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Apple’s Boring Mission Statement and What We Can Learn From It

Thousands of hours have been wasted talking about mission statements that are, quite frankly, boring. The best mission statements, are both inspirational and to the point.

Mission statements are critically important to your organization because they drive alignment in your organization toward the vision of what you want to get done. That’s why it should be the inspiration that your organization rallies around. Unfortunately, many thousands of hours have been wasted talking about mission statements that are, quite frankly, BORING! talk to us

The best mission statements, on the other hand, are both inspirational and to the point.

Consider the example of Apple. When Steve Jobs started the now iconic company, his mission statement was: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” Wow; that’s something I would get out of bed in the morning for.

But as much as Apple has contributed to the advance of technology, the company has come under increasing criticism that it has lost its way since Jobs passed away in 2011.

One of the changes the company has made in the years since is to change that original mission statement, which now reads like this: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”


Which mission statement do you prefer? While the newer version is very specific about what the company does, it certainly fails to meet the criteria I suggested earlier: it’s not inspiring and it’s certainly not brief and to the point.

Now compare Apple’s latest mission statement with some other major companies. For many years, Pepsi’s mission statement was: “Beat Coke.” That’s certainly simple and while it doesn’t get into the tactics of how they will fulfill that mission, it gives everyone in the organization a clear vision of what they need to accomplish.

Another great example comes from Medtronic, the medical device manufacturer, whose mission statement is: “To extend human life.” That’s an exciting mission and certainly something that is inspirational for anyone who works inside the business producing products like pacemakers and defibrillators.

But you don’t have to be a major corporation to have a great mission statement. I worked with a business that competed in the exciting field of humidity measurement. It’s not a big market, maybe $500 million in total, but this company established its mission as: “Global domination of the humidity measurement industry.” Not only is that clear and inspirational, it gives everyone plenty of scope for the business to aim at over the next several years.

What happens in situations like what we see with Apple is that you are trying to please everyone. You worry about offending someone, or leaving someone out. But by trying to be inclusive and non-offensive, you lose that focus and inspirational tone you need for your mission statement to be meaningful. That then leads you down the path of a favorite quote of mine from the movie RoboCop where executive Dick Jones says, “Good business is where you find it.” It basically means, “We will do anything for anybody, if we can make money”. That’s not too inspirational.

In other words, you chase every opportunity you can–which can be the worst thing for your organization to do. As I have written about before, your organization is actually defined by what you say no to.

Worse than trying to please everyone are mission statements designed by committees. Mission statements are also like strategy in that they are best done in smaller groups–preferably one using the seven plus or minus two rule. When you give the job of crafting your mission statement to a committee, you end up with boring, multi-syllabic paragraphs that say a lot about nothing, much like the one from Apple.

So take another look your company’s mission statement. If you start yawning when you read it, it’s time to make a change by making it shorter, tighter and more inspirational. Grab a small team – be bold, say no to lots of things and inspire your team!

The 1 Best Question to Use in an Interview

There is a single question that you can use to assess whether candidates understand the job and if they are A or C players.

The secret to hiring your next great employee might come down to how someone answers a single question. And you won’t be asking what kind of tree the person would be or about her Myers-Briggs profile. It all comes down to measuring performance. Let me explain.talk to us

The authors of the book Who suggest you can immediately begin to distinguish A players from B and C players, beginning with your initial phone screen. You do so by telling a candidate exactly how you will be measuring his or her performance in the job you’re hiring for.

How candidates react will tell you plenty about them. C players, for example, probably won’t be able to hang up the phone fast enough, since they don’t want any part of being measured. A players, on the other hand, will take your bait and get excited for the chance to excel. They might even up the ante by asking you what’s in it for them if they really crush it and exceed your expectations.

It turns out there’s an even better question you can ask candidates to help assess if they are true A players once you have them in for an interview. I learned about this magic question from Joel Trammell, the CEO of software company Khorus, who I wrote about in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy.

