Thoughts from The 100: Defining the Purpose of a Business

The-100-Title-OnlyIn previous posts, I provided practical “tactical” tips for providing leadership that helps employees to achieve their potential and for ensuring that your business (and that of your clients) thrives. Today’s message is broader, but ultimately the most important: Know what matters!

Ever heard the maxim, “If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything”? This is true for people and organizations. Without clarity around core beliefs and purpose, we can be blown off course by the latest fad, or, worse, start to think that we and our efforts do not matter.

Before I founded Intertech I worked for a large information technology company in the Twin Cities. My manager told me not to worry about putting in extra effort because the company was so big there was no need for any one employee to shoulder any additional effort. That was the moment I found my purpose. I knew I wanted my efforts to matter. Intertech was founded quickly thereafter.

A company’s core purpose should be clear and unchanging. Intertech’s purpose is “to create a place where people matter and where our clients’ businesses are improved through technology.”

In my next series of posts I’ll examine “Outsmarting and Out-planning the Competition with Strategy.  

Learn more about in my book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

Join Me at Startup Grind Minneapolis

Startup Grind

Join me on Monday, September 12th @ 6:30 at COCO Downtown Minneapolis for a Startup Grind Fireside Chat.  I’ll be spending an hour or so with  talking about entrepreneurship, Intertech, and my latest book.  Here’s the agenda for the evening:

6:30 pm Networking and Food
7:30 pm Fireside Chat
8:30 pm More Networking

Thoughts from The 100: Identifying Saints, Dogs, and Stars

 

The-100-Title-OnlyTo keep morale and motivation high, it’s essential to motivate your top performers as well those who need to improve and those who need to be shown the door. There’s a shorthand code for these three groups of employees:

Saints: those who may be a great fit with our culture but who are poor performers.

  • Dogs: those who score high on the performance scale but who are a poor cultural fit
  • Stars: those rare but wonderful individuals who are both high performers and a good fit with our cultural values. These folks are given extra incentives to remain long-term members of our organization.

Our response to saints and dogs is the same: shape up or ship out. While this may sound harsh, keeping employees who don’t perform or fit with your company values risks bringing down the whole ship.

As I note in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership,” most employees are not fired because they lack necessary technical skills. Most often they have poor emotional intelligence. In other words, their personality or people skills are a poor fit with our cultural expectations. Firing someone with top technical skills who alienates clients or teammates through arrogance or bullying is a no-brainer. Those folks, along with those kind souls who can’t seem to get anything done, are not organizational assets.

Once you’ve made a decision to let someone go, do so quickly and use the following guidelines to make the process as painless as possible (for you and them!):

  • Have two people from your firm present
  • Bring a legal separation (especially if severance pay is involved) agreement
  • Quickly pay the fired employee for all hours worked and for unreimbursed expenses and any unused vacation time
  • Be mentally prepared for the employee to promise he or she will change
  • Do not let the employee change your decision

Thoughts from The 100: Using Key Result Areas to Drive Performance

The-100-Title-OnlyLast time I shared thoughts about how to keep employees motivated. (My thoughts on this important topic also are described in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”) Providing clear feedback is another important aspect for achieving motivational magic. It’s also important to set expectations from day one and to give frequent informal feedback in between formal reviews.

A good talent management system looks forward, provides clear and objective performance standards and encourages team members to state when he or she needs training or different tools to reach goals. At Intertech, we use Dale Carnegie’s Key Results Areas (KRAs) as a template for talent management. Four key questions guide us:

  • What is the purpose of my job? The answer should be extremely simple, such as “selling our services.”
  • What do I need to do to make it happen? For someone in sales, the answer might be “Call 100 potential clients every day.”
  • What tools do I need to be successful? For a sales person, training in phone skills or negotiation techniques might be in order.
  • How do I know when results have been achieved? As in the sales example above, reaching a specific dollar amount would be an objective measure of goal achievement.

Like any journey, arriving at your desired destination is much easier with a clear map to guide you. Think of KRAs as employee guideposts to make the journey more productive and satisfying for them and you.

Thoughts from The 100: Motivating Team Members

The-100-Title-OnlyRegular readers know I believe in putting people first. When people work in teams, individuals need to know what matters from an organizational perspective. As we often say at Intertech, “There is no ‘I’ in team!”

As a manager, you have a special responsibility to lead and help your team members grow – as individuals and as team members. This next series of posts will share my thoughts on this important topic, as originally noted in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

Engagement, which I covered in earlier posts, bears another mention in this series on leading and managing teams. Why? Keeping people motivated goes a long way toward building effective teams and reducing attrition.

New research by Gallup suggests that a vast majority of people are not motivated at work. Another survey, recently released by the Associated Press, found that more than 70 percent of workers are opting for early retirement even though it means receiving lower Social Security benefits. This suggests to me a lack of engagement.

So how can you keep your people motivated?

Don’t be afraid to push employees beyond their professional comfort zones (although give new employees a few months to adjust before you ask them to “up their game!”). Motivated employees want to build their skills by working with high-profile companies on challenging assignments. We help to make that happen by building in a specific learning goal into each employee’s performance plan at the beginning of each year and even occasionally turning down client projects that might bore our people to tears. Less experienced employees are encouraged to work on internal projects that help our firm, while helping them learn new skills (but not on our clients’ dime).

Of course, challenging work that engages employee strengths is key to helping folks stay motivated. Sadly, a whopping 80 percent of U.S. workers say they do not use their strengths every day (Gallup 2013). Savvy managers make an effort to match the needs of their clients with the needs of employees to stay challenged. It also helps to let people know how they rate compared to others and how they fit within the overall organization. Mostly, though, employees need to know that the work they are doing is important–that it matters—as an individual and as a team.

Much of what I’ve been talking about describes a perfect world: engaged, motivated employees happily learning new skills while doing top-notch work for customers. Yet, even though I dread admitting it, the world in which we live and work is rarely perfect. Sometimes our long-time clients need our help with work that is, frankly, boring. To make matters worse, that work can be repetitive with significant time pressure, with no end in sight. While this may sound like a work nightmare, there are things leaders can do to help employees get through the challenge while avoiding burnout. Believe me, it’s in your interest to do so – otherwise you risk losing your best people to other employers. Here’s what we do to help employees deal with mind-numbing assignments:

  • Verbally recognize the nature of the task and express our gratitude
  • Offer more interesting additional assignments or a training opportunity
  • Put a time cap on the dreary assignment (most people can endure almost anything if they know when it will end)