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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Employee performance = ability X motivation

The subject of dealing with problem employees has frequently come up on this blog. In the past, I’ve talked about the difference between performance, behaviour and attitude issues, the importance of articulating the problem, and the single most important question to ask yourself before you ever raise the issue with your employee. Today, I thought I’d step back and focus on what makes up employee performance, both good and bad. Employee performance is a function of two things – ability and motivation.

Performance = ability X motivation

Ability is the physical, intellectual or emotional capability of your employee to get the job done. Is your employee even able to do what is required in the job? Motivation however has to do with desire and commitment. Does the employee WANT to do the job at the level and competence that is required?

Why does this matter? Because you need to assess both factors when trying to get at the root cause of a performance problem. Someone who is highly motivated but at a reduced level of ability can often achieve above-average performance. Unfortunately the opposite is not always true. But don’t be fooled into thinking that motivation can overcome ANY lack of ability – the two are still necessary requirements for exceptional (or even adequate) employee performance. In my experience, you can operate tolerably at 50% ability, but anything less than 75% motivation will get you nowhere.

So what do you think? What are the minimum required levels of ability and motivation to have an adequately performing employee?

Never lose sight of your customer

In the April 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of shares his top ten leadership lessons. While I certainly agreed with all of them, #9 caught my attention because it was so atypical. Bezos says:

“Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

Bezos asks thousands of Amazon managers to attend two days of call-center training each year. He is keenly aware that complaints can be devastating in the age of viral tweets and blogs, so he wants everyone in the company to never lose sight of the very reason for their success – their customers. Sitting in on call-center training means that his managers always have empathy and humility towards the customer. Oh, and by the way, the rule applies to him as well: he attends two days of call-center training every year too!

So what are you doing to make sure that you (and your leadership team) never lose sight of your customer? Please share, and also tell us if you think your organization is missing the mark in this regard.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to dealing with employees who are resistant to change?

Workplace change – it is stressful and frustrating to many! One of your most important roles as a leader is to be an agent of change; yet your success will be limited if you can’t get all your employees on the same page and moving forward. Fortunately some employees come on board pretty quickly, but alas just as many seem to dig in their heels and hold on with a tight grip on the past. So how do you overcome this familiar leadership challenge?

That’s exactly what I’ll be covering on Wednesday September 19 in my next live Audio Conference titled “The Reluctant Employee – How to lead, train, and motivate the change-resistant worker”. I’ll be opening the lines for questions, so I want to know – when it comes to dealing with employees who are resistant, apathetic, negative and distrustful of anything new, what is your biggest challenge? What one thing could I help you with to get these change-resistant employees moving forward? Go to to ask your question and I’ll answer as many as I can on September 19.

And while you’re at, be sure to download the free article – “Dealing with Change” – in which I walk through a specific example to illustrate a classic four-step model AND offer you two key things you should be aware of in order to ease the process.  Just click on the link on the bottom left of the screen.

Sometimes leaders need to stop talking and just listen

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

— Sir Winston Churchill, British politician (1874 – 1965) at a conference in Washington DC

I received this quote and photo from a client recently and even though I’ve read this before, the accompanying photo was a visible reminder of this important leadership tenet. As a leader, there are times when it is important to speak up and be heard, but there are just as many situations when it is critical to stop talking and just listen. As a leader, your title or position will often cause others to view you as an elephant – big and powerful – and for that reason your subordinates will not always speak up, even when they have something important or significant to say. Which is exactly why it’s so essential that you consciously and deliberately sit back and listen; and create an environment where your employees know that you are willing to hear them out. That will sometimes require you to keep your own ego in check, to swallow hard and hold your own opinions back until others have had chance to share their points of view.

So is it difficult to “sit down and listen”? What do you do to gather up the courage to not speak? Do tell.

Use “the parking lot” to manage unexpected or extended issues that arise in your meeting

Often in meetings, unexpected agenda items crop up, or certain topics generate legitimate discussion that go beyond the time frame allotted in the agenda. What should you do when such subjects threaten to take your meeting off track and off schedule?

When unexpected or lengthier issues arise, it’s the chairperson’s job to take control by considering two choices – either get agreement from everyone to adjust the agenda by reducing or eliminating another item, OR send the item being discussed to the “parking lot.” The parking lot is a designated whiteboard or flipchart where outstanding issues are logged, with an understanding that they will be tabled as agenda items at a future meeting. The parking lot approach is a very effective way to keep a meeting moving while still respecting other points of view.

