkedIn and by savvy recruiters who now use business networking and social media platforms like Facebook to find great job candidates.  More companies are providing financial incentives for their employees to enlist their help in the recruitment effort.  Monster, once the king of the job search road, has found itself searching for ways to grapple with declining revenues and aggressive social media competitors.  The landscape for job search databases is forcing change.

For its part, Yahoo is looking to shed assets for cash but ends up the real loser.  According to the WSJ, Yahoo bought HotJobs in the heat of the dot com era for $436 million and is now selling it to Monster for a mear $225 million in cash.  Nice going Yahoo.

Getting bigger as a way to answer for declining revenues and market share is generally not a good business strategy.  History is full of great examples of this strategy.  Despite the hindsight, companies continue to grope for answers by spending money that could probably be used elsewher

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Discovering a performance issue in a global team July 6, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Coaching, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Global communication, Global leadership, Leading globally, Performance issues.
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The Big Dogz know that the biggest problem with managing performance of a remote worker is to identity that there is a performance problem.  Time, culture and technology can mask the signs that a remote employee is having a performance problem. The effective global leader is aware of potential performance problem signals. What do you look for?

Here are some specific signals your global team member may send you:

  • Does not respond to email or voice mail
  • Does not make regular contact with you
  • Deliverables are late, does not notify you
  • Other members of your global team complain to you about the work products or delivery schedule
  • Does not participate in team conference calls
  • Misses status reports
  • Tries to redirect the performance conversation
  • Turns off the IM software
  • Is absent unexpectedly
  • Becomes defensive about questions
  • Updates are unclear or poorly worded
  • Claims computer systems problems keep from getting the work done
  • Describes problems in email rather than a phone call
  • Spending more time surfing the internet
  • Tell you everything is going “great”
  • Productivity is dropping
  • They are excelling at mundane tasks — ignoring major project tasks
  • They do not have awareness of project or company news

Observing these signs does not guarantee there is a performance problem. A general principle to follow is “Is there something unusual happening?” When you see behavior that is not normal, this is a good indicator that something is awry. If it is not a performance problem, then it is probably something you need to become involved with anyway.

The Big Dogz use these signs as guidelines — something to start investigating. As with all performance problems, you will first want to check the person’s ability to do the task assigned. Of course, the Big Dogz do that when they give a SMART objective; but if that assessment was incorrect, now is a good time to adjust. Use the performance feedback process to get the person’s action plan to bring performance back in line with your expectation. Include in your analysis, the workload, the priority in the team for this task and other factors that may affect the person’s ability to perform. Help the person to take action to fix these issues.

If the cause of the performance issue is not ability, then explore the willingness or motivational component of performance. They may have a confidence issue relative to the task. Perhaps you will have to increase your relationship activity with this person, such as encouraging them.

Responding to remote performance issues requires the use of the same techniques and approaches you would use with a co-located performance issue. Of course it will take more time, require the use of technology and adaptation to some cultural issues. The Big Dogz know that paying attention to the potential performance issue signs will pay off in the long run.

Improving Your Memory April 2, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Fixing performance problems, Grow your skills, Work/Life Balance.
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David DirksAs I scanned my emails today, I found this piece on improving your memory.  I could use that as I’m sometimes moving as fast as the speed of light and invariably I’ll forget something along the way.  Sometimes its a small thing and sometimes it’s something more significant.  So when I caught this, I thought I’d pass it on to you too.  It’s provided by neuroscience researcher Mark Underwood.

Suffering from C.R.S. (Can’t Remember Stuff)?
5 Tips for Memory Fitness

While millions of us have resolved to make 2009 the year for getting our bodies into better shape, an expert on neurological fitness suggests we also make this the year to get our minds into tip-top condition.

“With Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases now starting to affect adults in their 30’s, it’s never too early to begin a simple program geared to maintain brain health and stimulate cognitive function,” says neuroscience researcher Mark Underwood.

Underwood says many researchers now believe brain health and memory can be positively influenced by simple things we can do physically, mentally, and nutritionally:

1. Stay physically active. Regular activity, not necessarily planned exercise, seems to relate to brain fitness. Activities like gardening, dancing and cleaning could increase chances of maintaining brain health.

2. Challenge your brain. Calculate, do word search games and crossword puzzles, and go to lectures, concerts and museums.  Learn a foreign language or how to play a musical instrument.

3. Stay socially active. People who are active in clubs and social networks may hold up better cognitively than those who are less socially active.

