It is widely acknowledged that teams will play an ever-greater role in the workplace of the future. To compete effective in a fast-changing and unpredictable world, organizations need more diverse, agile, and collaborative teams to tackle greater complexity and adaptive challenges created by disruptive changes and trends, including rapidly changing technologies, new ways of working and shifting employee expectations.
However, teams face a host of risks and blockers that impede their effectiveness. Many of these dysfunctions have been well covered in the literature and include things like poor trust, lack of clarity of goals and purpose, unclear accountabilities, and breakdowns in communication.
Perhaps one of the least known and biggest risks to team performance arises when team strengths are overused and this leads to negative, unintended results. Overused strengths occur when team members use their strengths excessively or carelessly and this unintentionally undermines performance, relationships, and results. For example, a team that has a high proportion of team members who are highly task-focused, driven, and decisive may end up driving results so hard that they overlook the importance of listening to others and exploring creative options that could generate better results. Because they are so focused on driving for short-term results, they may also fail to engage external stakeholders to support their plans, resulting in implementation challenges arising from a lack of commitment. Breakdowns in trust and teamwork with colleagues who are more creative, relationship-oriented, and considered in their approach can also arise, leaving these minority team members feeling excluded, ignored, and unvalued.
The biggest sources of this problem are as follows:
Failing to assess for personal strengths when hiring people and building teams often results in teams that are lopsided. For example, I once worked with a top team of a major Tech company who had plenty of leaders with strengths in Delivery and Problem Solving, but insufficient team members who were strong at building and maintaining positive relationships with others. This lack of softer power skills in areas like collaboration, empathy and consideration, undermined team effectiveness and results.
This problem can even spread to other parts of the business, as lopsided team behaviours at the top tend to trickle-down to other management levels. This happens because managers tend to demonstrate the behaviours that get recognised and rewarded by senior leadership. When some strengths are valued more than others in an organization, these feed through into the way new managers are hired, developed, and progressed, adding to the lopsidedness of the entire organization.
Lack of feedback
Feedback is crucial in order for team members to understand their ‘blind spots’ and overused strengths. Without regular, timely and balanced feedback, it is unlikely team members will recognise behaviours and unproductive habits associated with their overused strengths. In the absence of this awareness, team members are likely to continue to perform the role as they’ve always done, even when these behaviours don’t work anymore.
Stress and pressure
We see many teams, particularly leadership and executive teams, that overuse their strengths because of the huge pressures they are under from multiple stakeholders, including investors and the Board. This causes behaviours such as decisiveness, confidence, and more autocratic leadership approaches to be used excessively, leading to overhasty analysis and decision-making, groupthink (i.e., when teams start to think alike and make decisions that remain unchallenged) and careless risk taking.
Freedoms and constraints in the company culture can exacerbate overused behaviours. It is hard to forget the examples of Enron, Royal Bank of Scotland and more recently FTX, where rash decision making, and over-confidence were left unchecked because of a lack of company ethics, values and boundaries. This resulted in reckless and unethical behaviour that ultimately led to the well documented demise of these companies.
Teams can avoid risks arising from overused strengths in the following ways:
Teams should take steps to become more aware of their strengths and the behaviours that show up when they are used excessively or carelessly. By using a valid and reliable strengths assessment profiler like TalentPredix™, teams can build awareness of team member strengths and how these show up when they are overused, as well as when they are used effectively. By developing specific techniques to avoid overusing their strengths, team members can balance out one another’s excesses and avoid the downside of their strengths.
One of the great benefits of this strengths discovery and optimization workshop is that team members start to see their colleagues’ behaviours in a radically different way. Rather than automatically viewing problematic behaviours by colleagues as weaknesses that are difficult to change, they start realizing that some of these behaviours arise from their overused strengths. This provides them with a powerful new ‘lens’ and language to offer constructive and empowering feedback to their colleagues.
Problematic patters of overused strengths in teams often occur when a dominant strength or combination of strengths becomes the dominant way of thinking in the team – the ‘hammer’ the team uses to deal with every challenge it faces. In such cases, everything starts looking like a ‘nail’ and minority, dissenting team members’ views are steamrollered or ignored.
Teams can avoid this danger by hiring team members with diverse strengths. Studies show that more cognitively diverse teams made up of a broad mix of strengths, skills, experiences, and different backgrounds (including ethnic and gender differences) outperform those that lack such diversity.
Teams wanting to avoid overdrive risks should build an open culture of feedback where team members are able to provide constructive as well as positive feedback. It takes times and trust before such candid feedback conversations can occur which is why it is always a good idea to bring in an external facilitator to equip the team with the tools, skills, and confidence to shift to an open culture of feedback. Inviting employees and stakeholders outside the team to provide feedback on team behaviours as well as results can also help guard against excessive behaviours.
Teams that are naturally results-focused and ambitious are far more likely to trip themselves up by using their strengths excessively when they are over-stretched and in a vicious ‘do-do-do cycle’. This stress response means that these types of teams allow themselves little time for engaging diverse perspectives, planning and reviewing work and applying creative problem-solving. By helping these teams understand the dangers of this lopsided pattern and providing them with the support to prioritise their work, build resilience and apply creative problem-solving techniques, team effectiveness will improve and the company will minimize burnout, disengagement, and unwanted turnover of key talent.
