Tag Archives: decision making

Why You Need to Honestly Assess Your Talent

Many companies rate their talent well above average. Besides being untrue, this is a dangerous strategy as your top performers will leave you if you do.In the mythical town of Lake Wobegon, made famous by Garrison Keillor on National Public Radio, it is said that all the children are above average.While you might laugh at that joke, it’s worth asking: are all the people in your organization rated above average and how do honestly assess the talent in your organization? talk to us

In my work with the Inc. CEO Project, we’ve actually found that most of the CEOs we work with tend to hand out inflated grades – especially to the members of their executive team, all of whom tend to receive above average appraisals.

In the HR world, this is called a “central tendency problem.” In other words, it’s statistically unlikely that every member of an executive team is delivering above-average performance. No doubt some of them are. But all of them?

Consider a recent report released by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, which said that some 73% of 1.2 million high-level federal workers received performance scores of outstanding or fully successful. Just as surprisingly, just 0.5% of these employees delivered minimally successful or unacceptable work – which, if you do any work with the government, you know is not the case.

This helps illustrate the point about how crucial it is to take an honest and objective look at how the talent in your organization is performing. But how do you do that?

One approach is what GE famously took under Jack Welch when it placed people into performance bands: 20% of the company was exceeding expectations (A players); 60-70% was meeting expectations (B players); while the bottom 10-20% performed below expectations.

What this model told us was that most of the people in an organization perform at an average level, which makes sense. But what turned people off about this approach was that GE also fired the lowest performers each year with the idea that they could then hire A and B players to replace them.

The key lesson we can learn from this system of defining who is an A, B, or C player, is that there is value in seeing how the talent in your organization stacks up. So next time you conduct performance reviews, have your HR team make a list of how many people performed at each level. Clearly, if you find that you have a bunch of low achievers, you have a big problem on your hands! But if most everyone falls into the over-achieving bracket, you also need to reassess how you’re evaluating your talent.

One key reason why this is so important is that if you allow a central tendency problem to persist, you will quickly alienate your true A players. If your truly exceptional performers feel like they are being lumped in with lesser players and being rewarded the same way, they will leave and look for an organization that will recognize and reward their capability.

That means you will be effectively downgrading your talent across the board; something no organization can afford to do.

What you can do instead is that if you have a problem with honestly assessing your talent, it’s time to reboot the system and reset expectations. Make it more demanding by shifting the entire curve downward. What used to be outstanding should now be considered average. What used to be considered good is now below average. Doing this allows you to be more discriminant about how you allocate everything from raises and promotions to stock options to your true top performers.

While it might be nice to live in a place like Lake Wobegon, be wary if you find that everyone in your organization thinks they are above average. It probably means your performance appraisal system is broken – and your company’s long-term performance might be at risk because of it.

How to Avoid Mission Drift and Stay True To Your Purpose

Mission drift is an irresistible force. You need to build in measures to help you avoid suffering from this crisis of identity. If you don’t, you might end up running a company that is very different than the one you intended to build. contact is we help you grow

As every company gets older and matures, especially around its tenth anniversary and after, it can be become difficult to remember the reasons why it was founded in the first place. When you look to those organizations that have been around 30 to 50 years and older, it can be really hard to believe you’re talking about the same place.

For example, did you know that Harvard University’s founding purpose was to “prepare ministers of upright character”?

It would be tough to argue that Harvard still operates by that same purpose today even though it’s in the exact same place it was founded back in 1636. So what happened?

In short, mission drift.

This is something that threatens every organization out there and, unless you put some safeguards and preventative measures in place, you could find yourself running an organization you don’t even recognize anymore.

What makes this challenging is that mission drift isn’t something that happens all at once. Think of it more as being nibbled to death by ducks. It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. Maybe it’s a decision about chasing revenue from a customer that doesn’t really fit with your mission. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But, when you add that decision up with all the others like it, you can’t believe how you got where you ended up.

Take another example, this time from the retail sector. Entrepreneur Dov Charney founded his company American Apparel back in 1997 because he was tired of seeing American manufacturing shop being shipped overseas. He started his company to create jobs by starting making clothes in the U.S. again.

But over time, the business experienced mission drift. Eventually, rather than focusing on creating American jobs, the company became known for its sexually charged ads. For his part, Charney became known as the Hugh Hefner of retail as the business continued to shift away from its original mission. More recently, the company declared bankruptcy, which should serve as a sobering reminder of what can happen when you lose touch with the values you began your business with.

So how do you avoid mission drift and keep your organization on the right path? Here are a few tips:

Your Board Tip one is to enlist a board that is fully in line with the organization’s mission. Make sure they buy into your purpose and then charge then helping make sure they say something if they think a decision is out of alignment with your values.

