Monday, February 27, 2012

Teach Yourself to Avoid Favoritism

Every company claims to discourage suck-ups. Every leader claims to despise suck-ups. If we all hate suck-ups so much, why does so much sucking-up go on?

Sucking-up happens because we all tend to create an environment where people learn to suck-up to us. We can easily see this in others. It is just hard to see in ourselves. You are probably thinking, "Marshall is making a good point. I see others do this all of the time. Of course, I find it to be disgusting!"

As a test of our unconscious tendency to encourage sycophants, I always ask participants in my executive education classes this question, "How many of you own a dog that you love?" Big smiles cross the faces of these leaders as they wave their hands in the air. They beam as they tell me the names of their always faithful hounds. Then we have a little contest. I ask them, "At home, who gets the most unqualified positive recognition? Is it (a) your husband, wife or partner (b) your kids or (c) your dog?" More than 80 percent of the time the winner is the dog.

I next ask these same executives, "Do you really love your dog more than the other members of your family?" They laugh and say no. My next question, "Why does the dog get the most unqualified positive recognition?"

Their replies are always the same: "The dog doesn't talk back." "When I come home the dog is always happy to see me!" "Even if I come home late (or drunk) the dog doesn't care." "The dog gives me unconditional love - no matter what I do!"

In other words, the dog is a suck-up.

If we aren't careful, we can wind up treating people at work like dogs. We can unconsciously recognize people who recognize us.

The best way to stop this behavior is to recognize that we all have a tendency to fall into this trap - and the higher we move up in the organization, the bigger the trap gets.

I teach leaders to rank order their direct reports four ways:

1. How much do they like me? I know that you cannot be sure. What matters is what you think. Only bad suck-ups look like they are sucking-up. Great suck-ups appear to be your "true friends."

2. How much are they like me? Some leaders don't favor people who like them; they favor people who remind them of themselves. A common variation from an engineer might be, "He may be a jerk, but he is an engineer." As if people who are not engineers don't have brains.

3. What is their contribution to our company and its customers?

4. How much positive personal recognition do I give them?
If we are honest with ourselves, in a surprisingly large number of cases, we may find that recognition is more influenced by 1 or‘2 than it is 3. And that (without meaning to) we may be falling into a trap that we despise in others - playing favorites.

Make this ranking yourself. After doing a thoughtful review, start monitoring your own behavior. Make sure that you are recognizing people at working for doing what is right for the company - not for making you feel good about yourself.

Life is good.


My recent 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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Putting Quality on the Line

I have a unique compensation system in my job as executive coach: I only get paid if my clients get better. "Better" means my clients achieve positive, measurable change in behavior, not as judged by themselves but by their key stakeholders. My coaching process usually takes about 18 months and involves an average of 16 stakeholders.

I have been asked many times where I came up with this "pay only for results" idea. The answer is from Dennis Mudd, who was my boss 43 years ago.

When I was growing up in Valley Station, Ky., my family was poor. Dad operated a small, two-pump gas station. The roof on our home was very old and starting to leak badly. We had no choice but to get a new roof. Dad hired a man named Dennis Mudd to put on the roof. To save some money, I worked as his assistant.

Pay Us What It's Worth

Putting on a roof in the middle of the summer in Kentucky is incredibly hard work. No other job I did before or have done since then required this degree of physical exertion. I was amazed at the care that Mr. Mudd put into laying the shingles. He was patient with me as I made mistakes and helped me learn how to do the job right. After a while, my attitude toward this project changed from grudging acceptance to pride. In spite of the heat and pain, I looked forward to working with Mr. Mudd every day.

When the roof was finally finished, I thought it looked great. When Mr. Mudd presented my Dad with the invoice for our work, he said quietly, "Bill, please take your time and inspect our work. If you feel that this roof meets your standards, pay us. If not, there is no charge for our work." It was very obvious he meant what he said.

Dad looked carefully at the roof, thanked both of us for a job well done and paid Mr. Mudd, who then paid me for my help.

