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Igniting the passion May 18, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Careers, Engagement, Retention.
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I’ve spoken before about the importance of a great first impression. When it comes to engaging employees, the early days are critical for igniting the passion and obtaining commitment. A huge amount of ground can be gained (or lost) in the opening seconds of the game. People are at their most impressionable and eager to find things to get excited about. They can’t wait to show how their talents can deliver and they want to impress upon their new boss what a great asset they have just hired. Equally, existing team members are quickly developing impressions about their latest team-mate which will be lasting and have a great impact on their overall integration success.

I am happy to share that I have recently been caught up in the exhilaration of my own opening moments! I have started a new position and am busy meeting new people and learning about new strategies. Regretfully that means I have been absent from my blog for a couple of weeks. I intend to get back to regular postings just as soon as I can parcel off some grey matter. I am, however, very happy to share that my own early days are shaping up to be very compelling. I’ll share more as time goes on.

For your own teams, think about the ways you help them to engage and integrate in their early days of either joining the organisation or taking on a new role. Setting the context, helping them navigate the politics and laying the ground for them to achieve early success are key to creating a lasting and positive first impression that will sustain them through the more challenging moments ahead.


Feeding forward and the power of change April 27, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Communication, Leadership, Performance Management, Self-improvement, Strengths, Talent Management.
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The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s new book “What got you here, won’t get you there”, intrigues me. In it, Marshall describes the tendency for successful executives to hold onto behaviour patterns that may be preventing them from going further in their career. The superstitious delusion that certain behaviours have been necessary for success, when in fact they may have been successful despite themselves. In a recent podcast, Marshall Goldsmith describes some of the key themes in his new book and reflects on his long career as executive coach to some of the worlds most respected CEOs.

One of the central ideas Marshall describes is ‘feeding forward’; asking for help and focusing on ways to improve future behaviour rather than dissecting and analysing lessons from the past. As he suggests, people prefer feeding forward because it cannot be perceived as a personal critique (it describes ways of behaving that have not yet taken place), it focuses on what people can do right rather than what they have already done wrong, and it can come from anyone who knows something about the topic. It can also be much faster as people worry less about defending past actions and listen intently for what they can be doing to improve in the future.

This simple adjustment to how most people review and learn behavioural change is very powerful. For a start, people are unable to change the past. Little can be gained from forcing them to relive their mistakes and pointing out their weaknesses. As already mentioned on this blog, focusing on people’s strengths and finding ways to demonstrate how we are all in this together are elements of creating a high performing and passionately engaged team. If we add the idea of feeding forward, this would fit neatly with the entire philosophy.

When commencing a new project or work engagement, try asking your colleagues and team-mates what areas of performance they would like to work on and how you can help them to develop these skills. What can you do to help them improve and be the best they can be. Then give them each 2-3 ideas for things they could do well and leave them free to use or discard as they see fit. This allows successful and intelligent people to select the ideas of most value that fit their current stage of development. Likewise, be willing to share your own development goals and ask them for ideas on how you could improve. When ideas are offered you must only say thank-you (no judging allowed). You have not improved until your team believes you have!

Rather than being a sign of weakness, being aware of your development needs and enlisting the help of others shows emotional intelligence. By going first, you will help to build an environment where others will openly acknowledge their development needs and seek help before it becomes a problem. Going first is a great way to develop trust.

The leader of the past knew how to tell – the leader of the future will know how to ask”…
Peter Drucker

Marshall describes his book as “a prescription – to get into the habit of asking people for insight, listening, apologising for previous sins, involving everyone around you in getting better, following up and practicing feeding forward.” He also acknowledges the Buddhist basis in many of his ideas “Let go of the past…; I give you ideas. Only use my ideas if they work for you in the context of your own life…”. These are the principles behind feeding forward and asking for help.

For more ideas on how you can successfully improve your own behaviours and those of others around you – check out Marshall’s Library where he generously makes articles, podcasts and other materials available for download free of charge.

Consistency, follow-through and energy April 26, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Careers, Leadership, Talent Management.
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Oh dear – we are back in the thick of Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 06/07 season. Unfortunately that means that the remote control is off bounds and the sports commentary presents an endurance challenge for a mildly interested hockey widow. However, as usual, I draw inspiration from surprising sources and tonight is no different.

As I listen with half an ear to the commentators reviewing player performance, I notice that they move their focus around the team,  making sure they report not only on the shining dynamos but also on other creditworthy players. In one segment, they discuss the performance of Buffalo Sabres wing man Adam Mair. The presenter reflected on his consistency and follow-through, touting him as a player who knows how to deliver small wins which build momentum and energy on the bench.

