What’s the goal: Peak Performing Individuals or Teams

In the opening 2021 Olympics game of Basketball, there was a major “upset”. The US team, which won 25 consecutive games, and which had been referred to as “the dream team” because it included many of the best US players, lost to the unheralded French team.  However, one of the French team managers questioned whether it really was an “upset”, noting teams that forge strong bonds, as their team had over 10 years, generally outperform individual superstars who come together as a team.

In the second half of 2021, one of the biggest news items is the difficulty of companies to find qualified workers. Several reasons are given for this. Some people have decided to change jobs or leave the workforce post-pandemic, because they are more interested in following their passions and purposes; they’re not interested in returning to a pre-pandemic workplace, and/or they want substantial changes in compensation, working conditions, etc.  Thus, hiring managers are challenged to find qualified people among this new workforce.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, is famous for recommending we get the right people on the bus”, i.e., hire the right people for each job. The challenge is to identify the right characteristics for each person – are well looking for individual superstars or team players?

Similarly, Sutton and Rao, in Scaling Up Excellence note that people have unconscious biases and they may play a role. For instance, people tend to prefer to be around others who are similar to them; yet diversity matters. Linda Abraham, a co-founder of comScore, notes that hiring people like you can be “the worst thing for building out a team.”   “New mindsets, skills, and practices, travel faster and farther when team members have varied backgrounds, skills and viewpoints”.  If the goal is a team adept at solving problems and creativity, then you need a team of individuals with mutual respect – where they can “fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong.” That means standing up for what you believe until the evidence clearly shows you are wrong, and then admit that the other person is right.

In sum, before hiring for teams, identify the key attributes each member should have to both individually do his/her job and to help the team do its job. Be aware that that may mean tradeoffs are necessary for ultimate success.

“Pre-mortems” Can Lead to More Successes

Are you using “pre-mortems” to increase the probability of a project’s success?

I learned about pre-mortems years ago and have used them from time-to-time with leaders who are launching projects, planning start-ups and even presenters who want to win investor-deals.  While reading Sutton and Rao’s “Scaling Up Excellence:  Getting to More without Settling for Less”, a comment about it made me think it would be an excellent tool not just for business leaders  but also for individuals as they make career, relationship and other decisions that will affect their future selves. (For more on the Full Life Management (FLM) system to help people to lead fulfilling, elongated lives, see AgeBrilliantly.org.) My focus here is on business planning.

We initiate projects because we believe their ROI (return on investment of time and resources) is high enough to justify the investment and believe we have the resources needed to succeed. Our optimism, analysis, and foresight input from peers and experts, leads us to take the risks. Yet, failures occur; Investopedia reports that “21.5% of startups fail in the first year, 30% in the second year, 50% in the fifth year, and 70% in their 10th year.” Similarly, about half of US marriages fail despite the best of intentions.

When something fails, we conduct a post-mortem: we analyze what went wrong. A famous one was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion which discovered problems with the O-rings and the decision-making process used by the team that eventually allowed the Challenger to continue on is flight rather than take alternative actions. Daniel Kahneman credits psychologist Gary Klein with inventing the “pre-mortem” managerial strategy in which you imagine that a project has failed, and then work backwards to determine what potentially could lead to the failure. The goal is to avert real failures and ugly post-mortems that follow.

Sutton and Rao recommend the use of pre-mortems when a team is on the verge of making and implementing a decision. The team is told to imagine what happens some time in the future if the decision is made. Half the team is told to imagine that it was an unmitigated disaster; the other half pretends it was a roaring success.  Independently, each member generates reason – often in the form of a story about why the success or failure occurred – being as detailed as possible to identify causes that they wouldn’t usually mention “for fear of being impolitic.”  Then, each member reads the story to the group with someone recording and collating the reasons for failures and successes.  Finally, the group considers all the reasons and makes appropriate changes to strengthen the plan – or if the group uncovers overwhelming and impassable roadblocks, then you all go back to the drawing board.

The process uses “prospective hindsight”, gaining the insights of what your future selves might have gleaned from the experience. Using a “future perfect tense”, you explain the situation in a format such as: “We’ve devoted X months to study what went into the design and execution the plan. Looking back from the future, we can see the following key causes for the failure (or success).”

Kahneman, et.al, show that the pre-mortem process generates better decisions, predictions and plans. It helps people overcome blind spots. Sutton and Rao note that it “inoculates against clusterfugs” such as:

  • Illusion (that the plan is better and easier than the facts warrant)
  • Impatience (as everyone gets anxious to roll out the new project)
  • Incompetence (the spreading of incorrect information that taints the final decision)

Deborah Mitchell, a Wharton professor conducted an experiment on “prospective hindsight” and found that imaging that an event already occurred “increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%”. So, on your next project, try using pre-mortems to increase the odds of success!  Then, share the experience with us.

Align Your Executive Team for Peak Performance

One of the most important elements of a successful company is a strong Executive Team.  Whether you’re forging ahead with a new business strategy or considering selling your company, it’s the power of the team to coordinate their efforts to create individual and collective peak performances that really counts. As John Warrillow, author of Built to Sell, and other experts in helping owners develop lucrative business exits note, it’s their ability to carry on the business as well – and often better – without  you that significantly affects the final price.

Especially during times of great change – whether it’s the switch to post-lockdown hybrid workforces, new product lines with new suppliers and distribution channels, or workforce utilization due to automation and AI – it’s important that the Executive Team stays on the same wavelength to collaborate effectively and efficiently, and not end up unaligned and in silos.

It’s for this reason that I stress with the CEOs with whom I work the importance of coaching direct reports and opening stronger lines of communication. Indeed, Marshall Goldsmith, a leading executive coach, recently shared 6 questions that would be appropriate for these coaching sessions. They are:

·   Where are we going?  Are we in sync with the current vision, goals and priorities? Are we aligned?!

