I was talking to a CEO this morning. He had a great question for me: Kirk, how do we make sure that we are constantly raising the bar on talent?
How do you go about setting up a culture where expectations are understood?
I shared a strategy I’ve used in a lot of organizations.
In organizations we measure what matters. We have budgets. We allocate our dollars to differentresources. We look and assess if we’re on track or off track.
We may have a monthly opps review. We’ll look into our strategy and the goals for the year. We’ll measure how we’re progressing against our strategy and goals.
Sometimes, in a healthy organization, we’ll have a people function or HR. They’ll do reviews. We’ll revise the org chart.
However, for our most valuable asset — people — we don’t have growth conversations in an explicit way.
Often the conversations happen back channel, in closed rooms, or in our heads. We don’t have a way of establishing and discussing a good, healthy conversation around people.
Here’s what I told him to try:
His organization has about 215 people. Let’s take everybody that has been there nine months or more. I want you to ask one question of your direct reports. Have your direct reports ask it of their direct reports.
If the answer is Yes, then ask these three questions:
What is one thing that makes them great?
What is one area that you think that you can develop them and that they need to grow?
What is one action you’re going to take? That action can be something positive. It can be encouraging. You can go back to the person saying, “Ten out of ten times, if you walk through the door today I would still hire you. Here’s why…” It could be their attitude is infectious. Or their work product is always superior. Whatever it may be, it can be something that’s positive.
It doesn’t have to always be about development. It can be words of encouragement, which are actually a source of motivation.
If the answer is No, then there needs to be a plan. I’ve never seen an organization that performed at a nine or ten with people that were sixes and sevens.
If the answer is, I don’t know, there might be a good reason. Maybe this person is in a new role. Maybe this person just experienced a difficutlt life event. That’s ok. It’s part of life.
However, you need to write down a date 3–6 months from today. On that date, you have to answer Yes or No.
It has to be a Yes or No because people delay making a decision too long. People will delay be saying things like, “We didn’t give them a chance,” or “They didn’t have the skills they needed.”
It’s natural to wrap it with all these excuses. Putting a future date is a forcing function. It gives you a deadline to help that person. When the date comes up, you can say, “I did everything I could. I trained and developed them.”
They will have either be a “Yes” or a “No.” If they are a “No,” you know you didn’t everything to help them. Now it’s now an opportunity to make room for growth and bring on the talent you need.
The CEO loved the idea. But he worried it may be too negative. I told him the key is to set his tone at the top. You need to tell employees why you’re doing this. You’re not doing this to just measure people more and put them in a little box.
You’re doing it as a forcing function to measure what matters most. So you’re forced to have good and healthy conversations.
If you set the bar too high then it will be unrealistic. If you set too low the high performers will just roll their eyes. You have to set the tone on what high performance looks like. You need to have those discussions in an open forum.
“Well, that sure makes some people uncomfortable!” he said. Sure, I get it.
But let’s be real. Those conversations are being had. We might as well have them out in the open. We might as well have a way to develop and grow.
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