Changing Tires at 65 mph

Much of my work is either helping executives successfully implement strategy or lead major change.  In either case, success often hinges on preparing an organization to support its own growth.  This requires:

  • Clarifying your vision of the future business
  • Identifying what the new organization will look like after change
  • Refining the values and norms that support the vision
  • Developing systems, structures, roles and rewards to function as that new organization

If you don’t do this, high performers will see energy-draining confusion and attribute it to weak leadership.  Average performers will see it as reinforcement to continue doing things the old way.

This is often hard work because you cannot stop the organization to redesign it – you have to do it on the fly.  It’s like changing the wheels on a car going 65mph – without stopping.  That’s difficult, but it’s also imperative.

The Perfect Program to Turn-Off Employees

Most performance appraisal programs are perfectly designed to de-motivate managers and subordinates alike.  Managers detest them and employees dread them.  If you don’t believe me, ask your people.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact the performance review can be a highly motivational tool, and a key part of executing strategy. 

They’re deeply flawed because they have lost their purpose and are primarily used to allocate ‘merit’ increases.  This causes perverse influence, dysfunction and mistrust everywhere:  managers rating everyone the same so that all would get the same increase, managers obviously playing favorites to give certain people more money, etc.  It’s gaming the system to dole out meager increases, rather than increasing the value of your talent.

The primary purpose of a performance review should be to tell people where they stand, how they fit in the organization, what they can do to improve, and what they can do to get ahead.  It should be a level-set and development-oriented.  It needs to be a tool to increase the value of your talent.  Performance reviews should drive merit increases, not the other way around.  This requires a culture of trust and honesty, managers who are trained to grow talent rather than control it and employees who are energized about the company, its direction and its leadership.

Poison in the Well

During a college summer I worked for a manufacturing company as a machine operator.  It was boring work.  During the first night, I figured out a more efficient way to configure the work space.  The second night, after some rearranging, I more than doubled the output.  When entering the plant on the third night, the supervisor clapped me on the back and congratulated me.  Barely two minutes later, the union steward told me that if I did it again, I risked bodily harm in the parking lot.

I was designing a sales incentive plan working closely with the vice president of sales for a well-known consumer manufacturer.  During a plan review meeting, a financial person persisted in questioning a provision in the plan.  After a short while the sales VP suggested that maybe the finance person didn’t want his job.

As a senior vice president of a national broadband company, I heard of a small group of cable installers in rural Massachusetts who wanted a union.  I traveled most of a day to get there and sat with the group.  It took a while for them to open up, but when they did, I heard their ideas to better schedule time off.  Unfortunately, their manager didn’t want to listen to them.  It wasn’t about pay, or benefits, or safety – it was about flexibility.

There are many reasons why organizations don’t get the best thinking from their people – it almost never has to do with the ability or motivation of the front line crew.

How to Get the Best Ideas from Your Team

You have a decision to make and you want the input of your people. This is not about reaching consensus, where the focus is on reaching group agreement. Rather, you want to hear the best thinking from each person, and preferably from different perspectives. You want to encourage debate because that will play off the ideas presented.

Remember, you’re not trying to reach group agreement on a decision; instead, you’re looking for the best idea or solution. You are responsible for making the decision and accountable for the results. Once everyone has had the opportunity to express their thoughts, and you have made the decision, then it is expected that everyone will fully support the decision.

For a practical tip sheet of how to get the best ideas from your team and how to conduct these kinds of meetings, simply send an email request to me at, I’ll be happy to send a complimentary copy to you.