Joel believes that CEOs can’t delegate hiring decisions to someone else like HR. He perfected his hiring method by interviewing every single one of the hundreds of employees in his company.

Doing those interviews, Joel found that there was a single question that helped him assess whether a candidate understood the job being applied for and what he or she needed to do to excel in it.

“If I was to hire you, how would I know if you were doing a good job?”

This is a great question because it forces the candidate to put herself into the job and be thoughtful about how she might be measured by you, her boss. The answer you get will tell you a lot about the candidate’s maturity and comfort level with having her performance measured.

If you ask a C player this question, for instance, you might get some stammering followed by some noncritical metrics such as he will show up for work on time and not take extended lunch hours.

A players, on the other hand, will give you exactly what you’re looking for. Let’s say you are hiring a software engineer. When you ask an A player the magic question, he might respond by saying you will know whether he is doing a good job by using three metrics: the total volume of software code he produces on a weekly or monthly basis; the quality of the code based on a limited number of bugs; and his on-time delivery rate in which he hits the targets he said he would.

This would be a great answer because each of the metrics is measurable and quantifiable. You know if you had a group of engineers who were all willing to be measured on those metrics, you’d have a high-performing team.

Similarly, if you were hiring a salesperson, you might want to hear her answer the magic question by saying that you could tell she was doing a good job if she was exceeding her quota and selling profitable business, and her customer satisfaction rating was off the charts.

A key point here is that while you might know what you want to hear from a candidate, leave some wiggle room to be surprised and to learn something new about the position from an A player–someone who might think of a metric you’ve never considered.

The beauty of asking the magic question is also that, after the candidate gives you his answer, you pause for a second and say: “Let me write these down because, if I hire you, this is exactly how I will measure you after you start your new job.”

In other words, you can use the answer to the magic question as a great onboarding tool in which you have eliminated any chance that your new hire will be surprised about what is expected of him after he starts his new job.

How magical is that?

Want to Win? Keep Your Strategy Short and Sweet

When it comes to communicating about your strategy with your organization, and ensuring you don’t out think it, the phrase to remember is: keep it short and sweet.contact is we help you grow

Everyone who runs a successful business believes that they have the best people working for them. And that’s no accident since we invest so much time and effort in screening and interviewing people to ensure they are smart, capable, and a culture-fit all in one.

But the truth is that no matter how hard you work on attracting and hiring the best of the best, the collective intelligence of your organization is still just about average, especially if you have a larger operation. Maybe your organization is the exception and you are really, really good at hiring–but that only means the total team might be 5% to 10% smarter than everyone else. It all comes back to averages. It’s just a mathematical reality.

At the same time, one of the aspects that set great leaders apart from the pack is that they tend to have special skills–particularly the ability to see over the next hill and make connections and correlations that the rest of us can’t. Much of that ability comes from experience, knowledge, and the ability to do complex thinking. These are the people who can see into the future, if you will, since they are the ones who are great at mapping out the kinds of strategies that put companies on the fast track. They can anticipate how doing A plus B, contingent on C, equals Z.

Guess what happens, though, when great leaders like this try to explain their complex strategies to the average worker? They get looked at quite literally as if they were from another planet. Sure, most people might understand A and B, but how the heck did you get all the way to Z?

To put that another way, great leaders need to learn to not out think their organizations.

What this means at a practical level is that when it comes time for you as a leader to explain your company’s strategy, you need to pare it down. Yes, you can talk turkey with your senior leadership team. But when it comes to company-wide communication, make things short and sweet enough to give your team the information they need to act without overwhelming them. Boil it down to a maximum of three elements since that’s the maximum amount of information most of us can process. Not seven, not five–three is the magic number. Then take those elements and repeat, repeat, repeat as a way to drive them throughout your organization.

Consider the classic example of legendary CEO Jack Welch’s reign at GE. At the time, GE was a massively complex organization worth more than $100 billion with its fingers in all kinds of industries like light bulbs, locomotives, jet engines and finance. You can imagine the kind of complexity that went into managing the strategy for that kind of multi-pronged business.

