Understanding the Precision of Success

Production Machining mag cover Nov 2013If you are just learning about our expertise and tools, here’s a great article by our own Stephanie Murphy published in a recent edition of Production Machining magazine that highlights the role personality and behavioral competencies can play in productivity.  In it, Stephanie points out that while it is easy in manufacturing circles to think only in terms of tooling or machines, smart companies understand there is a symbiotic relationship between person and production.

In fact, in our work we commonly see two primary people-driven problems that shortchange process and production: 1) wrong people, wrong spots; and 2) individuals and teams who are quick to blame, slow to change.  We’ve built our expertise in the application of data to solve these types of workplace issues.

Here’s the link to read the article.

Prune the Performance Appraisal, Perpetuate the Performance

Is there anyone in today’s workforce that has experienced a traditional-style performance review and walked away satisfied with the exchange?

A couple of recent posts describe the problem well and offer excellent alternativesAppraising the Performance of Performance Appraisals and Replacing the Performance Appraisal by the VeraSage Institute’s Ron Baker.

Several of Ron’s points really hit home with me.  The unfortunate truth is that in today’s break -neck business world, many managers take a tactical and often defensive approach to employee evaluation.  Early on in a previous role I held as a VP of operations, I remember looking at the daunting challenge of doing 26 employee reviews on top of the everyday “real work” that needed to get done.  I would get the flag from HR; fill out the cookie-cutter sheet – because that’s what I was forced asked to do; tell the employee to do the same; and then meet to compare answers.   The process was underdeveloped, incomplete and typically biased toward negativity.  It went against the way I managed and always felt unnatural.  In this limited scope the question was always “What do we need to fix?” as opposed to “How do we get more of the stuff that makes us great?”

In Replacing the Performance Appraisal, Ron describes strategies that are much more effective bringing out the best in people.  One of these is the Key Predictive Indicator.  More than just results-based measure of success (as in: “Did we hit X number in sales?”), the Key Predictive Indicator looks at the predictable behaviors that drive sustained success.

Ron echoes a reality that we can easily forget:  Human capital determines the performance capacity of any organization.”   Yet we use traditional-style reviews as a “one-size-fits-all approach that impedes relevant, authentic feedback to different individuals.”  Organizational change and innovation is carried out by the people thinking and working in different ways to achieve a common goal.  A good leader leverages these talents.  Ron makes another great point about this aspect: “Good leaders—like good coaches—design performance processes and tasks around a person’s strengths, and ignore—or make irrelevant—their weaknesses.”

I would further argue that a reliable, science-based personality assessment (such as Predictive Index®) is essential to helping build authentic baselines for identifying and understanding the measures that map directly to positive work results. By identifying the behavioral requirements of each job – requirements such as work style, pace and risk-taking – managers can more effectively pinpoint proper expectations, giving even the most novice manager an automatic baseline for performance appraisals, and a clear road map for both praise and essential conversations that will lead to performance improvement.

When strong managerial skills are paired with a reliable analytical tool, managers can be very strategic and deliberate about giving employees real, actionable feedback that will help them happily grow and positively impact the company.

How satisfied are you with your current performance appraisals?  Reach out to me if you would like to continue the conversation or hear more about the role Predictive Index can play.  If you are thinking to yourself, “Hmmm…not sure we have ‘good managerial judgment…’”   ADVISA can help with that too.   Email me or go here to learn more about our impact areas.

Managing Employee Performance Variability

In case you missed it, here’s an re-post of my article that appeared this week in Plastics Technology as well as other publications in the Gardner Business Media family.

Less than a year after Steve Jobs’ exit, the iPhone 5 rolled out with a defective maps application. Apple stumbled. The map fiasco wasn’t a technical problem, process breakdown or the result of a natural disaster. Simply, it was an error in human judgment.

There’s No Escape from Natural Cycles

Companies experience numerous life cycles over the duration of their existence. The manager’s job is to propel the company upward in the cycle (ascent) while preventing the early onset of decay (descent).

Declines in organizational performance can be precipitated by poor quality, no sales, product obsolescence, poor decision making, cost overruns, inefficiencies and/or a combination of these factors; but, invariably, the root cause is almost always people. The probability and frequency of performance failures increase with head count. Managers in big companies likely spend more time and energy forestalling descent and too little time fueling ascent.

Murphy’s Law

Entropy is “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” Innovation, risk taking and vision are critical for success, but managers who are exceptionally proficient at managing variability and building fire walls that inhibit entropy thrive. We non-scientists call this “Murphy’s Law.” Well, Murphy only shows up where’s he’s invited.

While seldom malicious, entropy is insidious. It starts with an unmotivated or untrained employee; a salesman who can’t ask for the order or hold margin; a trusted associate who bottlenecks workflow and succumbs to time pressure; a key manager who avoids or takes too long to make important decisions or who takes on too much work because he/she can’t or won’t delegate. It can be the likeable supervisor who refuses to enforce work rules on the shop floor to avoid confrontation.

