10 Ways to Eliminate Mediocrity in Your Organization

An organization that accepts mediocrity is a haven for under performers, and very frustrating for high performers.  Here are ten ideas I found in my work with organizations are each effective in reducing mediocrity.  Best of all, you can put any of these ideas to work immediately.  If you can accomplish 8 to 10 of them, you’ll sharply-focus your organization, reinforce strong accountability, and dramatically improve operating results.

  1. Improve your hiring selection process to focus on behaviors that support your culture, as well as a performance track record, and an attitude of learning and growth. One of the best ways to improve overall quality of results is to make sure that you don’t hire problem performers.  Set a goal to always hire individuals who are better than your average performer, that way you’ll constantly be upgrading your talent.
  2. Educate all your managers, especially at the top, about how they should lead, manage, and coach their people. Create “the way we manage people here” mentality along with specific guidelines and company leadership values.  Too often organizations don’t do this and managers end up ‘doing their own thing.’  That’s not good quality people management.  A smart practice is to ensure that every manager has a people-related accountability and performance objective.
  3. Continually improve your strategy development process so that you have a clear direction and overall performance objectives. A good process for creating strategy involves key people so that they all understand it, contribute to the development, have buy-in, and can continually reinforce it throughout the organization.
  4. Make a conscious effort to communicate strategy throughout your organization so that know what to focus on in their daily work to help achieve the strategy. You want an organization where everyone understands where the organization is going and how it expects to get there.  I’ve seen companies not communicate strategy because they think their strategy is so confidential.  Hogwash!  How are your people to know what they are working towards if you don’t tell them.
  5. Develop a goal-setting process that aligns effort and results on key metrics. Setting overall goals and specific objectives is where the rubber meets the road.  You’ve got to translate the strategy into specific goals and objectives for groups and individuals.  Schedule goal setting to begin the year with goals; not 3-4 months after the start of the year.
  6. Provide regular performance feedback (“Here’s how you’ve done.”) and performance feed-forward (“Here’s how you can be more effective going forward.”) Of the two, feed-forward is more effective in improving performance.  Regular feedback is at least monthly, not annually.
  7. Understand that newer employees, those working remotely, recently promoted, and longer-term employees all have different needs for feedback — one standard approach is unlikely to work for   In short:  Know how much feedback each person requires.
  8. Create a system where people can track their own results and get feedback from their peers on where they stand, what they are doing well, and how they can be more effective. Incorporate your own organization’s best practices.  Make this a dynamic system.  There are some great tools available to automate this process and implement a ‘social media’ kind of performance feedback system.
  9. Identify under-performers early. Give them candid feedback, specific improvement objectives, and the opportunity to improve.  When you have a performance problem, determine whether it is a skills issue or a motivation issue — the solution is quite different for each.
  10. Develop a standard separation process to exit people from the organization while treating them fairly and with dignity. Separating people is never pleasant, but a good process will make it easier.

Stop procrastinating about this whole issue — begin today.  The best time to begin is now because every day you wait is another day that you are not getting the results you need, and another day that your best performers wonder if things will ever change.

If you want to get off to a fast start, call me and together we’ll put together a plan to immediately get better results.

© Copyright 2017  Bob Legge

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Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals.  I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value.  Contact him at  bob.legge@leggecompany.com

Creating an Anticipatory Set

When something bad is about to happen, people will get tense.  When beginning a competition, people will become focused.  When preparing for a happy occasion, people will become relaxed.  They anticipate what the event will entail and set their own expectations and body language in preparation.

Effective teachers know this, and they will prepare their students by getting them ready to learn.  They call it the “anticipatory set.”  It makes learning more effective for the students, and easier for the themselves.

Leaders and managers can do the same thing, by creating conditions in which their people perform at higher than normal levels, depending on what the challenge is.  From high-stress to low-stress situations, an anticipatory set improves outcomes.

What is the anticipatory set that you create for your weekly staff meetings, your one-on-ones, and other key interactions?

How to Use Your People Time

Here’s what works:  Divide your workforce into three groups based on their performance:  The top 20%, the middle 70%, and the bottom 10%.  On which group do you spend most of your time?  If you’re like most managers, an inordinate amount of your time is spent addressing the bottom 10%.  That’s not a good return on investment.  Instead, use the same percentages — 20-40% of your time challenging, stimulating and rewarding the top 20%, 50-70% of your time communicating with the middle 70% (including a substantial amount of listening,) and only 10% of your time on the bottom 10% — telling them exactly where they stand, helping them to significantly and quickly improve, or failing that, separating them.