So have you used the “parking lot”? What has been your experience? Or do you take another approach? Please share.

If your meetings aren’t as effective as they could be, here are some other posts that you might find of value:

If I groom you then you’ll groom me (a cat’s formula for success)

I have two furry felines in my house and they provide hours of entertainment. As frequent readers of my blog and Mega Minutes know though, they also occasionally offer up lessons in life and leadership. People often say that cats are aloof but I find quite the opposite. My cats are very social animals, perfectly willing to groom each other for hours on end. You might say that it’s because they’re good friends, but I’ve been told by other owners that their cats will groom even mere acquaintances. You see … cats know that with another’s help, they can reach the hard-to-get spots that they couldn’t get to alone.

And therein lies the lesson for successful leadership. As important as it is to be a leader who acts independently in thought, you don’t want it to mean that you should isolate yourself. You need others around you with whom you can build relationships and foster trust. If you invest energy and goodwill into grooming them so that they can look their best, then they’ll do the same for you. And perhaps more importantly, they’ll help you achieve the difficult objectives that you can’t attain on your own. Make it a point to help others be at their best, and you’ll find that the energy is reciprocated.

Comments?  Please add them below.

Begin with the end in mind – a leadership lesson from the Cheshire cat

“Can you tell me which road to take?”

“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

I was re-reading Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic “Alice in Wonderland” the other day and was reminded of how this literary nonsense in fact isn’t. The whimsical Cheshire cat offers a valuable lesson in leadership – if you don’t know where you’re going, nothing that you can do will be of consequence. Which is exactly why leaders need to be very clear about their goals and department objectives, not only to themselves, but also to those they lead. In my experience, most (if not all) leaders have an inner vision of their intended destination. But they frequently fail when it comes to clearly communicating this vision to the rest of the team. You must be able to articulate to your team exactly where you wish to go, or else, not be surprised when nobody gets there.

So … what’s been your experience? Can you put your hand over your heart and say that every person on your team knows where you want the team and your department to go? How are you making this happen? Do share.

Use “reverse brainstorming” as a powerful way to improve service

If you lead a department that provides any sort of service, whether to external or internal clients, then service improvement should always be one of your goals. There is a very interesting technique known as “reverse brainstorming” that is particularly effective when it comes finding opportunities for service improvement. You’ve probably heard of regular brainstorming – the popular problem-solving tool used to generate creative solutions to a difficult issue. Reverse brainstorming is similar except that it asks the contrary or opposite questions. In regular brainstorming, you would define the problem, and then encourage people to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve it, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. In reverse brainstorming, you change the definition of the problem by posing two questions:

  1. Instead of asking “How do I solve or prevent this problem?”, ask “How could I possibly cause this problem?”
  2. Instead of asking “How do I achieve the results I want?”, ask “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”

Then you take the same approach as you would with regular brainstorming, encouraging people to come up with as many ideas as possible, no idea is too conservative or too crazy.

Let me give you a recent example to show you how powerful this technique can be. Continue reading

Hiring for a job? Don’t settle for less

Sometimes you just need to fill the job! You’re short-staffed, sales or processing volumes are up, and your other staff are running ragged; you just need a warm body, as long as he or she is breathing, to fill the position. So you do. And then … in just a few short weeks, you heartily regret the decision! If this sounds familiar, then you know that effective recruitment is really a matter of pay now or pay later. Either invest the time and effort up front to get the right person for the job, or suffer the consequences in lack of productivity and even profitability later on down the road. Still not convinced? Let me give you my list of reasons why it’s SO SO important to pay now (i.e. make the effort up front) when it comes to recruiting employees for your team.

  • The right person will have the skills to do the job and so will be more productive.
  • The right person will love the job and will be much less likely to leave. Remember, turnover costs you time, money and aggravation.
  • The right person will fit more easily into your department and organization’s culture.
  • If the person doesn’t get along with the rest of your team, then there will be stress and conflict, and other team members’ productivity will go down as well.
  • Get it done right, and you won’t have to do it again … at least not for a while for this specific job!

The bottom line: making the wrong recruiting decision wastes time, money, and organizational resources, and it can really hold a team back. It pays to put real effort into getting the hiring decision right.

What else do you have to add to the list above? What are other consequences of not getting the right person for the job?