Archive for "High Performance Teams"

The Power Illusion AccountabilityExecutionHigh Performance TeamsLeadershipMost PopularWinning Culture

June 4th, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

Power ball

Consider the following statement for a moment: No one has ever made you do anything.

Yikes – that’s likely to open up some old wounds. But in both your business and personal lives, with the exception of being a victim of criminal acts, I assert that this statement is not only true, but vital to your success as a leader. Let’s explore how using power versus influence impacts both your leadership performance, and the business performance of your company.

Leaders and managers often overestimate how effectively they are using their power. For example, two of the most common problems leaders run into are 1) their employees aren’t nearly as committed as they are, and 2) not everybody can or will do things your way. For many leaders, the natural response is to resort to their formal authority and force people to do what they are telling them, or else face the consequences. Since being nice didn’t produce the results you wanted, you feel forced to shift into bad-guy mode: micro-management, performance management, and potentially, terminations. Paradoxically however, people start doing what you wanted, but performance still doesn’t improve much. Now, both you AND your people are miserable, with no solution in sight. This is how many people define accountability – telling people what to do, and punishing them if they don’t. Is it any wonder only 36% of managers and executives are engaged in their job, or that so many high-potential employees refuse to explore management roles?

Here is the biggest illusion in all of leadership: You can’t make anyone do anything!

Consequences vs. Choices: Here’s the hard truth: You almost always have a choice. Yes, the potential consequences of a given situation may make for an easy decision, but be very clear that the decision is still a choice. For example, let’s say your boss approaches you and says, “Do X, or you’re fired.” Do you have a choice? Of course you do – your decision to comply will depend on how much you value your job. If you are terrified of losing your income, or think you can’t find another job quickly, you will likely decide to do what your boss is asking. However, if you have some money saved up to live off of while you look for another job, and you fundamentally disagree with what your boss is asking of you, you will likely decide to refuse your boss’ request and look for another job, like these people. The person who feels he has no alternative options is the one who will feel as though he had “no choice”, but reality is there are always options available, and you are choosing one whether you realize it or not. Most important from a talent perspective, it’s your high-performers who have the most options at their disposal. They are the employees you can least afford to lose, while also being the least willing to tolerate a toxic boss or work environment.

Power vs. Influence: This difference gets to the heart of effective leadership. If you examine the definitions of the two words, some interesting differences emerge…

Power: Possession of control, authority, or influence over others.

Influence: The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

After reading those two definitions, which sounds like the more effective leadership strategy in today’s business environment? Power and authority work under the assumption that people in fact have to do what they are told. But as we just discussed, they don’t! This has never been truer than today, when it is so difficult and expensive to hire and terminate employees. Simply put, you do not want to rely on your formal power or authority to lead your people, because the Command-and-Control leadership style results in employees doing what they have to, and not what they could do. And under these conditions, what they will do is figure out how to survive by doing the bare minimum.

A wonderful leader I worked for in the past had a saying: “Be careful what you ask of your employees, because you will get it.” What he meant was that employees will do whatever they need to survive and ensure their job security. If you make an unreasonable demand, your employees will figure out how to deliver you the result, but usually at the minimum level of quality and effort possible. In a sales organization I used to work in, the sales force was once asked to make an unrealistic number of sales calls per day. Knowing the pressure they were under, the reps simply fabricated the calls, and recorded them even though they never happened. Worse, the sales managers knew it was happening, but didn’t say anything because they too were under the same pressure to deliver! By relying on authority and power, leaders often generate fear within their organizations, which shuts down communication and leads to destructive scenarios like the above. When people become afraid to speak up, they are unwilling to raise discussions about problems or ideas for improvement, which destroys morale, stifles innovation, and keeps your organization locked in a cycle of repeating the same mistakes – all while your competitors are moving forward and improving.

The most effective leaders today rely on their influence to lead. Having learned that they can’t actually make anyone do anything, they instead focus on making their employees want to do things. When employees are doing things because they want to rather than being forced to, their outlook and performance completely change. They are now being motivated intrinsically (from within, because they want to) instead of extrinsically (from the outside, because they have to), which dramatically increases their discretionary effort – the amount of effort they choose to put into the job or task at hand. In Organization Development, this is referred to as employee engagement, and is the difference between employees doing great work, and doing the minimum. This extra effort by your employees gets noticed by your customers, who will become more loyal to you and do more business as a result. The Gallup organization has found that companies who engage both their employees and customers experience a 240% boost in performance-related outcomes compared to companies who engage neither.

In today’s business environment, power is both an illusion and a losing strategy. Instead, make it your goal to influence and inspire your employees to want to give their best effort. Both you and they will be healthier and happier, while driving improved business performance and execution.