Your Executive Team The second tip is to hire executives and leaders who also buy into the mission, purpose and values of the organization. Then exit the people who don’t–regardless of how great a performer they are. While that might be a painful decision to make to your bottom line in the near term, it will pay off big time over the long run.

Embed Mission into Your Culture You can also use stories and symbols as ways to embed your mission and purpose into your organization DNA in such a way that everyone in the organization can make their own course corrections on a daily basis.

Similarly, everyone in the company should use the mission and purpose of the company as their North Star of sorts as they make their decisions. Everyone needs to be encouraged to act on the notion that if something requires him or her to act against those values, they quite simply shouldn’t do it.

Measure the Mission And finally, constantly measure how true you are acting when it comes to your mission. You need only look to the great retailer Nordstrom for inspiration in how to do this. Every day, Nordstrom posts a list of the top ten salespeople in the company: everyone knows who the rainmakers are. But just as importantly, the company also publishes the letters from customers who are saluting those employees who stood out in supporting the company’s mission, which is is to “provide outstanding service every day, one customer at a time.” Seeing those letters every day is a way to measure how well Nordstrom is tracking to its mission.

One day, for instance, the company posted the letter from a customer who couldn’t believe how, after she called a store to see if they had found a diamond that gotten loose from the customer’s engagement ring, the staff at the store scoured every inch of floor looking for it. More incredibly, they also went through every dirty vacuum bag until they found it. How’s that for supporting your mission?

The key again is that as your company gets going, you need to build in measures like these to help you avoid suffering mission drift. If you don’t, you might end up running a company that is very different than the one you intended to build.



Warren Buffet’s Secrets to Stop Worrying

Warren Buffett, who has billions of reasons to be worried, uses these six steps to free himself from worry and you can too.

We all know Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors of all time. He has literally made billions of dollars through the savvy investments he’s made over the years through his firm Berkshire Hathaway. But with all that money at risk, it makes you wonder how Mr. Buffett could ever get any sleep: most of us would be worried sick.

Think about it. Mr. Buffett, for instance, has placed massive bets on the railroad industry. But what happens if a trail carrying some toxic waste derails? What will happen to his railroad stock? Similarly, what would happen to the significant investments he’s made in banks and financial services companies if another recession were to strike? It’s enough to drive you bonkers.

And yet, Mr. Buffett is as cool as a cucumber. Despite all that money on the line, he simply isn’t consumed about worrying about it. But why?

The answer is that he’s adopted the secrets of Dale Carnegie’s sometimes-overlooked gem of a book called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living“. While Mr. Carnegie is probably better known for his other books about public speaking and gaining influence, Mr. Buffett has learned to adopt several of Mr. Carnegie’s tips for living a worry-free life.

  1. Isolate the Problem – The first key in preventing worries from overtaking your life is to create “day-tight” departments around the different areas in your life. Just like you can seal off a damaged or leaky section in a ship to prevent it from sinking, you need to isolate the different parts of your life–your business, your relationships, or your finances–so that they don’t spill into each other. Even if you’ve had a hard day at work, for example, you need to find a way to be the best dad you can be once you get home.
  2. Understand the Problem  – If something has gone awry with some aspect in your life, don’t overreact to it before you get all the facts. It’s easy to fear the unknown, so make time to understand what’s caused the issue. The better you understand something, the less you’ll worry about it.
  3. Prepare to Accept the Worst – After you know what kind of issue you’re facing, figure out what the worst possible outcome could be resulting from it. Then make peace with it. If you can accept the worst-case scenario, then you’ve simply eliminated any reason to continue worrying about it.
  4. Make a Decision – Once you’ve accepted what the worst possible outcome of a situation could be, then you can actually start thinking about how you actually might create a better outcome. Weigh the facts you have available and make a decision about how you might do that. And rather than get stuck in some kind of worry-vortex, where you become paralyzed because you feel like you don’t have enough information, make a decision once you feel like you’ve got 75% of what you need.
  5. Act – There’s an old saw that involves five frogs sitting on a log. One frog decides to jump off. So how many frogs are left on the log? The answer is five–because deciding and acting are very different things. After you’ve made a decision on what you could do to potentially improve the situation, act on it because taking action will immediately reduce your level of worry.
  6. Let It Go – After you’ve done everything you can to deal with a worst-case scenario, then it’s time to simply accept what’s happened. There’s no use worrying about it once you can’t do anything about it. Make peace with the issue and move on to the next one.

If Warren Buffett, who has billions of reasons to be worried, can use these six steps to free himself from worry, you can too.

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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.