We have highlighted the risks of overused strengths for individuals in a previous blog about this. Similarly, when used excessively or carelessly, team strengths can undermine results and damage relationships. Yet, the vast majority of teams remain totally unaware of the risks arising when they use their strengths excessively or in the wrong way. By implementing the steps outlined above, organizations can build greater awareness of collective strengths within their work teams, how these can be applied effectively, and potential risks associated with overuse. This approach provides teams with a way of optimizing their strengths while also mitigating and correcting excessive behaviours that may derail the team from achieving and sustaining high performance.
– Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft
Investing in employees’ growth and career progression is becoming increasingly important to retain and motivate high-quality talent. Studies consistently show that career and development opportunities are one of the most important reasons why talented people stay with an organization. Yet, career development is arguably the most overlooked HR and talent priority in business today.
Far too many managers don’t invest time and energy in high-quality career conversations. This leaves people feeling undervalued and undermines engagement, morale, and performance. Some managers even undermine career development and internal mobility with demotivating practices such as hoarding top talent, engaging in favouritism when it comes to filling vacancies and actively blocking the advancement of people they dislike or find threatening.
However, encouragingly, most managers we meet understand the importance of supporting the growth and development of their people. They just lack the framework, skills, and toolkit to provide meaningful and high-quality support. Time is also cited as a major problem by many managers, particularly when top leadership and HR don’t establish career development as a core HR priority. However, the time argument is paradoxical. Without investing time in career development, organizations end up spending a lot more money and time hiring replacements for top talent leaving the business.
So, as the New Year begins, show employees you are investing in their growth and development by applying the following six strategies:
Effective career conversations require time and focus. They should not be reserved for the annual review, as this typically leads to a meaningless tick-box exercise. Rather, you should plan a cadence of quarterly (or at least bi-annual) career conversations that are separate from regular performance dialogues. In addition to these structured sessions, it is important to provide ongoing guidance, coaching, and feedback during your informal check-ins and coaching sessions.
Mentoring involves the transfer of knowledge and wisdom from a more experienced person to a less experienced one. Unlike coaching, which typically focuses on near-term performance goals, mentoring provides professional guidance and insights beyond the person’s current role. As a manager, you play a crucial role in helping employees understand the value and benefits of mentoring. You are also in an ideal position to recommend mentors within and outside the business, who may not be known to the employee.
However, mentoring can be done within the team and doesn’t have to be one-on-one. Peer mentoring and coaching can be powerful ways to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills, and insights. For example, you can assign more experienced team members as “buddies” to help onboard new hires. This helps to fast-track their transition into the team and organization. You can also set up small peer coaching groups (groups of 4-6 are ideal) to encourage collaboration, shared learning, and fresh perspectives around priority topics, challenges, or opportunities. These can either be self-managing or facilitated by a skilled external or internal coach.
Many managers make the mistake of providing well-intentioned career advice that falls short of the mark, as it is based on what motivates them, not the personality and motivations of the employee they are typing to help. A vital part of providing effective career support is to understand the unique motivations, values, and strengths of your people. You can do this by asking some of the career coaching questions listed below during career conversations. However, it is also advisable to use an accurate and objective assessment of work-based strengths, motivations, and values such as TalentPredix. This will pinpoint the top strengths of each of your people, as well as what is most important to them at work. Once you have this clarity, you can provide support and stretch assignments that are closely matched with their strengths, potential and motivations. The aim of any great manager is to magnify an employee’s strengths so they can excel in areas where they are particularly talented and energized.
Stretch assignments are one of the most important ways for employees to grow new skills and build confidence to progress in line with their aspirations. But an assignment that is seen as positively stretching by one employee might demotivate or undermine the confidence of another. It is therefore important to pay attention to each employee’s strengths, appetite for challenge and self-confidence. You should also ask them what additional tasks and responsibilities they would like to take on, as well as the support they need from you to succeed. To avoid any confusion about priorities, you will need to highlight to employees that their priority is to perform their core job effectively and any stretch assignment should not interfere with this. Talented employees will rise to the challenge and with your support, work out how to shine in both.
Employees get frustrated and demotivated when they are kept in the dark about career pathways, skills needed to progress and how vacancies in the company are filled. Explain to your employees the skills and capabilities they will need to progress and coach them on how to develop those skills. Create opportunities for them to learn directly from others by connecting them with colleagues in the company doing the jobs they want to do in future. Inform employees about how to find out about upcoming vacancies they may be interested in. Insofar as possible, ensure your vacancies are posted internally before they are filled with external hires. Nothing crushes the motivation of talented people more than seeing roles they believe they can do filled by external hires without being given a fair opportunity to apply for the role.