4. Feed your brain. The brain and nervous system are comprised of 60 percent fat, so ensure your diet is rich in the Omega 3 essential fatty acids found in coldwater fish, fish oil, and flax oil.  Google “brain foods” on the computer and try a few.

5. Lower brain calcium levels with supplements. Proper levels of calcium within the neurons are required for optimum brain function.  As we reach middle age, brain calcium levels begin to rise because our bodies stop producing a protein responsible for regulating calcium concentration within the cells.

“Too much calcium in a neuron will ‘short circuit’ it and it stops working,” says Underwood.

“When millions and millions of neurons become over-calcified and stop working, an individual can feel blank, forgetful, slow-witted, and begin to experience symptoms sometimes associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

ABOUT MARK UNDERWOOD
Mark Underwood is neuroscience researcher and co-founder and president of Quincy Bioscience in Madison, Wisconsin.  Mark is responsible for researching the “calcium binding protein” found in jellyfish and developing it for use as a calcium regulator in the human nervous system. He is the author of the book “Gift from the Sea.”

An expensive lesson March 28, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Fixing performance problems, Grow your skills, Keeping Your Customers, Performance issues.
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You do not want to do this! This story is definitely not a Big Dogz story — it is about a learning opportunity I personally experienced. I hope you will learn from my mistake.

 

A client gave me an opportunity to lead a two-day workshop in the UK. This was an important engagement for me since this was my first workshop for this company and there was the possibility that I would get more work with them if I did well. I worked hard to prepare for this engagement. I created a couple of new exercises that I thought would add significant value to the experience. I felt well prepared and confident of success. The results were disastrous from my perspective.

 

About an hour into the first day, I was debriefing the opening exercise — having the participants introduce themselves and identify the top three challenges facing them in this topic area. One of the participants noted that in his group people were trying to solve the challenges instead of performing the assigned task of identifying the challenges, He noted this behavior detracted from the effectiveness of the group. This is where I started to get into trouble!

 

My response to his observation was a flip “Yes, that is one of the things about you Brits that irritate us.” Now why I would say such an idiotic thing is beyond me. It must have been the result of a dysfunctional synapse in my brain. After 16 years leading workshops on interpersonal skills, one would think that such words would never come out of my mouth. I have been working internationally for my entire business career spanning 39 years. I know such utterances are not effective. Nonetheless, I, in fact spoke those words. Now that incident was just the introduction to my lesson.

 

During the break, an observer from the HR department (yes, I said that in front of a person from the HR department) let me know that what I said was insulting to the participants. I agreed and I expressed my appreciation to her for bringing it to my attention. Even though I said those words, I did not actually remember saying them until she told me. Even I was appalled that I would say such a thing only 90 minutes into my workshop. Now is when I made the major mistake that caused the disaster. I know that the most effective action in this situation is to admit the mistake, apologize for it and ask for forgiveness.

 

Did I do that? No! I engaged the participants when they returned from the break and got caught up in the excitement of moving forward. They were asking questions and participating. The apology slipped my mind. As the rest of the workshop unfolded, I was very pleased with the engagement and learning of the participants. The engagement level was very high, there appeared to be a very positive rapport between the participants and myself. If there were any signs that people were insulted or offended, I missed them. I made a decision that an apology was no longer necessary and might even be counter productive.

 

At the end of the two days, I experienced a very warm close to the workshop. Many of the participants approached me personally to shake my hand and to thank me for helping them in the topic area. I felt very good about the workshop. In fact, I sent an email to the account executive telling him of the success of the workshop. The participants would do the workshop evaluations online in the next few days.

 

About a week later, I received an email from the account executive informing me that the client thought the workshop was successful, but I had offended some of the participants with my comments about British culture. As a result, I was no longer welcome as a facilitator at this company. I was looking forward to hearing about how pleased the customer was with the workshop; instead, I received this horrible news. You can imagine how that felt. After I recovered from the shock of this news, I decided to take action.

 

The first order of action was to admit to myself that this incident was a result of my actions and therefore my responsibility. There were no extenuating circumstances that I would blame. I did it and I did not recover like I knew I could have. Next, I sent an apology to the customer contact. You are reading the third action I took. If someone of my experience can make a mistake like this, then there must be a lesson that I can share with others.

 

The key lesson I learned in this experience is to stay focused on everything I need to do to be effective. I focused solely on making the workshop successful in terms of the participant learning but I lost focus on my interpersonal responsibility to respect the participants. That last sentence was really hard for me to write!

 

I paid a very high tuition for this lesson and I hope that you will take advantage of my learning opportunity. I know that I will never make this mistake again!

