Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Achieving Goals

Today, sustaining peak performance requires a commitment to developing leaders who develop other leaders--helping people set and achieve meaningful goals for personal change. Often, however, goals are not set in a way that ensures the followthrough needed to turn great plans into successful outcomes.

By understanding the dynamics of goal-setting and the challenges of goal achievement, you can better see why people often set great goals, then lose the motivation to achieve them. And you can help them stick with the plan and reach their desired targets.

Why do goal-setters often give up in their quest? Why do most New Year's resolutions fizzle by February? People give up on goals for six reasons:

1. Ownership: I wasn't sure this idea for changing behavior would work in the first place. I tried it, and it was a waste of time. Acommon mistake in leadership development (LD ) is the roll-out of a program that promises, 'This will make you better.' If you hope to help your people develop as leaders, you need to communicate a clear message--ultimately, only you can make you better. The more leaders commit to coaching and behavioral change because they believe in the value of the process, the more likely the process is to work. The more people feel that the change is imposed upon them, the less likely the coaching is to work. In goal-setting, you need to ensure that the change objectives come from inside the person you are coaching-- and are not just imposed. People being coached need to know that they are ultimately responsible for their behavior. Leaders need to communicate the same clear message.

2. Time: I had no idea this process would take so long. We underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Everything seems to take longer than we expect. When the time to achieve a goal starts exceeding our expectations, we're tempted to give up on the goal.

Busy professionals can be impatient, especially when they make a change but coworkers ignore their new behavior.

We all tend to see people in a manner consistent with our stereotype--and we look for behavior that proves us correct. The long-term follow-up and involvement of coworkers tends to be highly correlated with positive change in the perceived effectiveness of leaders.

This positive change in perception does not occur overnight. Harried executives assume that once they know what to do--and communicate this to others--their problems are solved. If only it were that simple! In helping others set goals, help them to be realistic about the time required to produce a positive, long-term change in behavior. Habits that take 30 years to develop won't go away in a week. And as they change a behavior, others may not recognize it for months. Ultimately, changed behavior will lead to changed perceptions and more effective relationships.

3. Difficulty: This is harder than I thought it would be. The optimism bias of goal-setters applies to difficulty. Not only do most achievements take longer--they also require more hard work! We want to believe that once we understand a concept, it will be easy to execute a plan and achieve results. If this were true, everyone who knows they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. Our challenge for getting in shape--and changing leadership behavior--is not understanding, it is doing! Long-term change in leadership effectiveness requires real effort.

For example, it can be challenging for busy leaders to have the discipline to listen patiently while others say things they do not want to hear. While leaders may understand the need to change --and even desire to change--it is still hard to have the discipline to change.

Real change requires real work.

4. Distractions: I'd like to work toward my goal, but my company is facing a unique challenge right now. Goal-setters tend to underestimate distractions and competing goals. You might tell the person, 'I'm sure that some crisis will emerge next year!' The distraction or crisis may come from a problem, or from an opportunity. It is hard to focus on long-term LD when the company is facing either a short-term financial crisis or a 'once in a lifetime' short-term profit opportunity. Assume that unexpected distractions and competing goals will occur. Expect the unexpected. By planning for distractions, you are less likely to give up on the change when problems or opportunities appear.

5. Rewards: Why am I working so hard at becoming a more effective leader? After all my effort, we still aren't making any more money! People tend to become disappointed when achieving one goal doesn't translate into achieving other goals. There's a positive, long-term connection between a company's investment in LD and its long-term financial success, but no connection between investment in LD and greater short-term profits.

Increasing leadership effectiveness is only one success factor. For example, a company may have the wrong strategy or sell the wrong product. If a company is going down the wrong road, increasing people management skills will only help it get there faster. If managers think that improving leadership skills will lead to shortterm profits, promotions, or recognition, they'll likely be disappointed and give up when these benefits don't occur immediately.

If they see personal change as a process that will help them become more effective over time--they'll likely pay the short-term price needed for long-term gain.

6. Maintenance: I did get better when I was being coached, but I have let it slide since then. Once a goal-setter has put in all the effort needed to achieve a goal, the reality of the work required to maintain changed behavior can be tough to face. This mind-set leads to the yo-yo effect. Leaders need to see that LD is a process--leaders can never 'arrive.' Leaders are always 'getting there.' Leadership involves relationships--when people change, relationships change--and maintaining any positive relationship requires ongoing effort over time.