© Copyright 2016  Bob Legge

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Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals.  I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value.  Contact him at  bob.legge@leggecompany.com

Weak Company Performance and Great Employee Reviews

Bob LeggeMy most successful clients are very good at aligning individual goals with strategic intent so that everybody is actively working to achieve the company’s strategy and acting like an owner of the company. What you want to avoid is rewarding people for doing well on things that don’t further or support strategic goals. That is one of the reasons why a company may not have good results, yet employees are rated highly for their performance. Be sure that you have good alignment; that you have all your people making decisions, being evaluated, being rewarded for the support of the strategic plan, driving company growth, and keeping and maintaining your best customers.

The Key to Improving Performance

Imagine you’re in the passing lane of highway.  There are several cars in a line just ahead of you so you cannot  go any faster, but another car is very close behind you, tailgating.   That driver must believe that somehow you’ll go faster.  He is mistaken.

When a person is not performing up to your expectations and you want him or her to improve, you have to find out why the performance is lagging.  It could be skill, it could be motivation, it could be the tools, or one of many causes, including the inherent speed imposed by procedures.

If you want to change an effect, you must find the cause.  It is a mistake to try to change the effect.  It does no good to ride a person’s bumper if he or she cannot go faster.

Strategy and The Final Mile

In the cable industry, the final mile is connecting the cable system to customers’ homes.  It is the most costly part of the entire system, and in many ways the most important.  When implementing a business strategy, the ‘final mile’ is connecting the strategy to each individual’s objectives.  In many ways, it is the most important part of strategy implementation because unless you have people diligently working to achieve the strategic objectives, it won’t happen.  Yet in many companies, little is done to make this final connection.  Instead, the strategic plans get put in binders for senior managers, and those binders move from desktop to credenza to file cabinet, often not to be seen until the next planning session.

 

Some companies do a better job by writing articles for the company intranet, giving presentations and producing videos, but they don’t work well at making the final connection because they are general, one-way, and non-interactive.  So everyone is left with a bit more knowledge—they know what the program is, but their not connected.  It hasn’t changed their job or their focus so they go on doing what they’ve always done—which may or may not support the strategy.

 

So, what can you do to make the final connection?  The answer is a few very practical and important steps:

First you need a strategy that is clear and cogent (many aren’t.)  If I walked into your next senior executive meeting and asked everyone to write down your corporate strategy in 1-2 sentences what do you think would happen?  Would the responses be the same?
Second, the strategy needs to be communicated.  I know of three CEOs who thought their strategies were  too confidential to tell their organizations.  One has to wonder how they expected to achieve the strategy, and what is so confidential; after all, we’re not talking about the formula for Coca-Cola, or Apple’s next big thing.
Third, you need managers who understand the strategy, can articulate it simply and clearly, and have the skill and motivation to connect it to each individual’s objectives.  For example, “Here’s our corporate strategy, here’s what it means for our group, and let’s talk specifically about how your job needs to contribute to its success.”
Finally, you need managers who will reinforce the strategy on a regular basis by communicating it again and reviewing progress on a monthly or even weekly basis.
Connecting every one of your people to your strategy is the final mile.  It’s where the power is.  What is your process for the final mile?

What Duke Ellington can teach business about innovation

Every year, for the past 14 years, I have read a biography of a famous musician or composer.  As I read each book, I listen to their music and how it evolved.  This year I’m reading Terry Teachout’s recent biography of Duke Ellington, the most prolific composer of the 20th century.  Ellington and his band were known for continual innovation–a hot topic in business these days.    Duke carefully blended conformity and freedom of expression to achieve continually innovative results.  Every band member was required to be impeccably dressed and well-mannered so they would look the part and project the right image.  And they were required to memorize every song–no sheet music or music stands–even though Ellington would routinely change the song parts, sometimes even nightly.  But that’s where the conformity ended; these were not “company men.”  Ellington knew he needed to produce new sounds all the time to be successful, and to do that, he wanted the very best musicians–each one a stand-out on his own.  And he gave them the freedom to express both their individuality and musical expertise knowing that would result in more innovation and further success.  It worked well for over 50 years.

Organizations wanting more innovation also need to strike the right balance between conformity and individual expression both to deliver consistent results and to innovate.  What are you doing with your systems, processes, and talent management to achieve the right climate for innovation?

Copyright 2014 Bob Legge  All rights reserved.