As I listened, it occured to me that every team needs players like this. People who can be relied upon to deliver sound performance which maintains and builds momentum towards the ultimate goals. Little wins along the way that other teammates can draw energy from – seeing them as yet another step towards the win. Although these players may not be the most flamboyant or charismatic member of the team, that doesn’t negate their star quality and you must ensure you don’t ignore them. .

As a manager – look for the solid players on your team who consistently deliver. Their wins may be small but they quickly add to superb proportions. It would be easy to take their performance for granted if they have been there for a while and are very consistent in their delivery, but imagine what an impact it might have to you and the rest of the team if they were no longer doing what they were doing. 

I have no idea how valuable a player Adam Mair is to the team, or how popular he is as a player (I fully acknowledge my ignorance when it comes to matters of hockey) but I do know that without his energy and consistent delivery the team may not be doing quite so well in the season as they are.

What other leadership and management tidbits can you think of from the world of hockey? Feel free to share them if you have some examples.

As long as we’re together, we’re in this together… April 24, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Engagement, Leadership, Teamwork.
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One of the downsides of having children is that sometimes you have to watch kid flicks; movies that are aimed at and acted by children. The flick in question this week was Harry Potter (the first) and the terrible acting was from a bunch of newly discovered talents who have since gone on to be almost bearable. I loved the books but as usual, something got lost in the translation of the first few movies. However, as I watched the mayhem and mishaps of a group of wizards in training, I found myself perceiving new insights to teamwork, leadership and talent management even from this surprising source.

I will hold off from dissecting the entire series and all that Harry Potter can teach us about leadership and teamwork. That water has already been charted by Tom Morris (If Harry Potter ran General Electric), but one of the key things that struck me about the character as I reviewed the first movie was how ‘in the trenches’ he was. Whenever there was work to be done, or challenges to face, Harry is a “follow me” type of guy rather than a hold back and shout “charge” to the troops General. And thats one of the things that I find so endearing about him. Most of us will follow an inspirational leader to the ends of the earth, as long as we feel our efforts are valued and the goal is for the common good and not self-serving on the leader’s part. When someone says and acts in an inclusive manner, making you believe that they are also willing to risk life and limb on the cause, then it is much more believable.

In her Engaging Brand blog this week, Anna Farmery asks if managers are inviting people to become engaged in their work. Do you encourage feedback, ask questions, create environments where people will willingly give more of themselves in delivery of the objectives? Anna quotes Lou Gerstner in saying

“Management doesn’t change culture. Management invites the workforce itself to change the culture”

If you want a high performing team who will do everything in their power to meet the objectives and enhance the reputation of their unit; ask yourself how you are demonstrating when it comes to delivering results, you are all in this together. There are no heroes, only leaders, colleagues and results.

Where are you going and how can I help you get there? April 19, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Careers, Communication, Leadership, Self-improvement, Talent Management.
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Catching up on some sources of inspiration today, I read a post by Rosa Say on her site Managing with Aloha. Rosa was relating the tale of fellow conspirator Pete Aldin who’s life was changed when a manager asked him what his 5 year plan was and he realised he didn’t have one.

It got me wondering – how many people truly have a 5 year vision? For most of us, surviving day to day and perhaps looking ahead 6-12 months is an achievement. We rely on instinct and intuition to help us make decisions. Decisions that in hindsight appear like they were part of a master plan but in reality were ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ reactions. Life races past so fast that we barely have time to avoid that hole in the road ahead let alone wonder where we want to be in 5 years time. That’s not to say a manager shouldn’t ask. But perhaps the real question is “what are you aspiring towards and how can I help you get there?”.

If you are a parent, you may well know the sensation of having influence over emerging mindsets for a very short period of time. My goal as a parent is to provide an environment where my son and daughter can grow to be responsible, hard working, trustworthy, dependable, creative and all round fabulous human beings. My measure of success as a parent and as a human being is the extent to which I can look at each of my children when they reach maturity and be proud of who they have become thanks in some small part to my influence. Will I help them to make good decisions? Will I help them discover their strengths? Will I feel like they have fully explored their talents?

I feel strongly that the same is a true measure of a manager. Can you look at your current and past direct reports and gain a sense of pride for all that they have accomplished? Can you ask them – what sort of person do you wish to become and how can I help you to get there? Rosa asks it so eloquently when she says…

What is the best possible life the work you do here could create for you?

It doesn’t have to be a 5 year plan. It could be a 6 month or 18 month time-frame. It may even be ‘right here, right now’. “What would make today, this week, this month, this year a worthwhile use of your time?” If you can help your direct reports to really express what meaning they want to take from their life’s work and then help them achieve it… that will make for a truly impassioned workforce!