Is this a too negative view of how things work? How did you spend your time and energy last week? Were you able to concentrate most of it making forward progress or just kept from sliding back? Our experience tells us that managers who spend most of their time backfilling and fixing are very likely hiring the wrong people and/or managing people the wrong way because they do not have all the data they need to recruit, select and manage differently.

The Flip Side of Variability: Predictability

Metals are measured, weighed and assayed. Machines are dialed-in. Shopfloor environmental factors are finely controlled. Much applied science is used to ensure predictable performance of materials and machines; thus, managers can reliably measure their working properties and predict how they will perform under a given set of conditions.

People bring differing and changing levels of intelligence, education, culture, maturity, values, language skills, physical abilities and attitudes to the job. That people are not as predictable as materials and machinery is an understatement. Managing people optimally requires wisdom, patience and goodwill, and, applied science.

Predictive Index® (PI®) is the applied science thousands of managers use to reliably predict how a person will act and react in the work environment, uncovering if each person is technically or socially oriented; has a sense of urgency or operates in a methodical mode; and is either strategic or tactical; and much more.

Using the Performance Requirements Options (PRO) form, managers can “spec out” a job scientifically to reveal the behaviors it demands before starting a candidate search. Knowing how the job requires the person to behave using the PRO and how a person works using the PI Organization Survey, managers can make a better match of the two. It lets managers task people to do work that meets their needs and that drives out unwanted variability.

PI provides an informed glimpse into the future so managers can make informed decisions about operators, managers and sales people. For 57 years, managers have used PI to accelerate growth and as a fire wall/early warning system to provide lift and prevent performance degradation in the talent management pieces of their enterprises.


3 Ways to Be ‘Irreplaceable’ HR!

In my role at ADVISA, I spend a lot of time with CEOs and Human Resource Directors – two potentially powerful leadership roles that contribute to an organization’s level of success.  An article recently on MSN about being an “irreplaceable” employee prompted me to offer three tips specifically for HR Directors to become even more effective as leadership partners with CEOs:

1. Know what matters to your CEO.

Understanding what s/he considers to prime objectives for the year, and beyond, can put you in a position to support them.  For example, in a conversation recently with a CEO of a large law firm, he told me that his goal is to grow the firm.  He wants to hire people who will develop new business as well as bring a solution to him when they recognize an issue, not just bring him complaints.   “I need to know that they are ‘go-getters and problem-solvers’  We can teach them aspects of the business we need them to know.  But, we can’t make them proactive when they’re not,” he said. Being aware of these goals, and acting on them when it comes to talent acquisition, is what will make the difference for his HR department.  (How can HR identify candidates who are more likely to problem-solve and develop business for the CEO?  A behavioral assessment, like Predictive Index®, can provide the data needed.)

2. It’s All About Productivity:  Quantify It!

Measuring productivity or success in a role can appear difficult at first for non-sales positions.  “Am I doing a good job?” is a question many ask and the answer is often left to subjectivity when it doesn’t have to be.  For example:  if you are responsible for acquiring talent in your organization, track the turnover or the productivity of the candidates you’ve brought into the company.  Are there departments where the turnover is exceptionally high?  Be proactive in looking into the problem and identifying a solution.  And, tracking data gives you the opportunity to identify what is working well so that you can duplicate it in other areas.  (Do you have a “turnover problem”?  Whether it’s departmental or company-wide, consider talking to ADVISA about how Predictive Index can help you identify the reason AND create a solution.)

3. Be the Expert AND Be Open to Change

CEOs will often look to HR to help them understand personality assessments and what they can potentially bring to their business in terms of improving talent acquisition; developing management skills and improving communication.  You can’t possibly know everything about every tool available!  But you can become the expert about what’s important to your organization.  Whether it be increasing sales; reducing turnover; improving communication or employee engagement, fully understanding the problem at hand positions HR to seek solutions When looking at various solutions, you will know what is a reasonable option for your company and what isn’t.  (If you are not comfortable presenting a new tool or solution, allow the solution provider to be the presenter instead.  Do you have an issue that you need help resolving?  Let’s talk about it!)

Human Resources serves a unique and often unappreciated role in many organizations by being responsible for its lifeblood – its people.  As an HR professional, you can take your organization to new heights and new levels of profitability.  What company and CEO doesn’t want that?  It’s just a matter of considering what’s important from their perspective, in addition to yours, and taking action.  Sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming.  Where do you begin?  ADVISA is here to help.

Yes, you’re growing! But…ugh.