Knowing these six roadblocks to goal achievement can help you to help others set goals and achieve them.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.





Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Change for the Better

Most of any leader's annoying habits and interpersonal flaws are rooted in information compulsion.

Sharing and withholding are two sides of the same tarnished coin. For example, when you insist on adding more value, passing judgment, making destructive comments, announcing that you already know, or explaining why something won't work, you are compulsively sharing information-- convinced that you are making people smarter or inspiring them to do better, when you are more likely having the opposite effect. When you fail to give recognition, or claim credit you don't deserve, or refuse to apologize, or don't express your gratitude, you are withholding information.

Other annoying habits are rooted in a different compulsion--one that's centered on emotion. When you get angry, play favorites, or punish the messenger, you are succumbing to emotion-- and displaying it for all to see.

You either share information and emotion, or withhold them. It's good to share information that helps people and good to withhold information when it harms people (many secrets should be kept). The same goes for emotion: it's worth sharing sometimes, and other times, not worth it at all.

What Is Appropriate? When dealing with information or emotion, you need to consider if what you are sharing is appropriate. Appropriate information helps the other person; inappropriate information risks hurting someone. Discussing a rival company's good fortune can be positive if it gets your people to work harder, but it's inappropriate when it soils other people's reputations. Instruction is usually appropriate, to a point. It's the difference between someone giving you simple directions to their house and telling you every wrong turn you can make along the way. At some point, with too many red flags, you will get lost, confused, or wary of making the trip at all.

Emotion, too, must be shared appropriately.

For example, love is often an appropriate emotion, but even saying 'I love you' can be inappropriate if you employ it too often or at awkward moments. Conversely, anger can be a useful tool if you parse it out in small doses at opportune moments.

When sharing information or emotion, ask, 'Is this appropriate?' and 'How much should I convey?' Pause and pose these questions as guidelines for anything you do or say.

You can change your annoying behavior-- and your colleagues will notice.

Dealing with Feedback Confidential 360-degree feedback is the best way for successful people to identify what they need to improve in their relationships. Successful people tend to have two big problems dealing with negative feedback: 1) they don't want to hear it from us, and 2) we don't want to give it to them.

Successful people are incredibly delusional about their achievements. Over 95 percent of them believe that they perform in the top half of their group! Giving people negative feedback means proving they are wrong. This works about as well as making them change--it's not going to happen.

Feedback rarely breaks through to successful people, even when you depersonalize the feedback by talking about the task. Their identities are often so closely connected to what they do that they take it personally when receiving negative feedback. They accept feedback that is consistent with their self-image and reject all other feedback.

It's also easy to see why we don't want to give feedback. Successful people have power over us--over our paycheck, advancement, job security.

The more successful these people are, the more power they have. Combine that power with the predictable 'kill the messenger' response to negative feedback, and you can see why emperors continue to rule without clothes.

When was the last time your efforts to prove the boss wrong worked as a career-enhancing maneuver? Traditional face-to-face negative feedback also focuses on the past (a failed past), not a positive future. We can't change the past. We can change the future. Negative feedback exists to prove us wrong (or at least we take it that way). Feedback can be used by others to reinforce our feelings of failure, or at least remind us of them-- and our reaction is rarely positive.

When your spouse or partner reminds you of your shortcomings, how well do you accept this? Negative feedback shuts us down. We close ranks, turn into our shell, and shut the world out.

I'm not trying to prove that negative feedback creates dysfunction.

Feedback is useful for telling us where we are and what we need to change.

Without feedback, we wouldn't ever know if we are getting better. We all need honest, helpful feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress.

Such feedback is hard to find. But I have a foolproof method for securing it. When I work with a client, I first get confidential feedback from a dozen or more coworkers (selected by my client). Each interview lasts about one hour and focuses on: What is my client doing right, what does my client need to change, and how my (already successful) client can get even better! Since my clients pick their raters, it is hard for them to deny the validity of the feedback. I enlist these coworkers to assist the change process. I tell them: 'I'll be working with your boss for the next year. I don't get paid if he doesn't get better, and 'better' is defined by you and other coworkers.' People like hearing this.