What do you think? Do you have a 5 year plan?

Make employer brands believable by playing to the organisation’s strengths April 17, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Brand Management, Engagement, Strengths.
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In his book “First Break all the Rules” Marcus Buckingham claims great managers define talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied”, with the emphasis on recurring. Although his books describe individual talent and attributes, I think this definition might equally apply to the talents of organisations. Or put another way, the organisation’s strengths and cultural brand messages.

Many organisations claim to be people oriented, sensitive to work-life balance, encouraging diversity, enabling creativity etc.   but how many could realistically claim these attributes as talents as defined above? Singular examples of outstanding sensitivity or tolerance towards maverick creativity are not enough to claim an attribute as a talent. Acts which require tremendous regulation and beaurocracy to accomplish are not talents.  

The other element of talents is they are rarely self proclaimed. Usually observers, colleagues, clients and managers are the ones who identify and highlight to an individual where their strengths and talents lie. The individual can sense it and may play to their strengths if they are smart, but they will rarely (if ever) feel the need to proclaim to all and sundry “this is what I am great at”. If your employer brand messages are not clearly observable and experienced by your employees then your employer brand will not be believable.

Ask your employees – what do YOU see as the strengths of this organisation. What are we really great at. What do we do repeatedly well? Then make sure you continue to play to these strengths.

For more great tips on building your employer brand and making your brand messages believable check out Krishna De’s Women in Business podcast series – Building your employer brand.

Managing a team is like gardening… April 14, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Leadership, Performance Management, Talent Management.

If you have read my profile, you will have learned I am a Brit now living in the somewhat cooler climate of Ontario, Canada. Here we are just beginning to welcome the signs of spring but we are still groaning under the occasional flurry of the white stuff (hard to believe in April!). Yet I have faith that the warmer weather is just around the corner. Spring is sprung, even if it doesn’t know yet!

At this time of new beginnings, the perky iris’s in my front yard remind me that sometimes growing conditions are everything. For a plant to perform its best it needs the basics – water, air, warmth/sunshine, and soil – plus the ideal position. Some plants like shade, some full sun. Some are hardy, some not so much. All are a delight and accomplish different things in their lifespan.

Gardeners use their knowledge of plants, growing conditions and their available resources to ensure each plant achieves its optimum performance. If something doesn’t grow well or isn’t thriving, they may move the plant, try adding nutrients to the soil or in some way alter the growing environment to suit the plant. In the worse case they may decide that the plant and the conditions are not well matched and may offer the specimen to another gardening friend. What they will never do is blame the plant for not being able to grow in their backyard. If a plant is not thriving it is the role of the gardener to find out how to help it flourish or provide it with an opportunity to establish elsewhere.  

I believe this to be true of managers and their reports as well. I believe in the inherent greatness in everyone. To borrow words from Rosa Say’s excellent blog Managing with Aloha greatness is ‘sometimes deeply buried or dormant, asleep, nervous, afraid and in hiding, or even lazy and unexercised’ but it is the manager’s job to balance the conditions to enable each individual’s talents to shine through.

Just as in the garden, one approach will not suit all. Some people will want to be showered with feedback, while others will want to be left alone for the most part, guided only if they veer off track. Some people will want to be permanently in the spotlight while others will prefer a periodical but quiet acknowledgement of their contributions. Some are charismatic and flamboyant, others are more subtle and elegant. Like every garden, there will be some that don’t thrive in the conditions, in which case you could help them to transplant. The occasional weed (which is really just a flower misplaced) can be selectively removed.

Treat your team as you would your garden and you will soon have an abundant display of passion and talent. And if you’ve never gardened, perhaps you should try it. It gives a whole new appreciation to diversity.

How many ideas does it take to change the world? April 13, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Self-improvement, Thinking.
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Accountability; Effective Managers go first

If, like me, you gain insight and inspiration from a medley of sources, then you’d like the site I stumbled across today. Change This is a site dedicated to the development and distribution of thought leadership from renowned writers and speakers like Malcolm Gladwell and David Maister, along with mere mortals. Writers are invited to submit proposals for their ideas, and visitors vote (a la ‘american idol’), to determine which manifestos actually get written for the site. The idea is to reduce the cacophony and increase the authority levels of articles.

Topics are varied but there is plenty to whet the appetite for leadership, management and employee engagement issues. I was drawn to the site by listening to a BusinessWeek podcast featuring David Maister, regarding management accountability and the need for managers to hold themselves accountable ahead of their staff. In his paper “Accountability: Effective Managers Go First”David tells how Jay Betram of TBWA committed to either improve or resign after gaining feedback around key performance measures from his staff. Pretty impactful stuff!