You are growing!  The company is getting bigger, and business has been booming!  What could be better?  There isn’t a cloud in the sky and life is nothing but rainbows and butterflies.  Okay, maybe that isn’t completely true.  But, there are worse problems to have than a company that is growing a little too fast or being a little too busy, that’s for sure.  Yet, like anything, exponential growth does come with its own unique set of challenges.

The solution, of course, isn’t to slow the demand for what you’re supplying.  Instead, I ask you to take a look at what I’ve seen in my work at ADVISA to be the top issues a growing company faces and see if they apply to yours.  You may have thought there was nothing to be done about it – simple growing pains.  Or perhaps you haven’t slowed down long enough to give it any thought.  Because of the reputation you’ve taken great care to build; the talent you’ve cultivated and courted; and all the vacations you don’t take anymore, I’d say it’s worth your time.

  1. Stop, Drop & Roll! – Everyone always runs around with their hair on fire.  This is standard practice.  Because the focus is always firefighting, there isn’t an opportunity to try out new ideas; handle what’s important, but not urgent; and look at the long-term direction of ….anything.  Despite all the hours everyone is putting in, there’s a drop in effectiveness, efficiency and productivity.  Solution: Leadership takes the time to pause.  You have to get a handle on your long-term vision; if you have who and what you need to reach that destination; and what your obstacles are. Creating a strategic plan is a must.
  2. Who are you and what do you do here? – No one is clear on anyone’s role anymore.  There is a lack of coordination between roles and departments.  People don’t know or trust each other so the concept is, “I’ll do it myself if I want it done right.”  This leads to a decrease in collaboration and increase in insecurity about my job stability.  I perceive that no one knows what I do or appreciates my work.  The impact of my work on the whole isn’t visible to me.  My loyalty becomes more to my team or department than the company as a whole.  Solution:  Create an organizational design structure with clearly defined roles that align with where the organization wants to go, and ensure that key leadership communicates on a regular basis.
  3. Why aren’t we making more money? – The place is buzzing 16 hours a day and profits begin to flatten or (gasp!) decline.  Why?  Being reactive, as opposed to proactive, becomes expensive.  Turnover is a big one.  People burn out and despite all the time working, employee productivity is down and the cost of employee recruiting goes up.  A lack of follow up is another.  Plans are made, but things just aren’t getting done.  There are managers everywhere but the really good managers are harder to point out.  Checking items off the task list gets confused with managing.  Employee development programs, training for managers, and trying out new ideas became “back burner” concepts to all of the firefighting.  Solution: Once you decide where you want to go, and align your organizational chart to getting there, assess your talent.  What is the performance of management like now?  What is their potential?  Compare the cost of increasing management skills of front-line management to the cost of not doing so.  Think of it like car maintenance  – it’s never convenient.  But, you spent way too much on the car itself to risk having to replace it because you’re too busy, or it costs too much, to get the oil changed.

When we consider business, growth is good.  In fact, it is great!  There are simply new responsibilities that can come along with running a successful business.  Take a moment to hit pause.  Talk to ADVISA about how to assess the situation and properly assess whether you, and your people, are in alignment with where you want the company to go.  Are you doing what it takes to get there?  Let’s talk about how to make sure that you can continue to maintain what you worked so hard to achieve.




I-It vs. I-You. How are Sales Superstars created?

I-It = Viewing people solely as instruments to be used toward our own goals.  I am “I-It” when I care not at all about your feelings but only about what I want from you.

I-You = A special bond, an attuned closeness that is often-but of course not always-found between husbands and wives, family members, and good friends.

When we are in I-It mode we treat other people as means to an end.  In the I-You mode, our relationship with them becomes an end in itself.  (Daniel Goleman; Social Intelligence)

So, how are sales superstars created?  I-You and I-It is how.  Let’s define a sales superstar – an individual who consistently achieves above average revenue results while maintaining a role as a consummate team player and positive employee role model.  Would you like to have more of them?  Me too!

I-You and I-It cuts to the heart of this conversation.  In selling situations we can find ourselves on the wrong end of an I-It conversation.  The “I” is the prospect and the it, more often than not, is the sales person.  The salesperson feels objectified, disrespected, made to feel small, and often a second-class citizen.  That is what being “It” feels like.  Not something you want to do for a living.  It is unsustainable for most mere mortals.

The I-It is also a glass ceiling for sales superstar impostors.  These are the individuals who produce sheer numbers but tend to be a negative influence and suffer from “too-heavy-to-handle” ego.  They are the “I” and the company and clients are the “It.”  Meant to serve their own ends.  As you can imagine, this is also unsustainable.

I-You is the secret.  “I” actually care and am interested about “You,” regardless of any positive outcomes for me — where I ask questions that strike to the heart of problems that matter to you and are relevant.   Not, simply the problems that happen to be solved by my products or services.  The I-You is the person who legitimately cares about others, and in turn, others trust that person.  They should.  These are the gems that take a reasonably good sales team and turn them into super heros.