A key part of your role as manager is to coach and guide your employees to help them progress their career and achieve their full potential. Coaching is a collaborative and supportive relationship involving mutual trust, reflection, and exploration. Through a process of discovery, goal setting, and focused action, it can facilitate better learning, career advancement and well-being. Coaching and supportive behaviours that promote effective career conversations include:
If you want to be a great leader who inspires, supports, and enables people to achieve exceptional results, you need to invest your time, energy, and expertise in helping people realize their full potential. This involves planning and undertaking high-quality career conversations; developing, and honing your coaching, feedback, delegation, and other key people skills; recognizing and magnifying strengths, progress and achievements and acting as a role model by prioritizing and progressing your own development. In today’s modern workplace, where unpredictable and disruptive change is the norm, there are few more pressing priorities than the growth, development and upskilling of the people you lead.
To be effective, feedback conversations should be empowering. They should provide useful, timely and constructive guidance to help the individual to change their mindset and behaviour. Yet, many managers struggle with feedback conversations, especially those that involve providing constructive or corrective guidance. They fear stirring up conflict and worry about undermining their relationship with the individual. They often end up falling into one of the following traps:
Avoidance – they avoid the conversation in the hope that the problem will resolve itself or won’t cause too many problems. However, avoidance often leads to problems becoming amplified and resentment arising from inaction growing among other team members.
Using the popular “sandwich approach” – they dilute constructive feedback by layering it between two ‘slices’ of positive feedback, at the outset and end of the conversation. This typically results in an ineffective performer selectively hearing only the positive messages and leaving the meeting believing they’ve got little or nothing to improve.
Over-criticism – they use an autocratic, critical tone. They generalize their critical feedback to the person’s performance, and even personality, rather than focusing it on the behaviour that needs to be modified. This is very risky, as it can leave people feeling angry, insulted, and demotivated. At worst, it can lead to a messy termination process involving claims of bullying and unfair dismissal.
Based on decades of experience helping managers and leaders deal with challenging feedback conversations, I recommend applying the following 6 steps:
1. Use a framework to guide your feedback – Follow a straightforward process like our AIM Feedback Framework™ (see below) to ensure your feedback is candid, concise and maximizes the likelihood of achieving lasting change.
2. Focus on the behaviour, not on the person – Ensure you don’t criticize or judge the person. Be specific and clear about the behaviour that you would like to see modified.
3. Keep it brief – Feedback receivers prefer crisp and clear messages so don’t overtalk, or provide lengthy, rambling justifications.
4. Give the person an opportunity to clarify – Ensure you check that the person understands the feedback. Invite them to summarize what they’ve heard and give them an opportunity to clarify anything they don’t understand.
5. Acknowledge the person’s concerns – Calmly allow the person to express their point of view and any feelings triggered by the feedback. Don’t react if they express anger or defensiveness; listen empathetically and acknowledge their concerns. If their anger persists, invite them to take a break to reflect on the feedback for 24 hours before reconvening.
6. Invite and provide suggestions – Invite the person to come up with options that will improve their performance. Explore these in an open, constructive way, without passing judgment or allowing your preferences to dictate the course of action agreed. Provide specific suggestions to help the person improve. To encourage ownership and commitment, ask the person how helpful these ideas are and whether they can think of any other options that might be better or build on the suggestions provided.
Most of us are conditioned to focus more on the negatives we see rather than the positives. This is what psychologists call the “negativity bias”. It is therefore important for managers to consciously learn to spot and magnify strengths and effective behaviours.
By giving positive feedback and praise, managers will promote progress, excellence, and employee engagement. When people feel they are valued and their progress and achievements are recognized regularly by their manager, they are more likely to feel motivated and exert higher levels of discretionary effort (i.e., effort over and above the required level).
What action did they take and in what situation did it happen?
“In the project meeting yesterday, I noticed you interrupted Joe several times.”
What was the impact of the person’s actions (on their RESULTS, RELATIONSHIPS, and REPUTATION)
People don’t intend to act in a way that undermines their results, relationships and/or reputation. Remember that their intentions are typically positive, even when their behaviour causes unintended negative consequences. Unless the evidence points strongly in favour of malicious or negative intentions, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they intended to act positively in the first place.
“I was frustrated that Joe couldn’t make his points fully and we missed out on his valuable input.”
What does the person need to modify/magnify to strengthen their effectiveness and results?
Thinking about what the person can magnify is especially important when giving positive feedback on how the person can build on their strengths and effective behavioural patterns.
Offer specific suggestions and guidance to help the person modify/magnify their behaviour.
“When we meet with the team in future, it would be great to see you give Joe an opportunity to make his points without interrupting. You could also encourage him to contribute his opinion from time to time as we both know he is an introvert.”
The world of work is changing dramatically, and the pace of that change is speeding up. Career development is undergoing a similar transformation. There are unprecedented opportunities, including new job types, improved flexibility, and the ability to learn in digitally enhanced ways that are personalized to learner’s diverse preferences. However, there are considerable challenges too. Career pathways are no longer straight lines. Steady progression up the career ladder is being replaced by squiggly career paths that resemble an elaborate climbing wall. There are multiple, ill-defined pathways to achieve your goals and initiative, experimentation and constant learning are essential to find your way. Sideways, diagonal, and even downward moves are common. For example, we saw many employees prioritizing lifestyle over ambition during Covid. They downshifted or took sideways moves to spend more time with their families and on leisure activities. But for many, the promise of career thriving still seems elusive, especially in an economy which is slowing and where bills are rising faster than pay. In this volatile environment, here are 7 principles everyone can apply to achieve greater levels of happiness and fulfillment in their career.