But if you worked at GE at that time and heard Welch speak, he would have focused over and over again on just three things: globalize the business, drive service and recurring revenues, and improve quality throughout the company by embracing the discipline of six sigma.

Of course, Welch could peel the onion or dive deep whenever he needed to. But it was by repeating those three basic elements that he knew he could get everyone in his organization, no matter how average they were, aligned without fearing of talking over their heads.

I actually had a similar experience with a boss, Paul Snyder, earlier in my career. Paul was the CEO of High Voltage Engineering and, while we weren’t on the scale of GE, we were a multi-faceted and growing business with thousands of employees. But I remember even to this day the three things Paul repeated over and over again about our strategy: make the numbers, grow the business and invest in the people. Guess what we talked about every time we got together?

Boom: easy enough for anyone to remember, including me–for many years! That’s the real value in not out thinking your organization. So when it comes to communicating with your strategy with your organization, and ensuring you don’t out think it, the phrase to remember is: keep it short and sweet.

Why Netflix Doesn’t Tolerate Brilliant Jerks

What do you do when someone who is unquestionably brilliant is also a jerk?

We all work with someone who is unquestionably brilliant. You know the type: the person who consistently comes up with great insights and ideas and who can cut to the quick far faster than anyone else in the organization. It’s hard not to step back and admire how the person’s brain works.contact us now

At the same time, such people can begin to think their gifts place them above everyone else in the organization. They tend to hog all the airtime at meetings by intimidating and maybe even ridiculing those who might have the audacity to offer their own take on a situation–thus suppressing collaboration and participation throughout the rest of the organization. They also follow their own rules and are evenabusive to the rest of the staff. They aren’t nice people to be around. In other words, these people are jerks–which creates real issues within your organization.

But since they are brilliant, what should you, as the leader of the organization, do about it?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been very clear about what his organization does with its brilliant jerks: It gets rid of them. As he has said in the past about them: “Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

What Hastings came to realize is that regardless of how smart or even how productive such employees might be, they can actually begin to rip an organization apart from the inside if they don’t buy into the organization’s values and embrace working collaboratively.

In my upcoming book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, I call these folks “cultural terrorists” because of how destructive they can be to an organization. Certainly, your first option should potentially be to use coaching as a way to polish a brilliant jerk’s prickly edges. Obviously, you can’t make anyone a nicer person, but perhaps you can make the person aware of how damaging her behavior is to peers and see if she is willing to make changes accordingly.

If these folks are unable to change their behavior, however, then they leave you no choice but to exit them from the organization. By doing so, you’re making a powerful statement to the rest of your team about how important your culture is–what is tolerated and what is not. The longer you let them remain, the more damage they cause inside your culture and to your own reputation as a leader. People will lose trust in your abilities, which can undermine all the hard work you’ve done to build a strong team in the first place.

When you exit a cultural terrorist, it should be known within the organization that the person is no longer with you because of her behavior, not due to her performance on the job. This will set a tone about the kind of culture you want to build and the kinds of behaviors you’ll accept–and the kinds you won’t.

There are organizations where brilliant jerks are welcomed and where they thrive. For example, I know of several prominent consulting firms where individual contributions are valued more than teamwork. And that’s OK if that’s the kind of organization you’re trying to build.

But if you’re like Netflix and believe there is greater collaborative power through teamwork, then you need to act now when it comes to dealing with your brilliant jerks. You can’t afford to wait until after the damage has been done.


One Trial Learner Failure Isn’t an Option

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Great CEOs accept that in order to innovate, then failure isn’t an option – it’s required and part of a healthy learning process. However, they make sure they are a “One Trial Learner.”

If you hang out with CEOs all the time like I do, you hear a lot of talk about some are worried about making mistakes. I’ve found that some CEOs spend a lot of time trying to avoid making them–then find themselves stuck in a loop of over-analysis.