Temporary Setbacks

I will never forget watching Dennis Mudd when he asked Dad to pay only if he was pleased with the results. I knew he was dead serious and my respect for Mr. Mudd skyrocketed. I was only 14 years old, but the incident made a huge impression on me. I knew the Mudd family. They didn't have any more money than we did. I thought: Mr. Mudd may be poor, but he is not cheap. This guy has class. When I grow up, I want to be like Dennis Mudd.

I've received many honors for my work, but I don't think I will ever match the dedication to quality and the degree of integrity Dennis Mudd showed. In the past 29 years, there have been a few assignments for which I have not been paid, and I have never asked for money I felt was undeserved. Financially, how much has this hurt me? It caused me some temporary pain and embarrassment, but I knew I was still going to have a very prosperous life.

How much would not getting paid have hurt Dennis Mudd? A lot. If my dad hadn't paid him, it would have meant the Mudds wouldn't have eaten very well for the next couple of months. Mr. Mudd's pride and integrity were more important to him than money, and he had enough faith in the quality of his work, and in my father, to make the offer he did.

A New Way to Look at Commitment

Dennis Mudd never gave any pep talks about quality or values. He didn't use any buzzwords such as "empowerment" or "customer delight." He didn't have to - his actions communicated his values better than any buzzwords he might have used.

We can all learn a lot from this man. The next time you are working on a project, ask yourself, "What would happen to my level of commitment if I knew I was only going to be paid if I achieved results?" How would your behavior change?

Dennis Mudd taught me a lesson I will try to live up to for the rest of my life. What is important is not how much he impressed me. What is much more important is that he could look with pride at the person he saw in the mirror every day.

Life is good.


My recent 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

Monday, February 13, 2012

Show Your Employees You Care

Your workers' wealth of knowledge may be worth more to your company than a paycheck is to them. Let them know you appreciate them

In yesterday's world, the key to wealth may have been the control of land, materials, plants, or tools. In that world, the employee needed the company far more than the company needed the employee. In the apprentice model of leadership, the manager was a person who had mastered technical expertise and then passed on this expertise to followers who didn't know as much as he did.

In today's world, the key to wealth is often the employees' knowledge. In this world, the company may need knowledge workers far more than knowledge workers need the company. They know far more about what they are doing than their bosses do.

Smart companies are catching on. They're beginning to realize that their relationship with top talent resembles a strategic alliance more than a traditional employment contract. I have asked thousands of leaders this question: "Can the top performer on your team leave the company and get another job with a pay raise in three months?" Almost everyone says yes.

Using the Volunteer Model

If your top performer can leave the company and get a pay raise, yet has chosen to remain with your team, he is better than a volunteer. While a volunteer works for nothing, your top performer is actually taking a pay cut - every day he or she shows up for work.

One of the most unmotivating comments a leader can make when a team member does a great job is, "Oh well, that's what he gets paid for." If the only reason your employee is working for you is to get paid, why in the world would he want to work for you? Peter Drucker loved to study the leadership of volunteer organizations. One reason for his interest in nonprofits was his realization that because the knowledge worker can easily leave the company for a better situation, the volunteer model was going to become the preferred mode of leadership in many for-profit organizations.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some of my suggestions for managing knowledge workers:

- Rank-order each of your direct reports in terms of his contribution to your customers and your company.

- Ask yourself, "How many of these people could leave our company and get another job - with a pay raise - in three months?"

- Make sure you express your sincere appreciation for the contribution these great people are making to your company.

- Make peace with the fact that you need them more than they need you.

- Ask each of them, "What can your manager do to create an environment where this is a great place for you to work?"

- Don't focus on what you cannot change. Focus on what you can change. Let's say you can't give them a raise. Accentuate the things you can give them: recognition, educational opportunities, the chance to work with a wider range of people, both within the company and outside of it.

- Listen to their ideas, and do whatever you can to keep them coming to work with you.

- Treat them as a great human services leader would treat valued volunteers.

On a recent trip to Google (GOOG), I was amazed to see the efforts the company was making to create a fantastic environment for knowledge workers. It was clear the company was working for the employees as much as the employees were working for the company. It was also clear their engineers were at least as respected as their managers.