Own your career and success
Too many people end up drifting aimlessly through their careers. To succeed and be happy, you need to exercise choice and responsibility over your career. For example, everyone can take initiative by putting their heart and soul into their job to show up and do their best every day. They can commit to doing 5-10% more than what is expected to stand out and attract better opportunities. They can also be a supportive, likeable, and helpful colleague and team player. Each of us spends around 90,000 at work and how we choose to show up and undertake our work is largely up to us. So too is the legacy and positive difference we create. Of course, we can’t control things outside our control such as our boss’ behaviour, the behaviour of our teammates, or the pay rise we get. However, we can control how we respond to negative circumstances, setbacks, and people we interact with. To get the most from our career, we need to take responsibility for it and influence it to our advantage. So rather than being a passenger on the journey, we need to proactively pilot our careers so that we get greater enjoyment from the journey and end up at a fulfilling, worthwhile destination.
Build your career around your aspirations and values
In the modern workplace, the problem for most is not a shortage of opportunity, it is having too much opportunity. Unfortunately, this opportunity is still unfairly skewed towards those from privileged backgrounds. However, we all have a growing number of ways we can make a living. We no longer need to stick with a job we hate or one that provides little fulfilment. This is why starting your career planning and development early is important. People who clarify their dreams and aspirations early have more focus and time to invest in making their dreams a reality. By clarifying what success looks like for them, they stand out and have more control over their destiny, rather than allowing external factors to determine their fate.
As well as clarifying your aspirations, it is important to understand our values and the role these play in helping us to thrive in our careers. Values are the core beliefs that are important to you and guide your life and career choices. Becoming more aware of your values will help you find roles, career pathways and organizations that are compatible with who you are and what you believe most strongly in. For example, someone with a sustainability/social responsibility value might find it difficult to work for a tobacco firm. Values also help us to navigate career turning points, challenges, and dilemmas more effectively. By staying true to our values, we can maintain our internal balance, authenticity, and sense of fulfilment.
Discover and optimize your strengths
Every successful person builds their career around their strengths. Rather than trying to fit in, they work hard to shine in areas where they can stand out. As the famous management guru, Peter Drucker said “first and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.” Too many people waste their talent and energy trying to be like others or even worse, attempt to become all-rounders. But this is a futile mission. There are no all-rounders in the workplace. Every employee has strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections. Realizing one’s full potential comes from building awareness of your innate talents and taking action to turn these into standout strengths that produce outstanding results. This happens when you put in the hard work and practice to build relevant skill, experience, and agility in your areas of greatest talent. Of course, we must also learn to overcome limiting weaknesses to improve our performance and prevent failure. The strengths approach empowers us to explore creative ways to use our strengths to overcome weaker areas and behaviours that may limit our success. Employing strengths-based thinking also promotes greater collaboration with diverse colleagues who have strengths in areas where we are weaker.
Overcome self-limiting beliefs and assumptions
To be successful and happy, we need to believe in ourselves. However, most of us have inner ‘gremlins’ such as poor self-confidence or imposter syndrome (i.e., where people doubt their competence and past successes and live in fear of being exposed as a fraud) that can limit our progress and success. Author and performance coach, Tim Gallway, explains the origins of these limiting assumptions and belief using the metaphor of an “inner game” playing out in people’s minds. He maintains that for people to perform effectively, they need to learn to silence their inner critic and channel it productively into non-judgemental awareness and learning. The best protection against limiting assumptions and beliefs is awareness. Once we understand how these inner critics limit our success, we can develop strategies to change how we respond to them. For example, I was taught as a young boy that to become successful, one should work independently. This narrative become deeply internalized in my psyche and led to me trying to do too much myself, without calling on the support of others. Through greater self-awareness, feedback and mentoring during my mid 20’s when I become a team leader, I become aware of how much this assumption was limiting my progress. I realised that if I wanted to achieve my aspirations, I would need to build and lead teams of people who were stronger than me in different areas.
Embrace learning and growth
Too many people stall their careers by playing it safe and staying within their comfort zone. Others inhibit their learning and progress by being complacent, resisting change, or getting defensive when they receive feedback.
Today’s fast-changing organizations are looking for people who have a strong growth mindset and are open to learning, upskilling and adaptation. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft refers to these people as “learn it all’s”. One of the keys to career thriving is to develop what Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a “craftsman mindset”. This involves asking the question “what can I offer the world?” and continuously honing your skills and capabilities to create value, stand out and remain relevant.
Improving your ability to learn and adapt involves the following 4 behaviours:
Invest in building a strong support network
Who you surround yourself with really matters to your energy, growth, and ultimate success. As we have seen from the recent Football World Cup, nobody can succeed on their own in a competitive performance environment. Even superstars like Messi and Mbappe need a strong team around them to be at their best.