Great CEOs, on the other hand, think very differently about mistakes. They have accepted that if they want to innovate by doing things better and more profitably, they will inevitably stumble at some point. They also make sure that they are a “One Trial Learner.”

What I mean by this is that great CEOs try a lot of different things–many of which don’t pan out. They make mistakes. But the goal is to use those errors as learning experiences that will help you avoid making those same mistakes again in the future. They are also careful to make sure that those mistakes are not below the water line–ones that can sink the business.

I remember one CEO sharing a great piece of insight with me when he said: “I will make a lot of mistakes, but my goal is to make none more than once.”

This is not only a great mantra for personal productivity, but also for organizational productivity. To be an innovative organization, you need to embrace the concept of being a One Trial Learner which means you as an organization need to be trying lots of things and making lots of mistakes along the way. The trick is to learn from the mistake and not make it again.

If you want to innovate, you need to be willing to make mistakes–only you shouldn’t be making the same one twice. It’s all about taking what you learned from the experience of making the mistake and integrating that into advancing your organizational thinking. This turns rapid failure into rapid learning.

Don’t Touch the Stove!

It’s like back when you were a kid and your mom told you not to touch the stove whenever it was on. But you did it anyway, right? But most likely, you did it only once because you learned from that mistake with a burnt finger. That’s what being a One Trial Learner is all about.

New Coke Died Quickly

The beverage giant Coca-Cola certainly acted like a One Trial Learner in the wake of its disastrous introduction of New Coke back in 1985. But with some hindsight we can understand why they made the decision to launch the new product, and ditch the “classic” version they had built the company around, because taste tests showed that consumers wanted a sweeter flavor comparable to what Coke’s rival, Pepsi, was offering.

Coke was trying to innovate and reinvent itself–which is actually a commendable strategy that too many firms don’t have the courage to undertake. Yet in this case, New Coke ended up becoming a gigantic mistake because the folks at Coke underestimated the brand loyalty they have developed among their customers for that original flavor. When they ditched that in favor of the new recipe, it quickly became a nightmare of epic proportions for the company.

But Coke quickly rebounded by bringing back the original recipe in less than three months, then called Coke Classic, and also ditched New Coke a few years later. While every business school professor out there uses this story as a lesson of what a company shouldn’t do, Coke did learn from its mistake because it has never messed with its flagship recipe ever again. They proved to be a One Trial Learner.

Ryanair Listens and Learns

Another example of a One Trial Learner in action involved the budget European airline Ryanair. The company’s business plan is all about offering a bare bones option: to keep their fares as low as possible, customers basically have to pay for just about everything, including food, beverages, and their baggage. But the airline apparently went one step too far when it talked about introducing a plan that would require customers to actually pay to use the lavatory on the plane. While it made sense on paper–that certainly would have become another profitable revenue line on each flight–it was simply too much for its customers: they basically revolted at the very notion of paying to go to the bathroom.

To their credit, Ryanair listened to their customers and ditched the pay-to-pee idea and began looking for other ways to both shave costs and make money. And they did it quickly.

Learning Culture

The final point is to build a culture that embraces smart failure and quick learning. You cannot shoot the person that dares. Rather–they should be celebrated and the organization should seek to learn from the risk they took, and create something better. The only thing people should be castigated is taking stupid risks or worse, making the same exact mistake multiple times.

The point is that if you want to build an innovative organization capable of cutting-edge breakthroughs, you need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them – that’s what being a One Trial Learner is all about.


75 Percent of the Information Is All You Need to Make a Decision

You need information to take the risk out of decisions, but getting too much information has a real cost. Most normal business decisions can be made with 75 percent of the available information, focused on the right issues.

I have written before about people who have high information needs. You might call them “infomaniacs.” These are folks, or even organizational cultures, that prioritize making decisions using data, metrics, and plenty of analysis.