3 Steps to Team Execution: Team Performance Machine Part II AccountabilityExecutionHigh Performance TeamsMost Popular

May 14th, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

car ferrari yellow

You can also view this post on The Rouse!

“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” How does this resonate with you?

Whenever I make this statement to my audiences, I get a surprisingly mixed response. This took me aback at first, so I began asking a clarifying question: “How many of you have ever worked on a truly high-performing team that accomplished great results and loved working together?” When I ask for a show of hands, typically only about 10-20% of hands go up! That finding is not only scary, but points to perhaps your biggest obstacle as a leader of a team – most people don’t know what a good team looks like, nor do many even believe one is possible. Far too often, teams operate more like a group of Minions playing football/soccer than a highly-functioning unit (notice the fake dive for the red card – priceless!).

In my previous post, we covered the two steps required for preparing your team for success. Now comes the hard part – ensuring team execution of their agreements and expectations. Here are the final three steps you can take to enable your team to become a performance machine, using the model of Top 50 Global Thought-Leader John Spence:

1) Track and Post: Do you have a publicly visible scorecard for your team? The old adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is true in this case. Transparency of progress and results is critical for accountability, because people need to know where they stand in relation to their goals. A scorecard or other form of progress-tracker at both the team and individual levels should be posted somewhere highly visible to the team, and updated as frequently as makes sense. Sales organizations often do this well, but I see this less frequently with internal groups and functions – I recommend it for all. This not only enhances performance and clarity, but it signals to your team that you are serious about execution. Naturally, your low performers will be uncomfortable with this, and that’s ok – it is part of their necessary growth process in order to improve their performance. Your high-performers will love it. Most importantly, you should help your average to above-average employees see this as an opportunity. They often have the greatest ability to improve their individual and overall team performance, and to become top-performers themselves.

2) Coach Individually AND Collectively: How, and how often, are you actively coaching your teams? Coaching takes on additional importance in the team environment because you not only have to coach the individuals, but you must also coach the team as a whole on how to work together. Most people are unfamiliar with the processes and disciplines of great teams – as such, teams will often need significant help establishing and sticking to team processes, particularly early on. Open-dialogue and continuous improvement is of obvious importance for driving performance, and coaching can close small performance gaps before they become big ones. Yet I am still amazed at how many leaders vastly underestimate the importance of this vital leadership skill.

3) Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors: Finally, once you are tracking and posting progress, and coaching to the gaps, you must incent your team members with rewards and consequences. However, you not only want to reward strong goal achievement, but also the behaviors that lead to that goal achievement. For example, if selflessness is going to be essential for your team achieving its objectives, then be sure to praise the team members every time you observe or hear of it. On the flip side, mediocrity and poor performance cannot be tolerated. If a team member is unwilling to abide by the performance standards and agreements they themselves initially agreed to, then they must either improve their performance or leave the team. As difficult as this is for a leader, refusing to take action will cause the engagement and performance of the rest of the team to plummet.

One of the most painful mistakes I made as a manager involved an employee who was clearly underperforming on both individual skills and teamwork. However, the team overall was performing at a high-level, so I allowed her performance to lag. Sure, I talked about it with her, but I never took action to require a change in her behavior. Eventually, team camaraderie disintegrated due to what the other team members perceived as lower standards for this employee, while their engagement and performance also dropped significantly. When I finally had no choice but to take firm action with the struggling employee, I had to come down much harder on her than I would have if I had addressed the issue sooner. This was not only unfair to the employee, but cost my team significant performance, trust, and job satisfaction. Do yourself and your team a favor: Praise strong performance and behaviors frequently, and address performance and behavior gaps quickly.

“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” Follow the five steps we’ve discussed, and you will be well on your way to creating the team you always dreamed of: Clear Expectations, Agreement, Track & Post, Coach Individually AND Collectively, and Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Suggested reading sources for deeper info:

Organizational Management: Awesomely Simple by John Spence

Team Leadership: Leading Teams by J. Richard Hackman

High-Performance Teams: The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Team Discipline: The Wisdom of Teams by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith

Turning Your Team Into a Performance Machine: Part 1 High Performance TeamsLeadership

April 19th, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

engine 4-15

You can also view this post on The Rouse!

Close your eyes. Think about the best team you have ever been a part of. Got it? Now, keep your eyes closed, and identify the worst team you have ever been a part of. Big difference, right? What made the best team so great, and what made the worst team so poor? Now think about your own team of direct reports – how much time, effort, performance, and engagement is lost due to employees operating in a dysfunctional manner?

Team structures are now the norm in organizations across the globe. However, few get it right. The cost to companies is staggering – Gallup estimates that low employee engagement costs the U.S alone $450-550 billion annually. Mastering team effectiveness is a huge opportunity for leaders who are willing to learn and teach their teams how to do so, especially since team performance usually declines due to controllable human factors. My colleague John Spence has a wonderfully simple and effective model for driving accountability in teams and individuals – let’s apply the two most important components: Clear Expectations and Agreement.