 

 

 

 

 

Feed the Big Dogz March 21, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Coaching, Feedback, Fixing performance problems, Getting what you want, Management, Performance issues.
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Do you want to get even more from your top performers? The Big Dogz know that it is very effective to spend your coaching time with the Big Dogz rather than the low performers! However, some managers tend to spend their precious coaching time with the low performers trying to get them to perform at the acceptable level. Although this strategy may sound effective, it does not represent the optimum use of your time and energy. Just where am I supposed to focus? Let’s look at the range of performers you may have to manage, and then map an effective approach to investing your coaching effort with each of those performers.

 

Star performer — this is your go-to person. The star is highly motivated, willing to learn and is ambitious. The star performer is always looking for ways to improve productivity in your team. Normally they are self-starters and need little of your time. Just the kind of person you want on your team.

 

Spend most of your coaching time with this performer. It is effective to schedule very frequent coaching session to develop the contributions of this performer. It would not be an ineffective use of your time to meet with this person 2-3 times per week to provide coaching. Give them effective feedback and provide opportunities for them to develop and contribute. These performers will take up more than 50 % of your coaching time and effort. Coaching this performer will most likely stretch your coaching skills to the highest level and you will grow in your capability to coach. So, there is some personal benefit for you by spending time and energy with this performer.

 

 

Rising star performer — this performer is also highly motivated, willing to learn and ambitious. What makes this performer different from the star performer is the level of skill and experience. They really want to do whatever it takes; they just need some guidance. The rising star has some ideas about how things could be better, but is reluctant to come forward. And, by the way, this person will seldom ask you for help. Having performers like this on your team is an opportunity waiting to be developed.

 

This performer is your next highest ROI (Return On Investment) for using your coaching time. Encourage them to come to you for advice and support. Meet with them as often as you can; at least once per week. Have a detailed agenda on what topics you will coach this performer. Use a consistent coaching model to have them perform self-reflection on the coaching focus areas. Identify learning opportunities for them and provide encouragement. Look for opportunities to pair them with a star performer on a team activity. These performers are generally the easiest to coach. They want to learn and be successful.

 

 

Solid performer — this performer is motivated, somewhat willing to learn and is not overly ambitious. The solid performer is a person you can count upon to deliver quality work in a reasonable time. The solid performer has the process figured out and will accomplish what needs to be done. They do not feel it is their responsibility to make changes to the work process. However, they always have ideas on how things can be done more effectively. You can count on them to deliver what they say they will deliver. Having people like this on your team can allow you the opportunity to develop the stars and rising stars.

 

These performers are not necessarily interested in making larger contributions, nor are they slackers. They may have other higher priorities in their lives. Meet with them on a regular basis, perhaps 2-3 times per month to discuss development activities.

 

This performer is a good source of ideas for development opportunities for your stars and rising stars. The solid performer sees things that could be changed or improved, but is not motivated sufficiently to actually make the changes.

 

Some mangers try to convince the solid performer to make the effort to become a rising star. I know this because I was one of those managers! Do not take this approach. It will just irritate the solid performer and frustrate you. If the performer does express an interest in raising the performance level, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. Often management has neglected and taken the solid performer for granted. Value the solid performer and appreciate their contributions. This performer is usually self managed and will allow you time to coach the stars and rising stars.

 

 

Struggling performer — this performer is not well motivated, wants things done the way they have always been done and is not ambitious. The quality of their work is low and it takes them longer than the performers above to get something done. They complain about the process of getting work done and have many excuses why they are not able to perform. They often give the appearance of “trying hard”. Having a struggling performer on your team is a major drain on you and the other members of your team.

 

This performer may have been mis-managed in their career. Probably, this performer is frustrated in their job. For almost every situation, they will explain to you why they cannot be successful. It is always someone else’s fault. Helping a struggling performer to become a solid performer is hard work and one of the most difficult coaching tasks. If you are not successful, then move them out of your team. Do not invest in regular coaching session with this performer. Effective coaches use a one time coaching approach to help the performer improve. The first step in this coaching process is to determine the source of the performance problem. Is it ability or motivation?

 

To find out if it is ability, ask the struggling performer what they are doing to accomplish their work. If they obviously do not know how to do it, then arrange for a development opportunity for them to acquire the skill. Monitor this process closely to insure the person has the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary. The time allocated to this activity will be in the 30-60 day window. If they cannot acquire the skills, then you will have to move them into a position where they can be successful or move them out of the business.