The Rewards of Corporate Culture

I was especially impressed with the nonmonetary benefits that were being given, such as their well-known employee transportation program, the delicious free food, and the fact that people are trusted to make their own schedules. Managers don't spend their time checking up on employees. The assumption is they are professional who can check up on themselves.

Many of the employees I met were making far less money than they could be making at other companies. Their respect for the corporate culture - and their joy in doing their work - seemed as important to them as their hope for riches from stock options. The lesson: Don't treat your employees like servants. Treat them like valued volunteers.

If you are a knowledge worker, do you feel you are being treated with the respect a valued volunteer should be given? If you are a manager, how would you rate your company on treating knowledge workers as valued volunteers?

Life is good.


My recent 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

Monday, February 06, 2012

Torre and Girardi: Coaching the Joes

As an executive coach who is accustomed to working with corporate chief executives, I found this recent request to be an interesting challenge: Give some coaching advice to two coaches, Joe Torre, the former coach of the New York Yankees, now coaching the LA Dodgers, and Joe Girardi, the new coach of the Yankees. Here goes:

For Joe Torre:

1. Never say, "When I was with the Yankees we ..."

One of the greatest leaders I ever met left a highly successful corporation to work in Silicon Valley. Although his new staff loved him, they absolutely hated it when he incessantly repeated stories starting with, "When I was at …." You have a great record. Just let your players know what you think is right without referring to your past. Not only does it get old for others when we do this - it reminds them that we are old, and that's never a good thing.

2. Give credit where it's due

If the Dodgers succeed, you should always go out of your way to give your players all of the credit for the success. If the team's fortunes turn around, the press will go out of its way to point out how you made all of the difference - and how stupid the Yankees were to get rid of you. Don't buy into this - even with subtle comments or facial expressions. Always point to the players' contribution and downplay yours. One of the greatest leaders I ever met told me, "While achievers can make it all about me, leaders make it all about them."

3. Develop young talent.

I have asked many retired CEOs, "What are you most proud of?" None ever talked about how much money they made or how big their office was. They always talked about the people they helped. If you win another championship you will - and should be - very proud. If you help develop young players, as both athletes and human beings, you will - and should be - even more proud.

4. Forgive the Steinbrenners.

Do this not for their sake, but for yours. You have done a great job of taking the high road and putting up with their often harsh treatment and unrealistic expectations for years. It would be easy to carry around anger at them. Just let it go. When you carry around bad feelings, you only punish yourself.

5. Enjoy yourself.

Life is short. You have won four World Championships, been to the World Series six times, and made the playoffs 12 years in a row. You don't have to prove anything to anybody. You are getting older. Look at this as an opportunity to have a new start - without having to deal with the Steinbrenners. Keep your enthusiasm and joy for the game, and be a happy warrior. Commit to having a great day, every day, no matter what happens on the field. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.

For Joe Girardi:

1. Bust your butt.

You have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. Go for it. There is a time in life to have balance and be well-rounded. This is not that time for you. Do whatever you can to help the Yankees win. If they don't, you will soon be gone. Young lawyers, investment bankers, and consultants work 80 hours a week to make it in the big leagues. Now it's your turn.

2. Forget about life being fair.

The New York press has no interest in being fair and balanced in their reporting of your work. If the team loses, you are going to take the heat. If you get even a little defensive, it will only get worse. Take all the responsibility for any failures. It will be laid at your feet anyway.

3. Just smile at Hank Steinbrenner.

Yes, he may be your boss, but ignore his comments as much as you can. This family has no history of supporting its managers, so don't expect it will start with you. Joe Torre was a wonderful role model for how to manage this relationship.

4. Recruit the veterans to help you out.

You team has some of the most experienced and successful professionals in the history of the game. Recognize them for who they are. Be honest about what you need. Share your leadership responsibilities with the team.

5. Take it seriously, but have fun.

You have a tough act to follow. I got my PhD at UCLA when John Wooden was the basketball coach. Guess what happened to the next several coaches? They were all fired in short order because they "just weren't him." If you are not an instant success and you do get fired, nobody is going to be surprised, and neither should you be. In the great movie Twelve O'clock High, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) sent a message to all of his fighter pilots (who were engaged in daylight precision bombing): "Assume you are dead. Forget about going home. Then it won't be so hard." My advice for you is the same: Assume you are dead. Forget about the keeping your job. Then it won't be so hard.