And don’t get me wrong, that’s often a good thing in the right situation. What you don’t want to do, however, is take that need for information to an extreme. That’s especially true when it comes to making normal business decisions.

You always want to have enough information to make the best possible decision you can. But how much is enough? And, just as importantly, how much is too much?

If you have 50 percent of the information you need, for instance, that’s probably not enough to make a sound decision. You’ll be guessing, which can make your decision quite risky. If it’s a choice that doesn’t have much impact, like where to have lunch, then 50 percent of the data is plenty.

But waiting until you have 99 percent of the information is also risky–and expensive in many ways. Accumulating that depth and breadth of data before you make your decision often:

A.) Costs a lot of money to acquire, and

B.) Takes a lot of time to gather.

Some people call this “analysis paralysis”

These are significant drawbacks, especially if you’re trying to run an agile organization that moves nimbly to stay ahead of the competition. The longer you wait to make a decision, the riskier it becomes, since you may be missing opportunities–allowing your competition to catch up or even pass you.

That’s why I’ve found that the solution is usually to make the decision when you have 75 percent of what you need to pull the trigger.

As an example, let’s consider that a potential customer is asking you to extend them a significant line of credit as part of signing on with your company. They are asking for enough money that it is significantly risky for your organization if the deal goes sour. So how much information do you need to make your decision?

To get 75 percent of what you need, you might need to establish that they are a reputable company with a solid history of being in business. You might also ask for a snapshot of their financials to help make sure they are solvent.

To get to 100 percent of the information, you might need to ask for their tax returns over the past two years and their profit and loss statements (P&Ls), while also setting up interviews with their CFO and their auditor and so on. If you do all that, you’ll have everything you need to know about this company and will make a clear and fully informed decision. But you will probably miss your chance to turn them into a customer.

Why? Because by pushing for 100 percent of the information, you may have opened up a window for one of your competitors to offer this company what they want without the hassle of providing all the information that you’re asking for.

Your company could also earn the dreaded label of “hard to do business with,” which can be difficult to overcome in a fast-moving market.

The point is that you have to balance the risk level and potential payoff of whatever decision you’re pondering with your need for enough information to make that decision. Is this something above or below the waterline, in that it could truly put your company in jeopardy? If you’re building a new oil refinery, for example, that might warrant taking the extra time and money to make sure you get everything you need to know.

The book Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”–filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

But for most business decisions, I’ve found that 75 percent of the data, focused on the right issues, is, as Goldilocks might say, just about right.

Never Waste A Good Crisis

The best leaders never waste a good crisis because it affords them the chance to make the kind of large wholesale changes their organization needs. They let the fire do some of the work for them to make the organization receptive to change.

In your journey as a CEO or entrepreneur, you will inevitably face a significant crisis at some point. Maybe it will be the loss of a key employee. Or perhaps it will involve getting in trouble with your bank or the failure of a new product launch. The point is that something will go wrong in a way that you never planned for.

In the wake of such a crisis, it’s the natural tendency of CEOs and entrepreneurs to step in and fix the problem. We want to put the fire out. Maybe that’s jumping in to find a replacement for the person who left or even worse, take charge of your R&D team. While those moves might help stop the bleeding, they aren’t likely to push your company forward over the long run.

That’s why I want to change your thinking on this topic. I believe that the best leaders never waste a good crisis because it affords you the chance to make the kind of large wholesale changes you organization needs that you’ve also been putting off for too long. To put that another way, sometimes the best move is to let the fire do its work so that you can rebuild something stronger from the ashes.

Let’s return to the example of losing a top employee; let’s say your best salesperson. While it might seem like the obvious solution is to rehire for that position, the smart CEO asks some questions instead: Is there a better way to go about this? Maybe you should hire two new junior people instead? Maybe the clients that ex-salesperson worked with warrant your VP of Sales stepping in to take over? Or, just maybe, you’re better off losing that client anyway.