 

To find out if it is motivation, ask them how they feel about working in your team. If they have the ability to do the job, why aren’t they doing it? What motivates them? If you can, set up an environment where they will receive the motivation they need. If this is not possible, then you clearly state the consequences of poor performance. In most situations, you would put them on a 30-60 performance improvement plan. Work with your HR professional to help you meet statutory requirements.

 

Coaching the struggling performer takes a great deal of time and is best limited to a one-time effort on your part to help this performer improve. When you are successful in moving them to the solid performer category, treat them like any other solid performer in terms of your coaching time and effort. Many struggling performers are stuck in this category because of poor management and coaching. By paying attention and holding them accountable, you may experience one of the most positive outcomes of this type of coaching engagement. You have a high probability of helping this performer skip the solid performer category and vault to be a rising star!

 

Unsatisfactory performer — this performer is not only personally un-motivated, but is a demotivator for others on your team. Their work products are often incomplete and of poor quality. It is amazing how these people continue to be on the payroll. They show up late, leave early and complain about everything. Having a performer like this on your team makes more work for everyone else and drains your personal power for not handling the situation.

 

This performer has moved from being a struggling performer to a performer who has given up! You may have worked with this performer and they have not responded. They are most likely not skilled enough for the position and have a poor attitude about the job. Usually, when you inform the unsatisfactory performer of their status, they will make an effort to improve. However, this effort does not last, nor is it sufficient. In most cases, unsatisfactory performers lack the ability to do the job. This lack of skill is serious. A reasonable skill development activity cannot overcome this deficiency. The unsatisfactory performer is most likely suited somewhere else.

 

Coaching this performer is also a one-time activity and is usually a much shorter engagement than coaching the struggling performer. Get your HR professional involved because your objective is to get this person out of your team and into the job or profession that suits them.

 

Where are you spending your coaching resource? Are you getting the most effective ROI on your investment of time and energy?

 

Take a quick inventory of how you are spending your coaching time. For the next 25 business days, take a couple of minutes at the end of each day and answer these questions:

 

Whom did I coach today?

How much time did I spend on that coaching engagement?

(Be sure to include any preparation time you spent)

What result did I get?

 

After the 25 days, you will be seeing more improved results with your coaching investments! Remember, feed the Big Dogz.

 

 

Winning by letting others win December 21, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Achieving goals, Bronder On People, Dealing With Competitors, Fixing performance problems, Power.
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The Big Dogz know that winning is not always getting your way. Sometimes it pays to get the ideas or agendas of others implemented rather than your own. Here are some tips to help you be more effective as a solution leader in your organization:

 

  • Try meeting with key people before the problem solving session to get some idea of their thoughts. Spend time with them to help them build their case for presentation in the meeting.

 

  • Be alert for signs of resistance during solution discussion. Tone and non-verbal signals are important. When you see resistance, try to bring it out in the open where you can deal with it. An effective way to get the resistance out in the open is to ask a closed ended question with your assumption. For example, “Are you concerned about the cost of this solution?” They will answer yes or no. If yes, you got it out in the open. If no, follow up with “What is your concern?”

 

  • Analyze the cost of getting your way. Does your solution help your personal goals versus the goals of the organization? Are you acquiring a reputation as a person who has to win every situation, no mater the importance to you? If the issue is not that important to you, let others take the lead.

 

 

  • Ask others, like your manager or a trusted colleague, to provide you feedback on your actions in problem solving sessions. Are you monopolizing the conversation or pushing your agenda? Look to get feedback that you are cooperating and getting others involved.

 

  • Before you go into a problem solving session, take time to discover the needs and goals of others at the meeting. You will be able to get more support for your idea if you link it to others’ needs. Sometimes the needs of others’ outweigh you personal needs. Keep your options open.

 

 

  • While you are presenting your idea, identify areas where you are willing to compromise. This will encourage others to fill in the details of your solution that they support. Ask others what are the no compromise issues about their solutions. Accept these points and offer compromise in other areas if you can.

 

  • Find a role model. Look for someone who does an effective job of driving solutions and getting everyone to participate. Observe them and experiment with what they do.

 

The Big Dogz know that winning does not always mean g4tting your way. There are others in the organization who have good ideas. Be the one who gets others to contribute. You will win in the long run.

 

Performance feedback September 22, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Coaching, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Management, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg Most of us are familiar with the adage, practice makes perfect. And, most of us would be wrong! The Big Dogz know that it is feedback that makes perfect and that practice makes permanent. There are two types of feedback that you provide to an employee. The first of these is behavior feedback — that is how an employee is behaving. You generally do not give behavior feedback unless the behavior is affecting an employee’s performance or the performance of others. If the behavior is not affecting performance, you may consider asking permission to give behavior feedback. It is like giving someone advice.