By offering free access and open distribution, Change This (managed by 800-CEO-READ and inspired by Seth Godin) is engaging in the full spirit of thought leadership and encouraging informative debate and passionate discussion. They have issued a call to bloggers to converse and discuss their content, so here I am answering their call. I hope you gain as much inspiration from their archived manifestos as I have.

As to how many ideas it takes to change the world? Just one at a time, if applied effectively by an army of impassioned believers.

Better is possible April 11, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Careers, Engagement, Leadership, Teamwork.
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A few months ago I was fortunate enough to witness a presentation by Sharon Wood, the first North American women to reach the summit of Mount Everest. During her presentation, Sharon relived the events that led to her climbing the highest mountain on Earth. She described how she originally became interested in climbing. How early successes led to increasingly challenging climbs and how she was selected to become part of the team that would attempt a summit reach in 1986.  

Sharon described her journey in passionate terms, as you might expect. But what was less expected was her humility and her graciousness in describing the impact of being part of a passionately committed team. The goal was clear (reach the summit), the route was picked (by the difficult West ridge and North face) and the competition was fierce. Not only were members of her team each personally motivated to reach the summit, but another team were also on the mountain and aiming for the same goal.

During moments of tremendous challenge and disheartening setbacks, Sharon continued her pursuit by adopting the mantra “better is possible”. At the end of each day, with her heart almost broken from the difficulty of this task she had set herself, she determined that she could do more. When close to giving up, she took her final tonic of strength and determination from the team members she arrived with. People who, although their own bid had ended, continued in their faith, support and encouragement to will Sharon to the peak. In sharp contrast, the team on the opposite face were isolated and independent from each other. Those who had lost their chance to bid for the summit were preparing to leave, while the remaining pair (including another woman with the potential to be the first North American woman to reach the top) struck out on their own. Sharon credits her accomplishment to the strength and support she received from her team mates when she was at her lowest ebb; her face and voice still showing how emotionally charged those memories are all these years later.

Believe me, if you ever need to hire a motivational speaker to keep your team going through the toughest of challenges, Sharon is outstanding!  She reminds us that no matter how tired we are, how tough the journey has been and how far we believe we still are from our goals – better IS possible. She also reminds us that no matter what a career superstar we are, we are only as good as the team around us. A team that is committed to the end result, for the greater good of the whole team, will more likely succeed than a collection of athletes only interested in their own bid for the peak.

Does your recruiting process truly reflect your brand culture?? April 9, 2007

Posted by GabyORourke in Brand Management, Careers, Engagement, Recruitment.
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Yesterday I listened to a Harvard Business Review ideacast entitled “What it means to work here” drawn from the March 2007 HBR article. In it, Author and speaker Tammy Erikson discusses the value of creating and nurturing a signature employee experience.

Tammy describes the hiring practices of two organisations, Whole Foods and Goldman Sachs, who each have distinct and deliberate processes to secure a good fit with their existing organisation.

  • Whole Foods maintains its team-based collaborative culture by placing new employees on a 4 week probationary period, at the end of which their new team mates decide their fate.
  • Goldman Sachs maintains its reputation for top talent by putting potential new hires through many rounds of interviews; sometimes introducing them to as many as 30 members of the firm before a hiring decision is made.

Both of these companies have found a way to build their unique culture into their hiring processes, allowing candidates to self-select the organisation that would suit their temperament.

I think the lesson to be learned here is that differentiation for your brand is crucial, whether your target audience is internal or external. In celebrating and communicating the distinct value proposition that you offer employees, you will attract a workforce that has self-selected your organisation as the ideal place to nurture their gifts and meet their needs financially, emotionally and intellectually.

To understand and communicate your employee brand proposition:

  • Speak to existing high performing employees. Find out what attracted them to work with the organisation and what perpetuates the relationship.
  • DON’T just speak to long standing employees. Their reason for being may be very different from recent recruits. Ensure that you speak with the highest performers, the ones who have figured out how to be successful in your organisation.
  • Speak to recent recruits. Has their experience since joining lived up to the expectations set during the hiring process? Are there any areas where expectations have been exceeded?
  • Find out how your employees describe you to friends and family.Perhaps even think about inviting friends and family to comment on what THEY know about you and have learned from their loved ones.
  • Ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked “what does it mean to work here?”
  • Wherever possible – build experiential elements into your hiring process. 

As for this last point – think “The Apprentice”. Donald Trump puts potential new hires through a gruelling multi-week, multi-project selection process, at the end of which candidates know what it would really be like to work for the trump organisation. He truly has created a signature experience!

How do your recruitment processes reflect your brand culture? Are you offering a signature experience that will help new recruits self-select their suitability to adapt and be successful in your environment?