Clear Expectations: You cannot hold someone accountable to something they do not fully understand, and without clarity of expectations, confusion and chaos ensues. Does your team have a clear purpose, understand your vision of where the organization is heading, how your mission benefits customers, and how their work impacts the group’s success in getting there? Is each member of your team 100% clear on their responsibilities, goals/deliverables, work standards, and how they are expected to conduct themselves? Are they clear on the rewards that await them if they do so, and the consequences if they don’t? Are these expectations in writing, kept somewhere visible, and referenced frequently? Clearly this is a lot to manage, and deserves significantly more attention than most managers devote to it. So often, managers simply assume their people are clear on their expectations, when in fact their people have wide-ranging perceptions of what the expectations are. If you want to gauge this in your own team, try having each team member write down and hand you what they think your expectations are for the team – the answers will surprise you.

Agreement: This is the one of the most vital but neglected elements in leading teams: Do the team members agree to the expectations that are placed on them? It’s the agreement to those expectations that enables the leader to hold team members accountable. If team members have not agreed verbally and/or in writing to the expectations, the leader leaves herself open to the possibility of 1) people not being clear on the expectations, 2) people feigning agreement when they are not actually bought-in, and continuing their prior behavior patterns. Once team members have agreed to the expectations, they now have full ownership and accountability for delivering on those expectations, making your job as the manager so much easier. You are now simply managing to the agreed upon goals and behaviors – completely transparent with zero subjectivity. The old excuses of “You don’t like me,” “This is unfair,” or “I didn’t know that” simply don’t work anymore, because the measurement is now binary and black-and-white: the employee either did or did not achieve the things they said they would. Have you asked your team members for verbal or written agreement to your expectations?


Ideas For Action:

Hold a foundational expectations-setting meeting with your team: This should be a half or full day meeting, preferably held off-site. This meeting not only ensures that everyone hears the same message, but also enables you to gather your direct reports’ input into the process and gain formal agreement on the outcomes. The goal should be to answer three questions in as much detail as possible: 1) Why does the team exist? 2) What are the team and individuals responsible for? 3) How will we behave with one another?

Make it interactive and fun: If you simply tell people what to do, they are unlikely to fully buy-in and feel emotionally connected to your cause. Make this meeting as participative as possible by using an interactive workshop format with lots of group discussion built in. Set up three stations of flipcharts arranged throughout the room. Divide your team into three groups, placing one group at each flipchart station. Assign each station one of the above three questions you are trying to resolve with your meeting, and have each group write their ideas on that flipchart for a fixed period of time. Then, have the groups rotate through each station, so that each group has a chance to give their ideas to each station. You can then consolidate the ideas within each flipchart to determine a clear, concise output. The beauty of this approach is that your team will come up with 90%-95% of the answers you would have told them anyway, but because each individual got to give input, they now feel respected for their opinions and have ownership for the solution they just created.

A team charter is an essential output of this type of meeting. It provides an ongoing, visual reminder of the meeting and the agreements for the team, and should be hung somewhere visible in the team’s shared space. If you opt against a formal charter, make sure the team’s final agreements get written down in some other form of document, and that a copy is given to every member of the team. I recommend having each member of the team sign the document, not for any legal reason, but as a reminder of their agreement. Make this fun and memorable by making a ceremony of it – balloons, oversized novelty pens, party accessories, whatever would engage and inspire your team!

Continuous reinforcement:

  • Reference the team’s agreements at the beginning of all team meetings, and have a brief discussion of how the attendees will exhibit the desired behaviors during the meeting.
  • Be sure to measure performance vs. goals at both the team and individual level, and make it visible (tracking software or a simple dashboard can be very helpful).
  • Ensure agenda time during your regularly scheduled one-on-ones (at least monthly) for individualized coaching with your direct reports on how they are performing against their individual and team goals, as well as how they are modeling the desired behaviors,
  • Create a simple recognition program around the desired behaviors. This will go a long way towards engraining the desired behaviors on a long-term basis.
  • Reward strong performance, and uphold consequences for not meeting goals. Mediocrity will spread rapidly if you do not keep your promises about rewards and consequences.


Following the above framework will give you the infrastructure necessary to build your team into a Performance Machine. What do you think? Have I missed anything? Please let me know your thoughts and comments below – I look forward to engaging with you!


Suggested reading sources for deeper info:

Organizational Management: Awesomely Simple by John Spence

Organizational Clarity: The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

High-Performance Teams: The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Team Discipline: The Discipline of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith, Harvard Business Review July 2005