Making Relationships Productive

To be successful, managers and leaders need good relationships with their peers, subordinates and bosses. Yet, I usually see less-than-effective relationships when working with a leader. Often those relationships are allowed to continue, despite the personal and organizational costs.

Net Loss Relationships. The worst relationships are those where two people cause each other to be less productive. Blaming, miscommunicating, and defensiveness consumes energy of everyone around them. The longer the relationship continues, the more it costs the organization. As the manager, you cannot let these relationships coast – they will not get better on their own.

Breakeven Relationships. Sometimes productive and sometimes unproductive, these relationships are marked by people who cannot seem to develop effective ways to work together on a consistent basis. They are often cross-functional such as an engineering manager and a production manager, or a sales manager and a marketing manager. Together, the individuals do not add significantly to productivity, but their bosses tend to ‘live with it.’

Productive relationships. In these relationships, two people create more than they could do each one working independently. It’s rarely the case that the two agree on everything, but that is one of the reasons they are both creative in coming up with solutions, and productive in their work together. Usually, they share a common goal, and realize that to be successful, they have to depend on each other.

How are your relationships with your peers, direct reports, and boss? Which ones produce a net increase in productiveness, and which reduce productivity? What kind of relationships do you see in your overall organization, and in particular, among your direct reports? Do you have an approach and a plan to either make relationships productive or take other action? It’s important to act on them now – waiting will result in three possible outcomes; and two of them are costly.

Copyright 2017 Bob Legge
Bob Legge has an unmatched ability to help clients achieve competitive advantage, leaving competitors in their dust. He has worked with companies across industries and geographies to align critical elements, dominate their markets, and achieve dramatic results, such as 600% revenue increase in three years. Personally, he enjoys sailing where both his strategic abilities and tactical skills help him see interesting places while having a fabulous time with friends and family.

The fragile facade of trust

The Olympics were successful with a gracious host, a welcoming city, and the torch burning brightly signifying harmony, goodwill, peace, friendship and hope.  Then, less than a week later, the same host takes over a key part of a neighboring country.  I’ve seen it played out in companies too.   A leader may say all the right things to his/her organization, and to the board, then take action that belies the values posted in the lobby and repeated at company events.  Trust is fragile.  Cynical employees usually have very good reasons to be cynical.  But it’s also why employees are fiercely loyal to companies when their leader’s actions clearly and continuously reflect their stated values.

Why Your Performance Reviews REDUCE Performance

One doesn’t drive a car by looking in the rearview mirror, so why do that with performance reviews? When a manager emphasizes mistakes, shortfall, weaknesses, and problems, it does not cause an improvement in employee performance. What it does cause is damage to the relationship and bad feelings all around. Many managers know this, so instead they provide unwarranted positives, rating everyone better than average. But that doesn’t help performance either. If you want better performance, and that should be the number one reason for doing performance reviews, then you need to look ahead. Instead of dwelling on the negative past, provide ideas for improving performance in the future. Only by putting the focus on improvements going forward will you see better results. This takes a mindset shift often requiring training and practice. But it leads to immediate and significant benefits for the organization.


© Bob Legge 2013 All rights reserved

Why Leaders Can’t Be Honest and Candid

Candid, honest feedback about performance is all too rare in most organizations.  The reluctance to talk to a subordinate about poor performance, the ‘grade inflation’ inherent in performance reviews, and the withholding of honest praise for excellent performance are examples.  These can happen because of fear to be candid with people.  It’s why you can have nearly everyone’s performance rated “above average” in a year when organization performance is weak.

The flip side is the leader on a power trip who loves having control over people, so he keeps secrets, won’t discuss issues, shares little, and often lashes out with a heavy hand to punish people he doesn’t trust.  That’s not a leader, that’s a boss.

Both cases have a negative effect on people and performance.  They drive out trust and cause people to ‘check out’ while on the job.  I once had a person complain to me about receiving an excellent performance review.  There was little doubt that her performance was excellent, but she was demoralized because her manager gave the same rating to every one of his direct reports.

Leaders lead; they know that providing candid and honest feedback with their people is important to improving performance.  While some managers and supervisors are clearly on a power trip, others avoid candid discussions because they do not know how to effectively discuss performance and coach performance improvements.  If you have this going on in your organization, you need to address it.

Managing By Opinion

In some leadership groups, opinions appear to be more important than facts.  I’ve seen senior management groups where an executive’s in-depth knowledge and experience is over-ruled by opinions from other executives — opinions that aren’t based on fact, evidence or experience — just pure opinion.

Yes, there is always a need for new, fresh and different input, but that doesn’t mean that opinion and conjecture should take precedence over knowledge.  In some ways, it reminds me of dysfunction in today’s press — to much opinion, too much slant, much less professional journalism.  The result is that you reaslly don’t know what to believe.

When secretary of state Colin Powell took office, he gathered a large group of state department staffers together.  He said that he wanted to hear what they think, and what they know.  And he asked them to make sure he knew the difference.

Strategy execution requires consistently good decision making.  If you don’t know the difference between what people think and what they know, it can lead to very poor decisions.

Trust – What executives can learn from A-Rod

What bothers me about the Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) story now in the news is not that he used steroids early in his career.  We know that steroid use in baseball (and football…) is epidemic.  What really bothers me is that a supposedly confidential and anonymous test wasn’t either one.  Never again will any major league baseball player (or minor league, or college…) participate in any “confidential” study.  The trust has been entirely blown.

I have conducted employee surveys for many companies over the years.  And I’ve always been intrigued by employees and managers who are so obsessed with confidentiality.  It is a clear indicator that trust is lacking within the organization.  (Of course we will conduct every survey to be confidential – meaning we will not release any individual information, period.)

I’ve always thought that an open and productive work environment should be one where opinions are shared so that problems and misperceptions can be corrected or at least understood.

The vast majority of executives and managers I have worked with respect confidentiality and welcome other opinions.  They truly want to understand what employees are thinking and to make the workplace better.  However, a small percentage of executives and managers are so insecure in their positions, and zealous in their need for control, that they welcome the thinking of their people only if it agrees with their own thinking.

I once observed a leadership 360-degree process in which an executive shared his thinking that the CEO’s regular profanity-laced diatribes against former executives needed to be toned-down.  I thought that was valuable input to someone who claimed to want to make improvements.  While other participants told the executive privately that they admired his willingness to share thoughts that the CEO might not like, the CEO clearly held it against him and omitted it from the CEO’s report to the board (although he included all other comments.)  The message was clear to all in the executive ranks.

Much of the leadership literature of the past 20 years has addressed how to create an open, engaging, and involved workplace – particularly at the executive level.  An honest and candid approach can be very valuable.  Jack Welch, for example, is not known for being nicey-nice, yet he (apparently) worked hard to create an environment where he would get the best thinking from his people, tapping the diversity of thought to find the best solutions.

Smaller “leaders” do the opposite.  They pretend to be collaborative and participative by saying the nicey-nice things, but regularly demonstrate manipulation and control in their actions.  They are posers, and they’ll never get the best from their people.

A-Rod made a mistake early in his career by using steroids — a fact that he has acknowledged.  But perhaps the bigger mistake was to trust in the “confidential” and “anonymous” study.

Can major league baseball ever gain credibility and confidence of the players again?  If so, what would it take to do it?  And what can other organizations learn from this?