Four Commitments I then present these coworkers with four requests--the Four Commitments: Commitment 1: Let go of the past.

Whatever real or imagined sins you have committed against people in the past, they are long past correction. You can't do anything to erase them. So, you need to ask people to let go of the past. This isn't easy. Most of us have never forgiven our parents, children, and spouses for not being perfect, and never forgiven ourselves. Without getting this first commitment, you can't shift people's minds away from critic toward helper.

Commitment 2: Tell the truth. You don't want to work hard for a year, trying to get better based on what people tell you that you're doing wrong--and then find out that they really don't mean it. They are only saying what they think you want to hear. I'm not naive. I know people can be dishonest. But if you demand honesty from people, you can proceed with confidence that you're going in the right direction--and that you won't get a rude surprise at the end.

Commitment 3: Be supportive and helpful--not negative. This is asking a lot of people--to be supportive, without being a cynic, critic, or judge.

People are just as likely to suspect or resent their bosses as respect and admire them. So you have to remove their judgmental impulses. Then they're more inclined to be helpful. They realize that if you get better, they win too: they get a kinder, gentler, better boss.

Commitment 4: Pick something to improve yourself. This commitment helps everyone to focus on improving.

You're creating parity, even a bond, between you and the other person.

Imagine if you announced that you were going on a diet. Most people wouldn't care. But if you ask a colleague to help you monitor your eating habits and stay on track, you get a more involved and sincere response. When you add reciprocity: 'Now, what would you like to change in yourself? I'd like to help you,' you enlist more support. Suddenly, you and your co-workers are engaged in the same struggle to improve.

Win-Win Exchange In this two-way exchange, you and the other person also gain the strength to stick with it. Getting other people involved--and committed to changing something too--enriches the experience.

You not only change for the better because you're getting support from your coworkers, they change too because of what they learn by supporting you.

Put equal emphasis on changing yourself and the people helping you.

Before you solicit feedback about yourself, find a few people to tell you the truth about yourself. If they qualify on all four commitments, invite them to supply and receive feedback.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.





Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got

Like many young Ph.D. students, I was deeply impressed with my own intelligence, wisdom and profound insights into the human condition. I consistently amazed myself with my ability to judge others and see what they were doing wrong.

UCLA Professor Fred Case was my advisor and head of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission - where I was doing my dissertation research. At this point in my career, he was clearly the most important person in my professional life. He was also a man that I sincerely respected. He had done an amazing amount to help the city become a better place. He was also doing a lot to help me.

Although he was normally in a very upbeat mood, one day Dr. Case seemed annoyed. He looked at me and growled, "Marshall, what is the problem with you? I am getting feedback from some people at City Hall that you are coming across as negative, angry and judgmental. What's going on?"

"You can't believe how inefficient the city government is!" I ranted. I immediately proceeded to give several examples of how taxpayer's money was not being used in the way that I thought it should be. I was convinced that the city could be a much better place if the leaders just listened to me.

"What a stunning breakthrough!" Dr. Case sarcastically remarked, "You, Marshall Goldsmith, have discovered that our city government is inefficient! I hate to tell you this Marshall, but my barber who is cutting hair down on the corner figured this out several years ago. What else is bothering you?"

Undeterred by this temporary setback, I angrily proceeded to point out several minor examples of behavior that could be classified as favoritism toward rich political benefactors.

Dr. Case was now laughing. "Stunning breakthrough number two!" he chuckled. "Your profound investigative skills have led to the discovery that politicians may give a more attention to their major campaign contributors than to people who support their opponents. I am sorry to report that my barber has also known this for years. I am afraid that we can't give you a Ph.D. for this level of insight."

As he looked at me, his face showed the wisdom that can only come from years of experience. He said, "I know that you think that I may be old and 'behind the times', but I have been working down there at City Hall for years. Did it ever dawn on you that even though I may be slow, perhaps even I have figured some of this stuff out?"

Then he delivered the advice I will never forget. "Marshall," he explained, "you are becoming a 'pain in the butt'. You are not helping the people who are supposed to be your clients. You are not helping me and you are not helping yourself. I am going to give you two options:

"Option A - Continue to be angry, negative and judgmental. If you chose this option, you will be fired, you probably will never graduate and you may have wasted the last four years of your life.