To achieve success, it is important to build what we refer to in our training as a Personal Career Board. This ‘board’ should ideally comprise a diverse group of people (including your manager, partner, peers, etc.), each of whom plays a different role in helping you achieve your career goals. These people should ideally exemplify the behaviours and qualities you are looking to develop and at least some should be in roles you aspire to hold in future. Key roles people on your board can play include mentor, coach, encourager, confidant, educator, counsellor, therapist, etc. We always recommend that people wanting to accelerate their progression prioritise finding a mentor and coach (if their manager is not an effective coach). While the term “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. A mentor is typically a more experienced person who offers wisdom, guidance, and experience to their protégé in a less formal, structured relationship. Studies show that mentoring can significantly enhance rates of learning and career progression. Investing in a mentor and other relationships will provide you with valuable insights, support, diverse perspectives, encouragement, and feedback. By building strong relationships of trust and respect with these people, they are also more likely to throw in a good word for you which will help increase your visibility.
Manage your energy and stress
One of the biggest happiness traps is overworking. People who are ambitious frequently become overinvolved in their work. They invest a disproportionate amount of time in their career at the expense of investing in relationships and their personal care, including setting aside time for leisure, sport, relaxation, their family, and friends. This can quickly lead to high levels of negative stress, undermine their mental and physical well-being, and in the worst cases, lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. It is easier than ever to become a workaholic in today’s “always-on” work culture. To prevent this, it is important to put in place habits and boundaries to protect your physical and emotional well-being and life outside work. Habits that will help you to maintain your energy at optimal levels include saying “no” to lower priority tasks, getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, regular exercise, eating a balanced, healthy diet, taking regular rest breaks, and reflecting on your successes and good things that have happened at the end of each day. Setting and sticking to boundaries to protect your personal and home life is important to prevent work squeezing out other important aspects of your life, especially in a world where the division between home and work life is becoming blurred because of virtual and hybrid working.
People who take control of their careers and do their best each day to grow their career value are far more likely to thrive at work, and in their personal life. By having a clear sense of purpose and building autonomy, mastery and connectedness with others, you will achieve greater happiness, success, and well-being. You will also build the positive mindset, resilience, and adaptability required to seize new opportunities and successfully navigate a fast-changing world of work.
Is it important to you to attract, retain and develop the talent in your organization? Are you spending this time and energy efficiently? This checklist will help you find out where the gaps may be for your organization in terms of talent management.
How does the checklist work?
Answer yes or no to all 24 questions divided over 2 different sections. Once you’ve checked all the boxes you can check your score by counting all “yeses” per category.
If you have a few too many “noes” you might want to pay some extra attention to our recommendations.
Effective talent management needs to be measured and not just managed. As the adage goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” When it comes to measurement, there are a host of different metrics you can use. However, we propose starting with the following 4 which are arguably the most important for any small to mid-sized scaling business:
Cost of new hires
Hiring can be extremely expensive if a scaling business uses agencies to fill most vacancies, as many do in my experience. So, it is vital to measure how much new hires are costing the business. This enables you to decide where to invest your recruitment budget and how to attract better candidates. Glassdoor, the employee review and insights company, estimated that the average cost to hire was £3000 in 2020, but this is likely to be significantly more if the candidates you need have in-demand skills or are at a senior or managerial level.
Cost per hire is relatively straightforward to measure as it simply involves dividing the total hiring costs by the number of hires for any given period. The total hiring costs should take account of external costs including job advertising costs, agency fees and pre-hire assessments while internal costs include referral bonuses, in-house recruiters, and in-house systems such as an applicant tracking system.
The best ways to reduce cost per hire are to use less expensive hiring channels including referrals, job boards and LinkedIn. You should also consider total talent solutions such as outsourcing, sub-contracting and offshoring work where project-based work and roles can be done more cost-effectively by skilled people outside the business. As a quick win, I would strongly recommend a generous, engaging and well-communicated referral program, as this can save a company a significant amount and generally leads to better-quality candidates.
Internal fill rate
This is, in my experience, one of the most important metrics for talent analytics. It measures the percentage of key roles (both managerial and non-managerial) filled by internal hires in a given period. For example, many top companies ranked in the “Best Companies to Work For” league tables aim for at least 80% of such positions to be filled from within the company. This is a crucial measure as it provides a good indication of your company’s success in retaining, developing, and progressing top talent.
It is important to note that it isn’t always desirable to have most roles filled by internal candidates, particularly when you are looking to transform the culture, strategy, or performance of the business. It is typically beneficial to bring fresh talent into the company to encourage diversity, different perspectives, and fresh thinking.
Retention of key talent
Many growing companies fail to measure the retention of key talent. This is a grave mistake as this metric provides a way of tracking how successful you are at creating the type of work environment that attracts and motivates top-flight talent.
It is important to stress that this measure is different from a general turnover measure which looks at what percentage of the workforce are leaving in any given time, typically each quarter or year.
While general turnover figures are important, retention of key talent is a much more targeted measure that looks at the turnover of your “A-players”, those who are likely to be the greatest contributors to your company’s success.
In addition to this metric, I would strongly suggest conducting “exit interviews” with all key people who resign to explore their reasons for leaving. This feedback together with engagement research (incl. focus groups, ongoing dialogue and engagement surveys) will provide HR and management with a good basis for making improvements to employee engagement and retention.