·   Where are you going? Is your part really aligned with the company and other divisions?

·   What is going well?

·   What can be improved?

·   How can I help?

After asking these questions, switch the focus with:  “What suggestions do you have for me?” This opens the door to a two way dialogue.

With such coaching, you can identify cracks in the company’s strategy and be able to repair them.

Also be sure that you and your team have full “conversational capacity”. He created a “conversational martial art of business communication” that allows teams to perform well and remain open, balanced, and non-defensive as they tackle their most troublesome issues.  For more information, see Craig Weber’s Conversation Capacity  and https://weberconsultinggroup.net).

Final note: Recently, Vistage introduced a set of new leadership programs for managers that they supervise.  For details on the Executive Leadership Programs, contact me at jerry.cahn@vistage.com)

It’s Showtime!

Whether you deliver one or a thousand presentations, the last thing you need to address is your own energy.  Yes, you’ve followed the rules to design and deliver a totally ADAP Presentation (Audience-Drive, Authentic Presentation), and in a few minutes before “the rubber meets the road”, it’s up to you. How do you become laser-focused, totally immersed in the process?

Years ago, a colleague of mine gave me his formula. In the last few weeks, I’ve heard the same great advice with different stories leading them to the same conclusion from Shizard Carmine, CEO of Positive Intelligence (with whom I’ve been taking a course to master PQ and how to use it in a new coaching program that will soon be available) and Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top executive coaches. So, try it!

Murphy’s law sets the scenario:  "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". So, regardless of all the preparation, negative forces can get in the way. The equipment suddenly breaks down; your flight to the presentation is delayed and the flight took 18 hours and your suitcase was lost, or the customer can’t make it and her intimidating boss is leading the meeting. How do you possibly step onto the “stage” with enthusiasm?

Just before getting on the “stage”, take a minute to remind yourself that “It’s Showtime”, and the show must go on, and YOU are the show. Stop into a restroom or its equivalent, put everything down, and look into the mirror. Look yourself in the eye, fix straighten your dress, tie, suit, or whatever “suit of armor” You’re wearing, and enthusiastically and out loud tell yourself “It’s Showtime”! And as you repeat it out loud watch how you stand straighter, smile, and feel more relaxed. 

In a recent blog, Marshall observed that’s how Broadway actors launch themselves despite the “headache”, foot pain, etc. If you’re a Positive Intelligence user, do a couple of PQs to switch your brain from one dominated by your saboteurs who are focused on the negatives to one which allows you to adopt the Sage perspective and its five powers.  In both cases, your positive, enthusiastic self walks on stage. And even though you may have stage-fright (which most people do have), you know that within 15 seconds you’ll be immersed in the ADAP delivery and focused on the audience impact.  Indeed, when Barbra Streisand opened at the Barclay Center many years ago, she confessed to still having butterflies when walking on stage, but knowing that they would end within a few seconds, enabled her to perform with the excellence she and her fans expected.

So, the next time you present – remember:  It’s Showtime!

(P. S. To learn more about Positive Intelligence, visit their website take the free assessment, and then contact me to discuss it; jerrycahn@presentationexcellence.com)

Presenting for Change: What’s Your Audience Perspective?

The stakes for presentations vary. Traditional investor, management, and marketing ones are important to the players, but rarely earth-shattering. Getting a company’s Board or employees to adopt an innovation or restructuring, involves much larger stakes. But the highest stakes belong to those focused on creating a social or other critical revolution.  Think of the presentation skills that the founders of the United States used to mobilize public opinion to gain support for a revolution!

While the key skills we’ve highlight when applying the ADAP (Audience-Driven Authentic Presentations) formula apply to virtually all presentations, fomenting a revolution requires going beyond influencing the audience you’re trying to mobilize. It requires taking into account the future actions of the people who will oppose the desired action or even stay “neutral”.

Greg Satell, in How to Prepare Your Organization for Transformation in a Post-Covid World, shares many observations about the need to take into account the first of these parties. For years, he has shared his insights based on experience with the revolutionary movement designed to overthrow the brutal Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milošević, and later people involved with the rise (and fall) of the Arab Spring. More recently, he’s extended his insights to corporate settings.

Based on his experience and expertise, he shares with us that the traditional approach to launching a new initiative with a bang can be counterproductive.  Lining up the “right people” for a big “kick-off” meeting to move fast and gain scale and generate some quick wins, can create urgency and inevitability. Yet the “shock and awe” approach can backfire because it might inspire an insurgency that bogs things down. “For any significant change, there will always be some who will oppose the idea and they will resist it in ways that are often insidious and not immediately obvious. The dangers of resistance are especially acute when…you need to drive transformation on multiple fronts.”

Thus, his ADAP solution is to start with small groups of enthusiasts that you can empower to succeed, rather than try to push an initiative on the masses that you’ll struggle to convince.  Second, focus on instilling shared values and shared purpose so your audience stays dedicated. This allows the enthusiasts to spread the word and help recruit more people to your cause.

In “Those Who Forget: My Family’s story in Nazi Europe”, Geraldine Schwarz focuses on the larger “middle” group between change activists and the insurgency. Her family “did not participate more than nominally in National Socialism”; but the Nazi leaders took them into account so that they eventually were neutralized by ignoring their prior values regarding human dignity and life. Little by little, they did nothing to oppose Nazis when they entered towns to round up Jews and put them in cattle carts which took them to death camps. 

In sum, depending on the stakes, define the audience you need to influence to include your future change audience, those who might oppose change and those caught in the middle.     

Do you have any life or business experiences with such issues? If so, share them with us!

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