The great news, in most cases, is that this mindset can be trained to those willing to learn them.  Like anything else, there has to be a will to become better, and an authentic passion for what you are selling and the good it brings to clients.

Do you have a sincere interest in re-engineering the human side of your business?  Contact me.


Today was the 4th PI® Fridays with Bob webinar I’ve hosted since the program began last October. It’s held the last Friday of the month 11 times each year. While I’ve been interviewed a couple of times for radio or TV spots, I’ve never had my own show. That’s kind of what this feels like. When all goes smoothly, it’s kind of fun. Today was fun.

We pick a topic about 6-weeks in advance about which I have some expertise for the discussion. Over the next several weeks I write a script which I try to follow when actually on air. The topics cover those areas where we bring expertise to our clients – PI being the foremost but also touching on areas such as assessment and selection, successful strategic planning, family business planning, employee productivity and work satisfaction – those areas where our audience looks to us for advice. If you’d like to see what they’re about, sign up for the next one on Succession Planning now.

I generally conduct a poll in the beginning with two or three more taking place during the session. I talk for about 25 minutes in webinar format with an accompanying slide show. When the talk is complete, I take questions until an hour is filled or until people are questioned-out. We had about 10 questions today and the session was over in about 45 minutes.

Our hope is that these sessions ultimately help our clients’ grow their business by strengthening their management and leadership expertise. If I have a little fun, that’s always a bonus too. Hope to see your name on the attendee list next month!

Managing Workplace Stress

My first recommendation in my work for ADVISA with PI® clients in Ohio and Michigan is to minimize stress on your team by matching people to work using our personality assessment.

It is not unusual to find that people who are in jobs that constantly require them to act in ways that are directly opposite of their personality preferences suffer from stress-related maladies. People who suffer from physical ailments obviously aren’t going to be contributing at the top of their game.

On the other side of the coin, when your work is consistent with what you enjoy most then you will be most-engaged and productive.

A recent study on alternative stress management techniques highlights that attitudes about stress itself can also affect performance. When stress is seen as highly negative it generates a “fight or flight” response – which ADDS TO THE STRESS!

If improving employee morale is your goal then your strategy should include systematic talent management that assesses job requirements and evaluates candidates’ personal qualities. You should also consider how stress is percieved in your organization to minimize the “fight or flight” response.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (And Your Mouth Too)

I learn new things all the time. I wish so many of them weren’t via trial and error.

I think I’ve always had a clear picture of where our business should go. Our strategic planning implementation always pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately, we all too frequently would find ourselves lurching along in an inconsistent fashion when it came to actual performance. Organizational alignment has been spotty internally and, as Heather and I have worked and talked through the process of leadership transition, it’s been clear where I’ve gone wrong. And, what I’ve discovered to be my failings have impacted things like employee productivity and work satisfaction.

The problem is really simple: while my eyes were on the prize, my mouth would say things that would distract people from seeing it. Additionally, some of our metrics weren’t as focused or clear at pointing to the prize as they could have been. Hence, what was clear to me and some of our people, wasn’t clear to our entire team. That’s been the cause of inconsistent execution. My mouth painted multiple versions of what the prize looked like when there really was only one. Those mixed messages led to inconsistencies in approach across the business. There were different versions of the Prize – and when that happens one can’t keep their eyes on it.

The solution for us and you too: make sure that what we say is always based on having our eyes on our prize. We need to make sure that all of our metrics are aimed only at the prize. We need to make sure that our mouth is vigilant about not getting distracted from the prize that matters. Any distraction from your mouth can and does lead to the potential of multiple prizes from those you lead – and that’s not good for alignment and employee engagement.

Keep your eyes on the prize. And make sure your mouth does too.


Conquer your fears

In gaining influence, earning customers, and in management it is critical to command the room with self-confidence. Fear is palpable and, yes, others notice when you’re scared. Those who choose to be verbose are likely, and unintentionally, showing lack of competence, confidence, and capacity with each extra word. Before you find yourself in the critical moments, make sure you have effectively conquered your fears.

But how?

Self-awareness + humility

This is step one in conquering fear. If you can be honest with yourself, and know where you are competent and confident, you are well on your way. It’s difficult to experience fear in an environment that you know like the back of your hand. Fear is something you experience internally, and it is influenced by outside forces only when you let it.

Skills Assessment

Getting an objective assessment of your selling and influence skills is a critical baseline to knowing where you stand. The SSAT (Selling Skills Assessment Tool™) is an objective, valid, and reliable instrument to learn where you stand. When you know the areas that need to be buoyed to build confidence, you are able to take a deliberate and focused approach toward development.

To realize maximum employee productivity and to get to the core of the psychology of selling, you need to address fear. Fear within yourself and that of your employees.