Number of employee ideas and idea conversation rate
For scaling companies to succeed in increasingly competitive, fast-paced markets, they need to create the type of work environment where people feel willing to openly share their ideas to improve products, processes, and teamwork.
However, in our experience, very few companies track the number of business improvement ideas they get from employees together with the adoption of these by the business. This is a big oversight as these metrics provide a good indication of the levels of innovation, commitment, and engagement of the workforce.
To get the most from their people, every scaling business will benefit from identifying a handful of critical talent objectives and metrics, such as those above, that are aligned with their overall business and people strategies. This HR scorecard will help you track and improve the effectiveness of your talent programs and initiatives, enabling you to derive maximum returns on your investment in people.
The value of inquiry, or powerful questioning, is well established and becoming even more relevant in today’s hyper-competitive, fast-changing, and unpredictable business environment.
The advantages are numerous and include:
However, studies show that leaders still use far more advocacy (i.e., putting forward arguments and imposing their own views), rather than engaging in questioning. This is frequently reinforced by the culture of the organization which encourages top-down ‘tell’ approaches to getting things done rather than listening, exploration and questioning. Leaders commonly fall into the “trap or illusion of expertise”. This happens when they feel they possess superior expertise and should have all the answers by virtue of their position and/or experience.
In his book “Humble Inquiry”, leading business author and psychologist, Edgar Schein, defines inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” This definition underscores the importance of being curious and asking open-ended questions to help improve the quality of problem-solving, overcome challenges and unlock a growth mindset.
In my coaching and leadership development work over several decades, I have observed many leaders make huge strides in the way they lead and influence others through focusing more time and effort on questioning rather than advocacy in regular 1-1 check-ins with employees, team and project meetings, coaching conversations, negotiations, customer interactions and other common interpersonal situations.
Asking powerful questions is natural to all of us, it’s something young children discover early on to facilitate learning and growth. However, adults (including leaders) often neglect this skill when they move beyond childhood. The good news is that it can be re-learned if practiced consciously and regularly.
To master the art of powerful questioning, you first need to build up your arsenal of powerful questions. In doing so, the following principles are important to keep in mind:
To help improve your questioning skill and behaviours, we have listed below examples of powerful questions you can ask in different situations.
Planning a new strategy
Onboarding a new hire
Developing your leadership effectiveness
The art of powerful questioning is at the heart of effective leadership. It enables leaders to unlock the ideas, perspectives, and talents of those they are seeking to lead. It also helps leaders build strong relationships of trust, candour, and openness. So, if you want to be a great rather than a mediocre leader, start asking more powerful questions today.
Challenge yourself to improve your questioning skills and behaviours in a week with our 7-Day Powerful Questioning Challenge. You can access it here.
The technological revolution and speed of innovation is transforming the workplace at a rapid rate. Within this disruptive landscape, organizations are managing myriad challenges from global supply issues, rising operational costs and inflation to a talent shortage.
1. Facing a talent and skills shortage and an economic crisis
Post-pandemic, there have been record numbers of job vacancies. This has increased competition in the job market for employers, as skilled and experienced workers can be highly selective about their next move. Offering higher pay and benefits is one tactic to secure top talent, however, it is financially unsustainable and could make existing employees feel underpaid. Compensation has a role in talent strategy, but organizations need to use different levers, other than pay to attract and retain talent. One of the most effective incentives is work that offers development and challenge as it increases workers’ value and gives them an opportunity to meaningfully improve their lives at work and beyond.
This approach can also… [Download full version to read more]
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you as my successor as team leader for the Engineering team here at NetFlo.
It has been a great privilege to lead the team during the past 2 years. As I mentioned during your hiring process, the team has some formidable challenges ahead as the business scales and moves into new global markets. I thought it would be helpful to leave some guidance and principles that I’ve learned during my time in the role, having started as a new team leader myself. I understand of course that you will have your own aspirations, ideas, and style that you will be bringing to the role, however, I hope that this guidance may be useful to you as a relatively new team leader.
As my mentor, Helen, always says “teams typically fail because the leader fails to provide clarity”. When I started, I wasn’t explicit enough about my aspirations and standards for the team. I also assumed roles were clear, but it turned out that they weren’t clear enough. This created uncertainty, confusion, and in-fighting early on. Fortunately, Helen helped me to understand that clarity is a prerequisite for high-performing teams. One exercise she had me do was to write down what I expected from the team as a whole and from each team member. I then shared these expectations with individuals and the team, inviting feedback on any areas that were still unclear. During 1-1s, I created SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and timebound) goals with each team member. The team did a similar exercise, during which we also clarified areas of responsibility. This flushed out several points of overlap and tension that we discussed and resolved together.
Give people something big and exciting to aim for
At the recent training I attended, we spoke a lot about the need to provide exciting and inspiring goals for the team. The trainer showed us an excellent video called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by a really inspirational speaker called Simon Sinek. This explains why it’s so important to provide a meaningful purpose for people to aim for. Helen added another concept that I love as it’s got a very memorable name. She says I need to ensure the team has a BHAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal! The team loved this concept and we have started exploring how we can create even more value for NetFlo’s customers by integrating the latest AI technologies into the platform. The team seem very excited about this opportunity.