Another scenario might be that, due to a massive market disruption, you need to make dramatic changes in your headcount. Now, nobody likes laying people off–which is why most organization lay off the smallest number of people they can. But what if the smarter decision is to cut deeper by getting rid of all of your C players, and then hiring back fewer, but far more productive A and B players instead? In this case, you would have used a crisis to upgrade the overall talent level in your organization.

The point is that when you encounter a crisis, it primes your organization to go through major changes it might not otherwise be capable of making.

Think about your organization like an oilrig in the middle of the ocean. If you were to order your employees to jump off into the cold salty water, miles from shore on any given day, they’d look at you like you were crazy. But if you explain that you’re in the middle of a real crisis–like if the oil rig is on fire–you’re sure to get far different results.

There’s an element of psychology at work here in that when we encounter crisis in our lives, we’re also programmed to deal with change in a way that, in more normal times when everything seems fine, we tend to reject.

That’s also why it’s critical for you, as a leader, not to minimize the extent of the crisis–which is another natural thing for us to do. If the company loses it’s biggest customer, for instance, you might be tempted to prop up the troops by saying something like, “It’s not a big deal, we’ll find another customer to take their place.” But that would be wasting an opportunity.

What you could do instead is be quite direct about the consequences of the crisis. As a result, the organization should expect several major changes to come about. That’s how you can turn a negative situation into a positive one because you can prime the organization to do things it might not otherwise have been capable of undergoing. And this type of transparent leadership will serve you well through tough times.

A crisis allows you to bring about change at a much faster rate than you would normally be able to bring about–which is why you should never waste them. So next time you get some bad news, resist the urge to go and fight fires. Take a step back instead to see if there might be a silver lining in the form of a big organizational change you probably needed to do to avoid the crisis in the first place.

Six Questions to See If You Have Schedule Control

six questions about schedule controlOne thing that all great CEOs have in common is that they have control over their calendar. Here are six questions to see if you have control over your schedule.

As part of my job, I talk to hundreds of CEOs every year trying to identify the elements that separates great leaders from average ones. One thing that all great CEOs have in common is that they have control over their calendar.

To put that another way, the great CEOs take control of their schedules rather than allowing their schedules to take control of them. That’s how they make sure they have enough time to refresh their brains while also making sure they are ready to take on new opportunities when they arrive. They do all of this while focusing on a limited set of things that truly make a difference. Average CEOs, on the other hand, get consumed by their day-to-day schedules and fail to pursue the kinds of new challenges that can actually push their business forward and within their time allocation, they are not focused.

Do you have control over your calendar? If you’re not sure, ask yourself the following questions to find out:

1. Are you working more than 60 hours a week? If you are, that means you’re putting in 12-hour workdays. And when you add in the time you spend traveling, eating and sleeping, you’re left with absolutely no time to mentally recover. You’ve also allowed yourself to become so booked, you can’t fit any new opportunities into your day–such as thinking about making a new acquisition or having lunch with a promising new hire. You’re super busy–but not in a good way. You’re burning yourself out. When a CEO tells me they are working 80 hours a week, it’s pretty clear that they don’t control their calendar.

2. Are you constantly rearranging your schedule? If you find that your calendar is so booked that any small change in your day leads to a ripple of cancellation and reschedule–that means you are overbooked. Just because you have every day scheduled down to the minute isn’t really a good thing because, if you want to add something new, it means that you might need to rearrange your day or even your week to make it happen. You need more flexibility than that.

3. Do you always eat lunch at your desk? If you’re too busy to take a break for lunch so you spend it eating and working inside your office, then you’ve lost control over your schedule. You need to make time to step away, get some fresh air and meet some new people. It sends a really poor message to the rest of the company when the boss is always holed up in his or her office all the time. A productive use of the time is to bring someone along with you, that way you can do some work and get away from the office for a little.

4. Can you commit to a meeting several months in advance? What happens when someone offers you the chance to attend a conference two months out? Do you immediately realize you’re already booked even that far ahead? If so, you’ve lost control over your schedule. The corollary to this is that you commit, but tell them it is in pencil because–things might change.