"Option B - Start having some fun. Keep trying to make a constructive difference, but do it in a way that is positive for you and the people around you.

"My advice is this: You are young. Life is short. Start having fun.

"What option are you going to choose, son?"

I finally laughed and replied, "Dr. Case, I think it is time for me to start having some fun!"

He smiled knowingly and said, "You are a wise young man."

Most of my life is spent working with leaders in huge organizations. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things are not always as efficient as they could be - almost every employee has made this breakthrough discovery. It also doesn't take a genius to learn that occasionally people are more interested in their own advancement than the welfare of the company. Many employees have already figured out this one as well.

Real leaders are not people who can point out what is wrong. Almost anyone can do that. Real leaders are people who can make things better.

Dr. Case taught me a great lesson. His coaching didn't just help me get a Ph.D. and become a better consultant. He helped me have a better life.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.





Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Effectively Influencing Decision Makers: Ensuring That Your Knowledge Makes a Difference

“The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe’ them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they ‘should have’. As a result they render themselves ineffectual”. - Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker has written extensively about the impact of the knowledge worker in modern organizations. Knowledge workers can be defined as people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do. Many knowledge workers have years of education and experience in training for their positions, yet have almost no training in how to effectively influence decision makers. As Peter has noted, “The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless data.”

The eleven guidelines listed below are intended to help you do a better job of influencing decision makers. In some cases, these decision makers may be immediate or upper managers – in other cases they may be peers or cross-organizational colleagues. I hope that you find these suggestions to be useful in helping you convert your good ideas into meaningful action!

1. Every decision that impacts our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision – not the ‘right’ person, or the ‘smartest’ person or the ‘best person – make peace with this fact.

As simple and obvious as this statement may seem, I am amazed at how few (otherwise intelligent) people ever deeply ‘get’ this point. When your child comes home from school and complains, “It’s not fair! The teacher gave be a ‘C’ and I really deserved an ‘A’! We, as parents, should say, “Welcome to the real world, kid! In life you have to accept the fact that decision-makers make decisions – and that you are not always the decision maker.” Once we make peace with the fact that the people who have the power to make the decisions always make the decisions – and we get over whining because ‘life isn’t fair’ – we become more effective in influencing others and making a positive difference. We also become happier!

2. When presenting ideas to decision makers, realize that it is your responsibility to sell – not their responsibility to buy.

In many ways, influencing ultimate decision makers is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don’t have to buy – you have to sell! Any good salesperson takes responsibility for achieving results. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products.

While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours in “blaming” management for not buying their ideas. Former Harvard Professor Chris Argyris pointed out how “upward feedback” often turns into “upward buck-passing”. We can become “disempowered” when we focus on what others have done to make things wrong and not what we can do to make things right.

If more time were spent on developing our ability to present ideas, and less time were spent on blaming others for not buying our ideas, a lot more might get accomplished.

A key part of the influence process involves the education of decision makers. To again quote Drucker, “The person of knowledge has always been expected to take responsibility for being understood. It is barbarian arrogance to assume that the layman can or should make the effort to understand the specialist.” The effective influencer needs to be a good teacher. Good teachers realize the communicating knowledge is often a greater challenge than possessing knowledge.

3. Focus on contribution to the larger good – not just the achievement of your objectives.

An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, “You need to buy this product, because if you don’t, I won’t achieve my objectives!”
Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs. In the same way effective influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

When influencing decision makers, focus on the impact of your suggestion on the overall corporation. In most cases the needs of the unit and the needs of the corporation are directly connected. In some cases they are not. Don’t assume that executives can automatically “make the connection” between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger corporation.

4. Strive to win the “big battles” – don’t waste your energy and “psychological capital” on trivial points.

Executive’s time is very limited. Do a thorough analysis of ideas before “challenging the system”. Don’t waste time on issues that will only have a negligible impact on results. Focus on issues that will make a real difference. Be willing to “lose” on small points.

Be especially sensitive to the need to win trivial non-business arguments on things like restaurants, sports teams or cars. People become more annoyed with us for having to be “right” on trivia than our need to be right on important business points. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues. You are not paid to win arguments on the relative quality of athletic teams.

5. Present a realistic “cost-benefit” analysis of your ideas – don’t just sell benefits.

Every organization has limited resources, time and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea. Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented.