We’ve started to discuss the idea of our purpose as a team, however, we haven’t completed this work so it’d be great if you could pick it up with the team. We are using a straightforward tool called a Team Shield & Charter that the trainer on my leader program shared with us. I’ve attached a copy of this below. I hope it’s as useful to you as it’s been to me.
Promote a safe environment of challenge and candour
About a year ago, Raj (my boss at the time) shared a fascinating article about the research Google did on the drivers of high-performing teams. They called this Project Aristotle, and you can read the piece here. They found that the most important factor behind great teams is what they called “psychological safety”. This sounds like a fancy concept but is actually quite straightforward. It involves creating a safe environment where team members feel they can express themselves candidly without having to worry about saying the wrong thing or feeling they are undermining their colleagues. Of course, creating such an environment is harder than it sounds but I have learned that the leader needs to set the tone. You can do this by ensuring all team members have an opportunity to have their say on important topics and encouraging them to be totally upfront about what they really think and feel. This takes time, particularly with quieter, more risk-averse team members. However, the more you encourage and promote candour and constructive challenge, the more they will trust the team and share openly.
Invest in developing and stretching team members
Megan, our Chief People Officer, is passionate about developing people. She has taught me a great deal about the importance of developing team members during my time with NetFlo. She helped me understand the importance of setting aside regular time to meet with team members to discuss their development goals and support them to find motivating pathways to achieve these. Each team member now has a personal development plan and I have met with them quarterly to discuss progress and ways I can help them develop. Megan advised me to do this as a separate process, outside my regular performance dialogues. This ensures there is dedicated time set aside to focus on everyone’s career and development priorities. I have also learned the importance of helping people cultivate a growth mindset, or the belief that abilities can be improved through hard work and continuous learning. I used to hate failure myself as I’m a bit of a perfectionist. However, I now understand that failure is an essential part of everyone’s growth journey. I have explained this to the team, and we have openly discussed our failures and what we have learned from them.
Another lesson I learned from Helen is that people relish challenge, provided it plays to their strengths and career motivations. Challenging people in areas they really aren’t energized by can cause negative feelings and demotivate them. I, therefore, try to create regular opportunities for team members to put their strengths and skills to the test in ways that are motivating for them. This encourages everyone to move beyond their comfort zone so they can continue to learn and become better.
Be like Yoda
I used to fall into the trap of what Helen calls the “illusion of expertise”. This happens when leaders feel they possess superior expertise and should have all the answers by virtue of their position. However, I have now learned (the hard way) that I cannot possibly know everything. The real expertise and know-how rests with my direct reports and the broader team. To get the best out of people, I now empower them using active listening, questioning, and coaching.
Powerful questions have become my leadership superskill, as they enable me to be a better coach, communicator, and influencer. They help me to draw out others’ ideas and perspectives about how to tackle challenges, deal with change and deliver on customer needs. By listening carefully rather than telling them what to do or trying to persuade them that my approach is best, I also get to better understand their problem-solving skills, ability to learn and potential.
Some particularly powerful questions I now regularly use with the team include:
During the leadership training, we learned to apply a coaching method called the GROW Coaching Model. GROW is a mnemonic for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward (or Will). Apparently, it is the most widely used business coaching approach and I can see why! It’s easy to apply and very effective in helping people become better problem-solvers, overcome challenges, and take ownership for coming up with good solutions. I thought that coaching would be very time-consuming, however, I’ve found that with a bit of practice, coaching conversations can be quite efficient and save me time later. You’ll find a more detailed explanation of the GROW approach here.
A year or so ago, Helen encouraged me to practice coming up with new questions to use with the broader team every week. It’s been a fun challenge and based on my last 360-degree feedback survey, has made me a much better leader and coach.
Provide constructive feedback
I used to really struggle with tough feedback conversations. In fact, I always tried to avoid these conversations hoping that the problem would resolve itself. However, this tactic invariably led to the underperformance getting worse and resentment building among other members of the team.
During a training program last year, I learned a great new approach that I have been using with team members. It’s called the SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) feedback method. It is relatively straightforward to apply although requires a bit of practice before you can use it effectively. Use the following questions to guide your feedback:
Just remember to ensure you provide an opportunity for the person to respond to your feedback and commit to any change they want to make as a result.
You can also use this approach to give positive feedback so it’s super versatile which is one reason I like it so much.
Provide regular recognition and praise
Like many leaders, I am not very good at spotting and recognising effort and achievements in the team. After a very insightful feedback session with Raj, I realised the importance of giving regular recognition and praise. He taught me that everyone needs to feel valued and acknowledged, particularly those who are lacking in confidence or are new to the team. I am now learning the art of conscious observation to spot less obvious improvements in effort and behaviour, as well as more obvious achievements. I use my 1-1 check-ins and team meetings to recognise and acknowledge these successes using a variety of no and low-cost approaches, some of which you can find here. I also start each team meeting with a quick-fire round from each team member about the successes they have achieved since the last meeting before we dive in to talk about our challenges and problems. I find this lifts the mood in the room and raises our motivation and productivity during these meetings.