5. Do you travel more than 50% of the time? Travel is an essential part of doing business. But if you’re outside the office more than half the time, you’re likely wasting enormous amounts of time in planes, cars and everywhere in between. How can you expect to add new things to your calendar when you’re away so much of the time?

6. Does the idea of taking a weeklong vacation scare you? I’ve personally seen CEOs go white in the face when I’ve suggested that they take a week away from the office. Just for fun, I usually ask them how they feel about two weeks to get a reaction after that. They can’t even imagine the idea of being away for that long because they have too much to do (and don’t have people that can perform)–a clear sign that they’ve lost control of their calendar.

If you answered yes to any of these questions–or worse, to several of them–then these are clear signs that you’ve indeed lost control of your schedule. Fortunately, there are some techniques for wresting your calendar back, which is what we’ll dig into in our next post.


Great CEOs are Lazy!

talk to usGreat CEOs rarely enter into Player Mode. Rather, his or her first move is to find someone else to do the work.

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When most CEOs find their company getting into some kind of bind, they jump in to personally help resolve the issue. We call this going into “Player Mode.” “I’m just helping out for now,” these CEOs tell themselves, “and later on I’ll bring in someone else.”

But the great CEOs out there rarely enter into Player Mode. Rather, his or her first move is to find someone else to do the work. They are very intentional about engaging the organization. That’s why great CEOs are lazy.

Before you jump through the screen and strangle me, hear me out. Of course great CEOs work hard–but the hard work they do is in finding, recruiting, and engaging the best people to get the task at hand done as well as it can be.

Think back to your high school reading list and recall the story of Tom Sawyer and how he found a way to recruit his friends to help him paint a fence for his aunt. Tom found a way to make the job sound so exciting, he even got his friends to pay him for the privilege of doing it!

Now I’m not advocating using sleight of hand in tackling the issues at your workplace. What I am emphasizing is that as soon as you, as CEO, engage in Player Mode, you lose your ability to recruit other people to get the work done, because you are busy.

This notion is very counterintuitive. Many of us began our working lives at the age of 14 or 16, cutting lawns or busing tables or the like. We have worked our whole lives. The idea of not working is somehow offensive to our sense of an internal work ethic.

But being “lazy” in this case this is all about working smarter, not harder.

Case in point: I recently met up with the CEO of a professional services company. The top priority for his firm this year is growing its client base. In fact, they planned to double it. And when I talked to this CEO, he mentioned how he planned to work harder to help the firm meet its goals.

That’s when I stopped him and asked what he meant by that. After all, he couldn’t realistically work twice as hard as he was already, right? And how feasible was it that he could help the company literally double the rate at which it closed new deals? The only option on the table that might work, I explained, was to get more people involved in the process. What you need to do, I explained, is to get lazy. He needed to do less customer and sales work himself and do more recruiting of people who could handle that work for the company instead.

I will acknowledge that there will always be times where, when the stuff really hits the proverbial fan, you as CEO might have to step in to do some actual “work.” But the great CEOs will make that their fourth or fifth option. In fact, I’ve known some CEOs who, the worse things get, get “lazier” still: They work harder to get the right people involved in solving the problem, while personally detaching themselves as much from it as they can to remain objective. Not only is that a great way to ensure the right person is doing the job, it’s also a great empowerment and team-building approach. Rather than you as CEO parachuting in to save the day, your team will begin to learn that they are the ones who are trusted to save things for themselves. No one is coming to save them. That’s powerful stuff.

The point is that unless you are really good at what needs to be done, or truly enjoy it, you’re better off with the lazy solution. Heck, even Steve Jobs, who in some ways has become the epitome of the micromanager, really stuck with just a few things he cared about, like the design and look-and-feel of the products. You don’t hear about him getting wrapped up in solving operational issues or things dealing with production and manufacturing. He wasn’t designing circuit boards. He let the people who were pros at those tasks solve their own issues.