By getting ready for a realistic discussion of costs, you can “prepare for objections” to your idea before they occur. You can acknowledge the sacrifice that someone else may have to make and point out how the benefits of your plan may outweigh the costs.

6. “Challenge up” on issues involving ethics or integrity – never remain silent on ethics violations.

Enron, WorldCom, and other organizations have dramatically pointed out how ethics violations can destroy even the most valuable companies. The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity. Hopefully, you will never be asked to do anything by the management of your corporation that represents a violation of corporate ethics. If you are, refuse to do it and immediately let upper management know of your concerns. This action needs to be taken for the ultimate benefit of your company, your customers, your co-worker and yourself.

When challenging up try not to assume that management has intentionally requested you to do something wrong. In some cases, inappropriate requests may be made because of misunderstandings or poor communication. Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.

7. Realize that powerful people are just as “human” as you are – don’t say, “I am amazed that someone at this level…”

It is realistic to expect decision makers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be anything other than normal humans. Is there anything in the history of the human species that indicates when people achieve high levels of status, power and money they become completely “wise” and “logical”? How many times have we thought, “I would assume someone at this level…” followed by “should know what is happening”, “should be more logical”, “wouldn’t make that kind of mistake”, or “would never engage in such inappropriate behavior”.

Even the best of leaders are human. We all make mistakes. When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.

8. Treat decision makers with the same courtesy that you would treat customers - don’t be disrespectful.

While it is important to avoid “kissing up” to decision makers, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction. A surprising number of middle managers spend hours “trashing” the company and its executives or making destructive comments about other co-workers. When reviewing summary 360° feedback on leaders, the item, “avoids destructive comments about the company or co-workers” regularly scores in the “bottom ten” on co-workers satisfaction with peers.

Before speaking it is generally good to ask four questions:
• Will this comment help our company?
• Will this comment help our customers?
• Will this comment help the person that I am talking to?
• Will this comment help the person that I am talking about?

If the answers are no, no, no and no – don’t say it! There is a big difference between total honesty and dysfunctional disclosure. As we discussed earlier, it is always important to “challenge up” on integrity issues. It is inappropriate to stab decision makers in the back.

9. Support the final decision of the organization – don’t say, “They made me tell you” to direct reports.

Assuming that the final decision of the organization is not immoral, illegal or unethical – go out and try to make it work! Managers who consistently say, “They told me to tell you” to co-workers are seen as “messengers” not leaders. Even worse, don’t say, “those fools told me to tell you”. By demonstrated our lack of commitment to the final decision we may sabotage the chances for effective execution.

A simple guideline for communicating difficult decisions is to ask, “How would I want someone to communicate to their people if they were passing down my final decision and they disagreed with me?” Treat decisions makers in the same way that you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. For example, if you stab your boss in the back in front of your direct reports, what are you teaching your direct reports to do when they disagree with you?

10. Make a positive difference – don’t just try to “win” or “be right”.

We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong, than how we can make things better. An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal – make a positive difference for the organizations.

Corporations are different that academic institutions. In an academic institution the goal may be just sharing diverse ideas, without a need to impact the bottom line. Hours of acrimonious debate can be perfectly acceptable. In a corporation, sharing ideas without having an impact is worse than useless. It is a waste of the stockholders money and a distraction from serving customers.

When I was interviewed in the Harvard Business Review, I was asked, “What is the most common ‘area for improvement’ for the executives that you meet? My answer was “winning too much”. Focus on making a difference. The more other people can “be right” or “win” with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

11. Focus on the future – “let go” of the past.

One of the most important behaviors to avoid is “whining” about the past. Have you ever managed someone who incessantly whined about how bad things are? When people consistently whine, they inhibit any change they may have for impacting the future. Their managers tend to view them as annoying. Their direct reports view them as inept. Nobody wins.

Successful people love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future. They dislike being “proven wrong” because of our mistakes in the past. By focusing on the future you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, as opposed to what was not achieved yesterday. This future orientation may dramatically increase your odds on effectively influencing decision makers. It will also help you build better long-term relationships with people at all levels of your organization.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent “perfecting your craft”. Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated. Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization. How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge? How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge to decision makers – so that you can make a real difference? My hope that by making a small investment in learning to influence decision makers, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization!

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.





Marshall's Upcoming Schedule