 

The most common type of feedback you give an employee is performance feedback. Not only do you not have to ask permission to give this type of feedback, it is your responsibility and obligation to provide this feedback. Here are a few fundamental principles about performance feedback:

 

  1. Feedback is always linked to an objective. It is about a specific result you have asked the employee to achieve.
  2. Frequency of feedback is dependent upon the performance level of the employee. When performance is low, feedback is more frequent.
  3. Feedback is most effective when it is balanced. This does not mean you give them the classic “feedback sandwich” — something good, something negative and something good. Most employees know that traditional management training recommends this approach — and they flinch when the manager gives them positive feedback because they know the “but” is coming. By balanced, I mean give positive feedback as often, if not more often, than you give corrective feedback.
  4. Timeliness of feedback has a direct correlation to the motivational value and the learning associated with the feedback. The closer you provide feedback to the actual result, the more effective that feedback is.
  5. Effective feedback is consistent. That means when you give feedback, you follow a repeatable process and your employees know what to expect. In fact, after a few iterations through your feedback process, they will be able to do it themselves. Here is such a process:

 

         State the objective and get the employee to agree that is their objective.

         Ask for their observation on how they are doing

         Give your observation of specific data related to the objective

         If this is corrective feedback, ask, “What are you going to do?” Stay away from “What can we do?”  You want them to own the action plan

         If the feedback is positive, then pursue how you could leverage this accomplishment for more visibility or opportunity for the employee.

         What help do you need from me

         Offer suggestions on how they can accomplish the objective

         Get them to summarize the action plan

         Set follow up meeting to discuss progress — to give them more feedback

         Ask them if there is anything else you they to know

         Encourage them

 

The Big Dogz know that by following this or a customized process like this one, your feedback skills will grow and you can help your employees become “perfect”.

 

Diagnosing and fixing performance problems June 6, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg Want to fix performance problems? The Big Dogz know how to diagnose and then fix performance problems.

 

Performance problems are caused by one of two major dimensions of human behavior — ability or willingness. Ability is knowing how something could be done; and willingness is the desire to do it. Willingness can be either a confidence issue or a motivation issue. Most managers attribute a performance problem with willingness or attitude. We tend to think this person has a bad attitude and does not want to do the job. Studies have shown that for the large majority of the time, performance problems are a matter of not being able to do the job. So what do the Big Dogz do when they encounter a performance problem?

 

First they check ability. You can do this by asking some of the following questions:

  1. What process are you using to get this done?
  2. What have you accomplished so far?
  3. What obstacles have you encountered? What are you doing about them?
  4. Who have you talked with concerning this task?
  5. What tools are you using?
  6. How long do you think this task might take?

 

Explore the person’s awareness of the task and how to get it done. Answers to these types of questions will give you insight into how much this person knows about this task. If there is a knowledge gap, figure out how to close the gap. Will you provide personal coaching? Pair them up with a subject matter expert? Give them a step by step set of instructions? I can hear some of the concerns some of you may be having. Shouldn’t they already know how to do what I ask them? Well, perhaps they should; I am not going to argue that point. The real issue is you have an employee not performing and it is costing you money. It is in your best interests to get this person up to speed and productive.

 

Once the Big Dogz are confident that the person knows how to do the task, they check for willingness by asking questions like these:

  1. How do you feel about this assignment?
  2. How would you assess your skill level to complete this assignment?
  3. Is this assignment something that motivates you?
  4. How confident are you that you can complete this task?
  5. What benefit do you see for yourself in completing this task?
  6. What help do you need to get his done?

 

Probing for confidence or motivation issues will allow you to quickly solve the problem. Encourage those who have a low confidence level. Help them gain confidence by giving them constructive feedback on their progress. If the issue is a motivational one, then look at why you gave this task to this particular person. If you thought it was a task that would motivate them, explore further why this is a problem. It could be that you misread the motivation needs and gave them an assignment that was de-motivating. Sometimes, you need to be honest with an employee and let them know that they will do the task whether they like it or not. It has to be done and they are the one who will do it. I always encourage managers to use personal power rather than position power, but sometimes you need to do that.

 

The Big Dogz know that the first place to investigate a performance problem is ability, then to look at willingness. Take a closer look at some of your performance issues to see if ability is the root. The ability issue is easier to fix and has a long term benefit for both you and the employee.