So the moral of the story, as you might have guessed by now, is that being lazy pays off for the best CEOs out there. You might ask yourself how your business might benefit if you started doing less and just got lazy.

How to Help an Underperforming Worker in 6 Steps

number-rankings underperforming players

One of the most challenging tasks for any leader is figuring out what to do with an underperforming team member in your organization– a C player. The challenge is that your employee might be a good person, probably someone who has even bought into the values of your culture. The simple answer is to fire them and move on, but that isn’t the way to treat people. But they simply aren’t performing the way you need them to. So what do you do?

Step 1: Make Them Aware There’s An Issue

The first step in dealing with an underperforming employee is to make them aware that they are, in fact, underperforming. Simple, right? And you need to be as specific as possible about where they are falling short, which means it helps to bring data with you to prove your case. It’s also something you need to do as soon as you know it’s happening–regardless of whether they just joined the company three months ago or even if they just had their annual review. The point is that you can’t afford to wait until an end-of-year review to let them know that a problem exists; it needs to happen immediately.

Step 2: Offer Coaching for Improvement

Once you have let your employee know that they are underperforming, there are some things you can do to help coach them to improve their performance. Before you get there, though, you need that employee to “own” the fact that they are falling short in their performance. If you can’t break through to them at that level, then your conversation, and their time with the organization, will become very short.

But, if your employee does own their performance–and commits to improving it–then you can work together to put a plan in place to get their performance up to standard. If your employee works in sales, say, and is only closing five deals a month and they should be closing 15 or more, you can ask them what they will do differently to reach that new level. You can then begin a monitoring program where you see how that new plan of action is working. Where are they after 15 days? At 30? If they aren’t tracking toward their goal, then you know you have a problem on your hands and can begin planning your next move.

Step 3: Educate Them

It’s possible that your employee might actually lack the skills they need to perform their job well. That’s an opportunity to offer them the chance to learn those skills that will help elevate their performance. But remember, this is a short-term effort targeted specifically at helping them learn the skills to do their job better. It’s not about offering to pay someone to go get his or her MBA.

Step 4: Shrink Their Job

Sometimes, especially in the case of fast-growing companies, employees find that the company’s growth outpaces their own ability to keep up. You see that a lot with managers and executives who excel during the early years of a startup but begin to fall behind as the company continues to scale up. One of the options you can employ to help an underperformer is to break up the job as a way to make it more manageable.

Take a sales and marketing leader, as an example. Perhaps you could divide up the job into sales and marketing, leaving the incumbent in one of the roles and hiring the other. While this can often be effective, it also involves someone checking his or her ego at the door to make it work–which isn’t always possible.

Step 5: Change Their Position

If you have an employee who continues to underperform despite the help of coaching, training, and shrinking their job, your option of last resort might be to move them into a different position in the organization where they might be a better fit. Think about a salesperson who you might move into more of a product support role where they can worry more about helping other salespeople be successful rather than filling their own quota. Again, you might encounter ego issues with such a move. But it’s advisable to keep that person’s salary the same even after the shift as a way to mitigate that. They might not get any raises for a while, but it will help them keep a positive mindset as they attempt to scale up into the new position.

Step 6: Exit Time

If you’ve done everything possible to put your C player in a position to succeed without success, then it’s time to exit that person from the organization. If it comes down to this, you can give your employee the chance to take the soft road out, wherein you give them three months or so to find a new job as a way to avoid terminating them directly. This strategy is generally in place of a severance arrangement.

But, if that, too, doesn’t work out, you’ll eventually need to make the hard decision to terminate them with the hope that they’ll find a new job soon.

Obviously no one likes to terminate anyone. But it’s essential for you, as the leader, to remember that your organization can’t afford to rely on C players for its future success. Ultimately, the organization is looking at you to be the Head Coach and make changes on the team if needed. If you aren’t, they begin to wonder if you aren’t a C….