Encourage experimentation and adaptation
Given how fast everything is changing, I have encouraged the team to develop a growth mindset and be ready for change. To make this practical, the team has come up with the following ideas and principles that we now apply:
Manage your energy and time skilfully
I could tell when we met that you are clearly enthusiastic to get started. To help you avoid the mistake I made at the beginning that almost caused me to burn out, I would like to caution you about the high workload and conflicting demands you will face in this role. It can easily become all-consuming if you don’t manage your workload and boundaries effectively. Raj is a great boss but can be very demanding at times. Managing 8 direct reports also requires a lot of time and mental energy. So, make sure you create clear work routines and boundaries from the get-go. Allow yourself enough time for thinking, building relationships, and learning, especially during the first 3-6 months, when you are still learning the ropes. To maintain your energy and well-being, you will also need to prioritise and protect time for holidays, rest, and to be with your family.
I will miss the team but know they’ll be in great hands with you as their new leader. I think your enthusiasm, experience with some of the latest technologies and great communication skills will enable you to do a great job. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want any additional insights or simply a sounding board to explore options and ideas. It’ll be great to stay connected.
Wishing you everything of the best,
Note: The company and all characters in the letter are fictional.
If you want help building peak-performing teams, contact us to arrange a meeting at email@example.com
As Liz Truss, the UK’s new Prime Minister, starts her challenging role amidst multiple crises, it is worth reflecting on the principles underpinning effective leadership transitions.
Leadership transitions are becoming increasingly common. They occur when executives or leaders move to new jobs in different organizations or when leaders are promoted in their current company. However, in today’s hyper-competitive and volatile environment, successful moves are increasingly challenging, even for the brightest and most experienced leaders. The failure rate of new leaders is high and growing. For example, McKinsey found that 27-46% of executives who transition are regarded as failures or disappointments two years later.
So, what are the key guiding principles behind successful transitions:
Start before the person joins
Onboarding programs vary in scope and effectiveness, but many start the process too late, when the leader has already joined the organization.
To accelerate integration of the leader into the organization, it is advisable to start the process before day one. Steps companies can take to do this include providing new hires with:
A thorough onboarding and transition plan for the first 3-6 months and inviting input from the leader on specific questions they have that they’d like addressed.
Leaders starting a new role, especially those who are external hires, need a clear understanding of what is expected of them by different stakeholders and constituents. To expedite this process, HR departments can provide new leaders with an up-to-date organizational chart and stakeholder map, reflecting other key stakeholders that will be crucial to the leader’s effectiveness. They should also ensure new leaders have an opportunity to meet their superiors, peers, and other key stakeholders as quickly as possible. Ideally, responsibility should be delegated to an executive assistant or senior administrator to arrange these meetings as a matter of priority.
It is also important for HR to include a 1-1 session with the leader in the first week to talk through key HR policies, the employee handbook and any implicit expectations, norms and beliefs related to the company’s culture. This will help the leader understand what is expected of them, including all the unwritten rules and standards that don’t appear in the handbook and policies.
Provide a structured journey to support effective integration
Studies show that ramp-up time for external hires is typically six to nine months. This time can be accelerated with well-designed onboarding and integration programs. But an effective integration program will also reduce costly mistakes and U-turns, minimize staff morale and turnover problems, and promote strong relationships with the leader’s new team and stakeholders. Specific areas that the program should cover are detailed in the diagram below. Key aspects include:
Be clear on the development support and resources available
Together with an attractive remuneration package and supportive boss, access to engaging development and career opportunities is the factor most likely to motivate and retain talented leaders.
It is therefore important to clearly signpost development resources and program that may be of value to the new leader when they join. These should be aligned with their development goals, learning style and career aspirations. During the first 3 months, the leader should have an opportunity to sit down with their boss for a high-quality career dialogue. The purpose of this is to identify specific development goals and a Personal Development Plan to guide their development and growth. The leader should ideally also be offered an internal or external coach and mentor/s to support their development. This highly personalised approach to development has been found to be particularly effective for leaders and executives in transition.
Plan regular check-ins and feedback
It is important to schedule regular HR check-ins with the new leader at least every month to check on progress and share any feedback you and your team are hearing. Similarly, the leader’s line manager should ensure they maintain a cadence of weekly or fortnightly meetings with the new leader to discuss progress, answer any questions they may have and provide appropriate guidance, coaching and feedback.
These check-ins and review points are also a good opportunity to invite feedback from the new leader on their experiences, observations, and feedback, including suggestions to improve the team, business and onboarding process.
Provide expert coaching
New leaders can often feel isolated, and feelings of anxiety, fear and confusion are normal. Expert transition coaches understand these feelings and create a safe space for leaders to reveal their fears, limiting beliefs and vulnerabilities. They can also provide a neutral, non-judgemental sounding board for the new leader to test out ideas and alternative courses of action before taking significant decisions.
By providing a structured process, support, and regular check-ins to discuss progress, organizations will significantly improve success rates for external hires and newly promoted leaders. This will avoid the considerable financial and non-financial costs (including declines in team morale, unwanted turnover, customer losses and reputational damage) associated with transition failures.
If you would like to find out more about our transition support and coaching for new leaders, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org