6. Look at the upside.

Hank Steinbrenner has said, "What we're looking for is a guy who's maybe going to be one of the greatest managers of all time over a period of, oh, 10 to 20 years." Maybe that manager will be you. Bear in mind you've been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Make the best of it.

It occurred to me as I was writing this that there are valuable lessons here for leaders in business, whether you're in the Joe Torre position of having had great success somewhere and are in a new position, or whether, like Joe Girardi, you're taking over from a legendary leader. And I am sure that many of you have some advice for either - or both - of these two Joes.

Life is good.


My recent 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

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Feed It Forward

I have observed more than 50,000 leaders from around the world as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise, in which I ask participants to play two roles.

In one role, they provide "FeedForward": They give another participant suggestions and as much as they can help with a specific issue. In the second role, they accept FeedForward: They listen to suggestions from another participant and learn as much as they can.

Step by Step

The exercise typically lasts 10 to 15 minutes, and the average participant has six or seven such sessions in that time. Participants are asked to:

- Pick one behavior they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.

- Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, e.g., "I want to be a better listener."

- Ask for FeedForward that might help them achieve a positive change in their behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give any feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.

- Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way, nor are they allowed to critique the suggestions, even to make positive statements, such as, "That's a good idea."

- Thank the other participants for their suggestions.

- Ask fellow participants what they would like to change about themselves.

- Provide FeedForward - two suggestions for helping the other person change.

- Say "You are welcome," when thanked for the suggestions. (The entire process of both giving and receiving FeedForward usually takes about two minutes.)

- Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.

When the exercise is over, I ask the participants to complete a sentence - "This exercise was …" - with the one word that best describes their reaction to the experience. The words selected are almost always positive, such as "great," "energizing," "useful," or "helpful." One of the most common words used is "fun."

What is the last word most of us think of to describe the experience of receiving feedback, coaching, and developmental ideas? Fun!

Reasons to Try FeedForward

I ask participants why this exercise is fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable. Their answers offer a great explanation of why FeedForward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.

1. We can change the future. We can't change the past. FeedForward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Race-car drivers are taught to look at the road ahead, not at the wall. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

2. FeedForward can come from people we have never even met. It does not require personal experience. One very common positive reaction to the exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people they don't know. For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow human can give you ideas. They don't have to know you.

3. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don't like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360-degree feedback reports for more than 50 companies. The items "provides developmental feedback in a timely manner" and "encourages and accepts constructive criticism" almost always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were "improved," most would be perfect by now!

4. FeedForward can cover almost all of the same material feedback can. Imagine you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you relive this humiliating experience by detailing what went wrong, your manager might help you by offering suggestions for future presentations. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way - without making you feel even more humiliated.

5. FeedForward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say: "Here is an idea for the future. Please accept it in the positive spirit in which it is offered. If you can use it, great! If not, just ignore it." With this approach almost no time is wasted judging the quality of the ideas or trying to refute the suggestions. This kind of debate is usually negative, wastes time, and often counterproductive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender, as well as the receiver.

6. FeedForward can be a useful tool with managers, peers, and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative - even career-limiting - consequences when given to managers or peers. FeedForward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful colleague than an expert. As such, it can be easier to hear from a person who isn't in a position of power or authority.

7. People tend to listen more attentively to FeedForward than feedback. One participant in the FeedForward exercise noted: "I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever have in my life!" When asked why, he said, "Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying. In FeedForward, the only reply that I am allowed to make is 'thank you.' Since I don't have to worry about composing a clever reply, I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!"

When to Use FeedForward

The intent of this column is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how FeedForward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, FeedForward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When I ask manager how they felt the last time they received feedback, the most common responses are negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving FeedForward, they reply that FeedForward was not only useful, it was also fun.

Life is good.


My recent 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

(This column has been modified from "Try FeedForward Instead of Feedback" in Coaching for Leadership, M. Goldsmith and L. Lyons, eds. Jossey Bass, 2005.)